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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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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