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Hindu Daily Round

(Nityakarma)

" Eager desire to act has its root in expectation of some advantage, and with such expectation are sacrifices performed; the rules of religious austerity and abstinence from sins are all known to arise from hope of remuneration. Not a single act here below appears ever to be done by a man free from self-love ; whatever he performs, it is wrought from his desire of reward." (Mann, ii. 3, 4.)

THIS quotation from the ancient law-giver might serve well as a text upon which to found a homily, showing the distinctive principle that underlies all Hindu religion, and comparing it with that of the religion of Christ. All Hindu religious observances and good works proceed from a desire to propitiate a malevolent power and thus ward off evil ; or from an equally low and selfish motive to obtain personal advantage, some worldly good, or to lay up a store of personal merit which will shorten the weary round of transmigration, and enable the person to more rapidly attain the goal of his aspirations, namely, absorption into the divine essence. It is true, the great sage does, in a verse following the one quoted above, say that should any one persist in discharging his duties without any view to their fruits, he would attain hereafter the state of the immortals ; but he says this with what sounds like a saddened tone, and as -though it were a foregone conclusion that such disinterested motives could never be found.

I am now dealing especially with the daily life of a Brahmin. Other castes and non-castes are less particular in their religious observances, in proportion as they descend in the social scale ; but all are more or less careful in their performance of some parts of the Hindu ritual, and from a description of the life of the highest a fair idea can be gathered of the whole.

Theoretically the life of a Brahmin is divided into four stages. The first, that of being a Brahmachari or unmarried student, is entered upon when he undergoes the ceremony of upanayanam or institution into the state of the twice-born.1 Up to that time he has not been a Brahmin at all. The next stage is that of being a Gruhastha or married householder ; the third that of a Vanaprastha or anchorite ; the fourth that of a Sanyasi or hermit. The daily course of life laid down for each of these stages is widely different, but without going into that of the other three, I shall attempt to give as clear an idea as I can of the various rites and ceremonies to be gone through every day by the strict Hindu during the second period, that of the ordinary married man. It is not to be supposed that every Brahmin in these days goes through the whole of the prescribed ritual ; but there are some ceremonial observances that must be gone through by all. Those who are anxious for the merit and good name of being strictly religious do actually go through the daily course of life here described.

The pious Brahmin rises before daybreak or, if he would act strictly according to Dharma Shastra rule, two hours before the sun rises. Dharma Shasta is a written code minutely regulating the daily life of a good Hindu. His first thoughts, on awaking from slumber, are directed to the deity whom he particularly worships. He will sit quietly for some time in silent contemplation, occasionally repeating a verse or two in praise of Krishna, Rama, or Siva, as the case may be, and perhaps a prayer for divine help. He does not repeat these verses from the Vedas, as he has not yet bathed, and no words from those sacred writings must be taken within lips whilst thus unpurified. They are from the Puranas or sacred books which occupy a lower position than the Vedas. The following are specimens and it will be seen that the first two of the three quoted are addressed to Krishna and Rama respectively, whilst the third is in praise of Siva. Vaishnavas, or worshippers of Vishnu and his various incarnations, would use the first two, but they would not use the third. Smarthas would use either or all of the three, as, whilst they chiefly worship Siva, they are at liberty to adore any other god of the Hindu pantheon.

" O thou infant, thou dark blue bodied one with tinkling bells

In rows upon thy loins ; thou naked one,

Adorned with jewels set with tiger's claws,

Thou son of Nanda, thou stealer of butter,

I adore thee."

"O thou deliverer from all evil,

Thou giver of all good things,

O Rama, thou admired of the whole world,

Again and again I adore thee."

" May he whose head is adorned with the moon,

Who wears as an ornament the serpent Vasukihi ;

May Siva be propitious :

He who is expert in dancing."

After this divine contemplation, he will proceed for a short walk to some secluded place outside the town or village and upon his return, before entering the house, he will carefully wash his feet and legs and rinse out his mouth many times with water. All this is necessary before he can touch any thing or even speak to any one. The next operation is to clean the teeth. This is always a very important item of the toilet, and, if any one may judge by the evident air of satisfaction with which it is done, it must be a very enjoyable one. The Hindu does not use a brush for this purpose, as he never can again put into his mouth that which has once been so used. He looks with abhorrence upon the European way of again putting into the mouth that which has over and over again been defiled by contact with the saliva. He always uses a bit of green twig or the root of some plant, and when once a piece is used it is thrown away. A favourite twig for this purpose is a green bit of the margosa tree (melia azadirachta), or the root of a plant called apamargam or uttarini (achyranthes aspera), preference being given to that which is bitter and astringent. If a suitable twig cannot be found, the finger is used with powdered charcoal or ashes by way of tooth powder. Women are not allowed to use the twig or root for this part of their ablutions. They only use the finger.

