Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why should I perform rituals?

Often I hear questions like "What is the purpose of performing _____?",  "What do I gain by performing ___________", mostly from TamBrahms.  Fill up the blanks with any ritual - from Sandhyavandanam,  Sarasvathi Pooja or Amvasya Tharpanam.  The usual answers can be broadly grouped as:

a.  It is good Karma.  If you perform it, the Gods or the ancestors would be pleased and would make sure your life is smooth.  I haven't met a person who is clear about what or who this God is.  There are readymade answers like omnipotent, omnipresent, etc etc.  And talking of ancestors, I haven't met a person who knows beyond the name of his grandfather's grandfather.  It doesn't convince me for I know Karma is too complex a phenomenon that I don't bother to understand.

b. There is (pseudo) science behind it.  If you perform Sandhyavandam, it is a good exercise, works on your neurons to make you do your Math better.  Why do you think the earlier generations of TamBrahms were so good at Maths and Science?  I know a handful of TamBrahms who were very good at Maths and Science, but am not sure if they performed Sandhyavandam regularly.  In fact, some of those who used perform it religiously were struggling to get out of poverty.  They couldn't care much about Science or Maths.

So, I wouldn't give these reasons to the next generation of TamBrahms.  But I discovered a nice explanation, that is appealing to me.  My explanation has no belief in it, nor does it have any science in it.

Our rituals have a definite pattern to it.  Let me take the case of the various pooja that we do or the last rites for a departed.  The imaginary God or the ancestor who's in the performer's mind, is invoked in a physical object or a person.  Symbolically offerings are made to the object or the person.  In the absence of exact flowers or food items, alternates can be offered. The whole ritual is symbolic.  I would compare this to a child's role play.  A bit romantic, very comforting if you can observe the feeling.

Dig a little deeper. You might find nuggets of geography, history, tribal beliefs and what not.  As you perform and start observing, you get a picture of the culture that made you as who you are.  Of course, none of these are obvious and can't be taught.  Gain some interest, observe it, try to find the origin of a custom, it gets more and more interesting.

My uncle who was a history teacher had a theory that a section of TamBrahms migrated from the southern banks of Narmada.  He referred a shloka that is part of Sandhyavandam that is specific to the Vadama community.  He may be right or wrong, but it opens up a thinking and if you are passionate about history, you can start tracing it.

I had performed most of the rituals just for the experience.  The discoveries happened over time.  It can happen to you too.