Why Should You Question Hindu Rituals?
Yesterday, I received a call from Anantha Krishnan: “Udayji, I am a regular reader of your website. A famous astrologer advised me to conduct a “Maha Mrityunjaya Homam” to protect my father from the unfortunate event of death. I am in USA now. The priest, who was recommended by the astrologer, said that he can do the homam in his house and send prasadam (religious offering) to my father. He said the total cost would be around $1500 (above one lakh). This has to be done with immediate effect or my father…..Is this right? What’s your advice? I appreciate your rational perspective and logical explanation. I don’t have anybody else to consult. Please advise.”
“Anantha, I am not an expert in achars(rituals and customs). All I can do is sharing my limited understanding of achars in Hinduism,” I said.
“Yes, that’s what I need. I wanted an un-biased opinion,” he said.
Broadly, we have three types of rituals and traditions.
First one is Vaidikam – Vaidik karma (Vedic customs and traditions) is purely based on Vedas and hence do not change. All rituals (homam, havanam, yagam, jagna, yajnaetc) through the medium of fire (Agni) is Vaidikam. We offer ‘Homa Dravyas’ or Havan Samagri (materials for sacred offering) to fire. Here, we use Veda mantras (sacred hymns) and the swaram (note in the octave) of hymns is most important here. There is no idol worship in Vaidika karma, and hence, rituals are not related to temples.
Second one is Pauranikam – it is based on Puranas. All rituals using the medium as an Idol or a Lamp can be termed as Pauranikam. Here we use keerthanam (singing the glories) of the favourite gods and also some Veda mantras. However, instead of Swaram, the thrust is given to raaga (melodic modes used in Indian classical music). “Shodasa Upachara pooja” (complete process of performing the rituals of pooja, the worship) – which constitute of Dhyanam (prayer), Avahana invocation, Aaasana (offering seating), Paadya (washing of feet), Arghya (washing of hands), Aachamana (Offering water to drink) etc – is the integral part of this… Most of such rituals are done at temples or pooja (family prayer) rooms.
The third one is Loukikam – It is part of any functions. It has local flavour. Most celebrations happen at homes or halls fall under this category. This changes as per the status of the person conducting the function and his/her locality. Sometimes few rituals from Vaidikam and Pauranikam are seen mixed here. The mantras from Veda, Itihasa (epic) and puranas may be used in Loukikam. Sometimes poem in local languages are also used. The housewarming, Shashti Poorthi (60th birthday), Birthday celebrations, Namakarana (Naming the child) etc come under this. The rituals can be elongated or shortened.
“However, there exist numerous local Gods around the country who are neither Vedic nor Puranic. Naturally there are rituals that do not fall in any of these categories,” I said.
“A traditional Hindu marriage is a mix of all three. There are also umpteen rituals in the marriage, which has nothing to do with Veda or puranas or even the religion. For instance, there was no practice of exchanging rings during marriages in Hindu ritual. This practice was not a wedding or betrothal rituals but considered as a wedding gift only,” I said.
Now, about the practical side of all these rituals and customs…
“All rituals in Vedic Dharma must qualify all or most of these effects: 1. Psychological, 2. Physiological, 3. Family bondage, 4. Social bondage, 5.Community health 6. National Integration, 7.Material benefits and 8. Environmental Protection and sustainable healthy living.!”
Dharma Sastra tells that achars are for a long happy and healthy life and for sustainable and permanent positive results. By practicing those rituals you become happy, prosperous and wealthy (not necessarily in tangible forms). Rituals are followed for strong family and social bondage. Those achars will take you from darkness to light. It develops a sattvik character in you.
“So, we have to follow all rituals as is…” Anantha asked.
“No. We have to be careful about anachars and durachars.”
– The rituals not relevant for 21st century are known as anachrs (malpractices). When you discriminate people based on caste, creed and sex or follow superstitions, it is called Anachar.
-The rituals which produce negative results are durachars (vice offends, evil practices) – animal sacrifice, offering liquor as a part of religious rituals, etc fall under this.
– The rituals which produce good results or effects are sadachars – that is what we have to follow. Dharma Sastras say that one should eradicate anachars and durachars based on our wisdom, time, location and science.
Most of the Hindu rituals have founded upon strong scientific rationale. Take for instance, ‘Ganapathy homam’ in which we burn coconuts; The fibrous part of the husk (coir) produces moderate sulfur oxides (Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and sulfur trioxide (SO3)), the coconut Shell, when burned produce phenol and when you burn coconut with ghee, it produces pyrazine (a heterocyclic aromatic organic compound) Please ask any school students, they will teach you how these can prevent virus, bacteria and germs that create cholera, typhoid, tetanus, pneumonia, chicken pox etc.. It is Antimicrobial. The ritual of burning medicinal plants is to produce ‘purifying’ smoke.
Please check yourself about how the burning wood and odoriferous and medicinal herbs during the Vedic rituals can effectively reduce pathogens in the air. Each item of the ritual material is significant. These materials are offered in the fire after completion of every mantra chant. It is supposedly the sacred food for the deities. But we know deities won’t eat it. So it has an effect only on us and our surroundings.
Evaluate materials used for each haven and analyse the chemical reactions when each material is burned in combination of others. Combustion of fatty substances, Photochemical process, Purification of environment, Removal of bacteria, the antiseptic and antibiotic effects, Removal of insects, Effects on plants and vegetation, Role of CO2 Generated in Yagna (is not freeCO2. It is mixed with the vapours of other aromatic oils and antiseptic products) – you will say “wow”.
