Celebrate festivals with joy, not pain!

Starting with the month of July, households are abuzz with activity. The devout observe a series of fasts and feasts and festivals follow each other in quick succession. These entail a whole lot of things – rituals, both religious and social, fasting, not to speak of the offerings to God and then feasting! Each festival has a specific list of things to be done. It also means cleaning the house, decorating and other such related chores. The very orthodox and devout brook no arguments about the observance/celebration of these festivals, and go ahead full steam doing everything the way ‘they should be done’. This includes the religious rituals.

Such rituals were instituted by our forebears to instill discipline in our lives, think of God and thank Him. The social and cultural aspects were added to make them more enjoyable. For instance, many Hindu festivals, especially in the south, have the ritual of haldi-kumkum for married women. These were meant to allow womenfolk to mingle with their neighbours and relatives in days when they didn’t have any chance of such an outing. They wore festive clothes, decorated the homes with colourful rangoli and decked up the shrine with flowers and adorned the idols of the gods tastefully and of course cooked all those wonderful offerings. The navarathri kolu, likewise is a showcase of cultural and aesthetic sensibilities of the devotees and the entire household participates in them.

But with changing times, the methods of celebrations have changed too. We are going to two extremes while celebrating festivals – one of extravagant pomp and show and the other of simply ignoring them. The latter group justifies it saying that they abhor the rituals connected with the festvities.

Here, may I remind those who ‘abhor’ rituals, that we gladly observe many rituals – a family reunion every year, a ritual observed for freshers at college, a ritual at the workplace, a club ritual with specific things to make and do…. We not only follow them, but are proud of them. Don’t we all go through agonies to make the annual day at the school of our children a success? Isn’t that an annual ritual too? Then why this aversion to rituals related to festivals or religious ceremonies which showcase our culture and aesthetics and above all devotion?

While everyone loves the festive atmosphere, the eats and the festivities in general, not everyone enjoys making it all happen. These are the committed ones, those who actually love everything about a festival and also feel that it should be celebrated in its entirety. And the older generation, which does it diligently. The cleaning, the shopping, the rangoli, and the preparations for the offerings – the entire works. For the rest, it is an irritant, especially if the elders insist that certain rituals be done the exact way it has been done in the family all along. Many of the festivals being region specific, it is not always possible to get off from work or school and college when there is no holiday in that region. There is usually someone or the other in the family or neighbourhood comparing the rituals and finding fault with the way you are doing them. Then begins the one-upmanship and arguments over the merits of the respective rituals and by the time the festival actually rolls round there are a couple of long faces and a lot of bad vibes going around. Add to it, the attendant disruption of routine and the extra work load and the irritant-quotient is at its highest level.

Aren’t festivals and religious celebrations meant to give joy and peace to those who are celebrating them, to remember God and the significance of the festival? But when there is so much tension in the celebration, there is neither joy nor devotion and they end up being mere rituals, which are sometimes observed under duress.

Chhappan bhog for the Lord

Chhappan bhog for the Lord

Let me give an example: many south Indian festivals involve elaborate offerings. Just take a look at the list of offerings traditionally made for Janmashtami in a South Indian  household: Murukku, seedai, sweet seedai, appam, sundry burfis including the famous Mysore pak, therattu paal, etc. etc. Earlier there were joint families and the work got divided between the many members. Each one did her or his bit and things got done. It is not possible in a nuclear family to make so many varieties of offering, just because ‘it needs to be traditionally done that way.’ Moreover, everyone is not an expert at making these items — the mysore pak might become hard as rock or the sweet seedai might disintegrate in the oil….Imagine going to all that trouble and finding that the offerings have become a mess. Besides, all can’t take things in their stride, so tempers get frayed especially on an empty stomach and the festive mood is spoilt. By the end of the day, you are so tired that you don’t find the energy to go through the pooja with the same enthusiasm had you just scaled down the preparations a bit and given some items a miss.

I used to wonder how a newborn Krishna could eat all those oil based hard namkeens and the sweets. Wouldn’t the other and easier to make offerings like butter, curd and milk flavoured with saffron and cardamoms, be good enough? Wouldn’t God be more pleased with you if you sang His praises with devotion instead of sweating over the smoking oil? Ditto for other festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi. The list of items is long and the preparations elaborate. Steamed rice modak is perhaps one of the most delicious but also most dicey offering to make. The pooja needs to be done in the mornings and so it is a race to complete the cooking and then sit for the pooja.

If you are the kind who loves to cook and also feed others, go right ahead and make all the eats, but with love and a prayer in the heart. And if at the end you don’t have the time or energy to do an elaborate pooja, never mind. By devoting your time and effort to making the offerings, you have already pleased God.

I follow a maximum and minimum rule when it comes to festivals and such. The maximum means that one does everything by the book including the offerings and the pooja rituals. The minimum is the bare essentials of offerings – some fruits, a coconut, flowers, lamp, incense and a lot of devotion even skipping the elaborate pooja. Anything in between is fine too, depending upon your time and inclination. A kheer, some vadas, puri and halwa – you decide what and how much you can do. If you want the children and family to enjoy the traditional prasadams, they are easily outsourced these days. Buy some modak, namkeens, sweets – whatever.

Karva Chauth, a fast observed by north Indian women is the subject of endless debates and arguments against it. This one, like many other such vrats, is observed for the good health and longevity of one’s husband. This is one festival that has been flogged to death and beyond by films and serials, glamourising it in the process. I know of many women who observe it only to please their in-laws or to allay the subconscious fear that something may happen to their husbands if they don’t do it. Some women are unable to fast but still observe the fast. There are other festivals/fasts in the south that are observed for the same reason. Why not make them symbolic instead? Being one of those who doesn’t fast due to health reasons, I find it hard to accept that one’s love or devotion can be expressed only on an empty stomach.

Better still, why not customize them to make them more enjoyable and meaningful, or even observe them symbolically? I know of many who distribute food to orphans or the homeless on festivals instead of conducting elaborate poojas. Aren’t they more wonderful? Do I sound blasphemous?

Sometimes we go through the motions of celebrating certain festivals for fear of making God angry with us, were we to stop them. We fear that some calamity might befall us or the calamity facing us is the cause of our not doing that particular pooja or vrat. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you do feel that you should not discontinue some religious ritual — don’t. But scale it down and concentrate on the prayers and pooja instead of the other related preparations and rituals.

But whatever you do, don’t let festivals become a chore, an empty ritual or a tension-filled routine and please don’t skip them completely either. Instead, customize them according to your convenience and time that you have at your disposal, teach your kids about them and also make it an enjoyable family activity which would please God more than all the serial lights, pomp and grandeur and of course the plethora of offerings. Don’t we know that God expects only humility, faith and compassion from His devotees more than anything else?

So how are you planning to celebrate the festivals this year?

Picture on homepage: Swati Maheshwari Above: commons.wikimedia.org

131 comments

  1. chakratirthatravels · · Reply

    “We not only follow them, but are proud of them. Don’t we all go through agonies to make the annual day at the school of our children a success? Isn’t that an annual ritual too?”
    I totally agree.
    I have always done my bit of customization and enjoyed celebrating in my own way. I am sure my mother did too, but she was a lot more meticulous about doing things “completely” and I would notice that as household help became scarce, she was pushing herself and feeling exhausted at the end of it. She started to cut down on various aspects, trying to keep the essence alive. I follow your “maximum” and “minimum” policy – I like the way you’ve described it. Mum would say in later years that you could use a few rice grains to symbolize every missing item of offering as you enumerated them! I believe workarounds have also been written into traditions.
    Thank you for bringing us back to this beautiful post and happy to see you writing with your usual sparkle and enthusiasm!

