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The Ritual Traditions of India

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Item Code: NAM393
Author: Dr. S. Ramaratnam
Publisher: Somaiya Publications Pvt. Ltd.
Language: Sanskrit Text With English Translation
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9788170392934
Pages: 604
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch x 6.0 inch
Weight 880 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The Ritual Traditions of India is an exposition on the Grhya or the domestic rituals. A traditional follower of the sanatana dharma is expected to perform 40 domestic rituals. Though some of them have gone out of use, majority of them are still followed by different communities all over India. The Grhya tradition is preserved by the Gryasutras of authors like Asvalayana, Bodhayana and Apastamba and also the manuals and digests. Family traditions, local customs and folk practices also form part of the rituals. The rituals are thus a living tradition. They reflect the social, religious and spiritual life of the ancient Indians. The rituals also called samskaras (meaning 'making perfect') are meant to purify a person and help him to achieve the higher aspects of life. They are the essential first step towards the realisation of the goal of life. The main Samskaras are: Garbhadhana (Nuptial ceremony) Pumsavana and Simantonnayana (pre-natal ceremonies) Jatakarma, Namakarana, Annaprasana, Caula (childhood rituals) Upanayana (sacred thread ceremony), and the Vivaha (marriage). The present book not only deals with the individual rituals but also throws light on the relation of the ritual texts to the Vedas, Brhmanas, Aranyakas, Upanisads, Itihasas, Puranas, Dharmasastra texts and kavyas. It discusses the philosophical, literary, folk, secular and magical elements of the Grhya tests. The position of women in the Grhya ceremonies is also discussed in one of the chapters. The book aims to bring out the deeper significance of the rituals, the knowledge of which will contribute to human development and understanding.

About the Author

Dr. S. Ramaratnam is the Vice Chancellor of Jagadguru Kripalu University, Odisha. Before taking up the present assignment, he was working as the Vice Chancellor of Sri Sri University, Odisha. Having worked as the Director of Management Institutes and Principal of Colleges, he has more than forty-five years of experience in the academic world. A Major part of his career was spent in Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College, Chennai, where he worked as Professor of Sanskrit and the Principal. The qualifications of Dr. Ramaratnam speak for themselves. He is an M.A. Ph.D. in Sanskrit. His other qualifications include a D. Litt degrees, M.A. in Philosophy, M.Sc. In Psychology, M.B.A. and M. Phil (Management). In all he has 5 graduate degrees, 5 Post Graduate degrees and Diplomas in Telugu, Kannada, French, German and in 7 other subjects. Dr. Ramaratnam is truly a multi-faceted personality, that he is. He has been awarded titles such as Samskrta Ratna, Sahitya Vallabha, Kala Sastra Parangata and Bharata Kala Nipuna. He has also been awarded Eminent Academician award by the Rotary Club, Chennai and Jaro Educational Society, Bombay. He has worked as Visiting Professor at Oxford University and Mauritius University. Dr. Ramaratnam has presented papers in conferences held in Germany, Holland, Austria, Australia, UK, USA, South Africa, Malaysia and Mauritius and has also presided over session in many of them. He has authored a number of books and over 50 articles in leading Journals.

Foreword I

The Vedic seers have viewed this world at three levels - adhibhautika (empirical), adhidaivika (psychic) and adhyatmika (spiritual). In correspondence to these, life is also envisaged as running at three levels - the individual life, social life and the cosmic life. The trinities of levels in both these sets envisage the vertical and the horizontal growth respectively. Various institutions and practices were conceptualized to realize a harmony and interrelationship between the trinities of these levels. The grhya or domestic rituals are examples of such practices.

Prof. Ramaratnam, a scholar of eminence with rare distinctions has made a brilliant exposition of the domestic rituals as prescribed in the Grhyasutras. So far, no study of the domestic rituals with their social, moral and universal implications including their inter-connectivity to the different samskaras, the yajnas, vratas and utsavas on the basis of the original sources has been made. The samskaras encompass a holistic perspective for the development of an individual. The vrata, also meaning vow, is basically an expression of an individual's resolve to purify his or her own self and also to create better surroundings. Thus, the vratais not a simple fasting and an utsava in the same way is not a mere festivity. The prefix ut in utsava is an expression of ascendance - a resolve to rise above. In fact, with the chanting of certain specific mantras accompanying all of them, the grhya or domestic rituals, different samskaras, the yajnas, vratas and utsavas as treated in the Grahyasutras and the Dharmasastras (the texts on Hindu law) exemplify the life-styles which were evolved by the seers for the realization of the world view as discussed above. These life-styles and the world-view that has governed them have since long been forgotten in our modern society. The study of the domestic rituals together with different samskaras, the yajnas, vratas and utsavas in a modern context has therefore become a desideratum.

