Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
A vehicle is kept to the left in India. In the United States of America, cars keep to the right. Customs and rituals are there to guide society, steering society from going right or left.
They are made according to the time and the country. For instance, men wear unstitched clothes for a puja in South India. In North India, people wear coats. Perhaps, this is because the weather is cold there. When Muslim males go to Mecca for Haj, they have to wear unstitched clothes.
Yet, these customs and rituals are neither conducive nor act as obstacles on the path to God.
There are many customs when it comes to marriages. A coconut and a mirror are placed on a plate, when welcoming the in-laws in South India. It is as though to say: ‘Enter with a smile. See your face and feel complete. We are feeling complete here.’ When you see yourself in the mirror in the morning, you smile. You don’t frown when you see yourself.
People in Maharashtra welcome the in-laws with a betel nut and a gold coin on their head. This gesture says: ‘Your thoughts should shine like gold.’ This is an auspicious gesture.
There are other rituals in Bihar and Bengal. These customs from different parts of India should be studied thoroughly. Someone should take up this project.
In Kerala, a nirapara is kept at the entrance of a house to welcome people. It is a vessel filled with grains, flowers from the coconut tree and a diya (lamp). This custom signifies that the house which is being entered is full, there is happiness. It is a sign of prosperity.
Similarly, people gift each other chocolate eggs for Easter in Europe. It is a symbol of prosperity and progeny.
In India, people fast when going on a pilgrimage – say, to Shabri Mala, Vaishno Devi or Tirupati. Christians and Muslims in Ethiopia, fast too. They don’t eat vegetables or dairy products for some period of the year. These are rituals and customs. There must be some reason.