Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Do You Believe in Rituals...?


I once met a young “Indian-American” couple.

Actually – in their case – the term “Indian-American” is a misnomer – because – they were full-fledged American Citizens with US Passports.

They had migrated to the US to realize their “American Dream” – and – having successfully achieved their ambitions – they had relinquished their Indian Citizenship and acquired US Citizenship.

They had permanently settled down in America – and – they had no intention of returning back to India.

Their Indian Origins combined with their American Passports gave them the exalted status of PIO (Persons of Indian Origin) who are treated like “celebrities” and enjoy better prestige in India than even “Resident Indians”.

Yes – India is one of the few countries where “Expats” (who leave India for greener pastures abroad) are treated better than “Residents” – yes – “Non-Resident Indians” are treated better than “Resident Indians” by everyone – the Government and Society.

Now – let me tell you about the “Indian-American”.

On one of their visits to India – they performed the “Munja” of their son on a very extravagant scale in a luxurious resort. 

(In ancient India – the “Munja” (“Upanayana”) was a traditional “rites of passage” ritual ceremony performed on a boy before the parents sent the boy away from home to a Guru to study in the “Gurukul”)

I was curious as to why this “Indian-American” couple was performing this traditional Indian ritual on the wholly “American” son – who had been born and brought up in the USA.

“You are “Americans” – so – why are you performing all these “Indian” rituals…?” I asked them.

“How can we forget our culture…?” they said.

I smiled to myself – but – I refrained from saying what was in my mind.

So – I asked them: “Do you know the significance of these rituals…?”

“Isn’t “Munja” performed on all boys around 8 years of age…?” they said.

“In earlier times – the “Munja” ceremony was performed when the boy left his home and went away to live in a “Gurukul” to study – after his “Munja” – the boy left his parents and went away to live with his Guru…”


“In today’s times – it is the equivalent of going to “Boarding School”. Aren’t “Boarding Schools” the modern equivalent of “Gurukuls”…? So – after his “Munja” – are you going to send your son away from home to study in a “Boarding School”…?” I asked the parents.

“No. Why should we send him away to Boarding School when he can stay at home and study…?”

“Oh – so you are going to keep your son at home with you. If that is so – then – why are you performing the “Munja” ceremony on your son if you don’t want to send your son away to study in a “Gurukul” …?” I asked.

“It is an important ritual – everyone does it…” they said.

“Oh – so you are just performing the ritual without following the significance of the ritual…?” I said.

Look around you.

Don’t we perform many RITUALS without understanding their significance…?

Aren’t some rituals observed even when they have outlived their utility…?

When a particular Ritual is started – there is some cogent reason for it.

But – over time – the reason for the ritual is forgotten.

Also – over the years – circumstances may have changed – and – the reason for the ritual may no longer be relevant in contemporary times.

But – we keep blindly performing the ritual – without understanding the significance of the ritual.

In fact – some rituals are celebrated as “events” – rather than solemn ceremonies.

This was true of the lavish “Munja” ceremony of the “American” Boy – where the focus was on celebrating the event with “pomp and show” at an exotic location – rather than have a simple ceremony.

Hey – I am digressing.

Let me come back to the moot point of RITUALS – how they start – and – how they continue to be blindly observed till eternity – even when the rituals have lost their significance.

Here is a story which illustrates this… 

Food for Thought 

In our day to day life  in the name of tradition  we unquestioningly follow traditions and customs and perform all types of religious, social and superstitious rituals without understanding the spirit behind the ritual.
A Ritual is an action performed purely for Symbolic Value.
In many cases there is no logic or rational explanation for the ritual. 
This apocryphal story from ancient wisdom The Mystical Cat” illustrates how customs, traditions and rituals begin.

The story also tells you how due to repeated repetition over the years these customs and rituals are gradually established and become a part of culture. 

And then  once established  customs, traditions and rituals are blindly followed for years and years, despite the fact that, in most cases, these customs and traditions have lost their significance and the rituals have outlived their utility and meaning.
An Ancient Wisdom Teaching Story

A seeker joined a monastery to learn meditation and the art of living. 

Every evening  all students and disciples assembled in the large meditation hall for a discourse by the Spiritual Guru – followed by group meditation.

Just before the meditation session commenced  the disciples would catch a cat  tie it up  and place the tied up cat on the lap of the Spiritual Guru. 

The Guru would then start caressing the cat  and he would begin the discourse and meditation session. 

After the meditation session was over  the cat would be untied and set free.

This was the established daily ritual.

The Guru would start the meditation session only after the tied up cat was placed on his lap  and he was extremely particular about this.

Once – when the cat could not be found  the Guru refused to start the meditation session  and he demanded that the cat be placed on his lap.

So the meditation session was delayed – and  all the disciples launched a desperate hunt for the cat.

The disciples searched for many hours.

Finally  they found the cat.

The cat was duly tied up and placed on the Guru’s lap  and only then  did the Guru start his discourse-cum-meditation session.

The seeker was quite perplexed at the mystery of the tied up cat. 

He could not understand the significance of this ritual and how it was connected to meditation. 

The seeker wondered: What is the significance of the tied up Cat placed on the Gurus lap...? What is its correlation with meditation...?” 

He asked around – but no one knew the answer.

One day – someone told him to ask a wise old man  who lived in a cave up the hills.

So our curious seeker trudged up the hills to meet the wise old man and he asked the wise old man the significance of this time-honoured ritual.

“It is like this...” the wise old man said:

“One evening  many years ago  when the then Spiritual Guru and his disciples began their evening meditation  a Cat that lived in the monastery started running around and making so much noise that it distracted them and disturbed their meditation practice. 

So – the Guru ordered that the Cat be tied up during the evening discourse-cum-meditation practice – so that – once the Cat was tied up – it would not run around and create a nuisance. 

This practice of tying up the Cat before meditation practice continued – so much so  that even after the Teacher died  the next Guru continued this tradition  and the Cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session.

When the Cat died – another cat was brought to the monastery to be tied up during the evening meditation session.

And when that cat died too – they brought another cat to be tied up during meditation practice  and then  as and when the cats died  they kept replacing the dead cats with new cats  and  the practice of tying up a cat during meditation continued.

With the passage of time this has become such an established ritual – that now no one can dare to question it. So  it has become a custom, tradition and established ritual to tie up a cat during the meditation session...” 

As years passed  the ritual of tying up the cat during the meditation session continued and continued till it became an eternal established ritual.

The seeker 
 who by then had become the Spiritual Guru  wrote a scholarly treatise about the significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.


I wonder why we accept rituals, customs and traditions without understanding their significance...?

Why do we blindly follow rituals without examining the meaning, logic and significance of that ritual using our own intelligence and judgement...?

Why do we follow customs traditions and rituals that are obsolete and have lost their significance and outlived their utility...?

If you see any ritual, custom or tradition being blindly followed  and for which there seems to be no rational or logical explanation  remember this story of the Mystical Cat

Ask questions 
 and try to find out the logical basis for the ritual, custom or tradition. 

Is there some logic or rationale for the belief  or is it just superstition...?

And  if you are not convinced  isnt is better to stop blindly following rituals that have become meaningless in the modern world of today...?

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

1. This story is a fictional spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh. 
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved)

This is a revised version of my article written by me more than 20 years ago in the 1990s and posted online an number of times on my various blogs including at urls:  and and etc

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