Rituals are an important aspect of every religion. If philosophy explains the basic truths and mythology expounds the same through stories and analogies, rituals give them a concrete shape and lay down the practical disciplines to be followed which will ultimately lead to the realization of those truths. In Hinduism such rituals are legion. In fact, even the basic acts of our daily routine like cleaning the teeth or bathing have been elevated to the level of a religious ritual. The idea is that our whole life is a yajña (sacrifice) or sādhanā (spiritual practice).
Practically all the rituals have to be preceded by ācamana or ceremonial sipping of water. A few drops of water, as much as can immerse a grain of blackgram, are taken in the palm of the right hand cupped like a cow’s ear (gokarṇa) and sipped from the root of the thumb (called brahmatīrtha). After sipping three times, various parts of the body like the eyes, ears, nose, chest and head are touched with the wet hand in a specified order. Ācamana should always be done in the sitting posture.
The process of ācamana is believed to cover the prāṇa (basic life-energy, considered as a deity) so that it protects the performer. Even the ancient Upaniṣads like the Bṛhadāraṇyaka (4.1.14) and the Chāndogya (5.2.2) seem to subscribe to this view.
See also RITUALS.