According to Father Emmanuel, 90% of Indians who practice pooja rituals don’t know the rationale behind what they are doing and are simply imitating what they have seen their parents ad grandparents do. For example, one ritual is to break a coconut in front of the alter. Scholars like Father Emmanuel would know that the three parts of the coconut represent the three ways in which people are impure in committing sin and by breaking the fruit a person is breaking this part from within them and by drinking the milk they cleanse themselves of their sins. However, when the father asked people why they were doing this they simply say they saw it done by their parents. I would venture to say that these worshippers are not so different from many other people in this world and there are probably many reasons why this occurs.
Throughout history there are many reasons why people will perform rituals without knowing what exactly they are doing. One reason is that the text that prescribe practices are either written in a language the people are unable to read because it is ancient or the people themselves are illiterate. This could definitely be the case in India with a the Vedas being written in a language derived from Sanskrit and the many languages people speak in India, many of the people not having access to an education. Another reason is that the parents determine a persons’ religion at birth and it’s written on their birth certificate so a religion is usually passed down through generations and thereby people often practice in the same way as their predecessors practiced. Meanings of practices can be lost or subverted as they are passed down through generations and sometimes there may be a feeling of duty associated with the pooja rituals causing people to think that once the deed is performed they are in the clear.
I see this also happening within the Christian religion as well. When we went to the Bible expedition at the Catholic Church in Varanasi the scenes, lighting shows, movement of characters put on a display that would draw people in because of its attractiveness. The expedition told stories many children are told in Sunday school and did not give the reasons behind the stories and the symbolism is pushed to the background in favor of just teaching basic principles of a faith. Knowing the basics stories within a religion and not knowing their significance and to practicing rituals without knowing their significance are the same. What is the benefit of surface knowledge and practice without a deeper understanding? It may be possible for a person to be spiritually fulfilled by performing a ritual, but is that enough? For me it is not enough to practice a faith without knowing the theology and reasoning behind it yet I see to many Hindus openly expressing their faith in the streets and appearing quite jubilant and fulfilled. Due to my being raised to question and challenge my faith I am often discontented when I can’t figure out what’s going on but there seem to be many people who can be satisfied with practicing and knowing stories and that is enough for them. Maybe they have more faith then me or follow the logic of ‘ignorance is bliss’ and at times I envy them.