Some branches of Tibetan Buddhism practice the 12 day Kalachakra Initiation Ceremony, a community action, or ritual, that involves creating an elaborate, colorful, and sacred design called a mandala using tiny granules of colored sand. The monks spend eight days making the large, intricate mandala, which is based on a model that has existed in the tradition for thousands of years. The ceremony and the mandala are based on a text called the Kalachakra Tantra and represent the three wheels of time.
A very public ritual in Hinduism is the practice of going on pilgrimage to various cities of the gods. India has a very long history of pilgrimages. These journeys to holy cities are part of the lives of most Hindus.
Varanasi, also called Benares, is considered to be the holiest of Hinduism’s holy cities, and it is the destination of many pilgrims. Hindus call it the city of Shiva, because according to tradition, it was this god who founded the city. Varanasi is one of the seven cities that offer release from suffering, or Moksha. Many Hindu pilgrims travel from one city to the next for this reason, honoring and offering their devotion to the particular god of each city.
In pilgrimages, a ritual is performed by the public community of adherents within a holy place at a specific time. However, as with the Tibetan Kalachakra tantra, there are entire rituals or parts of a ritual or ceremony that are reserved for established practitioners and members of a particular subset of the religious community.
Another important Hindu celebration is Diwali, commonly known as the festival of lights, a five-day festival that involves the lighting of small clay lamps that are filled with oil. This light signifies the triumph of good over evil. These lamps are kept on during the night, and one’s house is clean. The intention is to make the goddess Lakshmi feel welcome. Each day has a special significance. Honoring this allows the tradition to be integrated with daily life and transmitted from one generation to the next. During the festival of Diwali, all the celebrants wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with family members and friends.
In the religion of Islam, one of the foundational tenets of the faith, called one of the five pillars of Islam, is the pilgrimage to Mecca, or the Hajj. It is a spiritual journey to Mecca. It is here where the prophet Muhammad was born and where he had his revelation. It’s the most holy city for Muslims. It is here where the first mosque, the Kaaba, or Noble Cube, was built. It is believed to have been constructed in 2100 BCE by Abraham, the patriarch of the three monotheistic faiths and his son Ishmael.
During the Hajj, six million pilgrims come to Mecca to circumambulate the Kaaba. The circling of the Kaaba represents the unity of believers and their collective faith in one god. Turning seven times counterclockwise in worship represents this commitment. Since performing the Hajj is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, if one can afford it and is physically able, one must do so before dying.
The Jewish tradition has a ritual of breaking the glass at a Jewish wedding. This is either done after the bride has received the ring or at the end of the ceremony. The specifics vary from one locality to the next.
Amidst all the celebration and cheer, the breaking of glass, usually crushed by the groom with his right foot, represents the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The collective participation in this section and its witnessing expresses that in spite of the joy of the occasion, Jews everywhere still mourn the loss and destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.