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Reflections on Prime Minister Modi’s swearing in ceremony

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Rituals and ceremonies are inevitable in any public function. Man cannot live without ceremonies nor society can survive without them. Whether religious or secular, ceremonies are vital to human society. Having said that, India needs to move past the types of official ceremonies that are simply the lackluster, regimental remnants of the colonial era. One such event was Prime Minister Modi’s oath taking ceremony.

Although the occasion was historic, and there was a lot of enthusiasm among all the participants (except the ones who lost!), the ceremony was long and boring. I felt sorry for the dignitaries who came all the way from the SAARC countries – they had to sit there in the sweltering weather for 3 hours, listening to the same oath repeated 48 times. One does not invite guests only to bore them to tears. There was so much seriousness in everyone’s face. There was no music, no sense of celebration, and nothing colorful other than the president walking down many steps, which he may not have walked before.

In contrast, a traditional Indian coronation ceremony is much more colorful, and filled with music and dance. It would have been more appropriate to limit the numbers of individuals taking oaths to just the Prime Minister and half a dozen other cabinet member as a symbolic gesture. This could have been followed by speeches or words of appreciation from the visiting dignitaries, who would enrich the ceremony by bringing greetings from the people of their country. The Prime Minister would then acknowledge their presence, and reaffirm his commitment with a short speech, followed by music and traditional chanting.

Traditionally, in India when a King or Prime Minister is sworn in, he or she is sprinkled with waters from all the rivers and oceans of the land, reminding the leader of all that he or she needs to protect. In this manner, the leader takes an oath with the five elements bearing witness. Women then perform an aarti, and the Guru applies a tilak to the leader. Shehnai and nadaswarams, conches and drums play, and the youth dance in joy. With music and dance, the celebration concludes, followed by a grand feast. A ceremonial program should be such that there is something happening every moment that is interesting, keeping the guests engaged.

President Obama’s swearing in was much more captivating than the Indian swearing-in ceremony, where a few people even fainted. Compared to Prime Minister Modi’s ceremony, the swearing-in ceremony of Chandra Babu Naidu in AP was somewhat better, in the sense that there was a lot of pomp and show, and loud music to keep the 600,000 strong crowd engaged and involved.

Ceremonies, whether secular or religious, will capture the attention of the people if they are brief and engaging. If they are long, it creates boredom. Their purpose is to create a sense of sacredness and celebration. If boredom sets in, the very purpose of the ceremony is defeated.

Can we not make our ceremonies more charming?


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