In article three we discussed bhakti rituals, especially those of navdha bhakti.
In this fourth article on Hindu rituals we discuss home rituals.
No matter how poor a Hindu is he will have a shrine of plastic or wood at his home or work area. Before he leaves home for work or even at work, he will wave an incense stick and perhaps a diya a few times towards his Ishtadevata’s murti. This is a ritual in its simplest way.
Hence, for Hindus, home rituals are centred on the home shrine – ghar mandir. In turn, the ghar mandir functions as a smaller version of the bigger mandir in the village or city. The benefits of rituals observed in the ghar mandir are numerous, which contribute to the holistic nurture of all the family members, especially children. Sociologists and neuroscientists have praised and advocated the importance of religious rituals. We cited a few in the first article of the series. However, it is worth citing one again, “Within the context of highly developed Western technological societies, whether in new form or old, religious ritual behaviour is much too important to the psychological well-being of a society for it to lapse into oblivion,” declares Dr Eugene D’Aquili, former professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.
Home rituals include a vast array of daily practices of worship, such as, awakening the deity; bathing the deity physically or in mansi; offering adornments, flowers, garlands and naivedya; performing arti; offering pranams; singing bhajans and stotras glorifying the deity’s divine attributes, lila and injunctions; and so forth. These will also be boosted by festivals of the Indian calendar and those of special celebrations and auspicious tithis.
Children can be inspired to participate in all such rituals. This inspires in them religious and cultural sanskars. Hence, rituals are the best and most important source of sanskars which bestow upon them self-esteem, cultural pride and spiritual fortitude.
Such virtues are inherently associated with ritual practices. Let us consider a few examples. By singing bhajans and playing instruments such as tabla, sitar, manjira, khanjari and others children develop vocal and musical skills. Simultaneously they develop a sense of beat and rhythm. In Toxic Childhood, the author, Sue Palmer, posits that a young child’s ability to keep a steady percussion beat is one of the best predictors of future success at school.
Chanting Sanskrit mantras and stotras improve pronunciation as well as memory and thus increase the power of memorizing easily and rote learning.
Another skill that develops during recitation and reading of sacred texts is proficiency in vernacular. This directly boosts self-esteem and pride of being able to speak one’s mother tongue fluently. Taking this one step further, if children are then taught and encouraged to discuss the import of the stories, parables and principles, they develop elocution skills and the ability to think creatively. This again boosts their self esteem and provides a foundation to speak confidently in public by overcoming stage fear.
During the birthday celebrations of divine avatars and other important Hindu festivals, such as Rath Yatra and Hindola, children can be encouraged to decorate the ghar mandir and perhaps the whole room. This induces paper crafting and other decorative skills by using materials such as tinsel, plasticine and cloth materials such as saris. Decorating also develops an aesthetic sense.
As children become more proficient in decorating, their powers of observation and sharpness increase. They are easily able to visualize proper combinations of colour matching. This obviously helps tremendously in studies as well.
One important feature of Hindu ritual celebrations is traditional folk dancing. This may involve learning the folk dance of one’s region in India such as dandia-ras, garba, kathakali and others. This is especially helpful during adolescence when teenagers may wish to direct their zestful stamina to devotional pursuits. This will necessarily mean interacting with other children or teenagers and in turn this promotes fraternity and unity. The shy and meek are able to shed their introverted nature to become more gregarious and sociable.
The varied forms of naivedya offered during festivals is an important source of culinary sanskars. Young children can be inspired to help arrange the cooked items. As they grow up, they learn how to cook all types of traditional Indian vegetarian foods. Cooking is considered as the third lifesaving skill, the other two being the ability to cross a road and swim. This will help youths who leave home for further studies. The ability to cook one’s traditional foods empowers them to survive anywhere in the world as well as maintain mental and spiritual health by observing the diet purity codes of one’s sampradaya.
Hindu rituals of sharanagati – surrenderance to Bhagwan and one’s spiritual guru, such as wearing a kanthi, performing puja, imprinting tilak (and chandlo in the Swaminarayan Sampradaya) on the forehead and panchang or dandvat pranams collectively induce the virtue of faith and humility in children and young people. This also entails honour and respect towards one’s parents and teachers. This sublime virtue prevents unruliness at home and school. It instils the awareness in children that Bhagwan and the guru love and guide them. Hence, it prevents children from cheating in studies and during exams. In the case of peer pressure, to do something against the codes of dharma, Hindu children will have the fortitude not to be swayed. Similarly, the ritual of puja infuses children with the belief that ‘whatever devotional rituals we observe will earn the blessings of Bhagwan and guru and they listen to our prayers’.
Mahant Swami Maharaj offers a compelling argument to combat peer pressure and practising religious observances. He says that pleasing peers is equal to gaining ten rupees, while pleasing Bhagwan and guru is similar to attaining a billion rupees.
Finally, the key home ritual that acts as a panacea for many domestic, mundane and spiritual problems is the daily evening ghar sabha. Introduced by Pramukh Swami Maharaj in the early 1970s and now also advocated by Mahant Swami Maharaj, it involves reading and discussing satsang literature in the presence of all family members (Satsang Diksha 86). This family gathering offers opportunities to children to participate and develop their reading, singing, verbal and other skills. More importantly, it establishes love, peace, harmony and unites the family. Issues are discussed and resolved amicably. Adults and children who may have undesirable swabhavs, mannerisms and traits begin to shed these tendencies by divine blessings.
In the fifth article, we shall discuss personal rituals.