What is the Purpose of Rituals in Hinduism?

A Hindu ritual

by Jayaram V

Rituals are practiced for many reasons in Hinduism. Its primary purpose is to nourish gods and others through prayers and food. Its secondary purpose is to fulfill one’s desires. They are also performed to serve God as a part of one’s Dharma. By practicing selflessly without desiring fruit, one may also neutralize past karma and qualify for liberation. Most importantly, they also inculcate discipline, especially the domestic rituals. Waking up early in the morning, taking a bath, and offering prayers to the gods puts you on the right track the whole day with the right attitude.

After worshipping gods every day, if you engage in charitable works such as distributing the food offered to them to humans, animals, birds, etc., it is even more beneficial. Some people go to temples, worship the gods there, and serve in the temples. Even that is extremely beneficial. Thus, rituals should not be viewed as superstitious actions or old-fashioned mumbo jumbo. They connect you to the invisible forces (Shaktis) in you and outside. They make less selfish, more giving, and selfless.

Anything that you do repetitively every day as an offering or service to God is a ritual. You can internalize the ritual practice and worship the God who lives in you as your very Self through contemplative practices. Austerities are rituals only. Each of the eight limbs of Classical yoga is an internal ritual that will help you gain control over your mind and body. They connect you to the Lord (Isvara), who lives in you as your very Self. Through him, you can connect to the universal mind or consciousness, which is pure, eternal, indestructible, infinite, and indivisible.

Apart from daily rituals (nitya karmas), householders perform many rituals on specific days in a year to mark festivals, auspicious events, the transition of the sun, moon, or planets, and special occasions such as the birth, initiation, marriage, death, etc. All these serve the same purpose as the daily sacrifices. Each is an opportunity to celebrate life, connect to others, serve the community, help others, and cultivate kindness, selflessness, devotion, detachment, faith, and compassion. They also help us reflect on life and remember that we are here as guests and cannot claim anything as our own. The joy of life lies in the journey, not the destination, and the present moment offers us an opportunity to transcend delusion (moham), the feeling of “Me and Mine” (mamakaram), egoism (ahamkaram) and selfish desires to serve God and his creation through our selfless actions.

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