I think my religion is important to me. Not because I think that the religion I was born into is superior or inferior to any other. But because is very accommodative. I can imagine orthodox Hindus giving me cold stares. The caste system having lost the purpose for which it was created, the Hindus belonging to the group that had the benefit of education and the duty of imparting it to others began to consider themselves superior. But would a truly educated and knowledgeable person consider one human being as being superior or inferior to another? How about the group who were given the duty of cleaning up the mess created by others? Are they not the most superior group in that they are making the world a place fit to live in? Were it not for them could the so called educators, protectors and business people lead a comfortable life?
So let us not go by the dictates of the caste system. Let us understand that our religious texts do not differentiate between human beings on the basis of caste, creed or the color of one's skin. It does glorify a person who is true to himself and the society he belongs to. It applauds a person who stands up for one who is subjected to injustice. In fact most Hindu festivals are celebrated to signify that evil forces cannot last for ever. Justice prevails and the negative forces are vanquished. It also means that one need not despair. Bad times will not last forever. It also does not imply that once evil forces are vanquished they're gone forever. The battle between good and evil forces continues and one has to be ever vigilant. It is a reminder that neither good times nor the evil ones last for ever.
I also believe that my religion does not impose strict rules for worship. As a child we had a set of rules. We could not have solid food unless we bathed. The food prepared for the family had to be offered to God before consumption. We had to wash our hands and feet on our return from school before entering the house. In fact children had to take off their school uniforms, put it away to be washed and change before being given snacks to eat. These were hygienic practices and had nothing to do with religion. Religion was brought in to make people follow them. The rules were also meant to bring discipline in one's life and when food was meant to be offered to God one tended be extra careful while preparing it. I for one would suggest that these practices would be good for all people not just Hindus.
Coming back to rules for worship -
As far as I can remember my mother fasted on specific days like ekadasi or restricted herself to a single meal on certain other days. A day was set apart for the God of health and another for the God of wealth. Fasting for the well being of sons and husbands and setting apart special occasions to celebrate the girl child and worshipping her as Durga the goddess of might and valour was also not uncommon. Sisters pray for the welfare of brothers during festivals like Rakhi, Karthik poornima, Makar Sankaranthi and Bhai dooj. So the message one gets is that in a family set up girls as well as boys are important. Fasting and feasting are both important for good health. Every celebration has a significance.
But while during festivals one was treated to special delicacies it is also believed that God could be pleased by offering pure water or a flower or by prostrating or folding one's hand with reverence before starting the day if possible. Even if that was too much it was enough to be good to fellow human beings and kind to animals. Rivers are considered sacred and trees such as Tulasi and Peepal are worshipped. Raw Turmeric is distributed to women during festivals. All this talk of conserving the ecosystem and preserving the biodiversity on earth has been practiced for ages by our religion by attributing divinity to animals and plants. The cow is worshipped, the snake is found wrapped around Shiva, Durga rides the lion and Meenakshi has a parrot perched on her shoulder. Goddess Lakshmi sits on a lotus, Karthik rides a peacock. Well the list is endless. The ecological pyramid and the food web were understood much later but my religion accords due importance to producers, consumers and scavengers reminding us that ecological balance was possible only when they co-existed.
It is unfortunate that a few have distorted the Hindu way of living to present it out of context. Let us not be put off by them. More than a religion Hinduism is a way of life. It lets a person choose his method of serving humanity. Meditation is considered a way to worship as much as the fanfare associated with temple worship with the blowing of the conch, beating drums and dancing. You could be part of either or neither. You could simply choose to do your duty without expecting rewards. You could rever your parents and your teacher as Gods in human form. No pressure to follow set rituals and no guilt associated when for some reason one is not able to fulfill or practice them.
Is it any wonder that I am comfortable belonging to such a group.