CUSTOMS AND BELIEFS
WHAT THEY DENOTE Page One
is as old as the hills. The word "Hinduism" Is a
misnomer. The Hindu Dharma was known as Sanatana
Dharma, the eternal law. This springs from the
ingrained faith of the Hindus that all creation- animate and
inanimate-is one family. The ancient sages and seers
repeatedly impressed upon us the truth that by harming another
one is injuring oneself.
we all know, in day-to-day life, we receive back what we do to
others in the same coin. Hatred begets hatred, jealousy begets
jealousy, and love begets love. It is as simple as action and
reaction. Therefore, if we wish to be loved by others it is
incumbent upon us to send forth thoughts of love to others by
whom we wish to be loved in turn. That is why Jesus Christ
said: "Love thy neighbour as thyself."
to a race which firmly believes that creation is one family.
Hindus were basically vegetarian. However they were not
fanatic and in determining what food may be taken, ancient
Hindus took into account various factors concerning the
commodity men used for consumption. First in order are
vegetables: then fish, then the other animals. They prohibited
slaughtering of cows for consumption. The reason is not far to
seek. The cows are more useful to us alive than dead. It
provides milk for our babies and grown- ups alike: it ploughs
our fields for cultivating our food: its urine has medicinal
properties and the dung is used as manure for our crop as well
as to light village fires. The smoke that emanates from it
kills mosquitoes and other disease-carrying germs. Small
wonder then that the cow is worshipped as the mother by the
Tulasi plant is tended with love and reverence by the Hindus.
The Tulasi leaves have medicinal properties for destroying
malaria germs, stopping vomiting, destroying worms and are
good for Asthma. Many are the unique powers of the Tulasi
leaves that I shall be dealing with it in a separate chapter
the morning we Hindu children were made to place a glass of
water, with Tulasi leaves in our prayer room as prasad (offering
to the deity) which we would consume after finishing our
prayers. We were supposed to be fasting until then. Today, the
doctors tell us that it is good to have a glass of water first
thing in the morning. A Tulasi leaf or two added to it, leaves
no doubt in my mind that it would be most beneficial for our
ladies were asked to go round the Tulasi. As they would do the
above exercise they would breathe in more heavily thereby
inhaling the air full of Tulasi fragrance, which, I am told,
would cleanse the lady’s system making it easier for her to
conceive a child. We were made to worship the Tulasi plant as
it is delicate and unless it is tended with care it does not
last long. Like the Tulasi, haldi (turmeric) also has
medicinal properties so it is a part of ritual to give a
packet of it as a gift to a daughter when she is blessed with
a child gets measles, chicken pox, small pox, Hindus are told
not to panic as Durga Mata, (mother of Creation) has
manifested within the patient. We are asked not to give
medicines but to feel positive and pray.
we know that measles is caused by virus. There Is no known
medicine to combat it. It takes its own course. All we should
do is to have a prayerful, positive attitude and keep the
patient as comfortable as possible. However, we Hindus are
allowed to give medicines, after the 5th or 7th day when the
temperature subsides and that is when it is necessary to
administer cough syrups and other antibiotics to prevent
the Hindu community a girl, after she reaches puberty. Is
barred from entering the prayer room or performing any
religious prayers during her menstruation. The only reason
mentioned in our scriptures is that she is (ashudha) unclean
during that period.
us go back to where this custom started from. During those
days ladies would have their bath either in the river, pond or
near the well. During the time when the girl would be
menstruating, it would be awkward to bathe together with the
rest of the ladies as you would probably 'pollute’ the
the ladies did not bathe and there were no bathroom facilities
for the rest of the day during the menstruating period, they
would naturally be termed ‘unclean’ during that time.
Hence, their being barred from the clean’ places in the
house, namely the prayer room or the kitchen.
is, as far as the physical aspect of being (ashudha) unclean,
when the scriptures spoke of ‘ashudha’ they may have
not only meant the physical aspect but the mental aspect as
talks of the menstrual syndrome, i.e., a woman is more
irritable during those days because of a hormonal imbalance.
Psychics claim that there is a different aura around a
menstruating woman, maybe again a chemical reaction.
