>Fasting, feasting and all things in-between

>If I told you I fast all nine days during the Navratra, would you think I’m very religious? Or would you think I’m ritualistic?

No one has ever asked me to fast. I do it of my own volition and I do it the way I want to. I do not read the Durga Saptashati and I do not eat ‘fast’ food. I do it because I believe in the female form of the supernatural powers that be and I do it because it’s a good way to detox. I do not think that if I fast, God will be kinder to me and I do not think that if I do not fast, God will be unkind to me. I do it because it helps me exercise some of my will power on my errant ways. Ideally, the fast should not just be about abstinence from food, it should be about abstinence from all vices. However, that’s not a stage of evolution I have yet reached and therefore I abstain only from gluttony.

Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because a lot is said of the Hindu religion and the rituals that come with it. And though I’m not a theologian, I think it’s not the religion that stipulates the rituals, often it’s the people who make them up. A lot is also said about rituals without differentiating them from traditions while for me, there’s a great difference between the two. I love the elaborate Dusshera and Diwali pujas not because I’m ritualistic but because they are part of a tradition that reminds me of my carefree days as a child, the happy memories associated with the festive time. It’s a tradition I would like my children to partake in because any parent would want their child to experience the same happiness that they have felt.

Perhaps, I was able to enjoy the various pujas because they were not imposed on me and we participated in them because it was a time for family bonding. Perhaps, I was able to enjoy the pujas because it was a time for us to reaffirm our faith in God and not to reinforce superstitions. I realise this because I see a lot of people around me performing a lot of rituals without the teeniest bit of faith because it is not what their faith is about. And that’s why they feel it as a burden.

However, if we do not suspect our religion so much of perpetuating meaningless rituals, we may be able to understand that rituals are often symbolic. And if we do not agree with what they stand for, we have the choice to reject them. What is the point of education and life in a civilised society if we cannot make informed choices? My parents do not feed a pandit on the shraddha of their deceased parents anymore simply because they do not see the rationale behind it. Instead, they send some food to an orphanage. If the purpose of pitr paksha is to remember and offer respect to the dearly departed, feeding the needy should serve the purpose just as well. And surely, it’s better than feeding overfed pandits. I know a lot of women who do not keep a nirjal fast on Karva Chauth and that does not mean they love their husbands any less than those who do not have water. Personally, Karva Chauth has no significance for me except as a tradition that I observe only because I do not want to offend the elders in the family. And frankly, abstaining from food on a single day comes easy to me. Perhaps, at a later stage in life, I may stop observing this fast. And I’m sure my husband will still have a long life.

But what makes rituals binding on us? I don’t think it’s so much the religion as the society. If your mother-in-law wants you to perform a certain puja, why blame religion for it? Did Hanumanji really tell his devotees to abstain from non-vegetarian food on Tuesdays? I seriously doubt. Yet, his devotees abstain from non-veg and also alcohol because for some people, abstinence from your favourite foods is a way of offering respect to your favourite deity. In that case, it’s an act of faith. But some people do it without giving so much as a thought to why they do it and regret that they have to do it. Then it’s just a meaningless ritual.

You may totally disagree with what I’ve said here and that will not make me right and you wrong or vice versa. Because no one’s faith can be wrong. And you can’t disagree with that (?)


31 responses »

  1. >yup yup! as long as you dont try to convince me how your way is better, i wont bother telling you why i think it isnt! :pi am not a ritualistic person and mostly don't bother with any. yes i will try and draw a rangoli and light diyas for diwali because like you, to me they are an important and fun part of my childhood! :)and yes, if God really gave blessings based on what we do for him/her, wont be much of a God! :)cheers!abhaps: LOL at "fast" food! in Maharshtra we say "Ekadashi duppat khaashi" which means when you fast for ekadashi you actually end up eating double! 🙂

  2. >I agree with you D. It's great that to u things are so clear. For me, it's still a discovery phase & I am still confused about a lot of things. The whole point is to reach a stage where u r happy & at peace with whatever rituals u observe.

  3. >Totally agree with you. As far as a person believes in something and does whatever he/she does, because of the faith – I think it is wonderful. As you say, rituals have more to do with society that religion itself. Especially in a religion like Hinduism – where nothing is written in stone. We have the right to believe and follow whatever rituals make sense to us.