    Like

    1. Lovely to have you here Mayalakshmi! It is an old post, but one which won’t lose its relevance any time soon.

      It was precisely the fact that we are pushing ourselves to complete all rituals and then do the pooja that made me rethink the whole thing right from childhood. There would be tension, frayed tempers and sulking galore on a given festival day which made the whole exercise seem counterproductive. After all, we were celebrating say, Krishna’s birth and if we are so exhausted by the time the event arrives, how can we rejoice or even think of Him? I appreciate what your mom did, as I have been doing the same over the years now and advise my children to keep the festive spirit sans the tensions. And as your mother has pointed out, the mantras themselves say, ‘pushpaan/akshataan samarpayáami’ for a lot of things which might not be available to offer while doing pooja.

      Like

  2. Namaste Zephyrji,

    I agree with you completely. All the traditions, festivals, rituals are to make our lives better, happier and to spread the love; family, society, country and so the world…our ego should become smaller and we should embrace the world with love. That’s what I have learnt. As you have described, I have also seen all the tension of cooking different – very difficult to cook dishes, cooked by my Maa and Granny. With time, my Granny started them making simpler. We have changed all the festivals to remove that unnecessary stress. Mostly the tiring work have to be done by women and then they should even prepare to look good for further poojas. Now, we don’t need to cook too many dishes. Even that rice modaks are too difficult. The best ritual I feel is when family can come together for prayers, hymns with concentration and the mind devoted to the Pooja. Mostly our prayers or Vedic Chants aren’t too longer. Even if we can give some hours for prayer and some for celebrations that will really serve the purpose of festivals. Kids get bored by all those rituals, they do not understand at all. Instead we can involve them in the activities and rituals which they will enjoy and learn about the festivals too. E.g. during Navaratri I used create beautiful garlands every day for Devi Maa. And, I have always loved it.

    The fasts are also turned weird. If we eat lesser food than usual, we can spend more time with the God. But that’s ok, if we can actually. Spending time with the God, whatever may be the form, like Dhyana, Pooja or Naamjaap, but we should spend time in spiritual activities if we are observing fast. I can’t observe fast at the level which will harm my health and if I am tired and not able to do the work, what kind of Dhyana I will do. I have stopped all that and many women feel my thinking is too modern. Many of the beliefs so commonly observed are not mentioned in our Puranas, Upanishads and Vedas.

    Another point you raised about the fear. That’s absolutely true. If poojas or traditions are making us weaker by fear then we are going wrong. Dharma should help us to grow fearless, strong and happy.

    Reaching extreme point is surely wrong. Now, the beliefs have turned much practical but still there are some people who blame women for not doing what they believe is right. Working women have to work extremely hard to please such people and their beliefs to keep the relationships alive without conflicts.

    Like

    1. Great to have you here, Mohini. I am glad the post resonated with you. I guess those who are into spiritual devotion more than ritualistic devotion will agree with the points raised by the post. Shirdi Baba had told his devotees to avoid fasting saying that one can’t find God on an empty stomach. Your observations are all so good and add to the value of the post. Thank you so much for reading and commenting 🙂

      Like

  3. Interesting topic Zephyr.As kids, when there used to be festivals the only thing that came to our minds was holidays and sweets that in turn meant lots of fun. We never knew the stress part of it. But as we grew older we started questioning on many such rituals.India being a society of many religions there are a lot many festivals. Over the period of time the rituals have been reduced from maximum to minimum level. Priorities have changed because of the lifestyle,nuclear families,women career etc . But I feel people are still interested in celebration. Now largely it is convenience based. Only during week ends. Moreover everybody want that their kids should be in touch with their culture and traditions and don’t forget them altogether or else they will become extinct and life will become stale. Zephyr I was very happy when my son sent me photo of doing Varalakshmi nombu and upakarma.(Changing of sacred thread).

    Like

    1. Priorities have indeed changed but like you say there are many who still like celebrating festivals. So long as the children do it with enthusiasm without stress, it is wonderful. But if they are only doing it to please us, I would rather they dud not. It is ok to do the minimum of rituals and even prasadams, but my plea is for the people not to stop celebrations because they can’t do it all. Devotion and coconut-plantain are more than enough to mark a festival.

      Like

  4. The same goes even for the Hindu Weddings….Amidst the presumable joyous event , the heck lot of taxing rituals , often spoil our mood and screws up our health , at-least for a few days to come….Maybe we need to re-work on the sequence of age old practices and customize them to fit better into the modern day set-up…

    Like

    1. True. Many of the social rituals associated with weddings have lost their significance today. Unfortunately they are not being dispensed with. I love the Arya Samaj weddings where just the main ritual of wedding is followed. BTW, is this the reaction before or after wedding? 😀

      Like

  5. Rituals are not my cup of tea. I am not really sure whether I believe in them all or not. But I do follow the minimum. Also I am living between two extremists…my mum being a minimalist with cooking and rituals and my MIL going overboard with cooking and being elaborate with everything!

    But the Ganesha festival is one such where all the members of my in laws come together and it is a one big happy occasion. The rice modaks that you mentioned, everyone in our family sits down to make them including the male members. I have only seen photos and videos of past celebrations and for some reason or other I have yet to be part of it in my five years of marriage. So I am really looking forward to it. 🙂

    Like

    1. Rituals should be fun, whether they minimalist or maximal. Imagine only a few members sitting and making all those modaks for a large gathering! It would certainly not be as much fun as when everyone joins in, right? That’s what rituals are meant for — to come together, have fun, make time for prayers, devotion, laughter….So one should restrict oneself to what one is comfortable with or feels is important. I am sure you will have loads of fun. Maybe you should do a picture feature after you return. 🙂

      Like

  6. Oh yes, exactly my feelings. 🙂

    I was in Kerala for Onam 2010, my in laws too had flown in from Delhi for it. So it was a total festive feeling and I followed every ritual possible including 10 days of Pookalams. One every single morning for 10 days that lead to Onam. There was the time, the health and the facilities to do it properly there.

    Back when I was working here, we opted for Onam Dinner Sadhya instead of a lunch if I it was not on a weekend. Adapt and maintain the traditions. No harm done, right?

    Onam 2012 details , as you have already read, are on my blog. 🙂

    Like

  7. I’m not one for rituals really, Zephyr but being a Catholic I do realize the importance of rituals. For us, the rituals of the Mass/ Prayers become so meaningful especially at times of deep sorrow – either at your situation or at someone’s death – you have no words to pray and the ritual helps. I have also found the uniformity of our rituals such a blessing when I’ve was abroad on assignments – I could walk in to a Church and feel the unity of the religion even if I didn’t understand the language. However, I’m against anything imposed from the outside. Our participation in the rituals must be of our own free will, naturally. Thanks for giving me food for thought this Sunday afternoon. I’m playing catch up on your lovely blog!

    Like

    1. You said it so beautifully. We have those seemingly numbing rituals during funerals which are essential in actually making one forget the overwhelming grief and concentrate on the mantras and the motions. So I can understand the need for the kind of prayer/ritual that helps one deal with sorrow. Come to think of it, our ancestors created many rituals for the reasons you have outlined — to feel kinship, to find comfort and to rejoice. But all this only if they are not strictly enforced of course. We should have the freedom to adapt and change what we like and what we don’t.