Segregating to pray requires a positive attitude and people
tend to respond to the negative vibrations of a person
standing with you; maybe that was the reason why a woman was
barred from public places of prayer during these days.
the reason, the ladies who used to work so hard during the
month would get a well-earned rest during that period of time.
class of people that are kept excluded from the rest of the
so-called high class Hindu society are the Sudras or as they
are more commonly called the untouchables.
Vedic interpretation of caste classification was based on the
distribution of social labour and had nothing to do with the
superiority or inferiority of the individual.
a man of intellectual wisdom was a Brahmin; a man of developed
physique a Kshatriya (Protector), a man engaged in mercantile
pursuits a Vaishya and a man who was a labourer and monetarily
backward, a Sudra.
above classifications are similar to the ones we could give
out today depending upon a person's profession i.e. a scholar,
a soldier, a businessman and a labourer.
like today it is in the man’s hand to choose the profession
of his heart’s desire, pursue it and earn the title, so was
it in the Vedic period.
in the Vedas is propagated hatred and untouchablity of the
Sudras that plagues our society today, and true highness was
more dependent on the intellectual values and humane conduct
of the individual rather than on the convention which regards
caste of birth as the basic for class determination.
young Hindus, our parents and grandparents made us go through
the ritual of bathing the idols, putting a tikka (mark
on forehead) and garlanding them. But that was probably the
nursery class to spiritual advancement. It was to instil the
habit of spending a little time in the prayer room, and to
keep us occupied while we chanted our mantra or our personal
are normally made to cover our head during our prayers as a
symbolism to denote that we will totally surrender to the Lord
by symbolically covering our seat of knowledge, namely the
are made to perform Aarti (a small flame is burnt on a wick,
which we rotate round the deity).
Aarti reminds us of the greatness of the Lord, because the
flame that rotates it is symbolic of the cosmos (sun, moon,
stars) revolving round Him, thereby making obeisance to Him.
Aarti is performed during the morning and the evening; and
that makes our prayers a must, besides the flame being
conducive to the elimination of mosquitoes and Hindu
philosophy teaches us that we ought to burn our desires,
because they are the root cause of all our problems.
burning the flame at night we are reminded of the above
philosophy and we hope that our desires are burnt away along
with the flame as we go through the rhythmic movement of the
associate the fragrance of the Incense stick with prayer, so
when we light it, It becomes easier for us to become attuned
to our communication with the Lord. The habit of taking a lit
incense stick round the deity and to different religious
pictures round the home helps in bringing the fragrance all
through the house.
G. Bhave believes that all that exists is just different
levels of energy. He states that "the ancients found such
large and strong accumulation of life energy in vagabonds of
space that they raised them to the level of minor deities
which could influence life according to certain laws". He
refutes the belief that Idol’ worship is just a stupid waste
of time as some of these idols are actually invested with such
high energy level that even persons who have attained a very
high degree of spiritual evolution become ecstatic in their
presence, and the Indian version of idolating is good enough
for all but the most evolved.
blind mental attachment to some existence at a higher level
makes the mind move automatically towards such existence
whenever doubt or peril is felt. This is actually a method
prescribed by most religions for spiritual evolution of their
we become initiated by a Guru (Teacher), we are given a mantra
(a certain word or sentence connected with Divinity) by him
which we are made to repeat continuously. This makes the
subconscious aware of the power of the object of devotion and
so it starts to slowly move towards it.
enlightened Hindus tell us that to achieve ultimate salvation
we have to go beyond the mind, i.e., the mind has to be
stilled from the five senses of sight, smell, sound, taste and
touch that keep the mind in constant turmoil.
devotional songs that we sing, the continuous repetition of a
mantra and the swaying movement of Hindu prayer have rhythmic
techniques and these tend to make the mind cling to the mantra
thereby making the mind still.
to the Katha Upanishad, "When the five senses and the
mind are still, and reason itself rests in silence, then
begins the path supreme."
most powerful mantra amongst us Hindus is the "OM".
to Hindu philosophy the vibrating sound of the OM encompasses
the universe and we Hindus believe that by chanting it
continuously with a certain technique we can be put in tune
with the Cosmos.
to the mystics, there is a difference between meditation and
is the means or the path to reach the end. During meditation
we still strive to feel the Truth, that is Universal Love.
contemplation the soul has already achieved this end, being
made one with the Truth and Love and is content to be in that
state without any need for further striving.