Our friend next proceeds to perform his morning ablutions and his worship. If there is a river near, he will proceed thither, or failing that to a tank. If there is neither river nor tank, he goes to some well, probably the well in his own garden or yard. He then takes his bath. If he does so in the river or tank, he goes in until the water reaches his breast or neck ; if at the well, he pours the water over himself. Should he, through ill-health or old age, be unable to actually bathe in the cold morning in the air, he will rub himself over with a wet cloth. Before this operation, he repeats an invocation to the sacred rivers in the following prayer :

" Oh Ganges ! oh Jamna !

Oh Godavery! oh Sarasvati !

Oh Narmade ! oh Indus ! oh Cavery !

Be ye present in this water."

If the bathing is in a tank or river, after repeating this invocation, he dips right under three times ; if it is at a well, he pours water over himself shouting out, " Hari "—one of the names of Vishnu, or " Hara "— one of the names of Siva, according as he is a Vaishnava or a Saiva. Still standing in the water or by the well, he turns to the rising sun and pours out to it three oblations of water, repeating the gayatri prayer each time.

The bathing over, the next thing is to repeat the morning prayer (sandhyavandanam) which is done, sometimes near the tank or river and sometimes after reaching home. When he does it at home, he will take some water in a vessel from the place where he has bathed. Before, however, the prayers can be said, the pundrams, or marks must be daubed on.' If the prayers are said at the water, the worshipper will simply make the marks on his forehead with water, or with earth from the river bed. The morning prayer commences by the repeating of some mantrams to drive away evil spirits from the spot. The worshipper takes three sips of water, repeating the names Keshava, Narayana, Madhava, which are applied either to Vishnu or Siva, according to his sect. This sipping of water is called achamanam and it is done before every religious ceremony and immediately after meals. The next thing is the mentioning of the time and place. Three oblations are again made to the sun, during which the gayatri prayer is again repeated three times. Three more sips of water are taken, when, taking hold of his sacred thread, the worshipper again repeats the gayatri at least ten times—marking off the times on the fingers or on the joints of the fingers. After this with clasped hands, he addresses a special prayer to the sun, commencing as follows :

" The renown of the good Surya (the sun), who is the supporter of mankind and who is worthy to be adored. It is imperishable and it gives health and prosperity to those who hear and honour it."

This done, the worshipper turns to the four quarters of the compass in the order of east, south, west and north, repeating at each quarter a prayer. In all ceremonies and processions of every kind, the turning must always be to the right, and never to the left ; hence the order, east, south, &o. The prayer is as follows;

" Om. I bow to the east (or other quarter, as the ease may be) ; whatever gods are in this quarter I adore."

The prayers conclude by the worshipper mentioning his own name, tribe, and family (pravara). If he should be the head of the household, he then proceeds to pour out oblations to the manes of his ancestors, three each to his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, mentioning their names and preceding the whole by sankalpam and pravara. This ceremony is called pitrutarpanam.

The gayatri prayer enters so largely into the daily ritual, that it may be well to describe, at more length, its great importance. This prayer, as indeed is the case with most mantrams, is always preceded by repeating the mystical monosyllable 0 M, or A U M, as it should be written. This triliteral syllable typifies the Trimurti or Hindu Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshvara or Siva. The sacredness in which this word is held may be judged of from the following quotations :—

" Brahma milked out, as it were the three Vedas, the letter A, the letter II, and the letter M, which form by their coalition the triliteral monosyllable, together with three mysterious words, bhur, bhuvah, sever, or earth, sky, heaven.

All rites ordained in the Veda, oblations to fire, and solemn sacrifices pass away ; but that which passes not away is declared to be the syllable Ora, thence called Achshara : since it is a symbol of God the Lord of created beings." (Mann, ii. 76, 85).

The gayatri is the most sacred of all Hindu prayers and it must be repeated at least thirty times every day ; that is, ten each for morning, noon and evening prayers, being preceded each time by the sacred word O M, and the words bhur, buvaha, swaha. Great advantage is supposed to accrue in proportion to the number of times this prayer is repeated, and many are the injunctions laid down with reference to it. Its origin is thus described by Manu;

" From the three Vedas, also, the Lord of creatures, incomprehensibly exalted, successively milked out the three measures of that ineffable text, beginning with the word tad, and entitled savitri or gayatri." (ii. 7. 7).

Instructions for its repetition morning and evening and the benefits obtained thereby are thus particularized.

" At the morning twilight let him stand repeating the gayatri until he see the sun ; and at evening twilight let him repeat it sitting, until the stars distinctly appear. (Mann, ii. 101).

By continued repetition of the gayatri at the twilights, the holy sages acquire length of days, perfect knowledge, reputation during life, fame after death and celestial glory." (Manu, iv. 94).

One more quotation may be given to show the great benefits suppose to be conferred by the use of this prayer, which will serve to account for its constant use in the daily ritual.

" For, as the dross and impurities of metallic ores are consumed by fire, thus are the sinful acts of the human organs consumed by suppressions of the breath, whilst the mystic words and the measures of the gayatri are revolved in the mind." (Manu, vi. 71).

So sacred is this mantram held by Hindus, that a pious Brahmin would close his ears with horror if he heard it uttered by impure lips. It is one of the most ancient of all Aryan prayers and its interest is increased when we consider that even now, after being in use for centuries before the Christian era, it still daily rises up to heaven as the aspiration of untold multitudes of pious Hindus. I give a transliteration as well as a translation of it.

The first line is an introduction to the prayer proper, being an invocation to the gods dwelling in the three worlds, earth, sky, heaven. The prayer is again introduced by the sacred word Om which, I am assured by a Pandit friend, is the true form now in use. The translation is as follows :—

Om, earth, sky, heaven I

Om, that excellent vivifier,

The light divine, let us meditate upon.

Which (light) enlightens our understanding.

That is, " Let us meditate upon that excellent vivifier, the light divine, which enlightens our understanding."

Many who are careless will not perform morning prayers ; they will say them together with those for midday, or perhaps not at all. Any one, however, who wishes to be respected as a good Hindu, will not fail to perform them in the way we have described. Be this as it may, the midday ceremonies, before food, cannot be omitted by any one on pain of liability to excommunication.

It must be borne in mind that no food of any kind can be taken by the Brahmin before the noontide bath and ceremonies are over. If occasion should necessitate his setting out for business before midday, things in the household would be hastened to suit circumstances.

The first proceeding in these, as in every other ceremony, is a bath. On going indoors, from the bath, the wet cloth is laid aside, and a pure' cloth is wound round the waist. The cloth thus used is one generally kept for the purpose, and, even if it has come home clean from the washerman, it must be at least rinsed out by the person himself or some one of his family. Sometimes a silk cloth is used, as that is supposed to be less liable to pollution than cotton, and this distinction is also conferred upon linen cloths. After putting on the pure waist cloth, the next thing is to put on the pundrams or sacred marks, after which the noontide prayers are said. These prayers are exactly the same as those already described for the morning, except that the special prayer to the sun is a different one. This one commences thus;

" The circling sun, which has a luminous disc that shines everywhere with a true light, and which revives both men and the immortals, is coming on his golden car viewing the world."

The oblations to the manes of ancestors are also repeated, as in the morning, after which comes the daily worship of the household gods. This, in the case of Lingaits, is worshipping the lingam, which is done by all males and females ; but, in the case of the worshippers of Vishnu, it is only performed by the head of the household. Should, however, the head of the house be unable, through pressure of business, or from any other cause, to go through this part of the daily observances, he will appoint some other of the household or the puróhita to do it for him by proxy.

