The things that go on in the name of religion in India are increasingly irrelevant but who’s going to be the people’s Cordelia and voice unpleasant truths when the people themselves are Lear, unwilling to face facts? Granted, almost everything in Indian custom has its roots in some practical reason. But if the context for that reason has changed, shouldn’t the public clinically reassess those customs, manners and ceremonies?
For instance, it’s ‘Agni Nakshatram’ in the South between May 4 and 28 this year, a searing period considered ‘inauspicious’ astrologically, particularly in Tamil Nadu. Journeys, big buys, celebrations, are generally avoided by the orthodox. The real reason has to be the certainty of getting heatstroke if you rush about.
However if your life is airconditioned and it’s a nuclear family event, why shouldn’t you throw a party, buy land or get married? It’s no longer ‘inauspicious’ because the protective reason for it disguised centuries ago as ‘unlucky’ is not valid.
Moreover, while the South hunkered down to three ‘inauspicious’ weeks, in many other regions of India, Akha Teej (Akshaya Tritiya) which fell on May 6 this year is considered one of the luckiest days of the year on which to be married, start projects, buy land or gold, in fact it’s called ‘Hindu Gold Rush Day’.
Similarly, consider the eating of ‘taboo’ meat (it’s another thing to be vegetarian as a lifestyle choice or vow never to eat anything which has eyelashes). If you whisper fearfully, “How now, ground cow?” when confronted with a burger, a steak or a hearty beef stew, I’d say, “Why not?” That taboo is for American, Australian and Argentinian cowboys if anyone, not for modern Indians for we no longer live in those times.
And I’m reliably informed that the Apastamba Sutra (Prashna 2, Patala 7, Khanda 17:1), which my ancestors followed, says, “If rhinoceros meat is offered to brahmanas seated on a rhinoceros skin, the ancestral spirits are very pleased,” and earlier in Khanda 16:26, “An offering of beef satisfies the ancestral spirits for a year.”
It’s the culture that evolved from a religion in a region at a certain time, no more. Besides, how can it possibly matter at Shivlok or Vaikunth or wherever we think we might be going, when it’s Nature’s law that man is omnivorous? Wouldn’t you say there’s food for thought in there, when such contradictions exist?
(Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture)