Saturday, October 27, 2007

The evolution of a ritual

I happened to be in Mumbai on Anant Chaturthi day in September when idols of Ganesh were taken out in grand processions and immersed in the sea/river/pond. I also happened to be in Kolkata last Sunday when Durga was being taken out in grand processions for immersion. I was stuck in traffic jams on both days.

What’s the point in decorating and worshipping the gods and goddesses in the house for 4-5 days and then unceremoniously drowning them in the sea? No, I withdraw the word, ‘unceremoniously’. In fairness, they are dumped in the water, with much pomp and ceremony.

I wonder how this tradition started? All such traditions originated in villages; villages had come up on the banks of rivers; perhaps, one of the idols had fallen down while being carried across the river, made a sensational splash, caught the fancy of the people, and soon this became an annual ritual.

Something like the story of the rishi, yagna and the cat that I had referred to in an earlier post.

I was witness to the evolution of a ritual in our office. Till a few years back, we used to distribute sweets on Ayudha Puja Day to all employees, The sweets along with the puffed rice, jaggery, etc were packed in a plastic cover. Five years back, someone suggested that we could use a jute bag costing Rs 40 each, instead of the plastic cover. Next year, the bag became bigger and the cost was Rs 60/- and kept going up year after year. Soon, the ritual seemed to be associated more with the bag than with the sweets, and preparations for the puja centred on the type of bag to be purchased, rather than how the puja ought to be performed or what sweets to buy.. This year, we cried halt and went back to plastic (alas, not eco-friendly) bags and stepped up the quantity of sweets.

If this simple ritual could evolve and undergo distortion in 5 years, imagine how other rituals that originated in a certain context and time, would have mutated over several centuries. But still clung to unquestioningly, if I may add..


Kiran said...

I will try to sound not to be spiritual - this is the reason however - the ritual indicates that although you worship god (ganesh, durga etc) in the form of an idol (and hence idolatory worship), man has to transcend this after a period of time into worshipping the formless god (which essentially is the ultimate truth) and hence you submerge the idol into water - thereby indicating that you have transcended from worshipping the form to worshipping the formless.

Alas! that meaning is lost in all the pomp and ceremony.

Raj said...

Kiran, is that right? I don't think the Hindus ever felt that they needed to transend the idolatory phase.

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