Indian culture and rituals are quite distinct. One major factor that contributes to the distinctness of Indian culture is their religion, which is influenced by other various religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, and even Islam, among others. Collectively, the various religions adopted in India are called the dharmic religions. The dharmic religions are “comprehensive and tends to cover all spheres of life, including politics” (Westerlund, 16). Therefore, almost all aspect of human life in India is guided by religion. For instance, the Indian population follows rituals in yoga and meditation for spiritual enlightenment, which contributes to self-actualization in general (Frawley, 27). However, aside from the rituals influenced by religion, there are other types of rituals like those that govern social interaction, the rituals that individuals must perform at different stages of their lives, and sometimes, even politics and ethical practices. The objective of the report is to explore the Indian culture, specifically the rituals that the Indian population are compelled to follow due to their religion, beliefs, and traditions.
Indian Culture and Ritual
One notable source for understanding Indian culture and rituals include the knowledge of sutras. The sutras represent various numbers of rituals influenced by India’s rich history and culture and serve as a guide or statute for human interaction on the social and cultural levels. Part of Indian culture and rituals in the sutras reference “ social life, the position of women, dress and ornaments, furniture, weapons and instruments, food and drink, games and amusement, arts and crafts… music, education… and of course, various aspects of magic and religion” (Gonda, 622-623). The Dharma sutras are the religious rituals that individuals must perform at different levels of their lives. The Dharma sutras are considered as rules and duties that people must abide by. In addition, the Dharma sutras also define the different practices that a king must achieve in order to lead the different classes. In the rituals, the king must be knowledgeable and sensitive in dealing with people from different classes. Another ritual is offering sacrifices to the gods as a means of showing commitment and submission to their will. The religious sacrifices and the number of times it is done ensure that ones desires are secured or provided for by the gods. In terms of meditation, dharma sutras encourage people to meditate regularly, which can be a way of aligning one’s spirit or soul to that of the Brahmins. Part of meditation also includes daily learning, such that individuals are supposed to engage in readings of verses and scriptures, take note of them by heart, and make sure that those verses are carried out in life and social situations (Hastings, 491).
Part of the Dharma sutras is the segregation of people according to classes – The Caste System – that will identify people according to different social classes: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, Shudras, and the untouchables. Aside from political and religious rituals, the Dharma sutras also include social rituals that people must fulfill. Social conduct includes following the kind of ceremonies, dressing, hymns, according to one’s class. In India, it is essential that people know their place depending on their class. Brahmins, for instance, always participate in ceremonies and public worship. Brahmins are learned and are tasked to recite the mantras to the gods. On the other hand, those in the lower classes do not take part in those ceremonies. The lower classes are not allowed to read mantras or sing certain hymns to the gods. The social system is ritualistic, such that the sutras limit what people can or cannot take part in Indian society (Sinha, 6).
As previously discussed, the sutras encompass various rituals that people must perform at different stages of their lives. These are called the rituals for social interaction. During a child’s birth for instance, the Brahmins or priests must be called to the family’s home to ask for a blessing and perform the rituals of burning fire and reciting verses. Another Indian ritual for newborns includes the use of a gold spoon and putting it on the infant’s lips in order to ensure that the child lives a long life (Prakash, 303). After many years, the child is brought to the temple. The child’s hair is cut in offering to the gods. Sometimes, young children are also subjected to skin piercing. These rituals mark a child is coming of age. For opulent families in India, lavish ceremonies are held to honor a child’s coming of age. The ceremonies include the child reciting verses from the Gayatri Mantra. For boys, coming of age ceremonies are called thread ceremonies because boys are given a special kind of threat to wear, which will show their age. For girls, on the other hand, coming of age is represented by a change of dress. When the girl first encounters menarch, she is made to dress in a distinct outfit that varies according to caste, which is a signal that the girl is available for marriage (Webb, 295-296).
Courtship in India involves the groom-to-be’s presence in the woman’s house. The man is supposed to participate in feasts and festivities with the woman’s family, which includes escorting the women in the family and dancing with them during the ceremony. During marriage, giving dowry is a custom in India. A standard dowry is a cow. Marriage rituals include saptapadi, a ceremony that requires for the groom and the bride to complete seven steps before they are bounded before a sacrificial fire. Part of the ceremony includes a reading of verses that ask the gods to bless the couple. The couple then takes seven steps before the sacrificial fire and then read verses that are similar to marriage vows to one another (Rapson & Sethi, 233). After marriage and building a family, old age and death follows the natural order of life. Thus, the sutras also include funeral rituals that the people must follow in order to ensure that the dead are laid in peace. If the living fails to fulfill the rituals, the spirits of the dead will continue to roam the earth. Part of the funeral ritual includes pouring water in order to tell the spirit to follow the flow of life, offering sacrifices to the gods for the spirit’s guidance, and finally, the burning of the bodies. Most people burn the bodies while it is being afloat in a body of water (Schopen, 358).
Overall, various rituals in India are influenced by religion and ancient practices and beliefs that insist on conformity among the people. Social rituals, for instance, guide the different stages of life such that rituals are performed from birth, childhood, adolescence, to adulthood, and death. Moreover, Indian rituals are particularly limiting or controlling because people are put in classes and they stay in the same class until death. The sutras form no way for people to change their social status, but provide them with guidelines or rules on how they will conduct themselves in different areas of lives, from social interaction to their participation in religious ceremonies.