Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Kannagi statue

One of the first things that the present Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, Mr.Karunanidhi, did on assuming office was to visit the Museum where the ‘Kannagi’ statue lay, having been unceremoniously dumped by the previous Govt. The CM, the media reported, was so moved when he saw the statue that he actually shed copious tears. In a grand function later that week, with much garlanding and rhetoric, he made sure that the statue was re-installed at its original site.

The Chief Minister was a prominent flag bearer in the Dravidian movement that ridiculed religious practices, rituals and idol worship. How is the ceremony centered on a stone statue of Kannagi and with the attendant rituals of invoking the blessings of the Tamil Mother, garlanding and paying eloquent tributes to a mythical character, any different from what thousands of believers do in temples every day? Does the absence of a religious overtone make the ‘statue” worship more rational or acceptable?

When I ‘googled’ for some insights, I found an entire body of opinion on the subject of rituals. Anthropologists and sociologists say that the need for ritual is a basic human instinct - as real and as raw as our need for food or shelter and every bit as crucial for our survival. There lurks within each one of us a compelling urge to connect with the ‘infinite’, with the past and future and to seek a predictable cosmic order and continuity.

For many, religion and worship of God offer an outlet to this inner urge or spirituality. Religious rituals provide them the lifeline to the divine. Atheists and self-styled rationalists, who spurn such methods, however establish ‘surrogate’ systems of celebration and commemoration, which are – in character- as ritualistic as the religious processes. Symbolisms abound in both.

Whether it is the Communists holding their elaborate May Day rallies, Corporates having their Board meetings, the Olympics with its Opening and closing sessions celebrated with pomp and pageantry, Parliament observing its own protocol, football matches preceded by the hype and the hoopla or the Army with its parades and salutes, all these are rituals- by different names.

One sociologist quotes Confucius who observed that rituals are not to be performed for their own purpose, but to facilitate meaningfulness in human activity. We don’t shake hands for the purpose of having a ritual; we shake hands for the purpose of extending a message of mutuality. Similarly, a ritual becomes useless when the mechanics of the ritual occupy all our thought. We’re not supposed to focus so much on the location of our fingers in the handshake, or on the amount of pressure applied in the squeeze, that we cannot give and receive the main message of the handshake – the message of mutual recognition.

That’s the key point. Any ritual is fine as long as you don’t get lost in the mechanics and forget the larger purpose. Those who indulge in religious practices, cults and rituals would do well to remember this. While those like Mr. Karunandhi who ridicule the ‘believers’ should realize that they are no different in their observance of rituals and ceremonies and that they should stop throwing stones from glass houses


Update
09.07.06 :Ram Vishwanathan points out another instance of ‘double standards” on the part of the DMK/PMK. While the Health Minister, Mr Anbumani Ramdass, called for a cut in the salaries of the medicos of AIIMS who took part in the anti-reservation strike, his party has supported the strike at NLC, even threatening to bring down the Central Govt.

6 comments:

Lalita Mukherjea said...

I was thinking about rituals, personal and social, and their significance and why we need them. You saved me a post. :-)

Very well argued. Bravo.

Lalita Mukherjea said...

I blink; therefore I blog? Indeed. Can I link to your football post? Am writng about nostalgia for a language.

Anu said...

I suppose a ritual starts in order to serve a purpose, but later, even in the absence of the purpose, the ritual sticks on.

The example of the handshake may not be the most appropriate one. Someone like Desmond Morris would give us a whole lot of insights into a relationship or the feelings of a person, based on the amount of pressure in a handshake and the way the fingers are placed.

Btw, what do you mean by a self styled rationalist?

Raj said...

Lalita, thanks. And, of course, you can link to my football post.

Anu,it never occured to me that a simple handshake was susceptible to a Freudian analysis of the type Desmond Morris is adept at.

Your question 'what did I mean by self-styled rationalist'. I meant to convey that Mr Karunanidhi who calls himself a rationalist ( nobody else calls him that) has his own ritual skeletons in his cupboard.

Usha said...

I guess "throwing stones at others" has also become a ritual for some of them. They are so used to doing it that they have no idea why. Gives them the comfort feel and the delusion of being true followers of that one real rationalist - periyar.
In what way is their idolisation of human beings any different? and as you have rightly pointed outTamizhthai could be very well be another name for what we believers call saraswathi.
Very good post.

Srinivasan Natarajan said...

Nice post. Checkout my view on Kannagi in my blog. Cult of Kannagi ~ The Other Point of View