An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Rituals start with Identity

So many religious reformers have talked about rituals and frowned upon the existing ones….. only to create new ones! Why are rituals part and parcel of any religion? Why is it so difficult to escape the trap of rituals in every walk of life? To understand this, one has to go to origin of a ritual.

What creates a ritual? Isn’t the genesis of a ritual in the creation of an “Identity”? “I am this”, one asserts. And from then on, to save this “This-ness” one creates an entire process of sustaining it. Soon it becomes – All who refer to or believe in “This-ness” DO THIS! Attributes of an Identity no longer remain analytical (as in result of an analysis) but become prescriptive [it is no longer “Only 4 types of jobs are prevalent in any society – Brahman, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras” – it now becomes “Only 4 types of castes can be there – ….”] The prescriptive avatar of an identity similarly creates a self sustaining mechanism.

The need to name oneself, the process and the permutations of names considered are all rituals! A name is also a ritual. Why Joseph and not Yusuf? Surname is another ritual. Some in India use their village name, some their Dad’s name, some their Gotra name, some actual castes, and some genuine modern ones.

So can you possibly get rid of rituals? And is any one ritual “superior” to another? Personally I don’t think so. What do you think?

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8 Comments
  1. Anonymous says

    There is no word associated superior or inferior
    With the word ritual
    The only reason
    One find such in systems
    Is the origin of society
    With an intent to run
    Group of humanTo govern
    All aspects of life
    In a prescribed manner
    Confine in law and orders
    Efficient machinery
    In form of rituals arrived
    Whose hierarchy was divine
    In their initiation but later turns to crime
    In stagnation, deteriorating without shifting with time

  2. Anonymous says

    There is no word associated superior or inferior
    With the word ritual
    The only reason
    One find such in systems
    Is the origin of society
    With an intent to run
    Group of humanTo govern
    All aspects of life
    In a prescribed manner
    Confine in law and orders
    Efficient machinery
    In form of rituals arrived
    Whose hierarchy was divine
    In their initiation but later turns to crime
    In stagnation, deteriorating without shifting with time

  3. Desh says

    Thanks Anonymous! Nice prose!

    Sustaining of an identity is the process of Rituals! The range/continuum of identity stretches from adopting a Name, a surname..to.. association with a group..to.. lining up for a Prophet/Guru/Religion ..to.. Nationalism… everything. All the facets of identity sustenance create rituals. Mere living with a name is a ritual enough!

    That is why I laugh at those Godmen/Philosophers who keep cribbing about rituals in so and so sect. They have no freaking idea of what they are talking about! They are just preparing to create some new ones themselves! Its only their condescending attitude that makes them believe otherwise. 🙂

  4. vk says

    Yesterday, a colleague told me he was upset that his favorite ritual – praying to a statue of his favorite God (I don’t name the name of the God but he does.. he is from South India) – was not possible to do when he visits his sister in Houston because the Shaivaite temple (devoted to Shivji) in Houston had refused permission to put that statue in their temple.

    In Dallas also, the local temples have been known to deny requests for certain kinds of statues because the priests find them to threaten the Godly business in their statues. I know that the priests in one temple fought because one went on vacation and the other did not ‘feed and bathe’ the other’s favorite statue in his absence.

    This is the problem with most rituals – many of them lead people tend to mislead people into attaching themselves with objects and forgetting about the omni-potence of God.

    The really really bad effect of one such ritual was when thousands of people started feeding milk to statues of Ganesha (as if God is ‘bhookha’ and needs it) resulting in milk becoming so costly for a few weeks that poor people could not buy any for their infants – who knows how many infants would have died.

  5. Desh says

    Thanks Anonymous! Nice prose!

    Sustaining of an identity is the process of Rituals! The range/continuum of identity stretches from adopting a Name, a surname..to.. association with a group..to.. lining up for a Prophet/Guru/Religion ..to.. Nationalism… everything. All the facets of identity sustenance create rituals. Mere living with a name is a ritual enough!

    That is why I laugh at those Godmen/Philosophers who keep cribbing about rituals in so and so sect. They have no freaking idea of what they are talking about! They are just preparing to create some new ones themselves! Its only their condescending attitude that makes them believe otherwise. 🙂

  6. Desh says

    This urge to create distinction between one ritual and another betrays a sense of superiority – where we are basically trying to say .. that MY ritual is better than yours!

    The argument against Idols as in it restricts the “Omnipotent God” to a form is the most nonsensical and ridiculous that I have heard.. yet its the most common one. I have dealt with it in this post.

