Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Indian Cultural Rituals

The Rituals


Hinduism is the religion of the majority of the population of India. The holy books of the religion namely the Vedas and the Upanishads clearly explain the rituals and their mystical contents. They also explain in detail the observance of sacrificial and purification rituals.


This ceremony is performed during the odd months of pregnancy mostly during the seventh month for the expectant mother in her mother's house. Prayers are invoked for the well-being of the mother-to -be and the foetus. Mostly women are invited for this function and priests are not involved.

The expectant mother is made to wear a lot of bangles mostly glass ones of red and green colors and the sound of these bangles are supposed to reach the womb. The bangles are removed only during delivery and given to the midwife at the birth of a child. Arti is performed. The mother of the girl presents her silk saris and gold and silver bangles. The invitees give gifts for the mother-to -be and they are given a feast.

Mottai Addithal (Tonsure)

This is a ritual connected with the tonsuring or head shaving of children. This is usually done during the first or the third year of the child. The hair is consecrated and offered to the respective family deities. Celebrations or chanting of mantras are not involved. The child receives new dresses from its parents, maternal uncle and grandparents.

Kaadukutthal (Ear -Piercing)

It is a very important event for the Hindus in India. According to Hindu belief, the piercing of a hole in the ear completes the shape of AUM , based on the shape of the ear. The baby is made to sit on his maternal uncle's lap during the ritual. A goldsmith is invited to do this and he is given clothes and money. This ritual is performed for children of both the sexes.While the girls retain the holes for wearing studs, the boys gradually lose them.


This ritual usually takes place on the first birthday of the child. The baby is given a mixture of rice, sugar and milk, probably his first solid food after a year of liquid diet. This ritual may be conducted at the temples too but usually it is held in the house of the child and guests are given a good lunch.

UPANAYANAMM ( for brahmins)

This is one of the most important rituals in a Hindu male's life. This event signifies the entry of the male into Brahmacharya or the state of sexual abstinence as well as the commencement of his life. It signifies the entry into a state of disciplined existence. The ritual is to be conducted when the child is mentally and emotionally old enough to understand its significance and follow the practice.

It involves three threads entwined together, which are symbolic of the three parts of the Gayatri Mantra. The threads are dyed yellow. The thread should be lifted and put behind the ears when a person goes for his daily ablutions. If one of the threads break then the entire thread should be replaced. After any birth or death in the family, the thread should be changed. It need not be taken out of the body daily. Before this ritual the male is made to tonsure his head and wear new clothes.


On an auspicious day, some few days before the marriage, priests from both the groom's side and that of the bride meet at the house of the groom and exchange the marriage agreement along with banana, coconut and betel leaves in a plate. This is called exchange of Thambulam.

The groom and the bride do not meet. The bride is given an oil bath separately in her house and she is confined to her house till marriage.

On the day before the marriage, the groom's party arrives at the Mandapam and the whole arrangement of food and the lodging for them are done by the bride's side. The bride's father with a garland welcomes the groom.

On the evening the groom's party goes to a nearby temple. Then they come to the mandapam along with gifts for the bride, like fruits, sweets, coconut, banana, betel leaves, cosmetics, clothes. Then the Nichayetartum or the engagement takes place with women taking arti for the groom and the bride, and gifts are exchanged between the two parties.

The next day is the hey day when an auspicious time is selected for the Muhurtham. The boy and the girl take bath and wear new clothes gifted from the opposite sides and sit around a haven performed by a priest. There the father of the bride gives her hand to the groom and this is called Kanyadan.

The thali is a piece of gold in a yellow thread, which the groom ties around the neck of the girl. He ties two knots and the groom's sister, the third one. During this ritual the nadeswaram reaches its crescendo called Kettimelam. This is done to avoid any obtrusive acts.

Then an elaborate lunch consisting of Vadai , payasam, rice varieties, papad and sweets are given to the guests by the bride's side.

The couple is then taken to the groom's house where the members with banana, milk and sweets welcome them. There the couple is engaged in small petty games so as to tease each other. Then the groom's side arranges a reception with a good dinner accompanied by music concerts.

After this, the bride's party leave her in the groom's house, where arrangements will be made for the first night ceremony.


When a person dies, a lamp is lit and placed near the dead body. The body is placed in the north-south direction with the head towards the north. The eyes are closed and the feet are tied together. The eldest son is supposed to do the last rites. The body is bathed and is covered with new clothes. Then the members of the family apply oil on the forehead of the deceased. Then the body is decorated with flower garlands and is taken to the cremation ground. Usually the sons and other male members carry the dead. Women are not allowed to go to the ground. They bid farewell to the deceased at the home itself.