This devatarchana, or worship of the gods, is performed in what may be called the kitchen. The kitchen of a Brahmin house is a very sacred place. It answers in some respects to a private chapel. This room is separated by a low partition into two parts. The smaller one is for the fire-places and cooking operations, and it also serves as a pantry for the pickles and curry-stuffs, all of which must be kept free from ceremonial contamination. The larger half of the kitchen serves for the dining room. In an alcove, the household gods and the various instruments used in their worship are kept. Amongst the followers of Vishnu, the one who officiates at this daily worship of the gods proceeds to the kitchen and takes the images from their receptacle, usually a small basket of wicker work covered with antelope skin. Amongst Sri Vishnavas the images are only those that represent Vishnu ; the Smartas, however, as they reverence both Vishnu and Siva, have in addition to these a lingam. The Madvas have, as their additional figure, an image of Hanuman the monkey god. The worshipper then proceeds to bathe the images and rub them with sandalwood paste. He also puts on them the pundrams, after which he places them on a low stool. Small lights fed with ghee are then lit before them, and as an act of worship the leaves of the tulasi plant and certain kinds of flowers, are sprinkled over them. This is followed by the waving before them of a small piece of burning camphor, and the sounding of a small bell or gong. Whilst this is going on a mantram is said, the first few words of which are as follows :—

" The great supreme has countless heads,

Countless eyes and feet.

He encircles the whole earth,

He is larger than the earth by ten inches."

After this worship is over, there is nivędanam or offering of the food to the gods. The food about to be consumed is placed near the idols. It consists of rice, dholl and such like things and water. All are sanctified by being offered to the gods. The person who officiates waves his hands over these things towards the images, repeating the following mantram, which is merely a repetition of the names of the five vital airs of which life is supposed to consist, requesting that the food partaken of may benefit each respectively :—

" Om, may this become food for prima.

Om, may this become food for apana,

Om, may this become food for vyana.

Om, may this become food for udana.

Om, may this become food for samana.

After several minor ceremonies, the whole is concluded by the person who officiates taking three sips of the water in which the images have been bathed, and giving the rest of it to be drunk by the family present.

I have already said that this part of the daily ceremonies is different with the Lingaits. With them, each individual takes his lingam, and, holding it in his left hand, bathes it and worships it in very much the same manner as has been already described. The food is offered in the same way, except that this is done after it is served out to each person, 'when each one waves his right hand from his own mess towards the lingam which is in his left. The chief difference in the ceremony is that the mantram repeated is different from the one quoted above as used by the followers of Vishnu. Instead of the mantram commencing, " The great supreme has countless heads," the Lingaits repeat one commencing as follows :—

"I adore thee (Siva) whose arms are wisdom and who art commander of the hosts; thou who art the lord of the ends of the earth I adore thee."

After all this ceremony is over and the doors have been securely barred to prevent any interruptions or impure intrusions, the family sit down to partake of food. This precaution is necessary as, if any one were for any cause to get up from his food, he could not sit down to it again, and if any impure thing, a dog for instance, were to stroll in whilst the meal was going on, or if any lower caste person were to go near them whilst thus engaged (an event difficult to imagine), the whole meal would have to be at once abandoned. The order of sitting at meals is this : all sit upon low stools or upon the ground, the place of honour being the right end of the line, the rest sitting in a row towards the left in order of age, the little boys and girls sitting somewhat apart. The females do not sit down to eat with the males, but it is customary for the little girls together with the little boys to join the family group. After the food has been duly served out by the females and each one has his mess before him on his leaf, there is another ceremony which each must perform before he can proceed to eat. By each must not be understood the little boys who have not received the upanayanam, or the little girls. Each one has his drinking vessel on his left hand and he pours from this some water into his right hand. He sprinkles a little of this over the food, and the rest he pours from his hand in a circle round his ' plate,' repeating the gayatri. Some sects also put a little pinch of rice in four places on the right side of the platter saying :-

" Om. Oh! Chitra (a scribe of Yama), I adore thee. Oh I Chitragupta (another scribe of Yama), I adore thee. Oh ! Yama, (god of death and hell), I adore thee. Oh ! all living creatures, I adore you."

After this has been said, the meal is duly proceeded with. The ceremonial necessary before partaking of food seems very tedious, and must be very tantalizing to a hungry man. Use, however, is every thing, and from long practice the ceremony does not take so much time as might be supposed. The food is eaten with the right hand, but the water is always drunk from the left, that is, the water vessel must be taken up with the left hand and not the right. This is probably because the right hand has touched the mouth. The vessel from which the water is drunk must not touch the lips; it is held a little distance over the upturned mouth into which the fluid is then poured. Custom makes this an easy feat for the Hindu, whereas it would probably choke a European were he to attempt it. It is well known by all that the Hindu is very particular as to the water he drinks. It must be ceremonially pure, though not necessarily chemically pure. In order to ensure its purity, it must be very carefully fetched and always kept in the kitchen where it cannot be touched. If a man or woman, in carrying the pots of drinking water from the river, tank, or well to the house, were to come near an outcaste or to come in contact with any impure person or thing, the water would have to be thrown away and fresh water brought. The person carrying it must also again bathe, and again carefully wash out the vessels. Indeed, many Brahmins are so particular in this respect, that if, on carrying the water, they were even to see a Pariah, they would throw it away and return for more.

