Customs and Rituals are a part of all culture. In this scientific day and age when one doesn't take anything for granted, customs and rituals come under special scrutiny. Do we understand their significance? Are we following them just because our forefathers did?
Questions like these lead us to try and gain a better understanding. When we do gain an understanding, we realize that our ancestors were indeed wise and that these once seemingly meaningless and insignificant customs and rituals are full of meaning and help give us our very identity.
Pooja is believed to be derived from the Dravidian word 'pu-chey', (flower action) or worship with the offering o flowers. Some trace it to the Dravidian word 'pusu', to anoint or smear with sandalwood paste or vermilion.
Puja is a word in Sanskrit language. In Sanskrit, words are formed with meaning in mind. For instance in the word puja,
With 'p' it removes all accumulated sins, and with 'j' it makes your life's (birth)purpose fulfilled.
The Lord being not accessible to our eyes, ears, nose, touch and beyond the ken of ordinary (un-refined) intellect, the ancients devised a method of bringing Lord within the realm of the senses.
This method is to worship Him (Her or It) in an object (photo, water, fire, precious jewel, idol etc) which you can touch, feel, smell, see, feel the taste of. Thus all wandering senses are brought to a focus, by belief (faith) and by daily practice.
Unshakable faith and long practice, evokes and unfolds hitherto unknown dimensions in awareness, which are generally not communicable in the normal way. Remember the British king who sent his friend Becket to sabotage the Church. Once Becket started working for the church, he got convinced and got converted to their line of thinking and found that the king's views were neither noble nor fair.
Brenen writing in 'Power Play' says that the easterners are centuries ahead in the control of mind and related topics. By puja you will be in a position to inject the noblest thoughts in the subconscious. Above all, one will succeed in solving the mystery of 'Life' .
The term pooja is now used to include all forms of ceremonial worship, ranging from the simple daily offerings of flowers, fruit, leaves, rice, sweetmeats and water to the deities in homes or temples.
There are three kinds of pujas: great, intermediate and small. A great puja is usually a community affair or performed during important occasions like religious festivals.
Pooja is the commonest of rituals that all Hindus perform. Performing a Pooja in the simplest of terms constitutes the worship of God so as to please Him and seek His blessings. God is our creator and protector. He gives us all that we have, and in a Pooja, we worship and praise Him so that He continues to do so. A Pooja can be a very simple affair or an elaborate one. It is performed by each according to ones means; a less elaborate Pooja doesn't take away from the meaning of the ritual and a more elaborate Pooja doesn't please God any more. Pooias may be performed in temples or at home or wherever one deems fit, because Hinduism preaches God's omnipresence.
We have many Gods and Goddesses and by performing a Pooja for a particular God or Goddess, we seek to gain something different from Him or Her, e.g. Goddess Saraswati bestows knowledge and learning upon us while Goddess Lakshmi gives us wealth. During the course of a Pooja, it is customary to chant Mantras, sing Bhajans and make offerings of fruits, flowers and incense to God. Mantras are sacred verses that praise God and seek his blessings. In the more traditional Poojas, the Mantras are recited by the priest performing it. A Bhajan is a devotional hymn that is sung by all attendees and may have musical accompaniment. Both Mantras and Bhajans have intense meaning and have a greater effect on those that understand them but it also has a soothing and peaceful effect on those that don't. A Pooja ends with the Aarati in which fire or incense is moved in a circular motion before God. After the Aarati, all the attendees of the Pooja partake of the blessings by feeling the warmth of the fire
Hinduism is extremely scientific when it comes to the performing of rituals. Astrologers are consulted before performing rituals and they provide us with the right day and also the time of day to perform a ritual.
One could go on ad infinitum about all Pooja rituals and customs but the most important thing to know is their significance. One cannot know of all the rituals and customs that exist but if an effort is made to learn about as many of them as is possible and also to learn of their significance, the quality of one's life as a whole improves and it takes us one step closer to salvation. Performing and knowing about rituals causes us to improve as human beings and most important of all makes us help others do the same. If we know what a certain ritual or custom signifies, then we can help others understand it and prevent them from assuming it to be meaningless and boring. This cycle will surely carry on because learning is contagious and it will pass from one person to another. In conclusion, it is important for us to know about our rituals and customs for they were meant to help us lead a fulfilling and meaningful life. Performing our rituals and customs and speaking our language are probably the only ways by which we can remember our roots.
Prasad Charanmrit Abhisheka
There are 16 Main steps in
performing while sometimes it varies here is an outline of them.
of the Devta
The offering of
a seat to the Devta
The washing of
the Devta's feet
rinsing the mouth
murti with nectar comprising of dahee(curds),milk,ghee(cow's
butter),honey and sugar.
Devi pooja only
scented water or perfume
Shud Jal Snaan
murti with purified water
same as above
Offering of the
Devi pooja only
Sutra or jewels
coloured with Kum Kum
Mala or Pushpam
garlands of flowers or just flowers
Durva or Doob
The offering of
The offering of
Kajal,Haldee,sindoor and Kum Kum.This can be offered separately or all
The offering of
of Aartee or the waving of lights with a deeya(earthen lamp)or any
most acceptable to that particular Devta or a composition of honey,ghee
rinsing the mouth
with other spices for cleansing and scenting of the mouth
At the end, arati is performed. An intermediate puja includes the steps from madhu-parka to naivedya and is performed during fasts or birthdays of deities. A small puja involves the steps from gandha to naivedya and is performed everyday. All pujas end with arati.
