RITUALS AND CEREMONIES
Hindus: As far as individual and family life of a Hindu is concerned, a number of religious observances have been prescribed. Life for a Hindu is a round of rituals and ceremonies. Most of the Hindu customs and traditions consist of ritualistic practices related to various
religious observances known as Samskaras or sacraments. According to the Hindu Dharmashastra, the individual has to pass through many samskaras which are known as Sharira Samskaras, because they are intended and calculated to sanctify the body, i.e., Sharira. They begin from the moment the foetus is laid (garbhadhana) to the death (antyeshthi) of a person. The number of these Samskaras
differs according to different authorities but it is held that 16 of them are the most essential (nitya) and 24 in all which are optional. These are usually conducted under the direction of Brahman priests who on their part say that they use Vedic texts for Brahmans and Puranic texts for others. Lately even these sixteen have been reduced to less than half a dozen in most Hindu communities and are principally observed in the case of birth, thread-girding, marriage, pregnancy and death. A Samskara is usually preceded by a symbolic sacrifice (homa).
Pregnancy and child-birth: The garbhadhana or foetus-laying ceremony to be performed at the consummation of marriage derived social significance when child marriages were the order of the day. At present, the ritual is symbolically included in the marriage ceremony itself without any bustle as the brides are full-grown young girls. The grihyasutras prescribed for the benefit of the pregnant woman a number of observances which appear to be magico-religious and those who believe in the efficacy of the Vedic rites are still some-times seen to follow them. The Pumsavana Samskara or the male-making rite is performed by such in the third month of pregnancy so that the deities governing the sex of the foetus are believed to be propitiated and a male issue assured.
The Jatakarma ceremony may be performed at the birth of the child. Here the father has to touch and smell the child, utter benedictory mantras into its ears expressing his wish that it may be endowed with long life and intelligence. However, the first popular ritual in an infant's life is the Panchvi and Shashthi. These Pujas are performed in all Hindu communities and they have been described before. The customs have no Vedic basis, however.
Naming ceremony: The Namadheya rite is performed on the 10th or 12th day after birth of a child when it is given a name. In popular parlance it is called barse and is celebrated by all communities in somewhat varying ways. Among the higher caste Hindus, a Brahman is usually called in and he proposes certain names considered auspicious in view of the astrological circumstances of child-birth. The family selects one of these names and sometimes more are given, one of which is kept for common use and the other for ceremonial use. The horoscope is usually cast and read and the
name proclaimed. Pansupari and sweets are distributed and drums beaten. In some castes a ceremonial cradling is held in the evening
by the women of the house and the naming is celebrated. On this day, the child receives gifts from relatives in the form of clothes and cash. The Karnavedha (piercing the ear-holes) ceremony may take place the same morning or may be postponed to the sixth or twelfth month. If a male child is subject to a vow, his right nostril is bored and a gold-ring is put into it. The twelfth day is also important because on this day, the mother, who since she gave birth to the child was considered unclean, is proclaimed to be clean. On this day the confinement room is thoroughly cleaned and this is the first day on which the male-members of the family could go to see the mother and the child.
Annaprashana: Among better class Hindus, a ceremony known as annaprashana or ushtavana in current Marathi is held when the child is fed food other than mother's milk for the first time. It usually takes place when the child is six months old. An auspicious day is chosen and relatives are invited who come with gifts for the child. Food which is usually khir or rice boiled with sugar and milk is put in the mouth of the child with a spoon or a golden ring. The child's maternal uncle usually takes the child in his lap and officiates at the ceremony.
Javal: After this comes the hair-cutting ceremony known as javal. As a samskara, it is known as Chooda Karma or the first tonsure of the hair for the sake of dharma and is performed in the first or third year or at any age according to the tradition of the family. At present, the rite is generally gone through at the time of the upanayana among higher castes. Lower castes are found to be much more keen to observe it as a ceremony that the hair the child is born with is impure and must be removed with social ceremony.
Thread-girding: The thread-girding ceremony or munja as it is popularly known is prescribed for all Hindus claiming to belong to the first three varnas. The ceremony is also called upanayana or Vratabandha. It is intended to be the beginning of acquisition of knowledge from the guru, master. Until this is performed, a male child belonging to the three varnas is not entitled to be called dwija, twice-born. A boy undergoes the upanayana at the age of eight, eleven and twelve according as he belongs to Brahman, Kshatriya or Vaishya varna. There are also rules regarding muhurtas, auspicious times, to be determined according to the location of planets at the time of the boy's birth. The ceremony always takes place in the morning before noon, never after mid-day.
