| | One may or may not agree with the need for the performance of rituals in the modern times but no one cannot deny the fact that they act as the bed rock of the community, keeping it alive. We have to continue with them, but we have the full liberty of changing the format and even liturgy to suit our times. That is the essence of Sanatana Dharma.
I have studied worship rituals of many Hindu societies while writing my book and am constantly studying the practices of modern generation Hindus both in India and abroad. Let me share with you that no Hindu group has as much lengthy worship rituals as we Kashmiri Pandits do have. As an example, take the case of Prepun- a usual worship in our tradition for almost all occasions. Prepun is just an act of offering bhog (Prasad). In other Hindu traditions bhog is just one of the acts of puja in two lines. Our prepun has more recitation than the whole puja ritual. Similarly, Shivratri Puja includes elaborate ritual of puja followed by homa and tarpan for devas/reshis/pitras. Our antyeshti rituals at the time of death of loved one are equally very lengthy.
We are a small community. Had we not moved from Kashmir, our priests would have continued to help us with our traditions. But situation has changed. Our generation of priests, like many all of us has also suffered. They have lost their yajmans on whom they were dependent upon for their livelihood. There is hardly any younger generation of priests. Our puja traditions are now practiced by priests from other Hindu communities who do not follow our traditions. In such a situation, our younger generation is confused. We need to adapt to this new reality. All Karmkandas are not static manuals. They are modified from time to time The present Kashmiri Karmkanda was written in the17th century. It is time we take a fresh look at our worship rituals
In the first instance we have to understand the relevance of the Vedic rites in our modern times. All acts, be it religious or otherwise, have a purpose for its performance. We eat only when we are hungry. We perform various religious acts because we are aligned to certain faith mostly through the faith of our ancestors.
Hinduism believes in rebirth. As per Vedic Philosophy humans are born to exhaust their impure karma, which are the cause of their repeated births, indicating that being born is not a reward but a punishment, so to say, for indulging in base activities during previous birth. Therefore, the goal of human life should be to seek freedom (MokshaH) from the cycle of repeated births (Samsara) by performing noble acts of YagnyaH, DanaH and TapaH.
Acts of YajnyaH, DanaH (gifts) and TapaH (austerity) should not be given up; but should be performed; They are purifying acts
Bhagwad Gita 18/5
YajnyaH involves performing of karmic rites by offering food and water to deities called devas who, suffer from hunger and thirst like all beings ) through the medium of Agni Deva (fire god) along with recitation of mantras(sacred recitations composed by Rishis of yore). A large section of the all the four Vedas are devoted to the performance of Vedic ritual of YajnyaH. DanaH is a noble way of gifting materials and money to the needy persons. TapaH means austerity, which is primarily a mental condition whereby one looks at all living beings, including non humans, as divine creations and treats them with humility, compassion and non injury. All these noble acts lead one to MokshaH.
Devas are defined as natural elements without any form: fire-Agnideva, water- Varun deva, air Vayu deva.) Visible astral bodies like planets, Sun Moon and even imaginary bodies (like Rahu/ketu) etc were also included in the category of devas. In the Post Vedic Period (300 BC onwards) Vedic liturgy changed. Idol worship was added with the introduction of various idols symbolizing acts of manifestation (Brahma), preservation (Vishnu) and destruction(Shiva)and many more to follow and yet Sanskrit, which is the medium of Vedic rites and hardly understood, has been retained as liturgy to a large extent.
Hindu tradition of worship may have gone a sea change but our learned seers, who have appeared from time to time, have protected Hindu Dharma from becoming obsolete, by invigorating it with new life and thoughts .Upanishads, which glorify acts of DanaH and TapaH, have brought new life to Hindu thought .Bhagwad Gita, which is a gist of all Upanishad, represents glory of Hindu faith globally.
The Vedic thought is not confined to seeking goal of MokshaH only. It also looks at the journey of a human life from birth to death. Thus, a number of rituals- Sanskaras have been prescribed for performance, at different stages of the life of an individual. Climatic changes in the region have also fixed the timing of rituals.
Various types of Pujas (Karmkanda)
There are many types of Pujas which are recorded in a manual called karmkanda.
1. Daily worship which invove pujas made daily at home or temple.
2. Festival related worships.Pujas which are made on special occasions like birthday, Shivratri, Divali etc
3. Sanskara related worships which are made in the life of an individual from birth to death
4. Antyeshti- Death rituals at the time of death of an individual and afterwards
5. Havan- A vedic tradition which is observed as a part of Sanskara Puja or as a separate puja.
- These involve recitations from Vedas and other religious scriptures with or without a brief puja rituals and jaap
- Festival related worships called Pujas. Elaborate worship of chosen deity or deities is carried on special festivals with a prescribed format. Pujas like Janam Din Puja, Shivratri Puja Pann Puja.
