The essence of popular Hinduism is encapsulated in one of the verses of Gita, one of the most sacred scriptures of Hinduism. The scripture is about Krishna, the divine personality, telling humanity through his disciple Arjun on what needs to be done to win the final salvation for the human soul. In the verse 12.0.9 of the scripture, Krishna tells Arjun the following words:
“If you are unable to focus your mind steadily on Me, then long to attain Me by practice of any other spiritual discipline, such as a ritual, or deity worship that suits you.”(gita-society.com)
The above words succinctly summarize what popular Hinduism is all about. Worship rituals are the most popular way of life in Hinduism. Hinduism does not prohibit other ways for attaining self-realization and salvation. If the person is intellectual enough, he or she can follow other modes of enlightenment such as meditating and fixing the mind on the absolute; or follow such other forms as Karma Yoga, Gnana Yoga, for attaining God. However, most common people find such methodologies of attaining God to be beyond them. So they follow the simpler ritualistic methodology for attaining the Supreme Being.
Ritualistic worship sits at the heart of the popular Hinduism. Instead of sitting motionless in front of God’s idol for about an hour and try to fix the mind on God, a devotee engages himself into various worship rituals. Place a glass of water in front of the idol, sanctify it with hymns or chantings of the names of God for a few minutes, and then sip some of that holy water. Place a few flowers in front of God’s idols or make an elaborate decoration of the idols with garlanded flowers. Sanctify the idols with kunkum powder and smear some of that powder on one’s forehead. Pour some oil into a couple of lamps, light them, and keep them in front of the idols. On important occasions, replace the usage of oil with compounds like Ghee, which are costlier than oil. Light a couple of incense sticks and place them in front of the idols. The smoke that comes out from these incense sticks fills up the room with pleasant smell. Place a couple of fruits in front of idols, sanctify the fruits with hymns, and then eat some of that fruit as a blessing from God. These are some of the common tasks done by an average Hindu almost everyday. The devout perform these tasks twice a day; they need to perform these tasks only after taking bath.
It is not that rituals are not present in other religions, but in Hinduism, these rituals take on much more elaborate proportions. Especially, when done in temples, these rituals are done for hours together. Ritualism sits at the heart of common Hinduism, which is why Hinduism is sometimes termed as a way of life. Many common Hindus are not much aware of Vedas, Puranas, Tantras, and such other Hindu scriptures. What they do have is a knowledge of large number of rituals performed at every junction of one’s life, which is what day-to-day Hinduism is all about.