Preparations begin a few days before the day of thread-girding. Drummers and pipers to play at the ceremony are engaged. A booth or porch is built in which a bahule (decorated platform) is constructed. Invitation cards are sent to relations far and near and friends, kinsmen and intimates ask the boy to Kelavana or
Gadgner, i.e., a congratulatory feast and presents in the form of money and clothes are made.
A formal invitation ceremony (akshat) is held a day or two before the thread-girding ceremony when the local Ganapati temple is visited and prayers are offered to the deity to be present at the thread ceremony. Personal invitations are then extended to the local friends and relatives.
Early in the morning of the lucky day, musicians start playing on the drum and pipe. The ghana ceremony is gone through with the help of not less than five Suvasinis. Prior to the upanayana ceremony proper, the usual propitiatory rites are gone through with the same procedural details as before the performance of an auspicious samskara. These are Ganapati and Matrika Pujan (worship of Ganapati and Matrika deities), Punyaha-vachana (the holy day blessing) and Devaka Pratishtha (installation of Devaka). The ceremony of chaula (shaving the boy's head), if it was not performed in childhood is gone through and the boy is then bathed and taken to the dining hall. There, boys, called batus, girt with the sacred thread but not married are seated in a row and fed. While they eat, the boy's mother sitting in front of the batus sets her son on her lap, feeds him and eats from the same plate. The ceremony is known as Matribhojana (the mother's meal) when it is the last time the boy and his mother eat from the same plate. This over, the boy is taken to the barber who shaves all the locks that were left on his head except the top knot. The boy is then bathed and made ready for the upanayana ceremony.
The boy and his parents enter the booth and take their seats on the three pats (wooden low stools) arranged on the bahule. The father begins the ceremony by giving away some cash to make for the neglect of performance of sanskaras at their proper time. The father then sits on a pat with his face to the east, while the boy stands before him facing west and the priests hold between them a curtain marked with Swastika (lucky cross) in vermilion. Priests recite mangalashtakas (lucky verses) and the guests throw akshatas (rice mixed with kumkum) at the boy and his father. At the proper
muhurta (lucky moment) the priests stop chanting, the musicians re-double their notes, the curtain is pulled to the north, the boy lays his head at the feet of his father who blesses him and seats him on his right. The guests are regaled with pansupari, perfume, rose-water and sweet drink. It is now getting customary for the guests to make some present to the batu (boy) on this occasion.
After this, begins the right religious ceremony. A vedi, earthen altar, is traced in front of the father, blades of darbha (sacred grass) are spread over it and a homa (sacrificial fire) is kindled on it. Offerings of ajya (ghee), sesamum (til) and seven kinds of samidhas (sacred fuel sticks) are made on the sacrificial fire. The boy then approaches the acharya with folded hands with a request to make him a brahmachari(un-wed Vedic student). The acharya grants his request.
He daubs a cotton string in oil and turmeric, ties it round the boy's waist and gives him a langoti (loin-cloth) to wear. He then rolls a yellow pancha (short waist-cloth) round the boy's waist and a white one round his shoulders. Another cotton string daubed with oil and turmeric and a bit of deer-skin passed into it is hung on the boy's left shoulder. He hands over to him a conservated Yajnopavita (sacred thread) and a danda of palas, a staff. The boy is made to pass between the sacrificial fire and his father and sip three achamanas and repeat texts. He then goes back between the fire and his father and takes his seat. The preceptor then gives the boy a cocoanut and taking him by the hand goes out of the booth and both bow to the Sun. On their return to the seats, the preceptor takes the boy's right hand and asks him to state his name and to state whose brahmachari he has become. When the boy mentions his name and says that he is his preceptor's brahmachari, the preceptor lets go the boy's hand, takes him round the sacrificial fire and seating him by his side drops nine offerings into the fire. He then says to the boy: "You have now become a brahmachari; you must observe religious exactness; you must sip achamana before taking food; you must not sleep during the day; you must control your speech; you must keep alight the sacred fire and cleanse your mouth after taking food." The boy then sits to the north of the sacrificial fire, bows to the preceptor, and begs to be initiated into the mysteries of the sacred verse; the boy and the preceptor or father are covered with a shawl and the preceptor thrice whispers the sacred gayatri into the boy's right ear first syllable by syllable, next phrase by phrase and then the whole verse. The shawl is taken away and all return to their seats and give blessings to the new brahmachari and his father.
The preceptor then makes four offerings of samidhas to the sacrificial fire and is followed by the boy making an offering of one samidha and wipes off his face thrice with words purporting, " I annoint myself with lustre and may Agni and Indra bestow on me insight, offspring and vigour." The preceptor concludes the sacrifice with the final oblations and sprinkles sacred water over the head of the boy and all around. Money presents are then made to the preceptor and priests and they in their turn bless the batu and his father.