- Sanskara- The life cycle of a Hindu, from birth to death, goes through sixteen religious ceremonies called samaskaras (sacrament). Karmkanda is a guide book for performance of these rituals. For Kashmiri Hindus the number of sanskaras that are being still observed are just three excluding Antyeshti (death ritual):
- Kahne’ther- Purification ceremony after birth of a child
- Upanyana (or Mekhal)- A Vedic tradition, originally for Initiating a boy into the study of Vedas and performance sanskaras, but now just a ritual full of fun
- Vivah- Marriage of a boy or girl
All Vedic Sanskaras involve homa/ havan along with Puja.Homa involves offering of materials to deities in the burning fire pot called Agnikund. Besides homa a few additional pujas called angas are required to be performed depending upon the nature of the Sanskara. These are:
- a) Establishing Kalash- Presence of Varuna deva (the water deity) is essential in all homas In some sanskaras additional puja is held for estabkishing Pradhan Kalash.
- b) Worship of Universal Mothers: any one of following
- i. Sptgrit Matrikas- worship of 7 divine Mothers (Divich Ksir Puja is a Kashmiri variant)
- ii. Shodash Matrikas-worship of 16 divine Mothers
- iii. Yognis- worship of 64 divine mothers
- c) Khetrpal Puja- worship of deities associated with agricultural produce
- d) Navgreh Mandal Puja- worship of nine planets (grehas) It is a very long ritual performed as a part of the homa or as a separate homa
- e) Nand Mukha Shraddha (also known as Abhyadaya)It involves seeking blessings of ancestors performed by ladies
- f) Vaishvdev Bali (also known as Bhut Yagnya) Offerings made to certain tutelary gods ,household divinities spirits, ancestors, birds and insects like ants. It is usually performed on the 11 day of the dead person and also in Shivratri puja by some.
• Anteyeshti and Shraddha These are religious rituals at the time of death and on death anniversaries.
• Havan There are many types of havan which Hindus perform either on special occasions or just to seek fulfillment of their desires. Kashmiris perform havan as a social event also. Some of the common havans are:
- a) Aayashya homa for removal of evil influences of a new born child
- b) Mryanjaya homa to ward off threatening situations like accidents
- c) Gayatri homa for success in learning
- d) Mrtyanjay homa for recovery from ailments
- e) Navgreh homa for removal of greh doshas
- f) Ganesh homa for success in any venture
- g) Rudra homa for removal of negative forces
- h) Durga homa for gaining power and energy(Shakti)
The number of homas is as large as the human needs. Kashmiri Hindus perform havans regularly as a social event. Usually five deities namely Ganesh, Durga, Shiv,Vishnu and Surya receive worship. These are called five sahkars.
The performance of puja and homa has three stages:
a) Pratham Bhaga - It involves recitation of mantras along with actions which are meant to prepare performer both physically and mentally for the ritual.
b) Madhyam / Prdhan Bhaga - It represents the main purpose of ritual that is going to be performed. Apprioriate deity who grants this boon is worshipped.
c) Uttra Bhaga - This is the concluding part in which deities are thanked for being present during the performance of the ritual and seeking forgiveness for any omissions or mistakes during the performance of the ritual.
Part a (Pradhan Bhaga) and Part c (Uttra Bhaga) of a Puja/homa remain same in all Pujas. Part b (Madhyam/Pradhan Bhaga) changes with the type of Puja/homa.3 - Simplification of Kashmiri Karmkanda and Social Customs
A collection of rituals /poojas is known as Karmkanda.In order simplify the Karmkanda two objectives are essential.:
1) Making the performance of ritual easy so as to reduce the dependence on a priest wherever possible.
2) Where services of a priest are essential, make it easy for locally available priests to perform these rituals.
In order to achieve above objectives I have worked out simplification as indicated below:
- • All acts involved in the ritual have been identified so that they can be performed by priest of any Hindu community or by any individual.
• The Sanskrit recitations of prayers have been reduced and made easier to recite correctly.
• All Sanskrit prayers have been written in Sanskrit and Roman script for correct phonetic recitation. They have been written in bold font to distinguish from other writings.
• All Sanskrit recitations have been translated into English to make the rituals meaningful.
• Alternate angas (parts of a ritual) of a Sanskare, as per Kashmiri tradition, have been identified and given separately to maintain our tradition if so desired by the performer. Other optional angas such as Bali Vishva Deva homa, performed by some on Shivratri and as death ritual, have also been given separately.
• Tarpan (water oblations for devas/reshis/Pitr) have been given for Pitr (ancestors) only.
• Use of materials needed for the rituals has been simplified.