      Thanks to your catching up on my blog, I get to see so many smiles on my dashboard from your radiant face 😀

      Like

  8. Oh Zephyr, the very thought of Varalakshmi nombu has me shaking in my boots. I love the festival and try to do everything by the book but there’s this feeling that I haven’t observed as much “madi” as I should have. I have never once felt completely satisfied with the way I have performed the poojai. In our house nombu is done on a big scale, everything else is celebrated with gusto if it falls on a weekend. I’m totally in agreement with your philosophy and have been asking my mom to take it easy. She’s old school though and will do everything, broken back, notwithstanding 😦 We need to de-emphasize rituals and lay more stress on devotion

    Like

    1. First of all, remember nothing is going to happen if you leave out some details in a pooja preparations. My father had the right reply for such fears. ‘It is our own fear and guilt that will make bad things happen, not God’s anger.’ So when that is out of the way, half the problems are solved. My MIL had made me take piranthathu nombu’ since it is not celebrated in this family and she loved it. So I did everything as my mother used to do and found it too stressful. I used to do it on a large scale too — complete with thazhambu jadai and a mirror at the back to show it off on the amman. I spent two days in preparations, and oh, the madi too 😀 She used to look like a little girl standing there. So one day, I told her that I can’t do it so elaborately and truncated the whole thing. She even threatened me with dire consequences of doing it, but I remembered my father’s words and went ahead. It is sometimes hard to please everyone when you have to listen to your conscience and health.

      Like

  9. Festivals were torturous occasions when my paternal grandparents were around. And being the youngest in the family, and a girl, did not help. They would invent a different ritual each year for each festival. and their daily pujas would stretch on for so long that… suffice it to say that I have gone to school hungry at times.

    These days I am my family’s Scrooge McDuck, and am at my grumpiest and most irritable during festivals and pujas at home. I find it very hard to dredge any kind of genuine enthusiasm for any festival. All I want to do is to be left alone.

    Like

    1. Don’t worry, I used to be bigger Scrooge when I was younger. It is only when I began doing things in my own house that I devised the max-min rule and even did away with some customs that require men to do the pooja for certain festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, since the L&M is not too much into these rituals. My father used to do lengthy poojas too, but he would thoughtfully ask me what time I had to go to college so that he would advance/delay his pooja 🙂

      I feel that everyone enjoys the festivities and eats if someone else is doing them — mother, MIL, sundry elder relatives…But everyone gets older, and want to hang up their ladles sometimes and it is not fair to expect them to do everything so that everyone else enjoys it, right?

      Like

  10. Beautifully written, Zephyr. I agree with everything that you’ve said. Rituals so long as they are followed with a happy and a clear heart can be enjoyed more and hold more value than those that are followed out of force. Its when one feels forced to follow the rituals that they begin to cringe.

    I have always believed that if I have faith in God, if my intentions are pious then it wont matter if I am a stickler for rituals or not. I follow rituals that I truly want to follow and believe that I can put my heart and soul into them. This way I know God will get my undivided attention and I will not be following anything half-heartedly.
    .

    Like

    1. Perfectly put Deeps. Exactly what I believe and do too, even at the cost of being labelled all kinds of things 🙂 I can concentrate on the pooja these days more and earlier with the children young at home, I enjoyed making the goodies and gave the pooja rituals less importance. Even cooking is a form of devotion, isn’t it?

      Like

  11. This is a happy conversation we’ve had at home over and over. In the days we were a joint family, we enjoyed all the rituals – the maximum. As you said, the division of labor infused with lots of laughter was a joy – just as any festival should be. As the family spread geographically, the “maximum” was usually in the form of happy memory talk and walking down nostalgia lane. We did what was convenient.

    Bhakti in the heart. As my Mom would say, God is in each member of the family. And so, two days before a festival, we would all sit together and decide what we wanted to do – and do it. On the actual festival day, we did the essentials. All the other food stuff that took time was spread over 3-4 days so that everyone might give them due importance and enjoy. 🙂 And if someone was going out of town and wouldn’t be around on festival day, we moved the festival to the date on which the person would be at home. It is all about family for us.

    This Gokulashtami, Vidur didn’t have a holiday, and so we shifted the festival to Saturday – which was an off being second Saturday. Festivals are happy occasions and we like to just keep them that way! Though famous for making the best “bakshanam”, I now happily outsource the muruku cheedai. Of course, for Ganesh Chaturti, I make the kozhukattais and all the other stuff that go with the festival 🙂

    I love the post, Zephyr. Whatever we do, we must do with conviction and joy. Not to show off or in fear of what “four” people may say 🙂 I love all the spring cleaning before a major festival. It is fun!

    Like

    1. You know Vidya, all the customs and rituals were added to make everyone get involved in any celebrations. While some might love to cook, othes might love spring cleaning, as you do and yet others might love decorating the house. But when one person or at the most, two people have to do it and for every festival during the year, it can easily become a chore. Your method of holding a family conferences sounds very sensible and democratic 🙂

      And hey, I didn’t miss the part about being an expert at making the bhakshanam 🙂 Filed away for possible meeting (and eating) some day 😀

      Like

  12. Very well said, I agree with each point you mentioned there. There is no point in any kind of celebration, if it gives tension in return. The purpose of festivals is defeated that ways.

    Like

    1. Exactly, Akanksha. When we are not only tense but guilty to boot, it is even worse. Best is to relax and find joy and peace in them, right?

      Like

  13. My parents and my in-laws are both very open minded about customising rituals and customs, I too believe in enjoying the festival rather than fretting about it and having sleepless night before the festival.
    We were never rigid about following all the rituals and making huge elaborate prasad. It was all moulded as per convenience and the time available at hand. I love celebrating festivals and am looking forward to Ganesh Chaturthi 🙂

    Your post is so practical and you have put my thoughts in it…loved it.

    Like

    1. You know Vinita, we have the ‘follow the tradition blindly’ and the ‘do things your way as long as you do it,’ groups in every family. In my house my mother and father belonged to the first and second categories respectively. So I picked up the more sensible of the advices and have followed them till date. Glad that you have open-minded folks on both sides and so are in a happy place. 🙂

      Like

  14. if something doesn’t come from heart then there is no point in following it. it would be fake and artificial. i respect the sentiments of those who follow rituals and understand the views of those who don’t.

    having said that, it really is an amazing feeling to be part of any ritual. the atmosphere is absolutely divine during festivals.

    Like

    1. Oh Deb, the festivities and all the joy that it brings is what makes them special. But if one were to twist oneself into knots trying to do everything the way it was done by our grandparents, then the joy is lost. And remember, the mothers of yore are fast disappearing and even those like me have begun customising, so what can we expect of future generations that live out of cans and read-t-eat stuff? As I suggested to Suresh, it is now for the menfolk to jump into the arena to save the festivities as we all like them 😀

      Like

  15. Wonderful topic to touch on and how beautifully! Maximum or minimum, faith and devotion is what matters at the end of the day. All HE looks for is love, be it in your buying of the chiwda from the shop or someone else preparing the ladoos at home. How we express our love is something that should be left open for us to choose and should never be forced otherwise it loses its true meaning.

    Like

    1. The max-min rule applies only to the rituals, not faith and devotion, Arti. The idea is to maximise them by reducing the peripheral rituals. Forcing is counter-productive because it does not inspire devotion, only compliance to the rituals.

      Like

  16. Vivekananda had said that Hinduism has two aspects: Spiritualism and rituals. Unfortunately, we forget spiritualism and focus on the rituals.

    The festivities have their own place in the scheme of things in uplifting the mood of people rather than making the puja or worship very sombre. However, the priorities have now changed and we observe these rituals more without any believe in God or the ultimate reality.

