Making Chanting Shlokas Relevant

These days most people question the reason why we perform various rituals, e.g., chanting various Shlokas. Asking them to “just do it” or not providing believable explanation will only result in them viewing these rituals with disdain. For example, explaining that one chants Shlokas to appease God so that one can get some immediate reward is unlikely to be satisfactory. Invoking God is not going to enable one to buy an expensive car, nor will it help one pass a difficult exam for which one has not studied. Similarly, claiming that chanting will help one in one’s after-life is not going to convince the sceptics. It will work on those who are believers but then the believers are not the ones who ask such questions. We have to provide a explanation that is logically verifiable.

I will explain the idea using the Shloka “Gange cha yamune caiva” as an example. When we first teach the shloka, we should clearly explain how it relates to the rivers in India. It is important to explain that all civilisations and settlements have developed along river banks. References to what is taught to them (e.g., the importance of the Nile to the Egyptians, the importance of the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, and the Indus to the civilisation where Vedic religion took root) will help reinforce the idea. Water is a vital resource for all life-forms. We have to be thankful that we do not face acute water shortages that others in many parts of the world face. Therefore, the purpose of chanting this Shloka is for us to express our gratitude for life itself. The next step is to make the Shloka more relevant for those who are in Australia, and perhaps, do not relate to some of the Indian rivers. We should emphasise the importance of our local rivers such as the Murray, Darling, Swan, Paramatta, and Brisbane.

Just chanting the Shloka by itself does not do anything to keep the rivers pristine. We have to also emphasise the need for proper actions that reflect the gratitude. Such actions include not polluting the river, not wasting water and respecting other lives that depend on the river. The aim of chanting is to enable us to remind ourselves of the debt we owe to the rivers and the need to preserve it for future generations. For a more advanced class, concepts such as the need for a certain percentage of dissolved oxygen in the river to sustain the fish or the issue with the water salinity that Australia is facing can be woven in the explanation. That way, we make the Shlokas more relevant to the environment we live in.

Related Readings:
Environmental issues derived from our scriptures: https://goldcoasthindu.wordpress.com/2019/08/17/environmental-issues-are-people-following-scriptures/
Mimansa (Reflection) on Vedic Rituals: https://goldcoasthindu.wordpress.com/2020/02/22/mimamsa-philosophy-of-vedic-rituals/

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