By Indrani Chanda:
“Religion” – the term, whenever comes into our minds, it comes with a feeling of respect, reverence and a soothing calmness. Every religion has its own specific dimension. Besides the supreme religious doctrines of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, there are many lesser-known religions scattered all over the world. Rastafarianism is one such religion that may not be so popular, but it develops our thoughts and interests about religion.
Rastafari was actually a spiritual movement that originated in Africa and was associated with the lower class people of Jamaica in the 1930’s. Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia is said to be the founder of this movement as well as religion. The term ‘Rastafari’ is taken from Ras Tafari, the previous name of Selassie. According to the beliefs of Rastafarians, Selassie is considered as the prime God for the black race. They consider this movement not merely a religion but “a way of life“.
The Rastafarian God name is Jah. Although there was a debate regarding the death of Selassie, Rastas hold it strongly as a trick of media to down their faith. For Rastafari, Haile Selassie remains their God and their King. They worship him as the lion of Judah as he used to wear a lion skin of Judah ring that was given to Bob Marley after Selassie’s death. The Jamaican singer Bob Marley is one of the followers of Rastafarianism.
Rastas’ main aim is to return the past glory and heritage of the blacks who have been suffering from poverty and inequality in the hands of the whites. They generally deny the Christian notion of heaven and hold the view that the heaven is not in the sky rather it is a place on this earth and they consider Ethiopia as the heaven. This belief may be termed as Afrocentrism.
Their coloured symbol also denotes a very important issue in Rasta doctrine. The three colours- red, gold and green symbolizes different perspectives. The red colour stands for Church triumphant, and also denotes the blood that martyrs have shed in the history of Rastas, gold symbolizes the wealth of the homeland whereas the green represents the beauty and vegetation of Ethiopia, the promise land.
There are two types to celebrate Rasta ceremonies: “Reasoning and Groundations”. In a reasoning ceremony the Rastas gather and smoke ganjas. Groundations or Binghi ceremony is a holy day and it is celebrated through dancing, singing, feasting and it can last for several days. One of the public prayers that Rastafarians often say in such gatherings is
“Princes and princesses shall come forth out of Egypt, Ethiopia now stretch forth her hands before Jah. O Thou God of Ethiopia, Thou God of Thy Divine Majesty, Thy Spirit come into our hearts, to dwell in the paths of righteousness. Lead and help I and I to forgive, that InI may be forgiven. Teach I and I Love and loyalty on earth as it is in Zion, Endow us with Thy wisemind, knowledge and Overstanding to do thy will, thy blessings to us, that the hungry might be fed, the sick nourished, the aged protected, the naked clothed and the infants cared for. Deliver I and I from the hands of our enemy, that I and I may prove fruitful in these Last Days, when our enemy have passed and decayed in the depths of the sea, in the depths of the earth, or in the belly of a beast. O give us a place in Thy Kingdom forever and ever, so we hail our majesty Haile Selassie I, Jehovah God, Rastafari, Almighty God, Rastafari, great and powerful God Jah, Rastafari. Who sitteth and reigneth in the heart of man and woman, hear us and bless us and sanctify us, and cause Thy loving Face to shine upon us thy children, that we may be saved, Selah.”
The Rastas are vegetarians and eat only I-tal foods. There food is cooked but served without preservatives, condiments or salt. Liquor, milk, coffee and soft drinks are considered as unacceptable. The three main mansions of Rastafarians are the Nyahbinghi Order, Bobo Ashanti and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
According to the 2001 census of United Kingdom, 5000 Rastafarians live in England and Wales. They even started arriving in the United States in large numbers in the 1960s and ’70s mostly from Jamaica. A religion which seeks to teach the ways of life to the common people have ultimately touched the human hearts and made a greater place for itself in this world. Although a lesser one, it still receives our reverence in its ideologies and doctrines.