The coming of age of Hinduism?
Something significant happened in Thane a few weeks ago. A father conducted the Hindu thread ceremony for his daughter, breaking the man-made traditions of Hinduism. This ceremony, “performed to mark the point at which boys began their formal education” has been compared to the Jewish Bar Mitzah, but the Bar Mitzah is for both boys and girls while the thread ceremony has been thought to be the exclusive domain of Brahmin males. However, if one digs deep enough into the Hindu scriptures there is evidence to suggest that women too underwent this thread ceremony.
This is not the first time that this thread ceremony has been conducted on girls. The followers of Shankar Seva Samiti had organized it in the year 2000 in Pune. It is possible that this ceremony has been performed on other girls too and not been publicized.
Why are these events significant? Aren’t these simply isolated incidents which in no way impact Hinduism specially as the thread ceremony is by itself an exclusive practice meant for only a tiny fraction of the Hindu community, the Brahmins and some other castes?
Maybe. But I think these incidents can have an impact on Hindu society if well known people conduct these ceremonies on their daughters. More important, this could turn into an instrument of social reform if prominent male priests of the country give their stamp of approval. The way it is now, the society as well as the male priests look upon this practice with slight amusement. In other words they simply tolerate it. The male priests refuse to do the ceremony themselves. Whoever wants it done has to call female priests.
I am calling it social reform, not religious, because Hindu scriptures do not ban girls from undergoing this ceremony. There are references to women’s thread ceremonies in ancient Vedic texts. For example The Rig Veda (10.109.4) says, “When a brahmin’s wife wears the auspicious thread, she becomes very popular.” The Harit Smriti also has references to this practice as does the Yama Smriti.
If women do not undergo this ceremony today, it is purely because over the ages the priests, who were mostly men, kept the women out. Today the male priests have an opportunity to change this, particularly the high profile priests. They need to seize this opportunity and take Hinduism a step forward.
The people too play an important role. I cannot help but wonder if those who go through religious rituals like the thread ceremony are aware of the meaning behind these rituals or whether they simply follow these rituals blindly, because of superstition or habit.
For believers of Hinduism, the thread ceremony is significant and sacred. As far as my understanding goes, it was the time when boys left home for their studies, to the gurukul. Today we educate girls, all girls, but the age-old ritual has remained just that – an age-old ritual. It seems to have lost its deeper meaning. If it had kept up with its meaning, I would have kept up with the idea that this ceremony was a kind of coming of age (for education) of children. All children. Boys and girls. Brahmins and non-Brahmins and Dalits. The way it is today.
The days when non-Brahmins were not allowed study are long gone. Neither do all Brahmins become priests, as they did as at the beginning of the caste system. It is believed that when the caste system originally started, people were able to move from one caste to another…it was based on occupation. Today occupations are not the exclusive domain of any caste, but age-old prejudices remain. Age old rituals are practiced, not in their true spirit, but out of long habit.
I hope that more and more parents conduct these rituals on their daughters, if they believe in them. If they do it for their sons there is no reason to exclude their daughters. If they look hard enough they will find a priest who will agree to it. If there is a demand for it, then the priests, even male priests, will come forward. Hinduism has this flexibility.
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