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RITUALS, PRACTICES AND 
THEIR SIGNIFICANCE
Page One

According to our scriptures our lives were supposed to have been divided into four ashramas (Classifications) - the Brahmacharya, the Grahastha, the vanaprastha and the Sanyasa.

The Brahmacharya was the early period of life when man was supposed to devote his time to education.

The Grahastha was when he would make a home; i.e. get married, have children, support himself and the family and follow whatever profession was best suited to him.

The vanaprastha was the age of retirement. During that time he was to leave the management of the family business to his sons and the running of the house to his daughter-in-law.

During this time all their responsibilities would be over and they were to practice detachment and prepare for the sanyasa ashram.

During the Sanyasa ashram, the elders would finally leave their homes to practice meditation in the woods and prepare for their union with the Almighty.

In olden days they led a full life but were always preparing for the next stage with full awareness; and when it was time to leave either their attachment or the home they were fully prepared, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.

In most of our ceremonies-Wedding, Janeu ceremony etc., the Havan Kund (the sacrificial fire) is lit. The fire is an element, we believe, symbolising God, or the power of the universe.

To light the Havan Kund or sacrificial fire, two dry pieces of wood are brought into friction. The two pieces of wood symbolise the body and the soul (the true spirit In man) and the lighting of the fire symbolises that the physical body should start a quest for spiritual life. Just like that very fire devours the wood, so when you are spiritually enlightened you would be beyond the identification of yourself with the body.

Aahuti is the offering of 9 types of grain. ghee etc. that you put into the fire, amidst the chanting of special mantras which according to the Vedas have got special vibrations to create a certain atmosphere or to grant your particular wish. The aahuti used to be formerly brought by the neighbours and friends: it was mixed and offered to the fire by everyone present. This induced camaraderie and sense of equality between high and low and rich and poor. All present would chant “Swaha” In unison after the particular mantra has been recited by the priest. Swaha means “Arpan” which means in English “we offer”

Putting aahuti Into the “fire kund” is symbolic of putting our abilities into a field of activity in a spirit of Yagna, i.e. in a spirit of dedication. For instance, if you would like to become a doctor, you would have to go through your studies, and put in your utmost effort. Then you would leave the fruits to the Almighty. If you have done the above in the right spirit God would most probably bless you by making your efforts a success.


Darbha grass also called Kusha or Munja


Whenever a priest used darbha grass on rituals, festivals, tied them as a ring I always wondered at the significance. Was happy to read an article by Ranjeni A Singh who explained its significance.
It is a dull yellow coloured grass.
A doctor covering his hand with the darbha grass had his palm x-rayed. To his surprise he found that the grass absorbed about 60% of the radiation. Can one conclude that it can absorb negative energies from the atmosphere also?
Darbha grass is identified with Lord Vishnu and it is believed to possess the power to purify anything.
It is believed to have been produced during the cosmic churning of the ocean of milk.
Sakyamuni Buddha is believed to have sat on a mat made of darbha grass when he got enlightened under the Boddhi Tree.
The name of Kushinagara, where the Buddha was cremated, is believed to be derived from Darbha's other name Kusha.


KALASH

Why is a kalash seen at all Hindu religious ceremonies?

Kalash

When conducting religious ceremonies a kalash (water pot) takes the pride of place amongst other paraphernalia. It is mostly made of copper. Other metals used are brass or stainless steel. The kalash is filled with water and the top is closed by placing a coconut tied in a red cloth along with mango leaves. At the end of the ceremony the water is used as charanamrit and also sprinkled around the home. It is believed to bring good fortune.
A kalash is considered auspicious because the Hindu triad – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh – reside in it along with their consorts – Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga. During the churning of the ocean amrit (celestial nectar) was found in a kalash. It is believed that Sita emerged from a kalash in mother earth. In older temples a common scene is that of Lakshmi seated on a lotus and two elephants on either side offering water for a bath from a kalash held in the tusk.
In the Rig-Veda, 3/32/15, it is said:
A kalash filled with pure water is offered to Lord Indra.
In the Ramayana, it is said:
When Ram returned to Ayodhya after victory in Lanka, at his coronation lines of kalash filled with water were placed.
In the Atharva-Veda it is said that with the blessings of Surya mankind is prospering and enjoying good life since times immemorial, as though with an urn full of celestial nectar.
One also prays to Varun, so that the kalash may be symbolic of the grandeur of the ocean.
Human life has been compared to an earthen pot filled with water, which is symbolic of life. Just as the body is useless or inauspicious without life, an empty kalash is considered inauspicious. Therefore, in any ceremony it is always filled with water, milk or grains to make it auspicious. On death an earthen pot filled with water is taken around the dead body, the water allowed to drain away and the earthen pot then destroyed.
In the Devipuran, it is explained that at the beginning of a prayer to Ma Bhagwati one must first fill a kalash with water and appropriately establish it. During Navratri, prayers are conducted in many Hindu homes and a kalash is an important part of the set-up.