Prof. Ramaratnam has not only examined the basic sources, i.e., the principal grhya texts of Asvalayana, Bodhayana and Apastamba which date back to the 3rd century B.C., he has traced the development of domestic rituals from a number of texts produced in medieval and modem period, i.e. Krtykalpataru (12th century AD), Smrticandrika (13th century) Grhyaratnakara (14th century) and Viramitrodaya (17th century). In fact, these later works are some of the most stupendous and encyclopedic digests and manuals in the field of Dharmasastra and they not only bring out the continuity as well as the kinetics of the domestic rituals which were in vogue during later period. The author of this study has also established the validity of the domestic rituals by examining their percolations and transmittance in the folk traditions. His assertion that the tradition of the grhya rituals exhibits a lot of secular elements that are broad based, democratic and universal will hopefully create an awareness of the vitality of these traditions.

This brilliant research work by Prof. Ramaratnam not only fills the deplorable lacunae in our knowledge of the ancient Indian social systems, it also examines the contemporaneity of these systems in a significant way. I am confident that this study of living traditions that have been the part and parcel of the individual and social life for centuries in certain societies will not only create a better understanding of our traditions, it will also stimulate the process of reforming our systems today.


The Ritual Traditions of India is the outcome of almost a decade of study that I have been doing in the field of Grhyasutras. There is still much more to do but I thought of writing a volume on the first phase of the Project. The original title of the project was 'The Grhyasutra- a socio religious cultural study' which I undertook for the UGC Major Research Project during the period 1998-2001, at Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College, Chennai-4. Though initially it was planned to confine the Project only to the original Grhyasutras, it was later decided to extend the study to the references from the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanisads, the Itihasas, the Puranas and the Kavya literature. The researcher also found that it would be appropriate to speak about the philosophical elements, kavya elements, secular elements, folk elements, magical elements and the elements of totemism in the Grhya ceremonies. So, what was thought to be a volume of just eight chapters, later swelled to 19 chapters. Consequently it took considerable time to complete the project and bring out this volume. The obsequies are not covered in this volume since they do not form part of the majority of the Grhya texts. The rules for them are prescribed in separate texts meant for aparakriya.

Mahamahopadhyaya Sri P.V. Kane has given an elaborate account of the samskaras in his History of Dharmasastras. Professor Gonda has written a treatise on the Rituals. Some more scholars have written on the topic concerned and a number of articles have also appeared in Journals. But the present work is different from all of them as seen from the chapter headings and the topics discussed. The present writer is thankful to all the earlier writers on the subject, whose works have served as valuable secondary source material in presenting this volume.

Philosophy, Mythology and Ritual are the bedrocks of every religion. While in some of the religions, they are inter-connected, in some they are not. In Hinduism they are well knit into a composite unit and this perhaps served as the strong point and helped the religion to preserve itself in the wake of frequent foreign invasions. Every ritual has a significance and a purpose of its own. The peculiarity of ritual is that it cannot be completely dispensed with. If it is routed on one side, it will reappear elsewhere in some other form. Into the web of ritual are built elements of philosophy, mythology, psychology, social aspects, economics, management, inter-personal relationship, societal consciousness, environmental awareness and so on.

In the present day world, the performance of rituals is losing its pre-eminent status which it enjoyed for over 2000 years. The reasons are manifold. External aspects of the ritual have started assuming greater importance than the ritual itself. In many cases, the rituals are performed in a mechanical fashion and in a truncated form. The main drawback is that the study of Sanskrit has been pushed to the background in the Educational system of India today. With all the mantras and the instructions being in Sanskrit, neither the performers nor the priests are in a position to understand the real significance of the rituals, in majority of the cases. The ritual is an age old tradition and it is inter-twined with the culture of the land. It should not be allowed to die before our very eyes. The significance of the rituals has to be brought to the notice of the people so that they will be able perform them with interest and derive the benefits. The present work, it is hoped, will serve as a small step in this direction.

It must be admitted that there are some repetitions of quotations and even some statements in English. In a lighter vein, it is meant to help readers who may not read the entire book but only a particular chapter in which they are interested. Strictly speaking repetitions should be avoided and if necessary one may add a note saying 'please refer page ….' or by using terms like op. cit. But in the present volume, certain mantras are repeated in different contexts since they have to be interpreted in the light of the discussions in a particular chapter. The mantras have not only religious significance but they are also relevant from the point of view of social life since they are employed in the context of the rituals which have far reaching influence on the society. Some of the mantras which are quoted in the context of a particular ritual, may also have a poetic charm and so they will find a place in the chapter on 'Kavya elements in the Grhya mantras' also. It will be cumbersome to refer to the relevant mantra at some other place in the book. The word mantra is derived from the word manana meaning 'bringing to memory.' Memory is aided by repetition and hence the repetition of mantras in the book may be winked at.

