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Indian Traditions Vs Misconceptions

Discussion in 'General Discussions' started by nair, Mar 4, 2011.

  1. nair

    nair New IL'ite

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    [JUSTIFY]Hi All!
    Yours truly and I'm sure everyone else who reads the threads on this website are immensely benefited from and so gratuitous for the words of wisdom I've read here that give us a lot on our culture and dispel numerous misconceptions in our land. Allow me delve a little on the basics of the customs and what we call traditions.
    Though I'm no Phd in the field, I'd like to share some thoughts from my years of learning in social science and practices. I know this will be a little long but it will be valuable. I promise!
    Some Background first:
    In the olden days we barely had anything resembling our constitution or even well defined laws. So what governed people were a set of very practical rules established & administered by officials, Sr. citizen (not as in 60+) of the community and learnings from earlier generations. Such rules and their administration started at home within the family. Every set of rules then had some very prudent and practical reasons behind them at the time that they were established.
    Now, the only way to ensure that such rules were adhered to was to give them a form of religious stature. The temple was also the epicentre of most community practices and get togethers. Since religion/God was a guiding powerful principle for all & sundry, it also instilled a strong feeling of reverence as well as a kind of fear among populace. This feeling and its power over people's mind ensured that such rules were followed by the book. I must mention here that though many of these rules did not seem to have any direct reasons even in those times, most of them were purposeful and effectively served a good cause.
    These then became standard practices across the society.
    Over time, many of these faced alterations and corrections based on the need of the times. But unlike new rules and sets of practices that developed during the span of the existing generation, some that were passed on from an earlier generation were assimilated in the system without question on their rationale.
    Such rules that got passed over generations without any real evolution were given the garb of religious customs & tradition because though they'd outlived their real objective, their practice still served the interests of certain powerful individuals, groups or even Sr. family members. If not anything, they gave a certain amount of validity to the existence of certain individuals, professions, groups/communities and gave reasons to the general society to respect them or seek their services/blessings. Just so that we undestand this I'll cite instances that all of us can easily relate to.

    For e.g. I'm bent to agree with some of the members here who have indicated that the rule about the ladies not being allowed in religious places or even certain places within a household during menstruation, originally had to do more with their health, need for rest, general hygiene, factors like avoiding public embarassment due to stains, etc. than anything related to purity or impurity related to God or religion. Those days the ladies did not have the protetion available today that takes care of all or most of these issues.

    There are numerous instances of traditions (from yesteryears) followed today that seem abolutely irrevelevant in today's context to most of us, some even waking up those grey cells in out brain that produce anger. Especially if these traditions seem to be even remotely related to outdated and evil practices like caste, untouchability and so on. But I can assure you that some of these, if not many still hold quite an acceptable degree of relevance to say the least. If only we knew the true nature and history behind them... I'll show you this with two common examples. These apply to even religions other than Hinduism but for simplicity sake I'll stick to Hinduism here.
    But please note that this does not mean I'm in anyway justifying the really ill-meaning and evil practices that run in our country in the name of customs and tradition. My sole purpose is that many of us here (across class and religions) will start looking at practices in a more acceptably inquisitive manner if not outrighly different. So here goes...

    1) There is a practice in the temples across the country, more so in the ones down South, where the priest within the temple does not physically touch the devotees. He'll never hand over the prasad to you but will drop it in your hands from a certain height. He will also not take the money that you donate directly from your hand but will ask you to drop it in his hand. The more traditionally stricter ones will ask you to keek it in a platter kept alongside.
    Now, this practice is construed in various ways and looked dow
    n upon by different people in different ways mostly depending on their backgrounds. The most common and easy misconception here is that the temple priest looks upon others as some lesser beings and the practice is akin to untouchability. I (being unpradonably inquisitive and curious about anything happening in this world) tend to think that it is a fair practice that has nothing to do with any of these misconceptions. It has everything to do with cleanliness & hygiene and is very similar to a doctor using gloves to inspect an infection and still sanitising his hands later. You see, from the time that the priest takes his first bath in the morning till the end of all puja chores, he spends his time solely within the temple premises touching only the things that are used for the temple purposes, most of which is available inside except the flowers and maybe a few other puja samagris. Also the sanctum sanctorum is a place which is continuously subjected to oil, fire flowers and other offerings and is not open to all and sundry even for cleaning purposes (for the same reasons that I indicate here). So it goes without saying that it is totally his responsibility to keep the interiors not only clean but absolutely hygienic too. But since there is no way to understand where a devotee is coming from, how many things he's handled ortouched on the way, if he's cleaned his hands or not before entering the temple, etc. and also because there is absolutely no way that this can be monitored or regulated 100%, the best is to avoid physical contact with the devotee while he's in the temple premises doing puja or temple chores.
    Of course there may be some priests or people from their community who take this practice further and make it evil, giving credence to the misconceptions, I've had many friends (even friends of my elders) who are/were priests in some of the most reverred temples who after leaving the temple premises are as good as any other person on the road, sitting together, dining together etc. with his family or friends from across communities/in my case even religions {though they stick to their own diet:)}.