The object of performing the puja in this manner is to treat the deity as one would a guest, with honour and respect. In temples, the deities are treated as kings.
Though the steps of worship are the same for all deities, there is some difference in the puja of each. For instance, the kind of flowers offered is different for each deity.
Presently, a puja might also involve japa or meditation. A very important part of any puja is the applying of tilaka and the distribution of prasada to devotees.
A worshipper is required to be pure of body and mind. The Puranas lay more stress on the quality of devotion and good behavior than on rigid puja procedures.
Puja originated as a substitute to homa and other Vedic sacrifices which could not be performed by women and Shudras and which required animal sacrifices. Due to Dravidian , Buddhist and Jain influences which preached non-violence, the killing or sacrifice of animals was discontinued and with the development of iconography, idol worship and puja took the place of sacrifice. It was also recognized that worship was essential for all, whatever the gender or caste (see Varna) and therefore puja was formalised as a universal option instead of the exclusive homa.
All religions teach that prayers rituals are very important to get devotion to God. The religions or lands may vary but this belief of importance of prayers is stressed in all faiths. Our ancestors have given us the gift of the rules of community worship in a Temple for the welfare of the people of the community as a whole and the prosperity of the world. They have given us the rules of prayers at home as essential for the welfare of the individuals and their family. The basic and essential principle behind the prayer is the total surrender to God who fills the universe by His glory and is present everywhere and that without His command even an atom will not move.
The rules of prayer services in a Hindu Temple is given in the three Agamas and Upa-agamas. There are 28 Siva Agamas and several upa-agamas. Vaishnava Agamas are 5, including Pancharathram and Vaikanasam and have 108 Paththadhis. We do not need to study these Agamas to perform prayer [Pooja] at home. It is enough to accept the fact in a pure heart and mind, as given to us by our ancestors that God is present everywhere in every form and He will accept every kind of our prayers. Our Puranas explain in many stories that God accepts and blesses everyone who prays, not only humans but also animals and birds.
As an example, there is a story in Mahabharatha. Arjuna was performing regularly pooja for Athma lingam, but his brother were not doing the same. He felt very proud of his devotional worship to God. As Sri Krishna wanted to control his ego, took him to Mount Kailash, the abode of Shiva. The Arjuna saw large number of baskets of flowers being carried by the Boothaganas. When Arjuna asked Sri Krishna about it, He asked Arjuna to check himself with those carrying the flowers. He stopped one of them asked about it. He got the reply that one of the Pancha Pandavas named Bheema who has been offering these flowers in a pure heart to the lord which they are carrying. Arjuna asked Sri Krishna that if the pure heart flowers of Bheema who does not ever sit down to worship is this much, how much will it be for his own Athmalinga pooja which is performed every day. Sri Krishna asked the Bhoothagana to show Arjuna his portion of the flowers offered. They showed a small mound of flowers lying in one corner. Arjuna asked Sri Krishna to explain this disparity. Sri Krishna explained that, Bheema is thinking of God at all times and whenever he sees a flower garden, he mentally offers all the flowers to Siva as his offering and so it reaches Siva the very next moment. Thus, Sri Krishna explains the Inner self pooja called antharyagam.
It is not necessary to learn all the rules and sasthras of an eloborate pooja before performing one. As an example, an illiterate hunter, Sri Kannappa Nayanar saw the Divine after three days of prayer. A young boy Nambiyandar Nambi, while his priest father had gone out of town performed pooja in his place at the Temple and had the Darsan of God on the same day. By understanding these puranas, we should always allot few minutes of time to perform pooja without any fear that God may punish us if we do the pooja improperly. However, it is always good to learn proper methods to perform the pooja, even a simple and short one, just like any science or art.
Puranas say that in Kali Yuga, Prabaththi path is the important way. In Samskrit, prabaththi is explained as Pooja. We have puranas which explain how an elephant prayer "Aathimoolam" -- with a flower was saved and the hunter who was saved from a tiger on Sivarathri day by reaching a Bilva tree. These tell us that pooja and prayer to God is essential.
Performing pooja everyday at least for a few minutes leads one to develop inner purity and peace. One can perform this pooja in a short way or in an elaborate way. This is called "Anmaartha Pooja" in the Vedas. One method is to get religious order [Samayadheeksha] from a learned Guru to perform pooja for Sivalinga or Salagrama elaborately according to Sasthras. Another simpler method is to perform pooja for a Moorthy as a picture or to a Deepa as lamp. Both the above method are of equal value.
In almost every Indian home a lamp is lit daily before the altar of the Lord. In some houses it is lit at dawn, in some, twice a day at dawn and dusk- and in a few it is maintained continuously (akhanda deepa). All auspicious functions and moments like daily worship, rituals and festivals and even many social occasions like inaugurations commence with the lighting of the lamp, which is often maintained right through the occasion.