At noon, the preceptor teaches the boy to recite the Madhyanha Sandhya and in the evening the Sayamsandhya, i.e., mid-day and evening prayers. The ceremony of bhikshavala (asking alms) is then held. The boy and his relatives go in a procession to the temple of Ganapati with music and company and on return the boy is seated near the altar. To his mother who approaches him there the boy says, " Bhavati, bhiksham dehi (Lady, be pleased to give alms)" and holds a cloth-wallet before her. The mother blesses him and puts in the
wallet some sweet balls, rice and gold or silver coins. Other Suvasinis, mostly relatives and friends, follow suit to each of whom the boy addresses in the same manner and each of them presents him sweets and cash. The contents of the wallet go to the priest who gives part of the sweetmeats to the boy and keeps the rest for himself.
The whole of the upanayana ceremony is now-a-days usually wound up within a day. Formerly it used to last for four or five days. Each day, the boy was taught to offer his morning, mid-day and evening prayers and made to worship the sacred fire kindled on the first day. The last rite of the upanayana ceremony is Medhajanana. A small square earthen mound is raised and a branch of the palas tree is planted in it. The boy pours water round the plant and prays Medha (the goddess of mind) to give him knowledge and wealth. The boy is now a brahmachari, an un-wed Vedic student, and from now on for some years should learn at the feet of his guru the Vedas. The Medhajanana rite in common parlance is known as Palsula. The theory is that on the completion of studies, the boy should undergo the
samavartana ceremony (return home). However, the present practice is that samavartana or sodmunj follows almost immediately after upanayana. The boy makes over to the priest his loin-cloth, the palas staff, the deer-skin, etc. and puts on new clothes, a jari cap and a pair of shoes and takes an umbrella and sets out as if on a journey to Banaras. Usually, the boy's maternal uncle or some one else pretends to persuade him away from the journey and promises to give him his daughter in marriage so that the boy may end the brahmacharyashrama and become a grihastha, i.e., a house-holder. It would thus be seen that this samskara has now been reduced to a mere mockery of it and has become an occasion of a social or family get-together.
Death rites: Hindus who follow Vedic or Puranic rites usually cremate their dead. Backward communities among Hindus usually bury or burn as per tradition of burial. Sanyasis, when they die, receive a ceremonial burial called Samadhi. Infants who have not cut their teeth and those who die of small-pox or leprosy are buried. When fuel is scarce and costly, the poorer sections of Hindus bury their dead. In other cases the dead are usually burnt. The bones and ashes of the dead are generally consigned to nearby rivers or the Ganga or the sea at convenience and then somebody goes on a pilgrimage to these or similar places.
When a person is about to die, his nearest kinsman sits close to the dying man and comforts him assuring him that his family would be well taken care of. A small piece of gold is placed in his mouth and a few drops of Ganga-water are poured into it. When life is extinct, the body is removed from the bed or cot and laid on the ground with his head to the north and feet to the south. The ground is washed
with cow-dung water. Holy water is sprinkled on the body and wreath of tulashi is put round the neck. The chief mourner has to take a purificatory bath, while the priest chants some mantras. If the dead person is an ascendant, the chief mourner and other mourners of the same degree shave their heads (except the top-knot) and the moustaches. Having done this, the chief mourner offers oblations of rice (pindas) in honour of the dead. The corpse is bathed and wrapped up in a dhotar or lugade according as the dead person is a man or woman. If the deceased is a female with her husband living, she is arrayed in a yellow cloth and some ornaments in her customary use, decked with
flowers, rubbed with turmeric paste and kunku marks on her fore-head. These honours are not shown to a dead widow. All the relations present, men and women, bow to the dead. Finally the corpse is placed on a ladder-like bier of bamboo and is borne by four persons on their shoulders to the cremation-ground, the priest and the chief mourner (who holds the sacred fire for burning the dead body) walking in front of the bier. Women do not accompany such a procession. All persons attending it are bare-headed. Half way to the cremation-ground, the oblation of rice is repeated and they are offered a third time on reaching the cremation-ground. With the help of the live charcoal brought along, a fire called mantragni is prepared, the corpse is laid on the pyre and the chief mourner then ignites it with the fire. Immediately after the body is burnt, the chief mourner goes round the pyre twice with a trickling earthen pot (in which the fire was brought) and finally throws the pot backward over his shoulder spilling the water over the ashes to cool the spirit of the dead which has been heated by the fire. He then pours water mixed with sesamum and the rest of the mourners follow suit. The party returns after the body is completely consumed. During the first ten days all persons belonging to the family of the dead observe mourning (sutak).
