I was musing on the origin of rituals, helped by an email from nearfar...how do rites originate?
When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.
Too often, the spirit and the original relevance of a ritual gets left behind and only the empty form remains.
But yet...if this form gives solace or happiness to people who follow it; if they do it with faith and belief, as I witnessed today...what right do I have to judge these rituals as irrelevant? They are obviously vested with meaning for those who follow them, and I cannot question faith as it is beyond rationality.
When I was doing research into the TamBram wedding rituals, I realized that many of them dated back, not to Vedic times, but to the times of child marriage, and hence I was none to keen to have them for my daughter's wedding. But she, culturephile that she is, wanted (quite literally, because TamBram brides wear 9 yard sarees for their wedding) the whole 9 yards, so I went along with her wishes. I wrote a series of emails to the Americans who were coming to attend the wedding, explaining the rites and their significance... and most amazingly, I found that I, as much as anyone else, enjoyed the whole kit and caboodle very much indeed, and the fact that our American "sambandhis" were so respectful of our culture added to my respect for them! My daughter has lovely memories to look back on...and so do I.
....so...are rituals meaningless vestiges of a hoary past, or are they the cultural underpinnings of our society, without which we cannot lay claim to our culture and heritage?