  4. >Very aptly put! Everyone is free to chose or for that matter reject the rituals. I blogged few months back on the same lineshttp://sandhyas.blogspot.com/2009/03/religion-and-god.html

  5. >Hi D…I've been reading you for a while recently and this post has made me delurk :-)…You've written this with soooo much clarity, D…Every once in a while, I come across people that say someone who is religious is superior (????) than someone who isn't and such…And I can't really see where they are coming from. As far as I'm concerned – as long as one enjoys the path they've chosen, that's all there is to it. "No one's faith can be wrong." – So true!

  6. >I like those rituals that doesn't preach and also harm others. So fasting is good because it also brings your body a balance. My mom who isn't religious at all (all of us are the same way) is fasting during Navratri. She wanted to so she is doing it. 🙂

  7. >@Abha: You've got it a little wrong. If I thought my way was better, I would say it as opposed to you thinking that your way is better and not saying it!And everything about Diwali is so much fun, I can't think of any reason why any rituals associated with that festival would not be fun :)@Monika, Ansh: I think this is one of the few things I am clear on :)@Smitha: I wish I knew Hinduism better but I know for sure it's not the religions fundamentalists make it out to be!@Sandhya: Will read that. A lot of bloggers have written on this topic at some point or the other, I think.@Titaxy: Different posts do different things to people! If this one made you delurk, I'm glad :)I do think that people who are spiritual are superior to others, not people who are religious.@Solilo: Exactly!

  8. >I also do 9 days fast twice a year, not because someone says I should do but just like you, I like doing it. it brings certain kind of discipline and a nice feeling in me. My mom used to observe this fast in a certain way and the MIL has a different way of doing it, in terms of what can be eaten etc. I do my own thing.. As long as you are happy with what you do it shouldn't bother others. especially when its not coming on the way for others.I didn't start Karvachauth because there are some wierd things known about it.. Not that I believe in them but I just want to stay away.n I got a good pati without even doing monday fast.. so there. Its all about what you have faith in.

  9. >Faith is a personal thing I believe. I don't think doing or NOT doing any form of ritual would make your faith any less stronger/weaker.They say spirituality comes to those who have a clear mind, intention and focus to actually feel it – doing rituals mindlessly won't bring you that.My Dad fasts on Tuesdays for Hanumanji – he always has since a child. He never asked us as kids to fast, but just to abstain from eating meat on Tuesdays. Which was fine when I was living at home because we primarily ate veg anyways.Since I got married and my husband isn't Hindu, it became a lot harder for me to follow that because of the food we eat now (which includes a lot more meat than I previously ate). I realised that while I was still trying to follow the 'rules' that I had been brought up with – it had no real meaning for me as I didn't believe in it fully.These days, I try and not eat meat on Tuesdays for two reasons – 1) out of respect for my Dad and 2)I want to – I like a break from eating meat. However if I can't avoid it I'm not going to beat myself up about it. It's the same for some other rituals – I don't follow Karva Chauth – my mum does. I don't regularly do the Poornima pooja – my family still does etc. As for Diwali etc – like you I love the rituals around it because it reminds me of my childhood. It's like another Christmas 😛 I hope to show my kids the fun AND meaning behind it as well 🙂

  10. >I loveeeee the way you're written this…..and I feel the same way about traditions we follows. it's all about the way it makes me feel and never never about what it's made out to be…..It requires a lot of discipline to fast and I respect people who can do that…the actual fast…the total abstinence..not the fake fast…where people drink juice and eat fruits etc. I did the 9 days only once…during my college days…but that had nothing to do with religion….I love this post D….simply love it 🙂

  11. >Acts done under the name of religion without a shred of knowledge and understanding are rituals and mere ritualism is not what faith is all about. Faith without understanding and reason is a waste and leads to malpractices and superstitions. Faith that stems from knowledge and reason and which leads to right action is uplifiting. Rest all is an illusion.

  12. >@Tara: Exactly! @Silvara: It's difficult to entirely dismiss the traditions/rituals you've grown up with even when you know that there is no rationale in following them. Once you've outgrown the conditioning or understood why those rituals are important to you, it's easier, I guess.@A: I do the actual fast – only fruits and vegetables :)@Sraboney: Thank you!@Chrysalis: Definitely! I totally agree with you. If we took some interest in understanding why we are doing what we are doing, it will not seem meaningless.

