Importance and Significance of Hindu Rituals and Practices
Importance and Significance of Hindu Rituals and Practices
Hinduism is not just a religion, it is a way of life. In Hinduism, rituals are performed to bring spirituality into human life and inculcate feelings of devotion and religiosity. Rituals are not only celebrated during life but continue after death, including burial and cremation practices. For Hindus, it is the Vedas – the oldest spiritual scriptures in the world – that have shaped and influenced their rituals. The Vedas are a collection of hymns and rituals that date back thousands of years. These priceless texts were passed on to several generations through oral narration.
Earlier, many Hindu rituals focused on the importance of performing the duties associated with one’s stage of life. The four stages of life are as follows:
Brahmacharya – Acquiring education and enhancing one’s character
Grihastha – Worldly pleasures and pursuits that include marriage and career
Vanaprastha – Spirituality
Sannyasa – The life of contemplation
There are many ancient rituals that are not performed today, as their meaning and practice have changed over the centuries. For example, during Vedic times, yajnas were related to Karma and Dharma but now they are associated with social activities.
A. Significance of Hindu Rituals
For Hindus, receiving the blessings of God is of principal importance when performing the rituals. They believe when God is pleased by their devotion, he bestows his blessings upon them. Most of the Hindu rituals are performed on holy sites such as temples or in nature, but some are performed in the home.
As a part of the household responsibilities, a devout Hindu is expected to perform certain rituals every day. The morning rituals may include taking a bath or physical self-purification, offering prayers to the Sun God, or Chanting the Gayatri mantra. The most common rituals practiced in all Hindu households are puja, meditation, silent prayers, yoga, recitation of scriptures from Bhagavad Gita or bhajans, reading religious books, participating in Satsang (prayer meets), performing charitable work, visiting a temple, and chanting the name of their beloved God. It is through these rituals, prayers, and sacred ceremonies that Hindus pay their reverence to God.
Prayers or Pooja are an integral part of a Hindu devotee’s life. They perform these prayers under the assistance or guidance of Hindu priests or Brahmins. After every pooja, a sacred offering (or Prasad) is made to God. Such offerings are meant to be made without claiming reciprocal advantages as a mark of service to God. Hindus believe that performing these rituals help in their spiritual betterment.
Rituals are some physical activities which help us either physically or mentally but mostly in an indirect way. There are many Indian traditional rituals among which the Hindu rituals gain higher importance because of the scientific reasons and the amount of discipline involved in them.
Rituals form a structure that makes life easier. Many have scientifically proven health benefits behind them. They have been followed through ages and passed on for generations. The rituals orient you as to where you are and what you should be doing. Most rituals are like an invisible watch, for example, if you are doing Surya Namaskar then it must be the time for Sunrise.
In Hinduism, rituals are meant to inculcate feelings of devotion and religiosity and thereby bring God and spirituality into the center of human life. As a part of his householders responsibilities, a devout Hindu is expected to perform certain rituals every day starting from morning till evening.
Some people do not like to use the word rituals to denote Vedic religious activities since the word ritual implies certain mechanical attitude and lack of serious involvement. Vedic sacrifices are integrated into human life and although they are meant to be performed with certain regularity, their ultimate purpose is not mere observance but transformation of the mind and body so that the person becomes a fit vehicle to manifest the intent and purpose of God in creation.
Rituals and ceremonies primarily involve offerings to gods, beings, departed souls, humans and other living beings. Offerings are made on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. Some offerings are made on specific occasions that come only once in a lifetime. Such offerings are meant to be made without claiming reciprocal advantages as a service to God and his manifestations.
Devout Hindus perform daily rituals and make oblations or offerings of water to various deities at different times in the day. The morning sacrifices include bathing or physical self-purification, offering prayers to the Sun, chanting of the Gayatri mantra, applying certain specific religious marks on the body etc. In addition, devotees may also observe rituals that are specific to the teacher traditions they follow. Such daily observances are especially meant for householders. Hindu ascetics (sanyasis) may also follow certain daily rituals and worship gods or their teachers, but they differ from those of the householders.
Hindus follow diverse rituals according to their beliefs, social status, availability of time, family traditions, and other factors. Many ancient rituals and practices, which were once obligatory are now discarded for various reasons. Some cannot be performed today since people live in cities and the conditions do not permit them to stick to the discipline prescribed in the scriptures to perform them.
Among the daily rituals that are currently practiced in many Hindu households, the most popular ones are puja, meditation, silent prayers, yoga, recitation of scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita or bhajans, reading religious books, participating in “satsang” or visiting the company of holy men, doing some charitable work, visiting temples and holy places, or chanting of some mantra or the name of a specific God.
Some Daily Observances
In Hinduism, each day of the week is devoted to one or more of the faith’s deities. Special rituals, including prayer and fasting, are performed to honor these gods and goddesses. Each day also is associated with a celestial body from Vedic astrology and has a corresponding gemstone and color.