Graha Pujan or Planet worship is also common to most of our ceremonies. I have already explained earlier that we believe that the radiation from the different planets has an effect on our emotions & character and therefore our destiny.

Just before a ceremony, Graha Pujan symbolises an actual invitation to the different planets and different Gods to grace the occasion.

The different planets are symbolised in a nut form placed in a certain order.

Our prayers to the Gods residing in different planets is similar to the mode of behavior we mete out to our honoured guests.

We bathe the Gods, apply tika (Vermilion powder) garland them, offer them prasad (an offering in the form of food) and allot them their place for the duration of the ceremonies.

This is done as we are aware of the gravitational influence of the planets on the subconscious of man. By worshipping them man is attuned to their influences, thereby helping him to get a control over his mental activity and over the auspicious occasion that is about to commence.

Just before leaving for their formal education the Hindu boys would go through the Janeu or Upanayana ceremony, which is popularly known as the Sacred Thread Ceremony.

Upanayana or Janeu: Ceremonies performed in connection with the arrival of adolescence are universally preva1ent in all religions. The Parsis, the Christians. tie Mohammedans etc. all have rites specially meant for this purpose. Their object is to prepare the young man to shoulder the burden of the elders. The most striking point about the Upanayana is that by virtue of its performance the initiated is ranked as a Dvija or twice-born. This transformation of man’s personality by means of religious ceremonies and the initiation into the Gayatri mantra compares well with the Christian rite of baptism which is regarded as a sacrament and carries with it a spiritual effect to reform the life of man. If we look beneath the surface of the ceremony, we cannot but recognise in it the expression of a deep human conviction that man, due to his contact with the world, loses his native purity and that he must be born again to enter the spiritual kingdom again. This ceremony should be performed before puberty.

The meaning of the term Upanayana The conception of Upanayana has undergone many changes in course of time. In the Artharva Veda it meant the initiation of the child by a teacher into sacred lore. Later on when the mystic significance of the Upanayana increased the idea of the second birth through the Gayatri mantra overshadowed the original idea of initiation for education. Manu says: “In the Vedic birth of the student, symbolised by wearing girdle made of Manja grass, Savitri (the goddess of learning) is, the mother and the guru the father.” It is the rite through which a child is initiated into the vows of the guru, the Vedas, the restraints, observances and the vicinity of God. Later the ceremony is called “Janeu”, that is the ceremony in which a boy is invested with the sacred thread.

The Significance of the ceremony: In the beginning the Upanayana ceremony must have been very simple. In the early times when the sacred Vedic lore was handed down from generation to generation, the fa­ther himself was the guru. The Upanayana ceremony is selected for performance when the sun is in the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana). A day before the ceremony, the most auspicious gods and goddesses such as Ganesha, Sri Lakshmi, Dhrti, Medha, Pusti, Sraddha and Saraswati are worshipped. The previous night, the child is smeared all over with a yellowish powder (Turmeric powder) and he is commanded to spend the whole night in absolute silence. This is a mystic rite to prepare the child for the second birth. The turmeric powder is symbolic of embryonic atmosphere and absolute silence made the boy a speechless embryo anew.

The next morning the child Is given a ceremonial bath and shave. After the bath the boy is given ‘Kaupina’ (Loin-cloth) to cover his private parts. Though social consciousness has already dawned upon the mind of the boy, from now he has to observe social decorum and maintain his own dignity and self-respect. The boy then goes to the Acharya and announces his intention to become a Brahmachari. Accepting his request the Acharya offers him clothes. The Hindu idea of decorum requires that when engaged in a religious ceremony, the upper part of the body should be covered with a piece of cloth. On the occasion of the Upanayana, therefore, the young scholar is offered an upper garment because now his proper religious life has begun. Originally the upper garment used to be a piece of deerskin, which symbolized spiritual and intellectual pre-eminence. By putting on the upper garment the student is enjoined to become a youth of ideal character and deep scholarship.

Next the Acharya ties a girdle round the waist of the youth. This Is made of triple strands, which symbolises that the student is always encircled by the three Vedas and to inform him that his belt is “a daughter of faith and a sister of the sages, possessing the power of protecting his purity and chastity and keeping him, away from evil”.

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