Coming from a Hindu family, rituals have been a constant through my life. Not necessarily happening with any defined frequency, these ceremonies take up different forms and ways. My father was never a person who necessarily believed in God, or at least he did not make his feelings known to us. My mother, on the other hand, is as pious as they come. Her ultimate, argument-ending dictum on every topic where we push her to do something is “If He is willing, it will be done”, or “I have put my faith in Him. He will make it happen”. Once that is said, there is no force on earth that can budge that immovable stone of faith. So, in all the cases of rituals and religious ceremonies, my mother has been the driving force. She, of course, firmly believes that she does not know enough to perform one, so she would simply say, “whatever we do, is for Him”, thereby justifying the innumerable short-cuts taken during these occasions. We would celebrate all the festivals with a little puja to the Gods. It would mean more flowers, some home-made sweets and snacks, perhaps new clothes and a song or two, depending on the occasion. Such was the scene.
As my Engineering brain started to kick in, the questions started – why, how do we know, etc? It is another matter that countless humans in our history have faced the same questions and have spent lifetimes trying to answer these very questions. Being one such human with the capacity to learn from others, I have recently been heavily influenced by the book “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari. Among many other things, he writes about how all that we know in any religion has been written down and since it has been written, it is someone’s version of how life should be or how God must be. Nowadays, I fully subscribe to this viewpoint.
I have been performing some kind of a ritual with a pyre or otherwise every year, for some time now. Having seen so many of them too, I have come to believe that most of the times, the purohit/ pujari performing these rituals take short-cuts to suit two important parameters – time taken and their customer (me). Most of the time taken in any main puja is in setting things up. Invoking the various Gods in different forms to bless the occasion invariably takes up a minimum of 10-15 mins, if not more. If the purohit does not know too much of the main essence of the ceremony, then that time can extend up to 45 mins too. The main event is then reduced to a much shorter time. Some chose to explain what is going on. Others cannot be bothered to explain even when asked. Such is the way these days.
I do agree that there is a vague positivity that is created after these ceremonies, especially when done inside the house. Other than that, this is a great way to propagate Hinduism – performing these rituals by hiring a purohit. In today’s times, it is difficult enough to make a living. For a pujari and to encourage more to take up the profession, performing these rituals and donating to them ensures that more people can take it up. Comparing this profession against some others such as artisans or craftsmen, who have been replaced by machines and industries, purohits have the potential to remain in business for as long as people are driven by fear and the belief in the mythological stories. One way to keep the flame of the belief glowing is to fan it for what its worth. Shorten the time of the ceremony, cater to any request from the customer as long as it is reasonable and ensure the economy keeps moving along. Sounds like a good plan. Your thoughts?