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Signs and Marks
(HinduDharma: Dharmasastra)

If we call ourselves Hindus we must bear certain external marks, outward symbols.

The boy scouts have a uniform of their own. Army and navy men are distinguished by certain insignia. There are number of divisions in police force. Even though their functions will not change if they wear one another's uniforms or badges, there is a strict rule with regard to their dress and insignia. The policeman's cap must not be worn by the sailor. There is a certain discipline and orderliness among all these forces.

This discipline as well as orderliness is essential in religion also. That is why different jatis and different asramas have different functions and signs. According to the dharmasastras we must wear the dhoti or the sari in such and such a way or apply the mark to the forehead in a particular manner. All this is not meant for social discipline alone. There is a high purpose, that of purifying our inner life.

The court attendant has a tavali. The officials do not have it. Is it sensible to why? But we do not take the same attitude with regard to the different signs and marks assigned to the people according to their vocations and family customs. We make a noise in the name of equality. Even though we remain divided in the matter of vocations-which indeed is for the welfare of the entire community-we are of one heart. This is the ideal behind the social arrangement in which different jatis are assigned different rites and external symbols, these in keeping with their natural qualities and callings. There is no high or low in all this. But we keep fighting among ourselves imagining that there is.

Now we have come to such a pass that nobody wears any of the external marks of our religion. At the same time, we are not ashamed of wearing other types of signs or badges. To wear those marks that bring uplift of the Self we are ashamed. We dismiss all religious marks and symbols as part of superstition. But those who want to proclaim themselves to be reformers don a particular type of cap or upper cloth and these external trappings are given greater importance than symbols of a divine nature.

"Hindu Dharma" is a book which contains English translation of certain invaluable and engrossing speeches of Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji (at various times during the years 1907 to 1994).
For a general background, please see here