• Preypun. It is a bhog (Prasad) which is just part of the Pradhan Bhaga among all Hindu pujas. It carries two line recitations. In the Kashmiri tradition Preypun has a unique position. It is ubiquitous in all pujas as a separate part.for offering bhog. It carries long recitations involving not only the worship of prominent deities but also of their weapons,
followed by worship of sky mothers separately. This has been reduced to worship of deities only.
• In a Havan we perform five sahkars in one go.Each sahkar has one thousand recitations of the particular deity. Thus in all five thousand ahuties are made in one havan. Again each sahkar takes about three hours. Thus the total time taken in one havan is about 18 hours including 3 hours taken in preparatory pujas called Pratham Bhaga and concluding prayers called Uttra Bhaga.This practice needs to be changed. We should restrict performance of havan to one sahkar onlyt a time which will take about six hours. Print outs or booklets giving recitations of 1000 names of chosen deity should be made in sufficient numbers for public participation in the event.
• Sanskara rituals like Mekhal, Vivah and Antyeshti need to be simplified not only in puja content but also we have to change social customs associated with them.
• Mekhal, like many other Sanskaras has lost its relevance in modern times. Traditional initiation is confined now to priest class only. Most Hindus get their children initiated at community institutions like temples and ashrams. We should also join the bandwagon. It is a tradition of initiation of our boys into Hindu fold which needs a simple puja ritual of bathing the child with consecrated water ( devGon) followed by a havan. There is no need for lengthy celebrations of Mahindirat and Koshulhom associated with it. It should be just one day affair at home or outside.
• Vivah contnues to be an important Sanskara which has an excellent format among all Hindus with little local traditions. Our social traditions are very lengthy and time consuming. Not only the family but even the boy and girl who are getting married get exhausted at the end of the day, all in the name of social customs. It is an event which has to be enjoyed.
The simplification suggested is:
Day One- Mahindirat. The celebration should be limited to midnight only two prepare for the functions of next day. The Music and Dance can start early in the day and continue while food is served
Day Two- DevGon and departure/reception of Bharat. The number of bharatis should be limited to blood relations only from both sides to focus on the marriage puja and wonderful traditions associated with it. The idea here is to reduce the fatigue of the couple who have to go through the rituals of DevGon puja at home and then through vivah puja and to minimize the frustration of both the parties in assembling the bharaties and ensure timely departure and huge effort that goes at brides place in arranging food for unspecified number of guests
Day Three- Joint Reception. Both sides should invite their guests at a commonly agreed place In western societies the number of guests is confirmed in advance and even seats allotted to them at eating plce .That prevents lot of wasteful expenditure. The expenses should be equally shared by both families. That would be a healthy tradition. Many Hindu societies follow this tradition
• Antyeshti from the practical point of view the traditions may be described as under:
I) Cremation traditions on the day of death or soon after
II) Post cremation traditions
Cremation traditions on the day of death are almost universal among Hindus .The tradition of Yama among Kashmiri Pandits on the day of death is unique to Kashmiri Pandits. The present day post cremation traditions among Kashmiri Pandis include:
- A- Collection of Ashes
- B- Tenth day Kriya at River bank
- C-- Eleventh day Kriya at home
- D- Twelth day Kriya at home
- E Fortnightly (Pachwar for first three months, monthly( Maswar for for first six months ), Shadmos at the end of six months and Wahrwar at the end of one year. The mourning closes after that.
These Pujas have been given in detail in the book “Socio Cultural and Religious Traditions of Kashmiri Pandits” (kp-culture-and religion blogspot.com). These are considered very long by present standards and need to be shortened.
Alternate Simplified Kriya model is prescribed as under:
- Day of Cremation- No pujas are needed. Body should be given a bath and then cremated
- Collection of ashes( latest by 3 days after cremation)
- Shradanjali (Public function to pay homage to the deceased and close mourning period)
- Havan (any day suitable after Shradanjali as a substitute for 10th, 11th and 12th day traditions)
- Wahrver( Shradha) at the end of first year of death as per lunar calendar.
I have placed following simplified pujas in PDF format on my blog- www.kp-pooza.blogspot.com:
1) )Janam din Puja(21 pages)
2) Pann Puja(4 pages)
3) Shivratri ( vtk) puja (28 pages)
4) Deepavali Puja(16 pages)
5) KaHnether Puja( 54pages)
6) Upanyana( Mekha)lPuja (71 pages)
7) Vivah Marriage Puja (72 pages)
8) Antyeshti ( death) traditions and pujas (57 pages)
9) Havan ( Homa) puja(46 pages)
10) Vaishdev Bali ( an optional puja addition for Shivratri and Antyeshti (8 pages)
11) Swastivachan( auspicious Vedic Hymns 2 pages)
12) How to perform Tarpan(2 pages)
13) Swastivachan( auspicious Vedic Hymns
More are being added
Vtk Puja and Mahimnapar recitation with Hindi translation by me is already available on U- tube
Please feel free to write to me with your comments and suggestions.