At the cremation ground, the son applies ghee at seven important places in the body and also places coins on the forehead. Grains of rice and til are put into the mouth of the body. Wooden logs are placed over the body and ghee is sprinkled all over. The son goes round the body seven times with a pot of water and at last the pot is broken near the feet of the dead. Then as the priest chants the mantra, the son takes the Agni or fire and places it on the heart of the body.

Then on the 3rd or 5 th day day after cremation, the relatives visit the crematorium and pour milk over the place , so as to pacify the dead soul. Then a simple lunch is arranged for the members


The Sikh symbols are called Panch Piyara and they include the five K's: Kanga or Comb,Kaccha or shorts, Kada or bangle, Kesha or hair and Kirpan or dagger. Every Sikh is supposed to carry these five symbols on his self all the time.

The religion of the Sikhs called Sikhism is not an ethnic religion and anyone can join its fold. The Sikhs believe in the omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence and formlessness of one God called Wahe Guru. They believe that community worship and community service are related to Godliness.


There are no particular rituals connected with the birth of a child in the Sikh community. Some sections of the Sikhs recite the five verses of the Morning Prayer, Japji Sahib into the ears of the newborn child.


A respected, intelligent and favorite member of the family gives a drop of honey to the new born child so as togive his characters later in life, to the newborn child. This is not a ritual and it mostly takes place in the hospital itself.


When a child is born into the Sikh fold, the maternal grandparents gift him a package called Shushak, which consists of clothes for the child and his family, a spoon, glass, and a bowl for the child, money and gold ornaments for the child according to their financial status .


A Sikh marriage is more or less similar to the Hindu marriage. Here instead of the Vedas the Granth Sahib is read. A Sikh wedding is called Anand Karaj - meaning a ceremony of Bliss. Before the wedding, a three-day wedding path is held and it is one of the main ceremonies. Invitation cards are sent to relatives and friends along with boxes of sweets

Nanke Chak

The bride's maternal grandparents and uncle spend a reasonable amount for the wedding of the girl ,like clothes ,jewellery and they also host one meal.

Surma Pawai

On the day of marriage, the groom wears a long coat called Brocade Achakan and churidhar pyjamas and a pink turban. The other male members of his family also wear pink turbans. Before leaving for the girls' house , the groom's brother's wife- his Bhabhi applies Surma or Kohl in his eyes. Then the groom leaves his house with a sword on horse back accompanied by friends and relatives in a procession.


The Baraat arrives at the bride's residence in a procession marked by music, singing and dancing. The male members of the girl's side welcome them.


A poet of the Sikh community sings the Shabad or Holy verse. The two sides exchange garlands. The groom's party is given gifts from the girl's side. After the singing of the holy verse, the couple is made to sit in front of the Granth Sahib. The priest tells the couple about the obligations of marriage and hymns form the Granth Sahib related to marriage areread.


The bridegroom leads the bride around the Granth Sahib with both of then holding both ends of a scarf. They go round the holy book four times. At the end of the fourth round, the gathering shower flowers on the couple and they are declared married. The couple is then given gifts by the people and lunch is served. The groom gives silver rings to the sisters of the bride.


Then the groom and the bride leave for the groom's house. The girl throws wheat grains over her shoulders as a mark of paying off her debts to her parental home.


In the Sikh community after the death of a person, the Kirtan Solah is read. Loud lamenting and breast -beating are strictly forbidden among the Sikhs. People gather around the body and recite the morning prayers.

The corpse is bathed and dressed along with the fives K's. The Sikhs cremate their dead like the Hindus and they do it before sunset.

The eldest son of the deceased lights the funeral pyre. The priest sings the holy hymns. After the cremation, people go to the Gurudwara where some texts from the Granth Sahib are read. Prasad , is which is cooked with coarsely ground atta, water, sugar and Desi ghee is served to the people.

On the third day after the cremation, the relatives go to the cremation ground, take the bones of the dead and wash them in unboiled milk. Then they collect the bones and the ashes in a bag and immerse it in the Beas River or in the river flowing near their Gurudwara.

They don't observe Shraddh orAnniversary for their dead. The period of mourning for the dead can go up to 10 days, until which the holy texts from the Granth Sahib are read daily in the house.


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