Rituals and Festivals : Prof. Suman Oak

BOOK - Rituals and Festivals

Publishers : Indian Secular Society, Mumbai; Year:2014; Pages:197


Readers of Freedom First will remember a series titled “Rites, Rituals and Festivals” published in its issues between December 2007 and October 2009 where Mrs. Suman Oak, retired professor of education, SNDT University had enlightened the readers on nine festivals as and when they occurred in a particular month.  Her book under review is not only a compilation of these articles, but it is much more than what was published in the pages of Freedom First.

Brigadier Suresh C. Sharma, our regular contributor, provides a brief review of the book. 

The proposal to demolish Ramasetu which was to serve commercial interests caused commotion amongst some sections of the Hindu society. An attempt is made in the book to initiate a debate on religious practices by analysing religious rites and rituals.

In India, great emphasis is placed on rituals and a large number of people believe in Karma, atma and Parmatma. The author discusses the rituals and festivals celebrated by Maharashtrian Hindus and recommends that we discard those practices that degrade human dignity.

Makarsankranta is a purely natural phenomenon. On this day, the sun makes an apparent movement towards the north and it falls on 14th of January every year. It is wrongly mentioned that it is the only festival based on the solar calendar as Rathasaptami is also based on the solar movements on the day the sun enters the Kumbh Rashi (Aquarius).

Mahashivratri is celebrated on the 14th day of the second half of the Hindu month of Magh. The concept of Shiva evolved from pre-Aryan days into the present form in accordance with the changes in the social context. Shiva’s abode is Mount Kailash and is close to the Tibetan God Buddhamat. The author has erred in believing that most of the Hindus believe in the legends described in the Puranas. She has not described how Swami Dayanand got disillusioned about idol worship on this festival and later founded the Arya Samaj.

The legends of Holi, Ramnavmi, Dussera and Diwali are well-known to the people. These are occasions of joy and merry-making. The snake worship is difficult to understand. It is perhaps a relic of totems of the tribal era.

“Indian philosophy lays the greatest stress on an attitude not merely of passive tolerance but active respect for different forms of worship – even the unbeliever’s denial is a form of worship.”  C. Rajagopalachari

Ganesh Chaturthi, the most popular festival of Maharashtra, was utilized by Lokmanya Tilak for political awakening. Today, it has become an exhibition of political and economic clout. Forcible contributions from the public have become the norm for other festivals too.

There are many religions and sects in India and they sometimes borrow each other’s practices and even worship other religion’s deities. The Muslims in Indonesia stage Ramayana and the Catholic priests in Kerala use Kathak dance in their sermons.

Satyanarayan puja is just about 125 years old. There is no mention of it in the documents of the Peshwas or in the thousand names of Vishnu. The author states that this festival has roots in the Muslim religion but does not offer any evidence for it.

Too much attention to the other world (heaven) is an obstacle to good living in the real world. The author’s recommendation to honour social and personal responsibilities is correct. God cannot help us and we have to help ourselves. The book well brings out the faults and weaknesses in religious practices and exploitation by politicians and priests by indulging in forced contributions during festival time.


FF Digital recommends readers to order a copy.  The book is for educational purposes and hence not priced.  It is available at Indian Secular Society, M. N. Roy Human Development Campus, Plot No. 6, ‘F’ Block, Bandra (East), Mumbai 400051, India or can be posted upon request.  Contact Advocate A. V. Gopalakrishnan at mobile no. 0-9820307383 or e-mail avgopalakrishnan@gmail.com

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