The mixture of various dried herbal, roots and leaves is offered in the ablaze fire disseminates in micro form, in the air, to purify the environment besides activating the air as disinfectant germicidal agent. It is anti-bacterial.
You are sitting in a yoga posture for some time with a different mindset. You are experiencing three types of energies – light (fire), heat (fire) and sound (mantra) that would sync with your sight, touch and hearing. It invokes your smell (burning of materials). Tasty prasadam satisfies your taste buds too. All five senses are happy.
While Ghee helps rapid combustion of cellulose of wood, the volatile oils get diffused in the surrounding atmosphere along with steam and smoke etc. diffuse the surrounding atmosphere and subjected to photo-chemical reactions. The constituent electrons of the substances fumigated purify the environment. You might have learnt in school how the partial oxidation of hydrocarbons and decomposition of complex organic substances produce formaldehyde, which is antiseptic and has germicidal action. You also should know the effect of polyphenols in banana leaf.
As described in Rig-Veda’s, saints used to perform agnihotra-yagnas to purify the environment by sublimating the ritual materials in fire. I have discussed about the psychological and physical benefits in various other articles.
However, Agni rituals have declined in the last 40 years. Life has changed. Today most of the priests do not know about these rituals. Hence, if you are a truth seeker or Hindu, you should question each and every ritual. There is NO scope for blind beliefs or fanaticism in our Dharma. Everything needs logical explanation.
For, you have to develop a healthy dis-respect to these rituals. Use your rational brain. Everything in Sanatan Dharma needs rationale and reasoning… Our rituals, as noted above, are not belief-based non-sense. It has multiple meaning.
So, ask your priest all about the rituals. Why should you do it? Ask him to explain the process and upakarma in scientific terms. If he cannot, well, he is just like a parrot repeating words he learnt. He is doing it just for livelihood and not thoroughly studied. If priests cannot explain the basis of what he does, what’s the point in performing such rituals?
Another issue is the genuinely of materials. Most of the haven samagris are Chinese. Even the camphour you are using is NOT natural, it is artificial. You have to make sure if materials used are original or duplicate.
“So, if you want to perform a ritual, first you have to learn about it. Just because a fake-astrologer-fraud-priest-mafia provided you bid/quotation for their revenue, you don’t have to perform a homam.” I told Anantha Krishnan.
“So, there is no point in performing this ritual?”
“Please perform the ritual with the help of a genuine priest at your home in presence of all family members. The genuine priest will explain whatever he does. He shouldn’t demand money from you. Instead, you should give him a reasonable Dakshina (a financial remuneration or honorarium to the priests in exchange for their services) according to your wish.” Or you can learn and do it yourself.”
“Okay, so I will try to find a genuine learnt person in our area. But what about time frame? He said soon…”
“God knows everything. If you are delayed by few months, no god will charge additional interest, tax or put fine on you. The moment your mind think about performing a ritual, god knows it, so don’t worry,” I told him: “Get your father’s health checked properly immediately in a good hospital and make sure that he doesn’t have any medical problem. And pray for ayur (longevity), arogya (health), aishwarya (wealth) of all of you.”
“What should I say, if that priest calls again?”
“Tell him you will pay $1500. But you need a receipt clearly mentioning the warranty period of ‘his’ Mruthunjaya homa. If something happens to your father within that warranty period, go to consumer court and file a case for few million dollars compensation from the priest and astrologer.”
Let me caution you – all homam should earnestly be performed with few conditions: (1) It should be performed ONLY at your home along with your wife (2) Don’t use Chinese or duplicate materials (3) invite your friends and relatives (3) after homam distribute prasadam and food (tiffin or lunch) to all. If you do this at regular intervals you would experience dramatic changes in life. If you just pay money to a greedy priest and let him perform elsewhere or his temple, I don’t think it will have any effects. For, your family involvement is the basic minimum requisite for such havan.
Anantha performed the homam and is a happy man now. He wrote to me profusely expressing his gratitude. He was so excited that he would like to perform other havans. “Can I invite you, Udayji, as my friend or relative? Would you come?”
“Yes, of course, if you make tasty and sweet prasadams and sponsor my trip…” I replied.
I would like to answer two more frequently asked questions here:
Is it true that only Brahmin can perform homam?
No. It is the other way around. Those who learnt Vedas and performing these rituals are Brahmins. Just because you born in today’s Brahmin caste, you are not a real Brahmin as per Sanatan Dharma. It is a position, a position earned, not gained by birth. Of course, a person born in Brahmin caste has some advantages over others – easy access to all those things coupled with traditional knowledge and DNA advantage. It is just like a doctor’s children have more information on that profession than others. But anybody can learn and perform rituals – Maharshi Viswamitra, who taught the Gayatri mantra, was not Brahmin. Maharshi Valmiki, who taught Brahma Jnana to Maharshi Bharadwaja, was a tribal by birth.
Are these achars written by Brahmins?
These achars were written by Rishis (Saints) from all Varnas and from different parts of India. They are also written in different languages. During the period when achars were written, none of the Rishis was known in their caste name. The present type of caste system never existed during then.
Can women perform homam?
At the level of subtle body there is no difference based on gender. All spiritual practices operate mainly at the subtle level. So, it makes no sense to have a total ban on women performing rituals. In fact, NO major ritual in Sanatan Dharma is possible without your wife sitting beside you. Even unmarried priests are not allowed to do pooja in temples. As I have discussed in many articles, discrimination based on caste and sex introduced to India by foreigners. The taboo for women is product of male chauvinistic beliefs that thrust upon our country and that is NOT part of Hinduism. If any women are interested, they should be encouraged to perform ritual.
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