    Like

    1. You have perfectly encapsulated in a couple of sentences what took me over a thousand words to explain. Thank you Sabyasachi. 🙂

      Like

  17. Bang on Zephyr. Like always. I wholly agree with you. If you want to observe those, do it from the heart. And do it for yourself. Not for others. And certainly not to downplay others who are not observing it. I have known people who would fast during Karva Chauth, who would snicker at others not observing the Karva Chauth and then would go to taunt their husbands, ridicule him behind his back not sparing their in-laws either. What’s the point? A festival is an opportunity to celebrate – to bring together families or members of a family, to spend some time together, to enjoy good times. Not to show off. Not just on festival days, even on normal days I have always preferred to buy a poor kid a snack than spend it on oil and milk to pour on a deity. Doesn’t mean that I am an aethist or that I would stop others from doing it, or that I say their way is wrong. Its just my way or worship. I would rather spend a few minutes in serene devotion, put a couple of coins into the ‘hundi’ for use towards the upkeep of the temple. Unfortunately, every time I buy a snack there are 10 others who come running and I wouldn’t be able to afford it every day, but I try.

    Like

    1. Hey Deepa, that used to be my argument with my MIL and mother too — what is the use of doing something ostensibly for the welfare of your husband when you are having a roaring argument with him on that day over his food or some such thing and telling him that it was all because of the pooja that he was not getting anything to eat? Or the kids crying for something and you are not allowed to touch the bedclothes? Why not reduce the rituals connected to the festival and be happy with your family instead of being the cause of so much tension and fights? Devotion should be in the heart and not in the rituals, right? And your way of celebrating is wonderful too and I am glad to note that you are not judging those who do follow certain rituals. another post to cover THAT 😀

      Like

      1. Thanks 🙂 What’s this about not being able to touch their bedclothes? That’s a new one to me!

        Like

        1. That is a special custom in many Tambrahm families, where one doesn’t touch anyone who has not bathed, after having herself or himself bathed prior to a pooja. And bedclothes by virtue of not being washed fresh EVERYDAY are out of bounds. So if your kid is crying on the bed, someone who has not bathed had better attend to her 🙂 This custom is there even in other southern states including Maharashtra.

          Like

  18. Ask someone today the actual value of having Independence Day & Republic Day as holidays. ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’ hit the nail on the head perfectly, when the first thing that comes to Circuit’s mind is “Dry Day hai Bhai. Stock karke rakhna hai kya?” upon being asked the importance of 2nd October.

    There is a couplet by S N Goenka, the Vipassana Teacher, that goes:
    “Patra, pushp, naivedya se, chhichhla vandan hoy
    Kare Vipashyana sadhana, sahi vandana hoy”
    ‘Leaves, flowers, fruit, all shallow shows of reverence
    Practicing the technique of Vipassana, that is true veneration’

    Simply, and aptly put. Purportedly, Vipassana is the practical aspect of the Buddha’s teaching, the actual practice of living life in a righteous manner. The doha explains that, and the Buddha too said it, that imbibing the life teachings of the Gods is much better than just praying to them.

    So, suppose you pray to Ram or any of His other avatars. And you have a court case going on against your siblings regarding property. What good devotee are you? How can you call yourself the devotee of that Being who gave up everything, including the throne, for His younger brother? You’re not imbibing his life teachings, are you?

    As long as you are living your life as righteously as taught by those you pray to, I don’t think They will really care *how* you are praying to them, will They?

    Regards,
    Grond

    Like

    1. Perfectly put, Harshal. We need to imbibe what the divine power we are worshipping embodies and that is true worship too. But ritual here need not mean only religious rituals. My point was that while we happily follow other rituals, (when you meditate every day, that is also a ritual, isn’t it?) we balk at the ones connected with festivals and religious celebrations, either choosing to give them too much importance or ignoring them completely citing the reason of being ‘atheists’ or ‘hating’ them. These rituals and the festivities themselves were started with more than just a superficial reason by our forebears. By personalising and pruning them, we can have the best of both worlds and most importantly find spiritual fulfilment and joy. And it is not God who demands the rituals, but we practitioners of the faith that start them. God is happy with just devotion.

      Like

      1. Would you call brushing your teeth or having lunch a ritual? These are more habits, hygiene factors that make your life complete. Try going a day without brushing your teeth, and there will be a constantly nagging voice at the back of your mind telling you you’ve missed an important task of the day.

        The Buddha taught equality, assimilation, not divisiveness. Today, you can easily be called divisive by calling yourself Buddhist. Is that His true worship? Durga, Kali, and the other Goddesses have proven to us what perseverence and hard work can achieve. But today, the moment we land in a soup, the only thing we start doing is praying to these goddesses as if prayers were the only deliverance available to us, rather than fighting it out.

        When the values and teachings of those we pray to are so well imbibed into our lives that not following them leaves us incomplete – that is what true devotion is.

        Rites, Rituals, Practices, Meditations, et al – these are superficial, they need not be practiced and nobody will get that nagging voice at the back of their minds. We need to imbibe the values into our life, just as brushing our teeth has been imbibed into our lives.

        Like

        1. Very well said, Harshal, but what you advocate is pretty lofty and not for the ordinary mortals like me, though it is for everyone to try and be like the ones we worship. While agreeing in toto with your views, some habits are called rituals — like bathing before eating or something similar.

          Like

  19. Did I inspire you to write this by any chance? When I saw the heading itself, I felt something like that..:) true and totally agree to what you say. Though we are not interested, some festivals I believe we should continue doing them so that our kids know our culture and traditions and don’t forget them altogether. And, I agree, though we cannot perform everything, fruits, flowers, incense sticks would do. I couldn’t write such a lengthy and wonderful post…:)

    Like

    1. I had this post in mind, but yours made me do it immediately because it addressed one aspect of our attitude towards rituals. What I wanted to say was that while our rituals can be elaborate, some of them are created by us over the generations and we think that we need to adhere to them all to please God or be accepted as the right thing to be done. It is not so and our sincerity and intent are more important in celelbrating a festival or observing a vrat.

      Like

  20. Or we could get rid of them altogether. Wouldn’t that be simpler? Shouldn’t we spend that time and energy on starving children instead? What did Swami Vivekananda say…”Our religion should start in the cooking pot.”? Something like that. Seems to make sense.
    I find it hard to believe that God wants to take food from a poor person’s mouth, and yet we do it so lavishly.
    I don’t mean to offend you, but it seems a simple enough question.

    Like

    1. Festivals and celebrations are not meant to snatch anything from the poor. Nor does God want to take food from the poor. If you see, all religious celebrations and festivals stress on feeding the poor and sharing things with them. The social aspect has been added as an attraction only to make people interested enough to observe the festivals. We certainly should give up rituals that have become redundant in today’s world, but where is the need to give up the devotion and the spiritual aspects of it? I have also said the same thing: why make so many prasadams, when a simple one suffices as a token offering to God? Pomp and show are replacing piety and devotion today and those who don’t like them are giving up on even the good aspects of festivals, even as they spend time and money on such rituals as birthdays and other DAYS without batting an eyelid.

      Like

  21. I think all rituals and festivals as you have said were in context of THAT ERA.. and as time passes and as the CONTEXT changes we as humans should change that too..
    that is what the problem is we have age old ways and rituals which we do on a prticular day just for the sake of it , what about the rest of the 364 days, in those days we can do all evil because we know on that one day all will be fine and we will have a clean slate.

    As mentioned festivals were more of get togethers , enjoyment and all that these days its more of a HAVE TO DO, next day when the BILL comes we curse so what was the use of the previous day then ..