Obsequies: The Shraddha and other obsequies are the only ceremonies performed for the salvation of the souls of the fore-fathers. A special ceremony called Narayana Bali may be performed for those that have died of accident, but in the case of one who may die childless, no departure from ordinary rites is made. The obsequies are performed during the first thirteen days after death. Oblations of rice are offered every day in consequence of which the soul of the deceased is supposed to attain a spiritual body, limb by limb till on the. 13th day it is enabled to start on its further journey. Oblations are also offered on the 27th day and sometimes thereafter on the day of the death once every month for a year of which the six-monthly and the bharni oblations, i.e., the shraddha performed on the 5th of the dark half of the month of Bhadrapada are essential; and after a year has elapsed, the oblations of the first anniversary day are celebrated
with great solemnity. The annual shraddha is performed on the day corresponding to the day of death in the latter half of the month of Bhadrapada. Where the deceased's family can afford it, a shraddha is also performed on the anniversary day which is known as kshayatithi. While performing the shraddha for one's deceased father, offerings are also made to other ancestors and to deceased collaterals. Women dying within the life-time of their husbands have special oblations offered to them during their husband's life-time. This takes place on the 9th day of pitripaksha and is called the Avidhava Navami day.
Donhitra: Donhitra is a shraddha performed by a grand-son as a tribute to his maternal grand-father, when both his parents are living. It is called Matamaha Shraddha and it is observed by devout Hindus with particular care.
Muslims: The rites and ceremonies observed by Muslims chiefly consist of those that relate to pregnancy, birth, naming, sacrifice, initiation, betrothal, marriage and death.
Pregnancy: In the ninth or seventh month of pregnancy, a fertility rite may be performed as among Hindus. The woman is dressed in new clothes and her lap is filled with fruits and vegetables by her friends. Sometimes ceremonies to propitiate the spirits of ancestors are performed.
Child-birth: A woman goes to her parents' home after the last pregnancy-rite and stays there till her confinement is over. The rites performed by the mid-wife at birth resemble those of Hindus. When the child is born, the azan or summons to prayer is uttered aloud in its right ear and the taghir or Muslim creed in its left. The child is named on the sixth or the seventh day. The proper name for the male child is often formed by combining the prefix abd or servant, ghulam or slave or suffix baksh or given by adding them to the numerous titles of God, e.g., Abdul Aziz, Abdul Rahim, Abdul Razak, Ghulam Hussain, Khuda-baksh, Haider-baksh etc.
Ukika sacrifice: After child-birth, the mother must not pray or fast, touch the Kuran or enter a mosque for forty days; on the expiry of this period, she is bathed and dressed in good clothes and her relatives bring presents to the child. On the 40th day, the child is placed in a cradle for the first time. In some places, a rite called ukika is performed after the birth of a child. It consists of a sacrifice, in the name of the child, of two he-goats for a boy and one for a girl. The goats must be over a year old and without spot or blemish. The meat must be separated from bones so that not a bone is broken and the bones, skin, feet and head afterwards buried in the earth. When the flesh is served, the father offers a prayer to the ' Almighty God '.
Either on the same day the ukika sacrifice is held or soon afterwards, the child's hair is shaved and is then tied up in a piece of cloth and
either buried or thrown into a river. Rich parents weigh the hair against silver and distribute the same to beggars.
Ear-lobing: It was once customary among Muslims to bore the ear-lobes of a girl when she was one or two years old. The holes were bored along the edges of the ear step by step and even in the centre and by the time she was two or three years old, she had thirteen holes in the right ear and twelve in the left. Little silver rings and various kinds of ear-rings were inserted and worn in the holes. The practice is now on the wane among at least better-class Muslims.
Salgirah: A child's birth-day is known as Salgirah. It is celebrated by a feast. When the child is four years, four months and four days old, the ceremony of Bismillah or taking the name of God is held which is obligatory on all Muslims. Friends are invited and the child dressed in a flowered robe (Sahara) repeats the first chapters of the Kuran after his or her tutor.
Circumcision: A boy is circumcised at the age of six or seven, but as may be the custom among some sections—Shias and Arabs, the operation is performed a few days after birth. The barber operates and the child is usually given a little bhang or other opiate. When a girl arrives at the age of puberty, she is secluded for seven days and for this period eats only butter, bread and sugar, fish, flesh, salt and acid food being prohibited. In the evening she is given a warm-water bath. Among lower classes, friends are entertained to a feast.
