By Swami Harshananda
Paravartana literally means ‘returning to the original fold’.
Conversion of Religion
Religion has never been an aggressive and proselytizing type. Over the centuries, many foreign tribes including those who came as invaders, have been quietly absorbed into the religious fold as and when they adopted it's ways of life.
However, conversion from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam has existed for long, as a fact of history. It occurred often due to consequences rather than the voluntary ones. Whenever such converts happened, an overwhelming majority of it had been done much against their will. They again wished to return to the religious fold. There have been several negative factors that have made it difficult for them to return to their mother religion. These negative factors include the lack of a definite or set procedure for reconversion and the hesitation or lack of enthusiasm on the part of the society to absorb these reconverts. The caste factor seems to be a great hindrance.
Paravartana in Devalasmrti
However, it is interesting to note that later smṛtis like the Devalasmrti have not only allowed re-entry of such forcibly converted people but also laid some procedures. Nevertheless, over the last two centuries serious attempts have been made to popularize the movement of reconversion, generally called as ‘śuddhi’. Scholars like P. V. Kāṇe and institutions like the Dharmanirṇaya- maṇḍala like to call it ‘Parāvartana’ or ‘returning to the original religion’.
Procedure of Paravartana
Attempts have been made to give this process a formal or ritualistic shape. A brief account of one such is described below:
- A Śiṣṭasabhā or an assembly of learned persons of pure character should be formed first.
- The person who wants to return to the religious fold should take bath, wear pure white clothes, put a religious mark on the forehead (like sandal paste, vibhuti or holy ash and so on) and approach the assembly with his request.
- The members of the assembly accede, but prescribe certain simple purificatory rites like fasting.
- They also give him a new set of clothes suitable for a religious rite or occasion.
- He performs the purification rites and returns again.
- The ācārya, the main leader or teacher who conducts the religious rites, will then make him utter a saṅkalpa or religious resolve suitable to the occasion.
- He sits facing the east and makes the new comer to sit on his right side.
- This is followed by a regular homa with Vedic mantras.
- At the end, the newcomer also participates directly in the homa by way of purification. He is also given a new name.
- Then he accepts the gift of a new copy of the sacred book, the Bhagavadgitā, and is made to chant certain parts of it like the 16th chapter, verses 1 to 3.
- He is advised to try to cultivate the virtues mentioned there.
- The participants are given the prasāda, after which all will disperse.
- Devalasmrti verses 7 to 10 and 53 to 55
- History of Dharmaśāstra, Vol. 4, p. 118, Pune, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, A. D. 1953
- Lonavala, Maharashtra State
- For details of the whole procedure, vide: P. V. Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra Vol. 4, pp. 828-830, Pune, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, A. D. 1953.
- Homa means offering oblations into a duly consecrated fire.
- It is also called as consecrated food.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore