Four thousand years of continuous culture has meant that a number of Indian customs and traditions have come down to the present generation almost without a change for thousand of years. These customs invariably invoke curiosity in the minds of visiting foreigners making them wonder what they mean. We try and de-mystify for you some of these customs which have remained part of Indian traditions for more than a thousand years....
Tika or Tilak
Namaskar or Namaste is the most popular form of greeting in India. It is a general salutation that is used to greet or welcome somebody and also for bidding farewell. While doing Namaskar, both the palms are placed together to greet a person. It is believed that both the hands symbolise one mind, or the self meeting the self. While the right hand represents higher nature, the left hand denotes worldly or lower nature.
Tilak is a ritual mark on the forehead. It can be put in many forms as a sign of blessing, greeting or auspiciousness. The Tilak is usually made out of a red vermilion paste (kumkum) which is a mixture of turmeric, alum, iodine, camphor etc. It can also be made of a sandalwood paste (chandan) blended with musk. The Tilak is applied on the spot between the brows which is considered the seat of latent wisdom and mental concentration, and is very important for worship. This is the spot on which yogis meditate to become one with Brahma. It also indicates the point at which the spiritual eye opens. All thoughts and actions are said to be governed by this spot. Putting of the coloured mark symbolises the quest for the 'opening' of the third eye.
All rites and ceremonies of the Hindus begins with a Tilak topped with a few grains of rice placed on this spot with the index finger or the thumb. The same custom is followed while welcoming or bidding farewell to guests or relations.
Aarti is performed as an act of veneration and love. It is often performed as a mark of worship and to seek blessings from God, to welcome guests, for children on their birthdays, family members on auspicious occasions or to welcome a newly wedded couple. The Aartis is also performed to ward off evil effects and the malefic influence of the 'evil eye'.
For performing Aarti, five small lamps called niranjanas are filled with ghee or oil and arranged in a small tray made of metal. A wick is made out of cotton wool and placed in the lamps. A conch-shell filled with water, auspicious leaves or flowers, incense or lighted camphor are also placed in the tray. The lamps are lit and the tray is rotated in a circular motion in front of the deity or the person to be welcomed.
Flower garlands are generally offered as a mark of respect and honour. They are offered to welcome the visitors or in honour of the Gods and Goddesses. The garlands are generally made with white jasmine and orange marigold flowers. They are weaved in thread tied in the end with the help of a knot.