Taking a vow is both a spiritual and moral commitment. But without having any moral conviction and commitment, when we take any vow, then it becomes worse than a ritual and sheer hypocrisy.
Taking a vow is called ‘sankalp’ in our land. However, in a worldview where pluralism and relativism are dominant, these sankalpas also could be violated according to the need—based on time and place. Well my point here is not to discuss the merits and demerits of such vows, but to point out the need to take them seriously. Almost every religious cum social sanskar (ritual) has its own sankalpa to make. But as those vows are chanted by the priests (mostly) in Sanskrit and people only need to say ‘tatastu’ to it, people performing those sanskars neither know the meaning nor take it seriously, as it too has become part of the ritual. For example, almost in every marriage a kind of vow is taken both the by the boy and girl. But none know what they took. However, suddenly in the post-Independence India, taking vows in public become part of our social activity. Nowadays we have many vows, particularly taken on the death anniversaries of some popular political leaders (like Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi etc.) I don’t remember if people ever take any vow on the birth and death anniversary of great leaders like Gandhiji and Nehruji. However as Gandhiji Jayanti is celebrated as International Ahmisa day, definitely there too will be some kind of oath ceremony, as no birth or death anniversary of leaders in India is ever complete without such a ‘vow’ ritual.1
Well, added to such politicized vows, nowadays taking other kinds of vows in public also has become part of our social need. For example, almost every year, several hundred couples gather in a particular ashram to take vows—that too holding their hands together and repeating what is read out for all. It is an encouraging sign and shows some kind of maturity and progress showing the affection and commitment in marriage publicly. In a land, where holding the hand of a wife in public place is not considered proper, these kinds of activities definitely show a great change in the mindset of the people. However, if this is done to imitate other kinds of vows or values, then this too will become a kind of social entertainment for publicity. The sad fact in our Indian societies is that without making a personal moral commitment we take several vows. For example, school and college students take vow against the use of plastic and polythene bags and covers. But in real life, they rarely remember to strictly implement it. So what is the best way to help our people to remember and implement any vow? Let me return back to the same marriage vow (sankalp).Without knowing the meaning of the sankalp which they took in their marriage, almost all the couples keep their commitment to each other till the end of their lives. Exceptions are there, but thankfully they never decide the general rule. The main reason for this is that marriage commitment is not verbally expressed in our land but implemented strictly, as it is related with our sentiment. This is one good value on which we Indians can take pride. Our relationship with each other—of every kind, is mostly based on sentiment, and it helps us to commit to each other without any need to repeat or remind ourselves of the bond through any vow or celebrating those relationship as an event (like Father’s day; Mother’s day, Valentine’s day etc.) This is well said by some one: Marriage is an entertainment in France, commitment in England, agreement in America and SENTIMENT in India. Our literature, dramas and even many cinemas demonstrate this well. And most of the (Tamil) films are based on this sentiment. Implementing this sentiment not only in our relationship with people but also with nature can better equip our young generation to take the vows seriously rather than merely make it as another public entertainment.
Dayanand Bharati, Gurukulam, September 10, 2009. Notes
1. In this context I remember a famous joke (which was shared by many). In a big institute when any dignitary visits, they will ask him to plant a tree seedling to celebrate the event as well as a grow a tree remembering his visit. But each time a dignitary visits, they will plant another seedling again in the same place. When someone questioned about it, the response came with a satire, ‘it is a lucky place’. This means that they never take the visit seriously or the event seriously but it has become part of a public ritual, like our public vows.