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Sikhism and Rituals
Ritualism in religion has come to us through the ages. Rites and ceremonies are valuable to the extent they remind the people of their relation with God. One rituals and the relation between the object and the symbol is crystal clear.
In ancient times, the priestly classes encourgaed ritualism and went to the extent of installing fear among peoples, saying that if such and such ceremony was not performed it would bring the wrath of God. On account of this hold of priests over people increased tremendously. In the primitive society, priest were known as magicians and were said to have possessed certain miraculous powers. They combined purification with sacrifice. People were asked to make sacrifices to escape the curse of God, god and goddesses The magic performed by priests is said to have brought fortune to people. It could bring rain for good crops, ward off natural calamities and even help defeat the enemy. Thus the primitive man's religion was based on occult powers and magic an rituals were part of it.
Then came Vedic age. New god and goddesses came into existence which were worshipped by the people in order to seek salvation. These gods were Indra, Surya, Agni,and Usha.They were invoked to bestow gifts, such as prosperity, long life and happiness. Hymns were chanted to please them to seek their blessings. Although people's attitude towards worship changed, the custom of making sacrifices continued unabatedly. Prayer too were like magic tricks which impelled the deity to do as the devotee desired. Hymns recited on the occasion of sacrifices were preserved as charms and were supposed to bring victory in war, prosperity and happiness in life.
Then developed another class of Brahmins. In the early Aryan society, they become the most dominant and influential class. Kings and Rajas sought the blessings of Brahmins in the performance of various functions of the State. Havans and Yagnas were performed with the help of Brahmins to seek blessings of God.
The Brahmins were supposed to be learned people. They were required to perform religious services; they also imparted education to the people. They were respected for their piety and simplicity. But with the passage of time people started offering them costly gifts; Rajas specially loaded them with wealth and treasures. They become the privileged class and began to exploit the innocent and ignorant people engrossed in superstitions. They led luxurious lives in the name of religious and service to the people. They become corrupt with money an the prestige they commended. They preached performance of rituals for the Brahmins became an institutions and occupied the place of religion. Worship was turned into mechanical performance of rituals.
They exploited the Hindu society so much and organized the religious aspect of social system to such an extent that from birth to death services of Brahmins became indispensable. Ceremonies at the time of a child's birth, mundan ceremony, wearing of holy thread and other ceremonies concerning marriages had to be performed and at the time of death the Brahmins was required to perform one or the other ritual.
With the advent of Islam in India, there was intermingling of cultures. Two streams of culture began to develop parallel to each other. Islam could not be absorbed in the mainstream of Hinduism . The Brahmins found his counterpart in the mullah, who was also considered a noble and privileged person. He was patronized by the rulers. The mullahs too accumulated wealth and riches and were exploiting the riches by creating fear in them about the day of destiny when everybody would have to give an account of his deeds. This fear lurked in the minds of the people and they followed the dictates of the mullahs without questioning.
Before the birth of Guru Nanak, besides the Brahmins and the mullahs, several hundred yogis, fakirs and sidhs wandered from place roamed from one end of the country to another, carrying with them their staffs, rosaries ad their pies of hemp; they smeared their bodies with asceticm and mortification of the flesh which were supposed to endow the practitioners with miraculous powers.
With the passage of time, there cam in them moral degradation and their values were decayed. They started indulging in immoral practices. In a way , they looted the people and extracted money from them. The innocent people worshipped them like gods for fear of their curse. If any person did not serve them well they gave him sarap (curse) and those who entertained them in a royal manner were given vars (blessings). They had considerable hold on the people and dominated the religious life of the people.
When Guru Nanak was born, people were ignorant, backward and deeply steeped in superstition. Huge sums were spent on fruitless ceremonies even if a person could not afford their cost or was barely making both ends meet. It was a life of blind conventionalism which led to hypocrisy and mammon worship. The spirit of both Islam and Hinduism found expression in a number of meaningless formalities, and extraneous observances. Formalities reigned supreme. Alchemy and thaumaturgy were freely professed and incantations and spells practiced.
In short, people in the country were hopelessly divided. Sunk low in the depths of ignorance and superstitions they had become spiritual slaves. The caste system had become rigid under the influence of the brahmanic revival. It was considered a horrible sin for a sudra to hear Vedic hymns and this could be punished by pouring molten lead into his ears. Nature had forever settled a person into the caste in which he was born, and he was bound to it for life without any regard to his poverty or riches, talents, character or skill. Human dignity and feelings were bound up in separate castes.
Bhai Gurdas tells us that there was quite a confussion when the four castes and as many as four ashrams got mingled. There were sanayasis offering different demonstrations and yogis set up their twelve paths. People were extremely divided and were sunk low in superstition in kalyuga.
The Hindus had four castes and the Muslims were divided into four sects. With jealousy, arrogance and vanity, they fought each other without any reason. The Muslims regarded Mecca and Kaaba as sacred while Hindus worshipped the Ganges and Benaras. Islam was reduced to simply circumcision whereas Hindus only wore sacrificial thread and frontal marks. Ram and Rahim denoted only one God but their followers traversed different paths in ignorance. People had altogether forgotten the teachings of their holy books - the Quran and the Vedas. The world was lost in avarice. Truth had vanished and mullahs and Brahmins were struggling against each other.