    We have to evolve and so do the rituals and all. sometimes its not easy practically to do all those rituals

    lets hope comon sense and good sense prevails and we have FUN times

    Like

    1. Exactly, Bikram! What is the use of spending time and effort with a curse on the lips instead of joy and devotion? Why not scale down the celebrations and stress on the devotional aspect or the cultural aspect? Why not make it a family ritual to pray together and then distribute sweets to the needy or the poor? God does not ask us for serial lights and five-star offerings, but devotion and compassion. I already have customised my celebrations, why don’t you too? 🙂

      Like

      1. we already do , as such festivals are not celebrated with that much JOSH here, and I only celbrate Diwali and GuruPurab.. because I like to burn crackers and thats it ..
        rest of the festivals I go to the temple , sit for a few minutes listen to some baani and thats it ho gaya … I dont have to give hundreds on a specific day , so my name is announced .. YEH BIKRAM HAS given 5 pounds 🙂 .. does not bother me …

        Like

  22. hi zephyr nag,
    this is my first official visit to your blog, so greetings and congrats for such an interesting blog ‘cyber-nag’! i came to know about it via ‘what ho!’
    when i read this article i almost gasped in disbelief and let out a joyful noise:-) i couldn’t agree with you more about adopting a balanced approach towards festivals and making them truly joyful and meaningful for our collective spiritual growth. i guess that is what is expected too ie. to move from performing rituals mechanically to internalizing their spiritual significance. when this happens we begin to connect effectively to the purpose of worship and we begin to see how essential rituals align themselves in this process. it is very important to stay away from making a fetish out of a ritual…
    thanks again for this nice write up!
    UC

    Like

    1. please read as ‘hi zephyr’ 🙂 sorry about that. i think i got carried away by your blog title ‘cyber nag’ and attached its surname!

      Like

    2. You are welcome to address me as Zephyr Nag, which is my FB profile. Whether Cyber Nag or Zephyr Nag, I am a Nag and I love nagging any unsuspecting reader 😀 Thanks for the lovely comment. As I pointed out to Srini, I don’t bother too much about leaving out some points in my articles. I know that my readers would more than make up for them, even adding many more insights into the subject. Thank you and do visit again 🙂

      Like

  23. I guess the only way to save any rituals is to let them evolve, if there is an attempt to have them followed by force, they would eventually become extinct.

    Many couples, married and unmarried, fast on Karva Chauth together and Raksha Bandhan is now beginning to be more about sibling bonding.

    Like

    1. It is for this precise reason of not making the festivals become extinct that we need to pick and choose and modify the rituals without making a mockery of them or ignoring them completely. Devotion and spiritual upliftment should be at the core of any celebration. Social and cultural aspects are the added attractions.

      Like

  24. This was a post that nearly brought tears into my eyes as I was reminded of my late mother. She had exactly the same views on festivals word for word. Reading this post was like listening to my mother all over again. Mom was so fond of festivals and she did not like my grandmother making the environment tense during festivals.

    Like

    1. I feel honoured to be in the company of your late mother. Sometimes being so casual about rituals makes your own family take you for a disinterested party, but only those who really understand the motive behind our being so, can appreciate it and the person. My mother used to complain that come any festival and I began sporting a long face. She was also a stickler for perfection in all rituals 🙂

      Like

  25. Well well, rituals should come from heart, not otherwise 🙂

    Like

    1. It is up to us to make them come from the heart, Ghazala, by choosing them carefully 🙂

      Like

  26. I am not a very ‘Ritual’ person and neither is my family. I would rather go to a hill station on Diwali rather than inhaling all that smoke. After all how many holidays do we get in a year. 🙂
    Most of the festivals in my home means praying in front of the gods and thats pretty much it. I think Diwali is the only festival which we celebrate which means dad put up the lights and we burn exactly 2 firecrackers.
    Loved the post.

    Like

    1. Festivals have more to them than just the rituals — which mean praying, I suppose 🙂 But that is the core of the festivals in all religions, isn’t it? But there are so many more aspects to it. Like your dad putting up the lights. If lamps are to be lit, it is another ritual and a beautiful one at that. The colourful rangolis, the sweets, the meeting of friends, all are part of it. One could even visit an orphanage with sweets and clothes for the children there and burst crackers with them, enjoying the look of joy on their faces.

      Like

  27. Another post that hits the mark, Zephyr!

    As you said early on, most of us are ritualistic in some sense or the other. Running a 5k or playing tennis 3 times a week are rituals. Those who practice rituals diligently perceive benefits to them from these rituals, even if they are sometimes not fun. There’s an anchoring reason usually.

    Here’s my understanding – Hindu rituals – which have their origins in Vedic traditions and were possibly later adulterated for commercial reasons – were meant to purify the body and the mind, before attempting to invoke the divine in us. If we approach our festivals in that spirit – perhaps it’s easier to view their benefits and to filter things out that don’t make sense and design them to fit within our practical constraints.

    For all of us, including those who’re not quite sold on terms like ‘divine,’ festivals are still great excuses to have fun and get together with people we care about. Christmas (while I l

    At the end of the day, if something doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t see the point in carrying on with things because of wanting to maintain continuity. I think it’s ok to let go of stuff that doesn’t make sense now. Perhaps we’ll come back to them someday when they make sense, if at all. Sometimes we truly understand the value of a habit or an idea only after we’ve let it go.

    A topic like this takes someone like you to bring it to life. Loved it.

    Like

    1. accidentally hit the send button. no worries 🙂 think you get the drift of what I’ve attempted to say here 🙂 cheers!

      Like

      1. Oh yes! Thanks 🙂

        Like

    2. Exactly! We are proud of all other rituals which might even be forced, but find any ritual connected to religious or cultural celebrations abhorrent and irritating. Our ancestors instituted them for certain valid reasons — physical, spiritual and mental well-being and social interaction being the major ones. As times change we change in many ways and some rituals lose their relevance or might not make sense, as you have pointed out.It is up to us to modify and still enjoy them even as we find spiritual fulfilment. And those who enjoy them wholeheartedly are the ones who have everything laid out for them. Who wouldn’t be happy to have their mothers or other elders at home take care of everything leaving them to just have fun, eat and make merry? 🙂

      I left many points out of my piece knowing that the comments would complete it and I am not disappointed. Thanks Srini 😀

      Like

  28. I find the festivity rituals are now declining due to their changing beliefs, dis-interest & children being busy in their professions . All the yummy yummy goodies are now ‘outsourced’ and not prepared at home!

    Like

    1. Oh SRA, I see the menfolk here lamenting the loss of the goodies made at home 🙂 I think it is about time that they took over this part of the festivities, don’t you? After all some of the best chefs in the world are men 😀

      Like

  29. Love the topic! While I agree with that a lot of the rituals that take place should be customized as per our convenience, at the same time, I don’t know if several traditions die out because of the ‘short-cuts’ that the new-age lifestyle makes us take. The ‘chiwda’ from the vendor certainly won’t taste the same as the home made one, and the sticker rangoli simply doesn’t give the look that a real rangoli does to the home. While some things have to go, I certainly wish for maximums in several festivals. So what if they are boring? There is a reason for every tradition!

    Like

    1. Don’t we all love doing it at home? But as long as some elder in the house is doing it, it is fine. Where are the elders today? No one wants customs and traditions to die out, least of all me, but who will carry them forward? Which is why I want at least some part of each festival and celebration to be held on to instead of junking them completely. how many of us have the time to make rangolis in the morning before rushing through the work and catching that local or bus to work? So while we go through the motions of our busy lives, let us at least try to make that chiwda and buy the laddoos and anarse from the lady in the colony, right?

      Like

  30. You are one after my heart! I am glad Suranga connected us! 🙂

    Like

    1. Hey Shruti, welcome here! I tried subscribing to your blog but couldn’t find an email subscription option. And yes, we must thank Suranga 🙂

      Like

  31. Lovely post Zephyr.
    I follow the maximum minimum:-)

    Like

    1. Don’t we all? That is called compromise and at our ages, we should be past masters at it, not nagging the youngsters to do things the traditional way, right? 🙂

      Like

  32. See?? This is why I say we need more mommies and grandmommies like you. 🙂

    These days festivals are losing out on the actual meaning behind it. Like you said, it’s either about pomp and show, or it’s about following rituals without even knowing why. What about the whole concept of getting the family together to enjoy?