    2) The second example is more commonly practiced in temples of Kerala (and believe me discomforts me a lot for practical reasons, including the fact that I grew up in the north and am not used to it). But I also feel very proud about the fact that such a practice exists in Hindusism in my country. I'll explain...
    In almost all temples in Kerala, Gents are not allowed to enter the inner premises wearing anything other than a Mundu (local for plain and simple dhoti) and angavastra or at most a thorthu (country towel/Gamchcha). There is a similar dress code for the ladies too, which lets discuss another time. Since my boyhood, I've heard Various reasons being quoted for this, there was always something missing, minor though they may be in many reasons quoted. Since we're getting too lengthy I'll not get into those now. The rationale behind this practice, as I now believe is very logical and extremely social...
    The original Mundu was a kind of local handwoven/handloom made simple cotton dhoti that looked common and was worn by rich an poor alike at leisure. It still is not very far from that. A sense of equality in front of God was the reason why it was insisted that all male devotees visiting the temple wear only dhoti and no stiched top. Meaning, God is supreme and in his/her eyes every human is equal, irrespective of a person's worldly stature; For god there is no discrimination between rich or poor, king or pauper, high caste or low caste, Powerful or feeble and so on... hence a kind of uniform to be worn in his abode that removes all visible seams between human beings. Conceptually this meant that every visitor to a temple had to be treated equally. What an excellent concept!!

    I think I'll close this here now. More thoughts later...

    Regards
    Santosh N.[/JUSTIFY]
     
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  2. Huma

    Huma Silver IL'ite

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    Hi

    thank you for sharing...i learned a little bit today because of you, keep it up. expecting to read more.
     
  3. nair

    nair New IL'ite

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    Thanks Huma,
    Just happy to share my two bits of info...
    S.N.
     
  4. satchitananda

    satchitananda Moderator Staff Member IL Hall of Fame

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    interesting write up santosh.
     
  5. soumya234

    soumya234 Platinum IL'ite

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    Well I too accept that priests should not touch us and we too shouldn't touch any of the statues there for all the reasons mentioned.But he can make sure that he drops the prasad from a decent height.I had been to many temples in Kerala and heard a lot about how strict the rules are for a priest.But one priest literally dropped the chandan so fast that it fell down and I was frustrated to the core that I literally gave a stern look:-( since it was a big temple and I went there after climbing up a hill:drowning.May be just that it happened but I didn't feel like asking for it again and left the place:-(.

    Well for the dress code I am glad they decided to allow chudidhars for the past few yrs in Guruvayur:bowdown:bowdown:bowdown.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2011
  6. nair

    nair New IL'ite

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    Thank you Soumya,
    I'm sorry about your experience.
    Why do I get the feeling that this kind of incident has happened with me more than once, though I can't place it when and where. I completely understand your feeling and being upset at the priest. I too went off without the chandan and vividly remember that it was more out of embarrassment and the thought of being looked at as a "needs to be more careful" guy by the other devotees. How such incidences remain unforgotten...
    Mind you, this was probably a long time ago... cause if it was recent I'd probably have asked him to be more careful and not waste the chandan. My opinion here is - priest or no priest, any person who's job involves in part or whole such interactions with people/public need to be more understanding, considerate and patient than others for umpteen no. of logical as well as human reasons. Maybe more on my take on this in a later post...

    As for the dress code like you I too am glad that most temples now allow gents to wear trousers and ladies to wear Churidars/Salwar sets; more so because anyone who sees me in a mundu knows I'm a PhD in wearing it:biglaugh and among other gents like me wardrobe malfunctions are not uncommon.
    But pun apart, my point here is this. Once they have allowed dresses like trousers & churidar, they could have allowed other dresses as well to be worn by anyone as per his/her choice. This is where I say a tradition is continued without much relevance and such ones keep accumulating over generations.
    Anyway thanks for sharing:).

    Thanks Satchi! glad to participate...
     
  7. marknel

    marknel New IL'ite

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    I'm not well versed in any type of hindu scriptures and I often wonder why can't there be women priests in temples.
     
  8. nair

    nair New IL'ite

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    Don't Worry Marknel,
    Most of us are in the same boat and a large majority of those who think they're well versed are not really conceptually clear about the basics in our scriptures. At most they have a vague generic idea about why (effectual) of a theme in our scriptures. The what, how and even why (causative) of the theme does not concern them.

    I hope more people like us wonder aloud about why women priests cannot be allowed in the temple, especially at times when there are not health related issues. I for one believe that in such a development, a very good percentage would be much better at their jobs compared to their male counterparts. The good news is... I'm told there are temples where this has started.

    S.N.
     
  9. Coffeelover

    Coffeelover Platinum IL'ite

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    Nair,

    Excellent explanation about practices in Hindu Tamils of South India.
    Hope to hear more form you about the customs. Do you know why Shiva temple don't give Prasadam, but Vishnu temples do give. I hope ou can help me with this question.

    Good day.
     
  10. Spiderman1

    Spiderman1 Gold IL'ite

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    There really is no reason these days, why women cannot be priests. Hope these changes can happen soon.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2011

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