The Hindus were totally indifferent to the miseries and troubles of the contemporary world. Brahmins were considered superior to others and were the only ones having sanction to read Vedas and other holy scriptures. The masses were denied this opportunity, so they remained generally ignorant and were sunk in the quagmire of superstition. The priests had reduced religion to a mockery, its spirit was dead and instead there had sprung up a religion of formal ceremonies and rituals.
The priests, the hereditary guardians of Hinduism, could not unite all Hindus.
They shut themselves up in the impregnable fortress o caste. The privileged ones were taken in and the rest were left to fight their own battle in their own way.
Idol worship was the most common feature of religion. People having committed several sins in their daily life went every year on pilgrimage. They thought that all their crimes, corruption and other evils could be washed away by a dip in the Holy Ganges. Thefts were common and so was adultery. But the sacred thread worn round the body put on them the hallmark of high character.
The Hindu caste system had lost its originality and elasticity, and had become rigid giving rise to evils and miseries. The Brahmins mercilessly abused the situation. The so called high class priests neglected teaching of spiritual realities to the people who were sunk in superstition and materialism. Religion was confused with caste distinctions.
In the words of Sir Gokal Chand Narang: "The popular religion about the time of Nanak's birth was confined to peculiar forms of eating and drinking, peculiar ways of bathing and painting the forehead and other such mechanical observances. The worship of idols, wherever they were permitted to exist, pilgrimages to the Ganges and other sacred places, whenever they were allowed, the observance of certain ceremonies like the martial and funeral rites, the obedience to the mandates of the Brahmins and lavishing charitable gifts upon them constituted almost the whole of Hinduism as it was then current among the masses."
Thousands of god and goddesses came into existence and their following increased tremendously. A sort of rivalry was created among them and a competition developed as to who was the superior among gods.
As far as the common mass of Muslims were concerned, they were no better than the Hindus. They were ignorant of their religion and teachings of Islam were unknown to them. Mullahs and Qazis who professed the knowledge of the tenants of Islam were in reality ignorant of Shariat. They were fast delegating.
The ideal worship one God was preached by Prophet Mohammad but in actual practice most of Muslims worshipped pirs, fakirs and graves.
The teachings of holy Quran were altogether forgotten. They were promised beautiful nymphs in heaven and thousands of slaves, and fully furnished houses with all the luxuries of life. Such liberal promises of future happiness were enough to attract them to follow the teachings of pirs and fakirs.
People had thus lost their moorings. Moral standards were completely forsaken and religion had lost its sanctity.
Guru Nanak found himself in a precarious situation when he started preaching the Name of God. He strongly condemned ritualism and idolatry as also the priestly class. He told people to discard age-old ceremonies having no relevance to reality. He was opposed to superstitious type of worship of God. It was not the way a person worshipped the Almighty that was important but the sincerity of purpose. Even at a very early stage in His life, when Guru Nanak was asked to wear the sacred thread by the priest, he told him:
"Out of the cotton of mercy spin the thread of contentment,
To keep the purity of religion Guru Nanak had to wage war against the forces of conservation, orthodoxy, ignorance and superstition. He attacked the citadel of Brahmins, mullas and yogies and fought against the cults of the priestly class. He infused the spirit of true worship among the people at large, and rid them of apathy of weariness of useless and meaningless ceremonies and rituals as also claims made by the Brahmins for the salvation of human beings. His tasks consisted of weaning people away from the worship of idols and images and leading them to worship only one God who was the Creator and the Destroyer. He fought against hypocrisy, superstition, forms and ceremonies and showed people the true path of worship for their emancipation. The Guru told the brahmins:
"O Brrahmin, make God the image of Thy worship
"It is far too easy to call oneself a Muslim
"Ye colour thy clothes to adopt the grab of the order
"Yoga is neither a patched coat,
About going on pilgrimages and washing sins in the holy rivers, Guru Nanak said:
"The more places of pilgrimage one visits
Guru Nanak vehmently condemned idol worship. To him it was a futile attempt to attain salvation. He said:
"One worshipeth gods and goddesses
Instead of worshipping stones and images, Guru Nanak asked them to remember His Name only, He said:
"I shall never fall a prey to doubt
Mantras and incantations have no place in Sikhism. Guru Nanak decried them outright:
"I have no faith in tantras and mantras
Havens and yagnas do not find any place in Sikhism. Guru Amar Das said:
Havens, yagnas, pilgrimage to holy places are performed
All the sacraments were rejected in Sikhism. Guru Amar Das said:
"So many ceremonies are performed,
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Master, too condemned idol worship. He said:
"Some worship stones and put them on their heads,
The Guru repeated the same ideal while addressing idol worshippers. He said:
"O great beast that doth not recogniseth Him
Guru Gobind Singh said again:
"Some believe in the images of Vishnu,
"Why dost thou worship stones,
Guru Gobind Singh has furtherelucided this point. He said:
"The wicked hill chiefs and their henchmen
"The entire sky is the salver,
In short, Gur Nanak and his successors laid great stress on the essential inwardness of true religion. For the sikh Gurus, ritualswere meaningless. What mattered was the purity of mind and sincerity of purpose, and worship which lacked such qualities was only mechanical in nature and thus futile. The Guru said:
"Burnt be those rituals and fprmalities
Guru Nanak's faith can be summarised in His hymn:
"As the lotus remaineth detached in water
Again Guru Nanak said:
"What all these rituals are worth?
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