My mom normally does the daily puja in the house. And when she can’t my sister does it. But last weekend my parents were away and my sister couldn’t do the puja for some reason either, so I said that I’d do it.
Well to be honest, she could but I wanted to do the puja because I had an exam I hadn’t really studied for the next day. I told her that that I’d perform the puja so long as she stayed outside the temple-room and directed me as to what to do.She said what’s the point, I wasn’t gonna listen to her anyways. Well long story short, turned out I didn’t know how to perform the puja properly because every time (the few times) that I’d done the puja earlier my mom had simplified it (dumbed it down?) so that it would be easier for me.
For example, instead of reading the mantras, she would tell me to put the CD on, and instead of properly cleaning all the deities properly, she would just tell me to sprinkle water. But my sister would have none of that and expected everything to be done as it always is.
Irony of the whole incident was that I am probably more read up on Hinduism and Hindu philosophy than anyone in my house (maybe except my father, and my grandfather, and my older cousin; I’m quite well read up, let’s just leave it at that) But that didn’t stop my mom from doubting my ability to perform the puja and the associated rituals appropriately.
She probably thought, and in fact she may have been right in thinking, that like many other urban middle-class people who fancy themselves as being read up on Hindu thought, I too would look down on, if not consider the ritualistic side of Hinduism as beneath me. But the tussle with my sister over the correct methodology aside, when you actually sit down to perform the rituals you truly feel their significance. It isn’t just that rituals provide more life and colour to philosophical and contemplative aspect of Hinduism, they in fact enhance our understanding of it.
All the rituals have their basis in the spiritual and philosophical side of Hinduism and all the profundities of Hinduism find their expression in the rituals. But even more importantly, Hindu philosophy and thought in itself, without the aid of the rituals can become very abstract and difficult to relate to.
And with the everyday issues of life like rent and bills and what else creeping up on us, eventually even the thought can subside. But the rituals make Hinduism much more accessible and also a lot easier to connect to in a concrete manner.
If in fact performing the pujas and bhajans and other all the rituals can prepare a mental framework that can enable the appropriate application of Hindu thought and philosophy to solve the very problems, mental, physical or spiritual, that were causing us to forget it in the first place, then the rituals are extremely beneficial.
There is no denying that just performing the rituals without any understanding of the philosophy or thought behind it can make the rituals mundane and just a chore. But it’s important to realize that the pendulum swings the other way round as well.
In the end, the most important thing is to strike a balance between both the aspects of Hinduism, the contemplative and the ritualistic. In fact many ancient civilisations which are no longer with us today can trace their fall to an imbalance between the two, some died because their religion became too thought-based and lost their modes of expression amongst the masses and others became too ritual-based without any understanding of why any of it was done until the time came that people refused to do so at all.
Hinduism however has always maintained that balance and so long as we continue to do so Hinduism will continue to evolve.