Marriage: Among Muslims no specific marriage ceremony is required nor are any rites essential for the contraction of a valid marriage. If both persons are legally competent and contract marriage with each other in the presence of two males or one male and two female witnesses, it is sufficient. The Shia law even dispenses with such witnesses. As a rule the Kazi performs the ceremony and reads four chapters of the Kuran with the profession of belief, the bride-groom repeating them after him. The parties then express their mutual consent and the Kazi raising his hands, recites a benediction. A dowry or Meher must be paid to the wife which under the law must not be less than ten silver dirhams; but it is customary to fix it at Rs. 17 or Rs. 750. The wedding is, however, usually accompanied by feasts and celebrations not less elaborate or costly than those of Hindus.
Funeral rites: Funeral practices of Ahmadnagar Muslims continue to be the same even after a lapse of hundred years, more or less and need no elaboration here.
Christians: The percentage of Christian population, as recorded in the Census of 1881 in the old Gazetteer, was only 0.64 whereas it went up to 2.49 in 1901 and to 2.72 in 1961. This increase is mostly due to the proselytising activity of the various Christian missionaries.
The ritualistic customs observed by a Christian are governed by
the aim that he should save his soul applying to himself the merits obtained by Christ for man-kind. These merits of graces could be availed of by a person through sacraments which are seven, viz., (1) Baptism, (2) Confirmation, (3) Penance, (4) Holy Eucharist, (5) Extreme Unition, (6) Holy Order, and (7) Matrimony or the sacrament of marriage. Of these, Baptism and Matrimony are considered as important in all Christian Churches.
Baptism: All the Christian denominations, Catholic and non-Catholic, have the rite of Baptism or the rite of initiation into the Christian religion. The rite according to the Roman Catholic Church is as follows:—
The child is brought to the church for Baptism with two persons termed god-parents who answer in the name of the child the questions put by the priest to the child.
The priest, after putting a pinch of specially-blessed salt in the mouth of the child, exorcises it of the evil spirit or influence that may have dominion and then anoints it with holy oil. He then solemnly asks the child whether it desires to receive Baptism and on the god-parents answering for it in the affirmative performs the really essential rite of Baptism. He pours especially-blessed water on its head saying meanwhile [" N (here he addresses the child) by its name] I baptise thee in the name of the father and the son and of the Holy Ghost." The name by which the child is addressed remains henceforth as the Christian name of the child. The ceremony comes to a close when the child is once again anointed with holy oil (different from the previous one) and the child is presented with a white garment, a symbol of purity and innocence, and a lighted candle-symbol of preparedness and vigilance.
Though most Christian churches administer Baptism to children, they have also provision for Adult Baptism in the case of adults converted to Christianity.
Matrimony: Since marriage is a very important event in the life of all human-beings, the Christian churches have developed a solemn ceremony about it.
The bride is dressed all in white, her head covered with a white veil and crowned with a wreath of white flowers. She comes into the church resting on the hand of her father or some other elder male relative. The bride-groom has a personal attendant who is called the best-man. The bridal pair comes forward to the altar-rails and in the presence of two responsible witnesses and the congregation in general, the priest solemnly interrogates each in turn about their free consent to the matrimonial contract. The formula is generally this:
" N, will thou take N, here present for thy lawful wife according to the rite of our Holy Mother the Church ? " and a correspondingly worded
question is put to the bride. Conscious of the momentous consequences of this reply, they each in turn give their affirmative reply, " I will.". Then the father or the elder representative formally makes over the girl to the man who takes her right hand in his hand and solemnly says " I, N, take thee N, for my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part and thereto, I plight thee my troth." Then he withdraws his hand and now the bride takes his hand in hers and utters the same formula with the corresponding changes in wording. Then the priest, their hands still being joined, blesses the marriage in words " I join you in holy matrimony in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Ghost" and he sprinkles them with holy water. The essential rite of the marriage is then over.
The priest then blesses a ring (usually of gold) and some trinket or a silver coin brought by the bride-groom and hands it over to the bride-groom who then puts it on the third finger of the bride's hand saying, " With this ring, I thee wed; this gold and silver I thee give and with my all worldly goods, I thee endow." The priest then says a prayer and the ceremony is over.
The Hindu custom of wearing a mangalsutra is still current among native Christians. It is first given to the priest for being blessed. It is then tied by the bride-groom round the neck of the bride. It is made of gold thread and black glass beads and gold ones.
Funeral: The death and funeral observations as far as Ahmadnagar Christians are concerned are the same as elsewhere and do not need elaboration here.