  13. >Well, I don care for rituals – christian or otherwise.. Like u said, when I do something, its only for ME not for the world, not for God and defnitely, not for some superstitious nonsense.That said, I do some stuff to keep Amma, the MIL and the DH happy because all of them are super religious and it keeps them happy and does not require me compromising my beliefs.A lot of times, when I do something, its just to remind me of the person I used to be, to see how much I have grown, how much I miss the naievity that was me. But it in no way, defines me or my thoughts. It would be an ideal world if people of God were not sales people for their religion and God, was not a commodity to be brought through bribery, money and food 🙂

  14. >so true. God never said that you had to pray to him in a certain way or that you had to pray to him at all.Its people who try to do that.So long as you are happy with the relationship you have or do not have with God, its Ok. And yeah, the MIL and I have mostly different ideas of how to pray 😀

  15. >ah, was waiting for this post. Ultimately, I think the rituals which lift one – should be the ones that should be adopted, and the ones that drag one down, should be discarded. Rituals at festivals are a composite of memories as you right said – the smell, taste and feel of childhood – but there are so many others which are just sheer baggage. The problem is getting the courage to reject these.

  16. >@Dee: I do that too – do some stuff to keep the elders happy. And I see no harm in it.@JLT: It helps to have a MIL who is neither religious nor ritualistic. She is, however, superstitious!@Cynic in Wonderland: That quote from Eat Pray Love made sense, didn't it?

  17. >Totally agree with you D 🙂 My mother too sent food to an orphanage recently. I was really glad she did that instead of feeding some overfed pandits.I too have memories associated with various festivals, I celebrate without superstition and use all festivals as an occasion to celebrate, to meet or get in touch with friends and family, and to simply have some fun 🙂

  18. >Yes, as individuals, we all have a right to have the faith the way we would like to. No one way is right or wrong. Like I believe in not wearing or buying anything new during pitr-paksh. I completely go by the logic that if this is the 'time' of the year when we specially remember our loved ones, who are no more with us, this is my way of giving respect to them. And yes, 15 days is not a big time that I cant do without shopping or wearing something new.

  19. >@IHM: Festivals aren't a time to fuss over this and that, they are a time to celebrate, just like you said!@OJ: Thank you!@Soulmate: To each his own. 15 days isn't a big time to refrain from shopping unless you are refraining yourself from buying something that you really, really need. But we rarely shop for stuff we need; it's usuallly what we want!

  20. >I have an inkling that you do it more for detox than anything else :-PHinduism is funny to say the least! I'm a Hindu but before that I'm a human being and I exercise my brains!What are the other vices? And … oh, is food a vice ?

  21. >@Sangfroid: I don't know what kind of a Hindu you are, but the kind I am doesn't make Hinduism funny at all!Food is not a vice, overeating or gluttony is. What are the other vices? That depends entirely on you. For me, anything that gives rise to negative emotions is a vice.@J: Not necessarily. Perhaps, it's the ignorance in the present that has led these rituals to look meaningless?

  22. >Personally, I feel all that religion merely tells you to do, is to follow a better way of life and rituals are probably ways of achieving it. Some may agree, some won't. However all of them agree on the "golden rules" and they have nothing to do with rituals.The beautiful thing about Hinduism, if I may add, is that it respects your choice to be an atheist, or even worse, an agnostic.Too bad that people assume rituals are tied down to religion, like a body to its soul.- Serendipity

  23. >I totally agree with you. I think majority of us follow the rituals blindly without understanding the significance and out of fear. The essence of all religion is to be good and to be true to yourself and to the outside world. Reading the post I felt that my thoughts are out in the print. This is the first time I landed up here and was happy for safe landing. Happy Dusshera.

  24. >Lovely post. I'm sure my arriving here and reading this when my mind is veering towards similar thoughts more and more is for a very significant spiritual reason. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  25. >@Serendipity: I agree with everything you've said there. @Potpourri: Exactly – a lot of rituals are symbolic of something and since we don't understand what they symbolise they appear meaningless to us.@Jazzy Jane: 🙂 Happens!

  26. >Rituals are binding because we allow it to be so, whether it is because we believe in its authenticity, or we want to please the elders, the fact is we let it bind us, don't we?As you said, no one's faith is wrong. It all began with a good purpose. What went wrong is that people started understanding and practicing it wrongly. I never had a religious childhood, there were no pujas or rituals that we followed in my family. Once I had my son, I started getting interested in celebrating festivals so that he would learn something of value from it. The purpose became that my kid should learn something good from the occasion. But ami ritualistic? Not really. Lighting a lamp, offering some flowers and saying a prayer is not being ritualistic. If it is, then I don't mind the label. The important thing is to be comfortable about who you are and what you do.

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