    One festival I never forget to celebrate is vishu. There is a certain joy in arranging the kani the night before and waking up dopey eyed in the morning and getting vishu kaineetam and then going to burst crackers. What fun! 🙂

    I am not doing it because someone pointed a gun at me. I love celebrating it because that is a festival where everyone gets together, which in itself is rare becoz of the nuclear family setup these days.

    As for fasting, I never believed in it and fortunately neither did anyone in my family. Not my mother, grandmother, grandfather or anyone else. I got married into a family who don’t force it down our throats either. Karva chauth is quite unforgiving, what with getting up at 4am and fasting without being able to have even water. I feel the south Indian version of it, thiruvadira, is far kinder. One only needs to avoid rice and non-veg for the day. That’s not bad, at the most a kind of detoxification.

    Personally I don’t think that avoiding food will bring about any kind of prosperity. Do it because you want to detoxify for a day or something like that, not because it is supposed to make the Gods happy!

    Like

    1. I agree with Ashwathy – we need more mommies and grandmommies who think like you. 🙂

      The kind of looks that some people give us if we try and scale down our festivities! They tell us through their expressions that we are worthless modern people who cannot do anything right, we are blasphemous and that we will burn in hell for our sins. 😦

      Like

    2. There are a lot more like me, Ashwathy 🙂 The reason why our ancestors instituted these things were manifold and when one aspect didn’t appeal to you, you could like it for another. Some like to make the yummy dishes, others like to decorate the house, yet others love the pooja rituals. And usually the family was large enough to accommodate at least one person who liked to do each one and so it used to be a happy occasion for all. OLne can’t expect it all from one person in a nuclear family, and even where both husband and wife enjoy them, it is not possible to have it all. My point is that at least get to know about the festival and how and why it is done and try to follow it in your way. That way we would be preserving our culture for posterity and religion need not be a bad word as it is fast becoming now.

      Do you know that everything our forebears advocated as part of religion is being practised by dieticians and gym enthusiasts as being fitness regimen? There are some lovely festivals with wonderful rituals. It is for us to find them and hold on to them or create our own. And I agree with you that God would be happier if you had something to eat or drink and then sat for prayers, so that your concentration will be on Him then 😀

      Like

  33. Beautifully said, Zephyr. Everything you say makes sense. Rituals begin to become a burden when it is an expectation and when people get rigid about it. If we pick and choose what rituals we want to follow, I am sure it will become more relevant and enjoyable for all concerned.

    As far as God is concerned I am sure whatever is offered by a believer would be accepted.

    Like

    1. Absolutely! God doesn’t specify any prasadam. We in our enthusiasm rush to feed Him all the things we think we should. If you read old texts you will find that they ask for very little. Krishna was happy with a morsel of food in the akshaya patra he had Draupadi and fed the whole entourage of sage durvasa. He happily ate the jaggery and poha given by Sudama. Ganesha is happy with poha murmura and Lord Subrahmanya likes honey and thinai flour. (a special grain eaten in south India)….

      Most youngsters baulk at the forcing of these down their throats and would do them happily otherwise according to their convenience 🙂

      Like

  34. Very well said, Zephyr…and I agree with every word you said here.!! Now, the trend is to indulge in excesses. We show this enthusiasm during social functions to the extent that they become circuses rather than social functions- !! I I prefer to pray quietly, and hate to pester God all the time with my problems 😀
    I liked this line very much…” By devoting your time and effort to making the offerings, you have already pleased God.”– Trust me, that’s how I feel.
    Preach it! I will follow you…

    Like

    1. Who said we need to pester god for all kinds of things? He is happy if we are happy on a day earmarked for remembering Him with or without the attendant rituals. What is to stop us from just sitting and praying on Janmashtami instead of making all those goodies for offering, if we are unable or disinclined to? I agree heartily that social functions are increasingly becoming circuses 😀

      And hey, I practice, don’t preach. I am sure you are perfect in practising too 🙂

      Like

  35. Such a beautiful post! Once again, you have put into words my exact feelings. 🙂

    Like you, I have seen many people celebrating festivals just for the sake of doing them, because they are too scared of not doing it, or just to appease their in-laws or parents. I don’t think that is the right way to go about it – a task cannot yield effective results if you don’t put your heart into it, I feel.

    Instead, it would be better to scale down the celebrations as would suit you. In today’s busy age, it does become a tad difficult to prepare all those elaborate naivediyams and decorations as the ladies of yore used to. Instead of avoiding festivals altogether – or forcing people to go the whole hog – it would be much better if people scaled down the celebrations to make the entire occasion more enjoyable for themselves and for their families.

    When one is not at peace while doing the pooja or offering the naivediyam, the whole point of the celebration is lost, isn’t it? Wish more people understood that.

    I have also heard of many young girls getting into health complications because of their fasting and other myriad rituals which they did not want to follow, but followed anyways to please in-laws and parents. Why inflict such pain on yourself? Instead why not do what you can comfortably do?

    I am used to my mom doing all the elaborate rituals associated with different festivals, as she was a homemaker and loved doing all of that. That too was considered ‘limited festivities and non-traditional’ by some relatives, but we always had fun. Today, being a working wife and only the husband and me managing everything around the house, I find it difficult to do such elaborate preparations. I am still getting used to the concept of celebrating my own festivals, in my own house – so far it was either mom or MIL doing things. I have been thinking of this a lot, and been trying to form a sort of system for festivities in the home which will hold good in the long run, and which can help create memories for my kids in future. Yes, I am old fashioned that way – I want my kids to have fond memories of home, festivals and food. 🙂

    Sorry for writing a mini-essay in response to your post.

    Like

    1. It is best to follow the maximum-minimum rule GND, because some days you might just be in the mood to cook up everything and it could also become an enjoyable activity then especially if both of you pitch in. It is best to know what the maximum involves and then decide on your limit, right? The idea is not to forget the occasion or its significance and do what you feel most comfortable with — all or some, but don’t give up on the celebration of the occasion.

      Like

  36. Each man to his own way. As long as the other’s ways do not prick my nose!

    What ever may be the origin of various festivals and rituals, time has done amends to the old traditions. And more than often rituals,n as mundane as a visit to a temple or church is undertaken mechanically and the spirit is seldom understood or cared for.
    Perhaps the gods up there will understand that in this fast paced world of instant noodles man is so harassed that time and convenience is at a premium.And as long as one shoves some offerings into the temple hundi or in kind ,the Gods will not mind.

    Like

  37. Hi Zephyr

    I read the entire post in one go and I am in total agreement.
    All rituals had a reason – Socializing as you mentioned mainly and things like fasts are usually to maintain the metabolism in the body esp the ones monthly on Ekadhasi etc.,..That I suppose gradually moved on as a practice in every festival…
    One another reason I can think of for the list of things to be made like Seedai etc is that the recipe should not be forgotten over the generations…Who makes these things on other days? And now we have Krishna Sweets doing all the sweet making for all the festivals…
    As you rightly mentioned its not fair ridiculing the traditional rituals and being enthusiastic about the other ones like the school Annual Day…
    If treated as an occasion to celebrate and enjoy everything else will fall in place I suppose…

    P.S I read this from office and the mention of seedai, halwa, etc etc is making me ravenous
    😦 and my food craving is jumping up high !

    Like

    1. Fasts were meant to cleanse the system, Jaishree, but if you ask your mother or grandmother, they will tell you that earlier only the elderly members of the family observed fasts. Today it has become a fashion with young girls doing it (no MIL pressure here, since many of them are unmarried) for various reasons, becoming victims of hyperacidity and ulcers. I am glad you took note of the comparison between religious rituals and other ones which we don’t crib about 🙂

      If the purpose of keeping alive the recipes of yore was the reason why we made them for festivals, the purpose has been already lost, isn’t it? We get someone to make them for us, or buy them just because they are supposed to be offered. And hope you have a Krishna Sweets close by to still your craving for the items mentioned. 😀

      Like

  38. Hi aunty 🙂 great post, as usual! Its nice to celebrate occasions and festivals, but when rituals are forced upon people who don’t believe or wish to follow them, it becomes a problem.

