by Jayaram V
Hinduism prescribes both ritual and spiritual practices for the
of men from the cycle of births and deaths. The ritual aspect is meant to make man more spiritual in
the end, not vice versa. Each and every important event in the life
a Hindu, who has chosen to lead a normal householder's life,
calls for the performance of certain rites. Most of the rites
are caste and gender specific. In other words not all are
required to perform them all. These rites are
considered to be part of man's obligatory duties depending upon
the profession and caste of each individual and intended mainly to invoke the blessings of various gods
ensure success in earning merit and gaining a safe passage to
the heavenly world and the continuation of family lineage. The
Hindu rites also add structure and purpose to the human life as
are required to be performed at various stages in the life of an
individual, as a part of one's dharma and obligatory duty
towards oneself, one's family, soceity, ancestors, other living
beings and gods.. Some of the important rites
of Hinduism are described here.
1. Rites performed before the birth of an individual, invoking
gods to make a woman of the household conceive.
2. Rites performed during the third month of pregnancy invoking
gods for the birth of a male child. (Hindu women please take note.
The Aryans were chauvinistic and wanted more male children!)
3. Rites performed at the time of the birth of a child.
4. Rites performed at the time of name giving ceremony.
5. Rites performed six months after the birth of the child.
6. The hair cutting ceremony.
7. Rites performed at the time of "upanayana" to make the individual
a "dvija" or twice born".
8. Rites associated with marriage ceremony, starting from the
time the marriage is fixed till the ceremony is concluded.
9. Rites associated with marriage life involving both the couples.
10. Rites associated with entry into a new house or construction
of a new house.
11. Rites associated with the death and funeral of an individual.
It must be noted that in the present world the practice of
Hinduism is changing gradually. While rituals are still
performed by certain sections of society, especially the higher
castes, according to the established tradition, in case of
majority of people, ritualism is giving way spiritualism. Many
Hindus, especially those who live in the urban areas and brought
up on modern education are liberal and spiritual, rather than
conventional and ritualistic. Many of them turn to rituals only
under peer pressure. Performance of rituals take time and
effort. They also cost considerable sums of money. Ritualism
implies also honoring the age old social structure and caste
system, which to many modern Hindus is rather an unacceptable
outdated practice. In following spiritual ideals of Hinduism
such considerations usually do not arise. Besides many
spiritual practices attempt to alleviate problems such as stress
and anxiety. Therefore many Hindus willingly take to the
spiritual path and participate in yoga classes and
the reasons mentioned above, Hindus presently perform
the rites very selectively. Some rites, such as the upanayana ceremony
are meant exclusively for the higher castes. So a good number of
Hindus are excluded from the obligation of performing them. The
rites that are most commonly observed are the ceremonies associated with
events such as marriage, the birth of a child, the
naming ceremony and the death of an individual. Even these are
not performed uniformly due to a number of a regional variations
and local traditions.
A special note on sraaddha ceremony:
According to Hindu scriptures, when a person dies, he either
travels to heavenly worlds or to the ancestral worlds depending
upon his previous deeds. We are told that the departed souls can
be elevated to higher planes of existence and pushed further on
the scale of evolution if their direct descendents on earth, especially
the male progeny perform some annual rites and make sacrificial
offerings to them. With such rites, not just one but the entire
family of ancestors would be benefited and spiritually uplifted.
So when a Hindu departs from this world, his descendents make
ritualistic offerings as prescribed in the sacred texts so that
the departed one makes further spiritual progress in those worlds
The obligation towards the departed souls is thus a part of ones
ordained duties, or obligatory karma, the performance of which brings
happiness not only to the departed soul, but also to the ones who
Sraaddha ceremony is way of repaying ones debt towards ones parents
and ancestors. A person is indebted to his parents and ancestors
because they were responsible for his birth on earth. Without even
one of them in the ancestral line, he would never have been. He
is thus greatly indebted to them for his corporeal existence. He
can repay this debt only by performing annual rites for the departed
ancestors. He is therefore expected to perform these ceremonies
without fail and save himself and every one before him from misery.
Suggested Further Reading