The project and the book may act as pointers to the future course of action for preserving the ritual tradition. The rituals and their actual performance along with the recitation of the mantras may be brought out in the form of digitalized CDs with the text of the mantras and the instructions appearing side by side. Their significance may also be explained by learned scholars. The visual impact will be helpful for a better grasp of the subject. It will be helpful for performers who may be residing in different parts of the world. The advantage of the modem gadgets may be used for saving the tradition from becoming extinct.

I am thankful to the University Grants Commission, New Delhi, for approving the original project (1998-2001). The amount sanctioned (Rs. 95,000) was not sufficient to meet all the requirements of the project but yet it was completed, fighting against all odds and impediments. In the course of the Project period, the UGC also sanctioned a grant for the conduct of a state level conference on the Grhya rituals by the Department and I was benefited from the papers that were presented in the Conference. I am thankful to the authorities of Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College for permitting me to conduct the research in the College. I take this opportunity to thank the members of my family who encouraged me to complete this volume. I am particularly thankful to my wife, Mrs. Sasikala for reading the manuscript with me. I thank my friends like Dr. M. Raghu, Mrs. Gowri, Sri. Pragyan, Dr. Ramana, Sri. Sundar, Sri. Selvakumar, Mrs. Prachi Pathak and Sri. Srinivasan who helped me in various ways. My special thanks go to Ms. Shailee Adhikari who has designed the Cover Page.

I am extremely indebted to my spiritual guru, Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj who is showering his divine grace on me. I am beholden to Swami Mukundanandaji, the President of the Jagadguru Kripalu Yog Trust who is guiding me in every sphere of my activity and who was kind enough to write a Benedictory message for the volume.

Prof. Radha Vallabh Tripathi, the former Vice Chancellor of Rashtriya Samskrit Samsthan, Delhi is a very good friend of mine for the past several years. He condescended to my request and has provided a Foreword to this volume. My heart-felt thanks go to him.

I am beholden to Prof. V. Kutumba Shastri, the Vice Chancellor of Sri Somnath Sanskrit University, Gujarat, for providing the second Foreword for this volume. His encouraging words are a like a tonic for me to do further studies in the field.

I thank profusely Shri Samir Somaiya, President, Somaiya Vidyavihar for the generous financial aid extended to me in the preparation of the final manuscript copy. I am very much indebted to him for agreeing to bring out the volume in print under the banner of K.J. Somaiya Trust. I am beholden to Dr. Kala Acharya, the Director of K. J. Somaiya Bharatiya Sanskriti Peetham for her cooperation in seeing the volume through the Press. I do not find words to thank her adequately. I thank the Somaiya Publications Pvt. Ltd, Somaiya Book Centre and Sri Atul Bhalerao of the Book Centre for the neat execution of the book.

It is hoped that this volume will serve as an introduction to all those who are interested in knowing the Socio-religious traditions of the Rituals of India.


Benediction iii
Foreword 1 vii
Foreword 2 xi
Preface xix
Preamble xxv
Abbreviations xxix
1An Introduction to Ritual Literature 1
2Contents of the Grhyasutras 13
3The Vivaha or the Wedding Ritual 23
4The Upanayana 85
5Conception rites and the pre-natal ceremonies 109
6The post-natal ceremonies 127
7The Educational rites 143
8The Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanisads on Grhya rituals 155
9The Epic tradition and the Grhya tradition 171
10The Smrtis and the Puranas on Grhya rituals 197
11References to the Grhya rituals in the Kavyas 227
12Philosophy of the Grhya rituals 269
13Position of women in the Grhya rituals 285
14Kavya elements in the Grhyasutras 295
15Secular elements in the domestic rituals 315
16Folk elements in the Grhya ceremonies 327
17Elements of Totemism in the domestic rituals 347
18Magical elements in the Grhyasutras 365
19The Conclusion 385
Appendix I- Grand revival of a Vedic ritual 409
Appendix II - Rituals in other Religious traditions 423
Glossary of terms 433
Bibliography 449
Indices 455
Index -1, Transliteration of Sanskrit verses and Passages occurring in the text 455
Index - 2, Sources and Citations of Grhyasutra mantras 511
Index - 3, Index of verses and Passages occurring in the Text 527
Index - 4, General Index 543

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