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Home / History / Atheist Ceremonies

Atheist Ceremonies


Oh! Do atheists have ceremonies? Arenít ceremonies only for religious people? These are some of the questions asked by people to atheists. Well! Atheists do have ceremonies and celebrate them with all colour and festivity, but with a rational outlook. Atheist Centre has been in the forefront of encouraging such secular ceremonies.

Atheism is an alternative way of life based scientific as well as social outlook. Atheism aims at development of the personality of the individual, free from superstitions and blind beliefs. Hence in atheist way of life, there is no rigidity and frigidity. Unlike in religion, where there are fixed and rigid rules and stipulated so-called auspicious timings for the ceremonies, in atheism and humanism the ceremonies are conducted as per the convenience of the people.

The world is slowly, but steadily, moving towards a post-religious society. The stranglehold of religion cannot continue for long. With the spread of science and scientific and social outlook, search for alternatives is a must. As religion reigned supreme for hundreds of years and suppressed dissent with social sanctions, it left a mark on all the ceremonies. Right from birth to death of an individual, religions prescribe many ceremonies. Some of these are directly or indirectly connected with god and religion. As India is a multi religious, multi-ethnic and mutli-cultural with multitudes of people, regional variations of these customs are abundant.

Over the years the ceremonies became rigid and intransigent and people are forced to follow the age-old customs and traditions by habit and peer-group social pressure.

Atheists and humanists have to build an alternative to religion. Hence, atheists developed their own ceremonies, which are based on gender equality and social justice. Atheists know that there is only one life, no rebirth or hell or heaven. Atheists are individually and socially responsible for their actions and behaviour. Humans are makers of their systems, transcending caste, religion, and all other parochial considerations.

Atheists are happy people and try to lead a dignified life with joy and social commitment. Reality, social outlook and development of individual personality are their goals. They act with self confidence and determination.

In contrast to religious ceremonies, atheist ceremonies are not observed on fixed dates and time and they are flexible to suit their convenience.

Naming Ceremony:

Birth of a child, irrespective of gender, is a happy occasion for atheists and they share joy with others. They name their children as per the events in history, current and International affairs, social and political changes or reflecting the beauty of nature.

In order to break the barriers of caste and religion, atheists name their children in a secular manner, connoting a meaning relevant to the time or an event which has no religious connotation. Taking the case of children in Atheist Centre, Samaram (II World War), Niyanta (dictator), Lavanam (Salt, was born on the eve of Gandhiís Salt Satyagraha), Vijayam (Victory. First success of Congress in General Elections), Vidya (Education) and the younger generation with unique names such as Sanketh (Information), Vidwat (Knowledge), Saujas (Redoubled Vigour and Youthfulness), Saaras & Tejas (Indigenous manned aero planes developed by India), Olos (Olympics Los Angeles) to mention a few. Many atheists are making the next generation secular and post religious. Atheists also stress on the need for birth registration, which is neglected in India.

When they admit their children in educational institutions, in the application forms they mention in the caste and religion column as "nil". Childrenís upbringing is secular. As society continues to be traditional, sometimes, they have to fight for their rights without mincing matters.

Marriage Ceremony:

Marriages in India are either performed generally under Hindu Marriage Act, Christian Marriage Act, or Muslim Marriage. However there is a special facility for atheists and the liberal minded in the form of the Special Marriage Act. The spouses can give "notice of intention" one month in advance in Government Marriage Registrarís office and they can marry in a secular way, with utmost legal validity. It is very simple and cost effective. Bigamy is prohibited by law and the divorced and widowed also are eligible to marry under the Special Marriage Act without any stigma. Right from its inception in 1940, Atheist Centre has been promoting hundreds of such casteless and religionless marriages under the Special Marriage Act. Such couples are felicitated publicly for their courage of conviction to usher in secular social change

In Pre-Independent India, braving stiff resistance of priests and the vested interests, some atheist and rationalist social reformers championed priestless and tradition-less marriages by exchange of garlands by spouses in a public meeting. Mahatma Phule, Ranade and other social reformers in the 19th Century encouraged widow remarriages. In the early 20th Century, Periyar EV Ramaswamy promoted hundreds of "Self Respect" (sweeya maryada) marriages by exchange of garlands in atheist meetings.  Even though they had no legal validity, they had social approval. In Post-Independent India, hundreds of such marriages were legally validated by Tamilnadu Government. In other states also, the atheists and rationalists challenged the monopoly of the priestly class in social relations. In Andhra, Tripuraneni Ramaswami developed marriage ceremonies devoid of priests and religion.

During the freedom movement, rationalists, atheists, socialists, communists and the liberal-minded popularized secular marriages by exchange of garlands in public meetings. In the traditional Hindu marriage, Saptapadi (walking seven steps together) and tying of thali (so-called Holy-thread of gold) by husband to his wife is a must. But in atheist marriages these customs are openly defied, for the religious rites make women inferior. Recognizing the importance of liberation to women, many did not wear ornaments or a bindu on the forehead, breaking the taboos of the Hindu religious system.

Gora and Saraswathi Gora, founders of Atheist Centre, spearheaded castelesss and religionless marriages as a movement to break the stranglehold of untouchability, caste, religion and of priestly class. They tried to bridge the gap between precept and practice by marring their own children first and set an example to others.

Atheist marriages are celebrated in complete openness. In the case of intercaste or inter religion or casteless marriages, the spouses inform their parents about their intention. On some occasions, the marriages take place in the teeth of opposition. But the experience shows that parents and relations tend to reconcile soon and social ostracism for the couple tend to be less.

Celebrating the nature's beauty:

Most of the superstitions are attested to women, especially during their puberty and pregnancy, with particular reference to viewing eclipses. Atheists view the rare natural occurrences such as solar eclipses, by defying the traditional taboo with rational action, demonstrating that viewing of eclipse has nothing to do with the deformity of a new born baby.

Death Ceremony:

For every religion there is a specific type of ceremony and the main concept of theism is life after death. Atheists realise that there is no life after death. Atheists pledge for organ, eye and body donation. The body of the deceased is either electrically cremated, or burnt or buried, without any religious ceremonies. The ashes and bones do not hold any significance and no tomb stone is erected in the name of the dead. Post death ceremonies are mainly focused on organizing public gatherings to recall his or her achievements in life. In religions, death ceremonies are conducted on certain specific days, as laid out in the religious calendars and decided by the male priest. In the case of atheist ceremonies, both men and women preside the gatherings, breaking the religious and gender barriers, thereby celebrating the life contribution of the individual. Some atheists, in the memory of their lost ones, donate money for scholarships to the marginalized communities or the merited students.

In the religious customs, when the husband is dead, his wife is subjected to inhuman traditional practices by breaking her bangles, removal of thali, forcing her to wear a white sari and she is made a non-entity in the family. Her social position is degraded and for some time she is not invited to weddings in the family. This kind of treatment given to widows is regarded by atheists as mental cruelty and is openly opposed. Atheists invite widows to attend marriages, conduct widow re-marriages and demonstrate that widows are in no way inferior to men or other women,

Thus atheist marriages open up avenues to show to others the need for social reform and gender equity. They emphasize on all round equality for women and their female children. With winds of social change, some of the cruel religious customs wane slowly in some sections of society.

Social Celebrations:

Atheists recognize the contribution of inventors, discoverers, social reformers, and national leaders who have made significant contribution to the progress of the society and in enhancing scientific temper and secular outlook. Social functions are celebrated to commemorate the inventions and discoveries as well as social reform, so as to make the younger generations aware of their significance and advocating for investing in promoting critical thinking and free inquiry.

Atheist Centre encourages celebration of life in a rational and scientific way. For the last six decades, it has been promoting atheism as an alternative life stance. The ceremonies people follow must be in tune with the changing times and aims and aspirations of the people. They must be progressive and tend to promote social change. Atheists and humanists fight blind beliefs and harmful traditions and strive towards equality of all in every sphere of life. They must be in line with the progress of science and scientific temper. Imitation or transplantation of institutions may not be relevant in the changed circumstances. Eternal vigilance, social good, individual freedom and joy must reflect in observing ceremonies. The aims and aspirations of the young the youth must be kept in mind and their innate talents must find expression. Hence ceremonies of different types must cater to the creative urges of every generation to make life cheerful and meaningful. We have only one life and hence let us live with self respect, dignity, social harmony and equality.

Religious ceremonies tend to prepare people look for salvation and to so-called life after death, where as atheist and humanist ceremonies try to improve the quality of life here on earth which is real and practical. Let us strive make the world a better place to live in peace, joy and harmony. Pleasure lies in pursuit.