The meal is concluded by each one taking a single sip of water, saying:—

" Oh water thou art become my protector.

In the hell called rourava, the abode of the wicked,

To those who for billions of years have suffered there,

And beg for water, it is given:

May it never be exhausted."

Evening prayer, which should be performed at sunset, is the same as that of the morning and noon sandhyavandanam, except that instead of the special prayer to the sun there is inserted one to Varuna, the Hindu Neptune,—the god of the waters.

" 0 Varuna I hear my cry,

Now fill me with happiness.

I who am helpless come to thee."

The household gods are not again worshipped, as at noon, except that at the evening meal the food to be consumed is offered to them by what may be called the wave offering,' accompanied by the ringing of the bell, or the beating of the gong and the burning of the lights. The evening meal, or supper, is conducted with much the same ceremonies as those described for the noon-day repast. It is usually taken late in the evening, say about eight or nine o'clock, as may be most convenient.

If on a journey and unable to reach the shelter of a suitable house or choultry (public rest-house), the Brahmin may cook and partake of his food in a grove or under a single tree, or in some other such place, although he may not be able to secure the privacy desirable. Still all the ritual must, as far as possible, be followed just the same as if he were in the sanctity of his own home. This way of taking food is called vanabhojanam, from vanam a forest or grove or garden and bhojanam food. If no suitable place can be found, or if there is no privacy, then a meal cannot be taken at all and the traveller must fast. The Hindu, however, is from habit and constitution better able to endure such personal privation than a European can.

Another kind of compromise is made when a person is too ill to bathe at all. In such an event, the invalid before partaking of food is, if a Vaishnava, sprinkled with pure water by some one present, who repeats three times the word pundarikitasha (the white lotus-eyed one,—one of the names of Vishnu) or, if sufficiently learned, he may say the following mantram :

" Man, whether pure or impure,

Or in whatsoever plight he may be,

If he but repeat the name pundarikaksha

He obtains both outward and inward purity."

If the sick person is a Saiva, the ceremony is different.

He is rubbed with vibhuti,' or white clay,

with which the sacred marks are daubed on, and another kind of mantram is said which is as follows :—

" Siva the three-eyed one we adore ; he is fragrant, and he increases strength. May he deliver me from death as the gourd is parted from its stem."

Before retiring for the night, the pious Hindu will repeat a few prayers in very much the same way as he does on rising in the morning. A usual one for Smartas to use on this occasion is as follows :—

" Bad dreams, evil omens, misfortune, evil thoughts,

Famine, evil desires, impatience, dishonour,

Accidents, grief, poisons, fears, evil stars,

Diseases, from all these may the lord of the worlds protect me."

All the rites and ceremonies now described are performed by males ; the female really has nothing to do with rites and ceremonies. As an old Shastri put it, her vratam (religious observance) is pativratam. The word pati means husband or lord ; but the religious instinct of women cannot be entirely suppressed, and they do perform some worship.

Though the temples are very numerous there is no regular going to service as with Christians. Each house has its own private chapel, where the daily worship is held. The priests in the temple bathe the god every day, and duly worship it there ; the idea being that this is done vicariously for the followers of that particular god. On certain festivals and high-days, of which there are many, the people, both males and females, go to the temples to do puja to the god. They bow to the image and make offerings of flowers or fruit and the like, and perhaps a few coins of money ; but of church-going, in the ordinary sense of the word, there is none. There is no public religious teaching of any kind, and hence the dense ignorance of the bulk of the people, even as regards the simplest matters of their own religion.

The Hindu is by nature intensely religious for nothing but an inherent craving after the spiritual could cause a nation to submit to so burdensome a ritual.

Religion is with him a thing of every-day life, and it pervades everything from the cradle to the grave.

This religious instinct of the Hindus gives bright hopes of the future to those who are willing to patiently toil on, sowing the good seed of eternal life, and waiting God's own good time for the harvest. Then, perhaps, a nation may be born in a day and a whole people turn from dead works to serve the living God.

( Originally Published 1908 )

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