(Last Updated on : 18/04/2013)
Indian customs and rituals have touched the footholds of extremity diverse and varied. They have been followed over centuries and continue to form and integral part of Indian tradition. The country has an extremely rich culture and abounds in different religions and faiths, which makes it most unique. Every belief system is identified by its own practised set of rites and rituals thus making up a galaxy of rituals.
It is these very practices which provide an inimitable sense of identity to the country and give it a `mystical` touch which attracts tourists form far and wide. Though the country has made immense progress since the times of the ancient Vedas
, the customs and traditions have remained intact and are religiously followed not only in the rural regions but have spread their roots in the cosmopolitan metros as well where the life is fast and the clock steams its engine as if like a compass without the presence of a hour arrow.. Though the customs and rituals may vary from one region to another, essence is same and comprises the collective body of Indian customs and rituals.
Hindu Customs and Rituals
The Hindus celebrate their festivities with their standard ritual of inviting the Brahmin priests to their homes to officiate the rituals with Yagnas and recitation of mantras. A detailed series of life-cycle rituals marks the major transitions in the life of the individual. Soon after the birth of a child, the Namkaran
ceremony is held, which is marked by chanting of Shlokas and singing of hymns. The next important transition in life is marriage. For most people in India, the exact date and time of the wedding are matters decided by the parents in consultation with astrologers. Cremation is also on part of the Indian Hindu customary ceremonies
Muslim Customs and Rituals
Muslim ceremonies regarding birth are specific, and whatever is practiced usually varies with the customs and habits of different regions. However, traditionally some practices are generally followed by all. After the birth of the child, he or she is smeared with the juice of palm dates on the upper jaw. It is believed that the very first words that a new born should hear are the words of God. Accordingly, the Azaan is whispered into the child`s right ear whereas the Iqamat is spoken into the child`s left ear.
Next in line, the marriage ceremony of the Muslims follows the process that has been religiously prescribed. The wedding ceremony of the Muslims is called the Nikaah
and it is rather brief. In fact it is confined to two short sentences. The boy has to say that he proposes to get married to a particular girl and the girl must accept this proposal three times. This event must be witnessed by at least two witnesses. A contract, known as the Nikahnama, is drawn up which is to be signed by the concerned people. When a Muslim man or woman dies, people are to recite the phrase "lilaha va inna illaha raziun" meaning "We have come from God and unto him we shall return". Traditionally loud wailing and show of sadness is prohibited by Muslim law. The body is wrapped from head to toe in a white cloth called the Kafan and it is then taken to ten burial ground carried on the shoulders of four people. This procession is called the Janasa. A prayer called dua is recited en-route. A prayer is said by all members of the congregation following which the body is buried. After the body is lowered into the ground, the head is tilted to face the Kaba. Perfumed water is sprinkled on the grave and it is neatly sealed with stones, bamboo sticks or wooden boards. Handfuls of sand are thrown by the mourners over the grave and then finally it is sealed following which the prayer called Fatiha is said for the deceased.
Christian Customs and Rituals
In Christianity, following the birth of a child, the child is taken to the church for the baptism ceremony. It is the most important Christian sacrament as the child is admitted into the church as a Christian only after baptism. It is done before the first birthday of the child and the child is presented with white clothes, cap and shoes. The function of marriage is held in the church of the bride. The father of the bride gives her hand to the groom. Prayers are said by the priest and he blesses them and prays for a happy life for them. The girl and boy exchange rings as a symbol of their ties to each other. They are then asked if they agree to accept each other as man and wife and following this they are pronounced man and wife. The priest delivers a small sermon and a feast is given for the invitees. Small girls with flower baskets accompany the couple, to sprinkle flowers over the couple. Most of the marriage customs are influenced by local customs and practices of the different regions. On the event of a Christian`s death, the body is laid out on a cot and a cross is placed nearby. Candles and incense sticks are lit all around. When all people have gathered prayers are held by the priest. The body is then bathed and placed in a coffin. It is kept open for the people to pay their last respects. The arms are kept folded across the chest. The priest reads verses from the bible and gives a small lecture on the life and deeds of the deceased. The coffin is then carried to the crematorium by four people or even more on their shoulders. A small prayer is offered and the body is lowered into the pit. People throw sand on the coffin and pit is then closed. Relatives visit the coffin on the 3rd or 5th day to offer garlands and milk at the spot. Some prayers are also said.
Sikh Customs and Rituals
Sikh customs on birth, marriage and death are also many in numbers. As regards the ceremonies surrounding birth, nothing is fixed. Some sections of the Sikhs recite the five verses of the Morning Prayer, Japji Sahib into the ears of the newborn child. Sometimes, in the Gurthi ceremony, an intelligent and well-respected member of the family gives the newborn child a drop of honey so as to pass on his or her characteristics to the child. The ritual of the Sushak involves the giving of gifts by the maternal grandparents to the child`s family. These gifts usually include clothes, a spoon, glass and a bowl, money and gold ornaments for the child. A Sikh wedding, called Anand Karaj, is quite similar to the Hindu wedding except that the Guru Granth Sahib
is read instead of the Vedas. A number of traditional rituals are followed such as the Nanke Chak where bride`s maternal grandparents and uncle spend a lavish amount on the wedding and also host a meal, the Surma Pawai when the groom`s sister-in-law applies kohl to his eyes before he leaves for the bride`s house, the procession of the Baraat, the Milni and Lawaan when the actual marriage takes place and the Doli when the bride and groom depart for the groom`s house. The Kirtan Solah is read after the death of a person. People gather around the body and say the prayers and the body is then dressed and bathed with the five K`s of the Sikhs. The Sikhs cremate their dead and this has to be done before sunset. Following the cremation, the people gather at the Gurudwara where some texts from the Granth Sahib are read and Prasad is distributed.
Zoroastrian Customs and Rituals
On the event of the birth of a child in a Zoroastrian family, a lamp is lit and is kept in the child`s room for forty days to keep away evil forces. Following the birth of a child in a Zoroastrian family, mother and child are not to leave the house for 40 days. Pachori or Dasori may be observed on the fifth or tenth day respectively. On the fortieth day the mather has to take a ceremonial bath with consecrated water. Para Haoma is the event when the first drink is given to the newborn child, which is basically consecrated Haoma juice. The formal initiation of a child into Zoroastrianism
is called Navjote where a number of ceremonies are performed such as Achoo Michoo, wearing of the Kushti etc. Lastly the Doa Tandorosoti Prayer is recited by the priest for the well being of the child, the parents as well as the community. In marriage ceremonies, the groom goes to the bride`s place for the marriage ceremony. He is welcomed with Kumkum on his forehead and a shower of rice grains by the bride`s mother. During the ceremony, the bridegroom is made to sit at the hand of the bride with both facing the eastern direction. A person has to stand near the couple with a burning flame as a sign of respect to their God of Fire. After getting the consent of the couple they are made to sit facing each other with a curtain between them holding each other`s right hand. A cloth is wound around the chairs and its ends are tied to symbolize the marriage knot. Following the Yatha Ahuvairyo is read. Finally the marriage ceremony is over and the curtain is dropped as the couple shower each other with rice grains. Death ceremonies of the Zoroastrians are in accordance with their strict rules on sanitation and purification. When a person is about to die, the head priests recite the Patet prayer, and a few drops of Haoma juice are administered o the dying person. The dead are not burned or cremated but left in the Towers of the Dead where they will be devoured by vultures. This is to ensure that the five elements created by God, are not wasted.
Such rituals make a fundamental part of the Indian history and will be followed with the same ardour, eagerness and zeal for centuries to come.