There are two different types of fasting in Hinduism. Upvaas are fasts made to fulfill a vow, while vratas are fasts made to observe religious rituals. Devotees may engage in either kind of fast during the week, depending on their spiritual intent.
Ancient Hindu sages used observances like ritual fasts to spread the awareness of different gods. They believed abstaining from food and drink would pave the path of the divine for the devotees to realize God, which is understood to be the sole purpose of human existence.
In the Hindu calendar, days are named after the seven celestial bodies of the ancient solar system: the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
1. Monday (Somvar)
Monday is dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort goddess Parvati. Lord Ganesha, their son, is venerated at the beginning of the worship. Devotees also listen to devotional songs called shiva bhajans on this day. Shiva is associated with Chandra, the moon. White is his color and pearl his gemstone.
The Somvar Vrat or Monday fast is observed from sunrise to sunset, broken after evening prayers. Hindus believe that, by fasting, they will be granted wisdom by Lord Shiva who will fulfill all their desires. In some places, unmarried women fast in order to attract their ideal husband.
2. Tuesday (Mangalvar)
Tuesday is dedicated to the deity Lord Hanuman and Mangal, the planet Mars. In southern India, the day is dedicated to the god Skanda. Devotees also listen to Hanuman Chalisa, songs dedicated to the simian deity, on this day. Hindu faithful fast to honor Hanuman and seek his help in warding off evil and overcoming obstacles placed in their way.
Fasting is also observed by couples who want to have a son. After sundown, the fast is typically broken by a meal consisting only of wheat and jaggery (case sugar). People wear red-colored clothes on Tuesdays and offer red flowers to Lord Hanuman. Moonga (red coral) is the preferred gem of the day.
3. Wednesday (Budhvar)
Wednesday is dedicated to Lord Krishna and Lord Vithal, an incarnation of Krishna. The day is associated with Budh, the planet Mercury. In some places, Lord Vishnu is also worshipped. Devotees listen to Krishna Bhajans (songs) on this day. Green is the preferred color and onyx and emerald the preferred gems.
Hindu devotees who fast on Wednesdays take a single meal in the afternoon. Budhvar Upvaas (Wednesday fasts) are traditionally observed by couples seeking a peaceful family life and students who want academic success. People start a new business or enterprise on Wednesdays as the planet Mercury or Budh is believed to augment new projects.
4. Thursday (Guruvar or Vrihaspativar)
Thursday is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Brihaspati, the guru of gods. Vishnu’s planet is Jupiter. Devotees listen to devotional songs, such as “Om Jai Jagadish Hare,” and fast to obtain wealth, success, fame, and happiness.
Yellow is Vishnu’s traditional color. When the fast is broken after sundown, the meal traditionally consists of yellow foods such as chana daal (Bengal Gram) and ghee (clarified butter). Hindus also don yellow clothing and offer yellow flowers and bananas to Vishnu.
5. Friday (Shukravar)
Friday is dedicated to Shakti, the mother goddess associated with the planet Venus; Goddesses Durga and Kali also are worshipped. Devotees perform the ceremonies of Durga Aarti, Kali Aarti, and Santoshi Mata Aarti on this day. Hindus seeking material wealth and happiness fast to honor Shakti, eating only a single meal after sunset.
Because white is the color most closely associated with Shakti, the evening meal typically consists of white foods such as kheer or payasam, a dessert made of milk and rice. Offerings of chana (Bengal gram) and gur (jaggery or solid molasses) are given to appeal to the goddess, and sour foods are to be avoided.
Other colors associated with Shakti include orange, violet, purple, and burgundy, and her gemstone is the diamond.
6. Saturday (Shanivar)
Saturday is dedicated to the fearful god Shani, who is associated with the planet Saturn. In Hindu mythology, Shani is a hunter who brings bad luck. Devotees fast from sunrise to sunset, seeking protection from Shani’s ill will, illnesses, and other misfortunes. After sundown, Hindus break the fast by eating food prepared using black sesame oil or black gram (beans) and cooked without salt.
Devotees observing the fast usually visit Shani shrines and offer black-colored items like sesame oil, black clothes, and black beans. Some also worship the peepal (the holy Indian fig) and tie a thread around its bark, or offer prayers to Lord Hanuman seeking protection from Shani’s wrath. Blue and black are Shani’s colors. Blue gems, such as blue sapphire, and black iron rings made of horseshoes frequently are worn to ward off Shani.
7. Sunday (Ravivar)
Sunday is dedicated to Lord Surya or Suryanarayana, the sun god. Devotees fast seeking his help in fulfilling their wishes and curing skin diseases. Hindus begin the day with a ritual bath and a thorough housecleaning. They keep a fast throughout the day, eating only after sunset and avoiding salt, oil, and fried foods. Alms are also given on that day.
Surya is represented by rubies and the colors red and pink. To honor this deity, Hindus will wear red, apply a dot of red sandalwood paste on their forehead, and offer red flowers to statues and icons of the sun god.
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