    For instance, you mentioned Karva Chauth… I know of some daughters-in-law who are forced by their husbands’ mothers to observe this fast, despite not wanting to, whether or not they believe in it, or even whether they can fast or not. I think compulsion in these matters is not OK. It has to be a matter of personal choice and belief.

    Over and above everything, what matters most is how good a person one is. I have seen people who are very religious and pious, but cannot be called ‘good human beings’ when it comes to their behavior and thoughts!

    Like

    1. I remember going through a lot of rituals, not having the courage to say no to them, but soon picked up enough guts to tell my MIL that I would rather not do some of them or do them my way. She quickly agreed to the latter 🙂 She was upset with me but I felt better for doing things with more gusto than if I had been forced to do them unwillingly. I loved cooking and so made all the eats for the prasadam. When I wrote that line about how making them itself is half worship, I had meant myself. (I don’t preach what I do not do 😀 ) It is wonderful to just make a kheer for the prasad and have a fiesty bhajan programme with all the members of the family pitching in, isn’t it?

      I wonder why people confuse ritualism and religiosity. They are entirely different and there are dhongis everywhere. This is only about normal people like you and me and the other readers here 🙂

      Like

  39. so beautifully said, Zephyr!!

    Like

    1. Thank you! I had you in mind when I talked about those who actually enjoy doing things the traditional way, Anu 🙂

      Like

      1. I do enjoy doing things the traditional way 😀 but then even I make my own compromises…. and do just what i feel like doing on that particular day..

        Like

        1. That way you are carrying the tradition forward, Anu. We can either cry for the loss of tradition or try to preserve at least some part of it by scaling things down, right?

          Like

          1. absolutely!!!! I tell Samhith stories of the festivals, and also how my mom does it… how it used to be done… and make more of the naivedyams he likes.. that way, the interest continues.. 😀

            Like

          2. That is the way it should be too. Good that Samhith is learning about these things. Hope he is also learning to make some of the eats — start him off with seedai 🙂

            Like

  40. Though we never celebrated it, the Navarathri Golu is an excellent opportunity to mingle with neighbors and relatives as they are all called in. If people use it to show-off, neither our ancestors nor God can be blamed for that! Festivals are also not meant for showing one-upmanship over younger members of the family. If this continues, festivals will lose their sheen, that’s all.
    Many people don’t show spirit while celebrating festivals. Just go to Mumbai/Pune and see how Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated there… It’s such a contrast to the quiet celebrations we have in the south.

    Destination Infinity

    Like

    1. Lovely post! And as mentioned in an above comment, very timely too!

      In my family, we don’t now observe all the rituals that used to be observed by the earlier generation. Fasts are not kept strictly, but I do frequently make ‘upwas dishes’ on those days because everyone relishes them!

      Diwali is a time for siblings and cousins living in distant cities/ towns to come together. I would not forego that for anything!

      Yes, rituals can be modified to suit our need and convenience. Should be- I think.

      Like

      1. I don’t know how my comment got posted here as a reply to the comment by DI. I goofed up while posting it, I suppose. It was supposed to be a separate comment, not a reply. Sorry. 🙂

        Like

        1. Don’t worry Manju. I will have DI coming back to reply your comment now 😀

          Like

      2. Rituals need to be modified without sacrificing the essence of devotion, togetherness, joy and feasting, of course. Getting together during festivals is one of the purposes of celebrating them, Manju. In that sense, it is a ritual. Unfortunately, today rituals have come to mean only religious ones and people crib about them because they find them cumbersome. Forcing anyone to do things the traditional way is counter productive since the purpose is lost, isn’t it? As mentioned by many girls here, by forcing a woman to fast for her husband’s health, the love and compassion are diluted — which are the original purposes of that festival.

        Like

    2. I beg to disagree here, Rajesh. The custom of haldi-kumkum is the biggest sufferer now, in the south and among south Indians settled in the north too. From just a banana and sundal, it progressed to blouse pieces and then to other things including silver items. The quality of these things are discussed at length and one-upmanship prevails to a disgusting level. I prefer giving haldi-kumkum to my maid, the presswali and others who feel very happy to receive it. I agree that the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Mumbai-Pune have fallen prey to commercialism from the days when they used to be infused with religious fervour and community spirit.

      Like

  41. I dont belive in rituals…being a Radhasawami I have grown up this way…though some unforced rituals are fun …..Also I have always wondered if suffering leads us closer to God? People take padyatras, walk on fire, sacrifice, fast …Does God want us to suffer?

    Like

    1. Certain activities like fasting, padayatras and others that involve physical suffering have certain health benefits. It might seem like others want us to suffer, but fasting actually gives the body a chance to throw out the waste materials that get accumulated over time. The stomach needs a break to cleanse itself.

      I know a person who can walk 16 KM around Tiruvannamalai even today (he is 65) and is fit, hale and healthy because he observed such difficult rituals from an early age.

      Like

      1. Rituals were meant as a lot of things by our ancestors, the most important being that of instilling discipline, health benefits and control of the senses and the mind. Which is why our ancestors and even our parents were healthy in body and mind. But today, we are merely observing the rituals without any meaning, missing out not only on the original benefits they were intended for nor with any devotion or commitment. In all this, the devotion part is the biggest casualty.

        Like

    2. Rituals need not be the kind that we have come to associate with our festivals or the way we wroship. they can be anything that a person, or a group of people do as part of their life/worship/work or whatever else. That way, all streams of faith have rituals of one form or the other, right? This is what I have tried to point out here — rituals are acceptable to people when it is anything other than festivals or worship. Why?

      Like

  42. Ah! interesting take…Well, I agree to what you say…Like my mom said, I am free with nothing to do so making the seedai etc etc, you do it when you have the time and inclination..otherwise just a banana offering would make God happy as well 🙂

    Like

  43. What a timely and lovely post, Zephyr ! Sometimes how we feel has to do with how we were introduced to religion per se. Ever heard of Ganpati Bappa being offered cake ? No ? Then read this :

    http://kaimhanta.blogspot.in/2011/09/repost-virtually-real-ganpati-bappa.html

    That’s how it was taught to me :-))

    (I wrote the above first in 2008, and reposted it in 2011. It is even more valid today…..)

    Like

    1. Loved your piece where Ganapati Bappa ate cake 🙂 Our elders knew how to make the youngsters feel good about themselves in the most natural way, didn’t they? you should repost this article every year, Suranga. Then you can say that you have this annual ritual for your blog 😀

      It is not always how we are introduced to religion that shapes our thoughts. I come from a very orthodox family in matters of religion and rituals, which made me think and question and finally devise my own way of worship when I had a family of my own.

      Like

  44. So well put. I love your maximum and minimum rule and realized that I pretty much fall somewhere in the middle. If I have the time and, more importantly, energy, I might go for an elaborate spread; but otherwise, I usually make a sweet (a simple, quick kheer like aval payasam for Krishna) and just leave it at that. I do enjoy following the rituals – be it traditional or otherwise – as there is a certain charm to following it; in my mind, it gives a nice break from the daily routine..

    Like

    1. The maximum-minimum rule has saved the day for me over the years 🙂 I used to make all those things when the children were around with less focus on the pooja, but of late it has tilted in favour of the latter with no one to eat everything. I make a simple offering and concentrate on the pooja part. Festivals were meant to break the monotony too, Akay, so go ahead and make all the goodies when you can!

