Meaning of Rituals
Rituals are a sequence of activities that involve gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed according to a set sequence. They are followed by a religious group, cult, or community.
Why are rituals important?
Rituals have existed in religions and cultures for a long, and we may wonder why they are essential; they are essential because they give an identity to culture, religion, or tradition. In addition to giving an identity, rituals help add a sense of discipline and order to the festivities or ceremonies.
Hinduism and Rituals
Hinduism, the oldest religion globally, has several rituals; of all the organized religions, Hinduism has the most number of rituals. Hindus worship God in several forms, and there are many sects and cults in their religion.
As there are several festivals and observances in Hinduism, it has a lot of rituals. While some rituals are common to Hindu festivals, others are unique to a particular festival, cult, or sect.
The Hindu rituals have a very long history and are recorded in scriptures and rock edicts.
While many ancient Hindu rituals have been lost in transition, quite a significant number have stood the test of time and exist to date. Some Hindu rituals have also evolved over the years in tune with the changing times.
The Science behind Hindu rituals
There are suitable rituals right from birth, education, marriage, building home, and until death. They mark the progress of life’s stages and the duties and responsibilities that await a child at every stage of their life. Every ritual has science behind them.
- Vivaha/Marriage– Unarguably, the marriage rituals are the most important of the Hindu practices. The marriage rituals are not uniform; they vary depending on region, sect, and community.
- Garbhadhana/ Prayer for children– This ritual is a prayer before conception. The wife invites her husband to have a physical relationship with her and give her good offspring.
- Pumsavana/Prayer for the fetus– Once the woman finds out that she is pregnant, she would inform her husband and other family elders. The pregnant woman’s husband will serve her a particular dish, praying for the healthy growth of the baby.
- Simantonnayana/Baby shower– When an expectant mother is in an advanced stage of pregnancy, the relatives and friends come together and perform rituals to bring her cheer during pregnancy.
- Jatakarma/Celebrating birth– This ritual is a gesture welcoming a child to the world. The Child’s father will whisper a special prayer into the newborn’s ear, the prayer is a kind of instruction to the new born, asking it to suck the truth as if it were his mother’s milk.
- Namakarana/Giving a name– On the tenth or eleventh day after birth, the relatives and friends of the family come together to give a name to the child. A suitable name is selected for the child after thoroughly reading the child’s birth chart.
- Nishkramana/First outing– This ritual is performed when a child is in its third or fourth month. The parents or elders at home take the child outside the home and is show sunrise or sunset to the baby. Likewise some may take the child to a temple too..
- Annaprashana/First meal– In the sixth month, once the baby’s teeth begin to grow, the child is taken to a temple and given solid food for the first time.
- Karnavedha/Piercing the earlobes– In the seventh month, the child’s earlobes are pierced, accompanied by prayers. These rituals ask for the child to hear bliss through her ears.
- Chudakarana/Shaving the head– When the child completes a year, his head is shaved, and nails are cut symbolizing his entry into personal hygiene.
- Vidyarambha/Beginning of education– When the child is about five years old, he is introduced into education. Sand or rice is spread on the floor, and a guru guides the child to write the alphabet letters. The ritual includes offering prayers to Saraswati, the Knowledge Goddess and Ganesha, the God for Wisdom.
- Upanayana/entry into school– When the child reaches the age of eight, he would be given a sacred thread to wear and taught the Gayatri Mantra marking his entry into formal education.
- Vedarambha/Introduction to the Vedas– For students allowed to study the Vedas, this rite marks the student’s entry into Vedic knowledge. During this ritual, the student conducts a yajna along with his guru.
- Keshanta and Ritushuddhi/Puberty rites– puberty rituals vary for boys and girls. For boys, the facial hair is shaved and for girls, the first menarche is celebrated.
- Samavartana/Graduation– The student will lead the life of a Brahmachari for 12 years in the teacher’s house and would learn all the arts and skills of life. A ritual bath marks the completion of his education, and the student receives blessings from his guru and guru patni.
- Antyeshti/Funeral rites– This is the last ritual a person undergoes physically. When a person dies, the dead body is consigned to flames on a wooden pyre. The death rituals of a person will go on for thirteen days after a person has passed away.
The Hindu customs and practices emphasize receiving the blessings of the Almighty in every stage of life. Therefore, rituals are an ideal way of enhancing the process of worship. While some Hindu rituals are ideal to be performed on holy sites such as temples, riverbanks, or seashores, some are done at home.« Chandra Ashtottaram – The 108 names of Lord Chandra Blessings of Goddess Lakshmi’s Rain of Gold Hymn »