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Hindu Rituals


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EDITOR’S NOTE:

The many hindu rituals that are still a central part of daily life in India might, to some Westerners, seem to be out-dated and superstitious – behaviours that belong to a simpler, less intellectually evolved age long ago. The word “spiritual” contains the roots “spirit” (from the Latin spiritus or “soul”) and “ritual” (from the Latin rītus or “rite”). In essence, to lead a “spiritual life” suggests a sacredness, a special reverence and a continuous mindful connection between the highest ideals and the actions of daily life. Here, Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani illustrates the relevance of some of the symbolic behaviour in the Hindu rituals of daily Indian life …

By: Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani

hindu-ritualsThe division between the ideal and the real has always posed a dilemma for the thinking, contemplative human. On the one hand there exists this perfect state of affairs envisioned in mind, and at the other end of the pole, the nitty-gritty, the mundane existence of day-to-day life. Artists have long attempted to bridge that gap by creating “a beauty which did not yet exist,” bringing into the concrete reality of the senses this other worldly loveliness. Musicians, sculptors, painters, poets, writers, dancers and actors have all tried to make “the ideal real” and accessible through human sensory perceptions. But when the curtain falls; when one closes the last page of that much loved book; when one leaves the museum; when the lights go off, one is brought back to earth with a thud.

The Rishis, the ancient yogic scientists, discovered that the ideal could be made real in a more permanent manner through various ritualistic practices [which still form the foundation of the numerous daily Hindu rituals in India]. The sacredness which illumines the mundane can be invoked and placed into a proper framework through many spiritual rituals. In the Hindu lifestyle these rituals are many and infuse the daily reality with the brilliant light of the ideal.

One of the simple daily Indian rituals which serves this purpose is the lighting of the oil lamp morning and evening, giving a soft glow of comfort at the important transitions of the day.

Various mantras (chants or invocations) and ritualistic gestures are used to salute the rising sun. Kholams, geometric formations, are drawn at the threshold of the house, creating an ethereal sense of wonder in all those who enter. The flame is waved before the idols enshrined within the household’s puja room.

A portion of food is offered to crows and other animals before partaking of the meal. Incense is burned before the family shrine. Various mantras are chanted appropriate to the time of day. This is only to describe a few of the Hindu rituals that give order, dignity, and meaning to the mundane aspects of daily life.

In the larger cycles of time, more elaborate Hinduism rituals make clear and beautiful the various rites of passage – birth, naming ceremony, taking of the first solid food, ear boring ceremony, attainment of puberty, marriage and death. All are placed into an “ideal framework” which illumines the importance and significance of the moment with ritualistic words, thoughts and deeds.

Reverence for the Guru is also expressed through significant rituals, which try to capture the glorious beauty of the Guru’s presence. The ideal manifests and becomes real through these spiritual rituals, especially if the ritual is grounded in valid archetypal symbols which serve as a bridge between the conditioned unconscious mind and the consciousness of in-the-moment, aware yogic living.


About the Author:

Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani is the resident Acharya of Ananda Ashram in Pondicherry, India. She is also the Director of the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research (ICYER), the Director of Yoganjali Natyalayam, and Editor of Yoga Life, a publication of Ananda Ashram. For more information, visit:

Meenakshi Devi BhavananiAmma ; Ananda Ashram



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