Rites and Rituals

The Internet and encyclopaedias abound in the meaning of the words rites and rituals. Hinduism, as a religion constitutes a plethora of rites and rituals, and some common understanding of the words rite and ritual will help shape this page for future updates.

A rite or ritual is an established, ceremonial, usually religious, act. Rites in this sense fall into three major categories:

  • rites of passage, generally changing an individual’s social status, such as marriage, adoption, baptism, coming of age, graduation, or inauguration;
  • communal rites, whether of worship, where a community comes together to worship, such as Jewish synagogue or Mass, or of another character, such as fertility rites and certain non-religious festivals;
  • rites of personal devotion, where an individual worships, including prayer and pilgrimages such as the Muslim Hajj, pledges of allegiance, or promises to wed someone.

A ritual “is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence.” Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community. Rituals are characterized by formalism, traditionalism, invariance, rule-governance, sacral symbolism, and performance.

Rituals are a feature of all known human societies.[They include not only the worship rites and sacraments of organised religions and cults, but also rites of passage, atonement and purification rites, oaths of allegiance, dedication ceremonies, coronations and presidential inaugurations, marriages and funerals, school “rush” traditions and graduations, club meetings, sporting events,Halloween parties, veterans parades, Christmas shopping and more. Many activities that are ostensibly performed for concrete purposes, such as jury trials, execution of criminals, and scientific symposia, are loaded with purely symbolic actions prescribed by regulations or tradition, and thus partly ritualistic in nature. Even common actions like hand-shaking and saying hello may be termed rituals.


  1. Rite, Wikipedia, 2016. Available https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rite
  2. Ritual, Wikipedia, 2016. Availble https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritualwork in progress banner notice