      Like

  45. Good one Zephyr. In our religion as such there are not many rituals or poojas but I do celebrate some festivals keep them to bare minimum. One thing though I don’t understand is the over enthusiastic people who want everything done to the tee and take things to extreme many a times.

    Like

    1. These are the hardcore adherents Jas and for them it is their way or the highway. But most of us have found ways to work around such people and do things our way. The idea is to remember that these occasions are meant as an affirmation of not only our faith, but also our cultural identity and aesthetic sensibilities.

      Like

  46. I celebrate festivals mostly for my daughter. So that she remembers them when she’s on her own and tries to inculcate a few.

    This is part of who we are. But does it mean I believe in rituals? The answer will be no.

    For me, being religious means respecting other human beings and being kind to others. I try not to be judgemental and am allergic to being sermonized. For me, happiness is my religion.

    Like

    1. I wonder why we equate following religious rituals to being unscrupulous or unkind. They are not mutually exclusive and like everything else, there are the pseudo adherents and the genuine ones. The point I am driving in this article is that we needn’t give up on celebrating festivals or go overboard due to the rituals. We can have the best of both the world. After all it is part of our culture and aesthetic sensibilities in addition to being connected to our religious sensibilities. And in Hinduism, we have the freedom to worship/celebrate our festivals any way we deem fit, the purists and pseudo adherents notwithstanding.

      Like

    2. very well said!!

      Like

      1. Thank you Aa’s Mom!

        Like

  47. Zephyr , all this should come from within and nothing ever can be forced! Be it offering to gods or doing a ritual! I remember fasting even while in Navy so it is for the individual to honor the traditions and learn what they were about or consign things to dustbin in the name of modernity:)

    Like

    1. That is my appeal too Rahul. Festivals are a showcase of not only our devotion, but a social and cultural mirror too. How you observe them is up to you, but giving them up will make us the poorer in a couple of generations. We are tolerant of every kind of ritual be they the celebration of birthdays and other ‘days’ including father and mother’s days but when it comes to a festival, we baulk at the ritual.

      Like

  48. When we were young and our moms used to fast before a puja, I remember my mom making the rule that they should at least be able to have a cup of tea before the puja; she said, that would allay headaches and make the puja concentrate on God and not on thoughts of a steaming cup of tea!! 😀

    Fortunately, I come from a family which never did anything just because’ that is how it is done’! Devotion and dedication is demonstrated during festival season but not at the abject pain of others! But then, I come from a family where my grandmom re-married, so customizing a festival is small fry compared to that!

    It was surprising to me to note that women in the US also suffer from the same anxieties and need to follow the rituals of festivities (Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas) similar to what we have in India. It confirms my theory that human beings anywhere in the world are more similar than than they are different.

    Like

    1. Your mom seems to be a woman after my heart! I maintain the same thing too. It must indeed be a wonderful family of forward thinking people that you come from! Religious rituals are all similar in the sense that there are rigid adherents who would not settle for anything less than what they feel needs to be done on festivals. And yes, human nature is the same everywhere.

      Like

      1. Thank you very much. Yes, I am very proud to belong to such a family.

        Like

  49. Festivals are also a grand way of bringing the family together. I agree that it is more important to enjoy the festival or show your devotion to God than to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. But, for Heaven’s sake, let there be someone who keeps the recipes alive 🙂 I’d hate to wake up to a world which has totally forgotten how to make all the varieties of modaks, karadaiyan nombu adais etc. 🙂 🙂

    Like

    1. They used to be those, Suresh, but today with distances, oceans and continents separating family and friends, one should be happy if we are able to meet during the weddings of our loved ones 🙂 I agree that these delicacies made as prasadams are meant to keep them alive in the kitchens, but with those of earlier generations slowly hanging up the dishcloth and ladles due to age and infirmities, it is left to you menfolk to rise to the occasion and see that they don’t die out. In short, let the ‘someone’ be the men of the family 😀

      Like

      1. You know how it used to be in our times, Zephyr! Try getting your mom to teach you recipes and she would say that it is not men’s work 🙂 Did you think that all discrimination was only against the women?? 🙂 I was not allowed to learn music or cooking – exclusively women’s prerogative 🙂 Whetever I picked up of cooking was in my bachelor days at Delhi.

        The next generation men should take up your challenge.

        Like

        1. You know Suresh, this requires a separate post to reply. thanks for giving me a topic to write on 🙂 BTW, due to all the madi-acharam at home, I learnt to cook very late too and that’s why I am a great ‘experimenter’ still 😀

          Like

  50. Wow,Rachna.I liked your comment

    Like

    1. Thank you KP Sir :).

      Like

  51. Amen! You know what I feel about rituals that are enforced. I am doing things more symbolically these days including karwa chauth. I have customized the fast and enjoy more the festivity and a feeling of joy around it more than the crazy fasting and really don’t care much for the purists and what they think. I agree that if one is all morose and ill-humored, what is the point of such “celebrations?” But, in this society, it requires a lot to practice your convictions because there are those always willing to pull you down and point fingers at you. As much as I respect those who do their vrats and poojas with fervor and have great faith in them, I am not religiously inclined and don’t really feel it within my heart to put up a sham for others’ benefit. So, I sort of follow a maximum-minimum rule of yours, concentrate on cleaning, decorating and pooja and cut down on pomp and show and slogging in the kitchen.

    Like

    1. Rachna, you are one of the inspirations for this post too 🙂 I know how it feels when something is enforced especially on pain of divine retribution. I had begun customising festivals at a young age and have continued doing so, much to the joy of everyone. If it had been the emphasis on the prasadams earlier because the children were there to eat and enjoy them, today it is more of prayers and pooja. It is important to be true to one’s inner self while observing rituals and celebrating festivals. I would simply smile when someone asked me if I wasn’t doing some ritual for a festival or vrat. The questions stop eventually but I know I am fodder for gossip. Suits me fine 😀

      Like

      1. I am a fodder for gossip too :). I frankly don’t care. I remember your earlier post on feasting and fasting that had struck a chord with me. You wouldn’t believe how many women snigger to my face when they hear that I don’t fast or do rituals that they like doing. Hats off to you for being a path breaker in your generation. Frankly, such oppression forces people to cheat. I knew of two ladies who snuck up eatables during ramzan and karwa chauth but pretended to observe the fast in totality because they could not keep up with the strictness of the rituals but were forced to. It is so sad!

        Like

        1. Path breakers get all the flak, Rachna and that is not something that everyone relishes 🙂 I know of many women and even men who do that kind of cheating to pull the wool over the eyes of purists and those who forced them to do things they didn’t want to. It adds to the guilt in addition to being a strain, doesn’t it?

          Like

  52. Most of the festivals especially South Indian are women-centric,family oriented and burden the ladies with lot of work in the preparation both in kitchen and outside.Gradually the religious import is giving way to externalities like buying dresses,gifts and jewelry and an occasion to show off like Golu…A community festival like Durga puja where it is a collective effort of the people in the locality makes it a religious,social and gala function with women spared of all the burden.

    Like

    1. Sorry KP, my reply has not appeared though I had posted it immediately.

      Festivals in the south are women centric because they involve cooking and also the social aspects of haldi-kumkum is added for some enjoyment and colour. Other than that the menfolk are involved in the pooja rituals. But I am afraid I disagree with the statement that community celebrations do away with festivities at home. The Durga puja celebrations and Ganesh chaturthi pooja are done even at home. It is therefore necessary for those who celebrate them to pick and choose the rituals as they deem fit without compromising on the devotion part.

      Like

  53. Spoken my mind so beautifully! 🙂
    Thank you!

    Like

    1. You are welcome, Deepak 🙂

      I don’t know where my reply disappeared!

      Like

Enter the discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: