Ethnic Ritual – India

The informant, Manoj describes a ritual he and his family practice before driving in a car. Manoj says in each of the cars his family owns they place a figurine of the Hindu god Ganesh on the right side of the indentation formed where the speedometer is. He says that once the figure is placed their, it should never be moved. Upon entering the car, the driver must touch the figurine and then touch the heads of each person in the car. If the driver cannot reach a particular persons head, they must touch that person’s hands and then that person must touch their own head. The ritual is performed as a way to keep everyone traveling in the car safe.

Manoj learned the practice from his parents and claims that most Indian people observe it. He enjoys the ritual and believes that it does keep the people in his car safe. He explains that Ganesh is seen as the god who removes obstacles. Therefor it make sense that a person would pay homage to Ganesh before going on a journey, where one might encounter obstacles.

Rituals at the beginning of a journey are widespread across many cultures. The beginning of a journey is a stressful time, as a person knows they may well face dangers in the course of their journey. As such it makes sense that various cultures have developed rituals to bring good fortune to travelers. As a parallel some Catholics put a figure of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, in their cars. In my opinion the touching of the figurine and then of everyone else is on one level a way to spread the safety the deity provides, but on another level is a way to connect to everyone in the car. By touching everyone else in the car, the driver is connecting with them, which is a way for the driver to feel the responsibility he or she has to the safety of the others in the car. I think the ritual is a way for the driver to be reminded of the duty they have to keep themselves and others safe in the car.