Faith and religion has been a source of inspiration and guidance during various stages of personality formation (especially in growing children). Schools managed by the CBO’s (Community Based Organizations) assume a dual role of moral mentoring and education. Most religions have registered their faith in nature. Christianity respects nature. Papal sermons call for ‘a livelier responsibility’ of believers to nature. Islam especially Holy Quran recognizes God’s wisdom and the divine scheme of mutual dependence between nature and its living creations. Hindu scriptures especially the ‘Atharva veda’ spells great respect for the role of nature in the sanctity of life and emphasizes the moral responsibility of life. It denies the right of man to destroy what (s)he has not created. Buddhism exudes compassion as its major message. Such messages of compassion are seen engraved in the stone edicts of King Ashoka.
The conventional shrines (Temples, Gurudwaras, Mosques, Churches etc.) are known to motivate the community for a life free from stress or disease (solace). Traditional shrines and places of worship are constructed in an eco-friendly manner with protocols to use only bio-degradable materials. The temples or Gurudwaras built on the bank of a river, pond or lake provide nature friendly ambience and are planned to provide reasonable exercise of body and concentration of mind. Disciples can take a dip before entering the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ and circulate around the premises which are normally filled with clean ‘river sand’ to provide uniform pressure to sole and feet (acupressure?). Yoga, a spiritual discipline that brings about transformation in a person through transcendence of the ego, was spread through peers of religion. It is universally hailed as a process synergizing the body with mind applying it after understanding the world . Yoga postures were seen in artifacts dating back to 3000 B.C.
Shrines are also engaged in supporting/ promoting fine arts, performing arts and creative art forms. A variety of musical instruments owe their origin or support to the shrines and the sages who manage them. Festivals organized in shrines of any faith motivate social co-existence and purity of mind. Temple festivals encourage the overall development of youth through their participation and performance. It is an opportunity for collective activity to children, young adults and their trainers and organizers. Shrines enable participation of people of all walks of life during festivities. Congregations, conventions, and sermons encourage all shades of human interests and enable cultural exchanges free of hate politics. Besides, teaching philosophy, shrines train the community into joint efforts (Kara seva), social service, charity and effective relief to the poor, and the suffering. It nurtures honesty and sincerity that support austerity and stress free life style. Sharing of ideas helps to improve survival skill of the believers. Sculptures and carvings of the shrines all over the world are among some of the finest art forms of the world. Undoubtedly the driving force behind the originality of many unique art forms is the support of the shrines who encourage freedom of expression and mental harmony in artists.
Examples of rituals focused on ones health:
1. The disciples visiting the temples in the early morning take a dip and circulate themselves in wet clothes. This possibly is meant to sanitize and enhance the stress threshold. Conventions include opportunities for exercise of body and mind.
2. Shrines established in deep forests, deserts and high mountains are to sustain forest and the natural resources and carefully planned to expose disciples to nature’s complexities while restraining its disturbance by frequent visits. Traditionally pilgrims are expected to travel on foot. This again is possibly intended to limit the number of visitors and reduce pollution. During off season, the forest gets time to recoup.
3. Rituals like fasting or penance help enhance peoples stress threshold and positivity of mind.
4. Snake figures in mythology, is associated with Hindu Gods and is worshiped through religious rituals like “Aayillya pooja”, “Sarpa pooja” etc. There are many idols of snakes in temples in Kerala. In Kerala one can find snake asylums (Sarpakkaavu) adjacent to all old houses with large court yards. It minimizes the snake-man conflict, while at the same time take full advantage of the snakes’ presence in the eco-system [control of rodents]. Traditional wisdom recognized and respected the role of snakes in the food chain. Women Believers with problems in child seek bearing blessings from snake temples for motherhood irrespective of their religion. Pulluva community in Kerala perform snake worship to appease the serpent gods by drawing Nagakkolam (snake figures on floor) .
5. ‘Pongala’ is a ritual where women and particularly the unmarried girls are initiated into cooking using exclusively natural wares and fuel from nature. In modern times it is useful to demonstrate the possibility of traditional cooking without gas or electricity and to erase the mental inhibition to try traditional ways. Simplicity and communion induces a positivity of mind and exposure to the pleasure of socialization for a purpose. The ‘atukaal pongala’ which has found place in the record book, is one of the two congregations in the world where the crowd mentality(negative) does not operate; the second being the ‘Kumbh Mela’ of Uttar Pradesh.
By Prof (Dr.) Ramakumar,V