    Since we are on form, let’s understand “Form” itself. When does “form” begin? When you name something. If you NAME the infinity – and WORSE, if you DESCRIBE that infinite – then you have REDUCED the infinite to a FORM instantly. After that its immaterial whether you sing paeans to its glory through all sorts of adjectives and descriptions OR you create idols.. YOU HAVE RESTRICTED THE INFINITE!

    So, vk, if you beef is with idol worshippers because they restrict the “Omnipotent Infinity” to a Finite existence.. then you are also in the same corner.. if you NAME your God and/or describe its “Glory” or characteristics!

    There are only two ways of talking about Infinity:

    – Positive Assertion
    – Negation

    First one has been used by the Rishis and by Krishna – “Aham Brahasmi” and in Chapter 10 of Gita when Krishna likens to ALL that is good and that is bad.. and “more”.

    Second, Negation, has also been used (in fact ONLY been used in Vedantic philosophy) in Upanishadic literature when in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Yajnavalkya is questioned by his students to describe God. He states “The Divine is not this and it is not that” (neti, neti). Adi Shankara also used this concept.

    I believe that the second way is less fraught with philosophical misinterpretation of the infinite and is the purest way to tread that path of “defining the Infinite WITHOUT really defining it”. The second is for the uninitiated to show what is known and what is unknown is all in that infinite.. but it is fraught with grave misinterpretation as it HAS been all these years.

    So, if you really want to understand any social ill.. go to the ROOT of the issue.. otherwise you are simply straightening the deck of the Titanic! It seems sexy to do that.. but achieves very little!

  7. vk says

    Yesterday, a colleague told me he was upset that his favorite ritual – praying to a statue of his favorite God (I don’t name the name of the God but he does.. he is from South India) – was not possible to do when he visits his sister in Houston because the Shaivaite temple (devoted to Shivji) in Houston had refused permission to put that statue in their temple.

    In Dallas also, the local temples have been known to deny requests for certain kinds of statues because the priests find them to threaten the Godly business in their statues. I know that the priests in one temple fought because one went on vacation and the other did not ‘feed and bathe’ the other’s favorite statue in his absence.

    This is the problem with most rituals – many of them lead people tend to mislead people into attaching themselves with objects and forgetting about the omni-potence of God.

    The really really bad effect of one such ritual was when thousands of people started feeding milk to statues of Ganesha (as if God is ‘bhookha’ and needs it) resulting in milk becoming so costly for a few weeks that poor people could not buy any for their infants – who knows how many infants would have died.

  8. Desh says

    This urge to create distinction between one ritual and another betrays a sense of superiority – where we are basically trying to say .. that MY ritual is better than yours!

    The argument against Idols as in it restricts the “Omnipotent God” to a form is the most nonsensical and ridiculous that I have heard.. yet its the most common one. I have dealt with it in this post.

    Since we are on form, let’s understand “Form” itself. When does “form” begin? When you name something. If you NAME the infinity – and WORSE, if you DESCRIBE that infinite – then you have REDUCED the infinite to a FORM instantly. After that its immaterial whether you sing paeans to its glory through all sorts of adjectives and descriptions OR you create idols.. YOU HAVE RESTRICTED THE INFINITE!

    So, vk, if you beef is with idol worshippers because they restrict the “Omnipotent Infinity” to a Finite existence.. then you are also in the same corner.. if you NAME your God and/or describe its “Glory” or characteristics!

    There are only two ways of talking about Infinity:

    – Positive Assertion
    – Negation

    First one has been used by the Rishis and by Krishna – “Aham Brahasmi” and in Chapter 10 of Gita when Krishna likens to ALL that is good and that is bad.. and “more”.

    Second, Negation, has also been used (in fact ONLY been used in Vedantic philosophy) in Upanishadic literature when in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Yajnavalkya is questioned by his students to describe God. He states “The Divine is not this and it is not that” (neti, neti). Adi Shankara also used this concept.

    I believe that the second way is less fraught with philosophical misinterpretation of the infinite and is the purest way to tread that path of “defining the Infinite WITHOUT really defining it”. The second is for the uninitiated to show what is known and what is unknown is all in that infinite.. but it is fraught with grave misinterpretation as it HAS been all these years.

    So, if you really want to understand any social ill.. go to the ROOT of the issue.. otherwise you are simply straightening the deck of the Titanic! It seems sexy to do that.. but achieves very little!

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