Reason: Why We Must Stop Observing Self-deluding Beliefs in Religious Rituals

The recent issue of filing the police case against a cook for concealing her caste has raised several questions about our religious beliefs. The cook was accused of impersonating and hiding her caste to secure the job. The eligibility for the job was that the cook should be a Brahmin and a married woman having her husband alive -- a suvasini as defined by religious believers.

This issue shocked many because of the police case. But what doesn't surprise us is that many people still follow such rigid beliefs, for performing holy rites especially. 

My attempt in this article is to find whether there exists any Hindu cultural basis for the idea of observing a separate sacredness termed as 'sowale' in Maharashtra. Please note that my thoughts are not intended to comment only on the particular controversy. The questions disturbing me are about complex notions of ritualistic purity.

Text Image: Why We Must Stop Observing Self Deluding Beliefs in Religious Rituals

The sowale codes for everyday life including cooking and performing pujas and those for religious occasions are quite different. Many of the controversial rules based on 'sowale' were crucial to observe in past. With the awareness about their atrocious nature in discriminating humans based on their castes, reformers revolutionalized the social system by eradicating them from our lives. But we haven't lost our self-deluding necessity to follow them unreasonably. And they continue to find a place in holy festivals today.

Flimsy Standards for Religious Sanctity:

`Text Image: Flimsy Standards for Religious Sanctity
Where did sowale come from?

How does the marital status of a woman affect the meals for religious purposes?

What changes happen in a woman before and after marriage or after the death of her husband so she becomes eligible or ineligible to cook for festive occasions?

Superstitions are certainly the major factor behind these strange norms. The 'sowale' principles are so practically hard to understand that they are nearly impossible to follow. 

The code for sowale is not just about castes. According to the followers of sowale, widows in own family are also not allowed to touch kitchen or the room for performing the puja.

According to another rule, the participants performing rituals and cooking have to wear sacred cloths supposed for the sowale. Once these dresses are worn, those people are said to be 'in sowale'. Then nobody else can touch them including kids in the family. 

The laws for what is acceptable and what is not in observing the purity of sowale are different for each family. The family-specific rules are generally those set by their ancestors.

Similarly, the harsh principles about untouchability of women during their menstruation cycle are also supposed to be observed stringently. 

The Essence of Vedic and Pauranic Traditions:

Text Image: Essence of Vedic and Pauranic Traditions
Vedic traditions were quite uncomplicated. Worshipping nature and gods by Vedic chants can be found written in Vedic hymns. 

The many vrata (divine observances) and the rituals to perform them are found in Puranas. However, any mention of the questionable primary conditions of marital status and caste isn't present in Puranas. Also, the term 'sowale' or any definition which will carry similar meaning has no existence as per Puranas. 

According to Puranas the God manifested in various forms and names accepts every puja performed with devotion. Devotion - Bhakti is the main criteria for worship, not the caste, not the marital status. There is no such condition to conduct rituals only in specifically guided paths. 

A word 'Yathashakti' is found in Puranas associated with the directions explained with stories of various vratas. If one cannot perform a puja exactly as guided due to any limitation, it is still accepted by the God. And there is no definition about 'God being desecrated' upon failing to follow the guidelines. God is always sacred, in all conditions. Nobody can make Him more sacred or desecrated.

If we remove the fears of desecrating the God caste based cruel segregation can be easily ended and we can achieve harmony based on equality.

For those who follow these beliefs, a question to think upon, won't it be more appropriate to have eligibility criteria for the priest who is appointed to carry out the puja? The criteria can be based on their knowledge and expertise about the necessary rituals. Won't it make the vrata more fruitful and more sacred?

Conventionally, it's not seen acceptable to ask questions to holy men. Their instructions should be taken as the final word. 

We are not supposed to check whether they execute the rites precisely or not. 

Swami Vivekanand and Dayananda Saraswati had elaborated on Dharma and disapproved such notions which create religious standards based on untouchability.

Shouldn't we keep our beliefs personal? Making them a condition for a job and expecting others to follow them for us is not aligned to the divine purpose.

The reason of believing inflexible principles is our fears. What if something goes wrong? What if some mistake is happened by me during the puja? Will something bad happen to me? Will god or saint curse me? Trace these doubts. How and when they got implanted in our minds?

If we trace the roots of our rigid fears, they can be found in external sources like the people whom we consider as holy authorities. The weapon of fear is the most beneficial for manipulators.

Another reason told behind the concept of 'sowale' is to maintain hygiene. However, 'sowale' rules are ambiguous and vary from people to people whereas the rules of hygiene can be applicable everywhere. It is also equally unfounded.

Shouldn't the holy rules be about righteous behaviors based on kindness and humanity? 

Religious standards can be helpful for an agreeable social system if we keep them free from rigidity. The religious rules are not supposed to be applicable in all times and at all places. 

We claim Hindu culture as the most liberal. How can we impose our personal beliefs on others if that is true? 

The faith that we have followed certain rules suggested by the priests rightly and now our vrata will endow blessings and happiness or the anxiety that we committed some mistake in following the rules so there will be some harm to us, are both self-deluding.

Supreme love for the Almighty is the most sacred. Bhakti cannot be based on terms and conditions.


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