Light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness ignorance. The Lord is the "Knowledge Principle" (Chaitanya) who is the source, the enlivener and the illuminator of all knowledge. Hence light is worshiped as the Lord Himself.
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Why do we use the Diya in Pooja?
One of the important form of worship is prayer to a lamp, to the flame or Jyothi, instead of a Vigraha or a picture, worshipping it as a form of the Deity of their choice [Ishta Devatha]. As we believe, God as Nirguna Brahman, comes to take the forms of various Avatharas as Saguna Brahman and also manifests Himself in the phenomenal Universe as its five elements -"Pancha Bootham." Vedas say that God exists in the five elements. Aagama Sasthra and Bhootha Suddhi Manthra say that God manifests in Sky [Space] as Sound, in Air as Sound and Sense of Touch, in Fire as Sound, Sense and Shape of things, in Water as Sound, Sense, Shape and Taste of objects, in Earth as Sound, Sense, Shape, Taste and Smell. "Thvam, Bhoomi, Aapo, Anilo, Analo Napaha" a verse from Ganapathy Adharva Sheerisha Upanishad, which means that God is in Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky. Hence, people worship the Lord as the various elements and receive the Divine blessings. As light or fire, the Deepa Jyothi represent one of the five elements as a manifestation of God.
Many people perform prayer rituals to the lamp, "Deepa Jyothi" as an alternative to the traditional Vigraha worship of the devotional path. There is a practice of offering prayers to Sri Ganesha, Durga, Devi, Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Ayyappan and many other forms of Deities in the form of Jyothi in a Deepa pooja. Most often Deepa Pooja is performed by Devotees not initiated in proper Vigraha Pooja, either alone or in groups at home or in a temple. Traditionally, women do not take up or get initiated into the pooja for Siva Linga or Sakthi Yanthra and Deepa Pooja is the most important alternative for them. Most men also have not had proper training in prayer methods or received the proper initiation of offering the necessary prayers to their Ishta Devatha according to the rules of Agama. Many of them are very religious and want to get the benefits for prayers. It is widely believed that God accepts the prayers through this Deepa Pooja very easily and very soon. There are no major restrictions or rules of the doctrine of Adhikara for this deepa pooja. The Deepa Pooja can be performed every evening. Those women who are unable to perform pooja with lamps every evening, may try to do it once a week, preferably on Friday evenings.
The different forms of showing respect are :
|Why do we wear marks on the forehead?|
Most religious Indians, especially married women wear a tilak or pottu on the forehead. It is applied daily after the bath and on special occasions, before or after ritualistic worship or visit to the temple. In many communities, it is enjoined upon married women to sport a kum kum on their foreheads at all times. The orthodox put it on with due rituals. The tilak is applied on saints and images of the Lord as a form of worship and in many parts of North India as a respectful form of welcome, to honour guests or when bidding farewell to a son or husband about to embark on an journey. The tilak varies in colour and form.
This custom was not prevelant in the Vedic period. it gained popularity in the Pauranic period. Some belive that it originated in South India.
The tilak or pottu invokes a feeling of sanctity in the wearer and others. It is recognised as a religious mark. It form and colour vary according to one's caste, religious sect or the form of the Lord worshiped.
In earlier times, the four castes (based on verna or color) - Braahmana,Kshatriya,Vaishya and Sudra - applied marks differently. The brahmin applied a white chandan (sandalwood paste) mark signifying purity as his profession was of a priestly or ecademic nature. The Kshatriya applied a red kum kum mark signifying valour as he belonged to the warrior races. The Vaishya wore yellow kesar or termeric mark signifying properity as he was a business man or trader devotted to creation of wealth. The sudra applied a black bhasma, kasturi or charcoal mark signifying service as he support the work of the other three divisions. Also Lord Vishnu worshipers apply a chandan tilak of the shape of "U", Lord Shiva worshipers applied a tripundra bhasma, Devi worshippers applied red dot of kum kum.
The chandan, kum kum or bhasma which is offered to the Lord is taken back as prasad and applied on foreheads. The tilak covers the spot between the eye brows, which the seat of memory and thinking. It is known as the aajna chakra in the language of yoga. The tilak is applied with the prayer - "May i remember the Lord. May this pious feeling pervade all my activities. May I be righteous in my deeds". Even when we temporarily forget this prayerful attitude the mark on another reminds us of our resolve. The tilak is thus a blessing of the Lord and protection against wrong tendencies and forces.
The entire body emanates energy in the form of electro-magnetic waves - the forehead and the subtle spot between the eye brows especially so. That is why worry generates heat and causes a headache. The tilak or pottu cools the forehead, protects us and prevents energy loss. Sometimes, the entire forehead is covered with chandan or bhasma. Using plastic reusable 'stick bindis' is not very beneficial, even though it serves the purpose of decoration.
This unique to Indians and helps to easily identify us anywhere.
|Why do we not touch papers, books and people with the feet?|
In Indian homes, we are taught from a very young age, never to touh papers, books and people with our feet. Of the feet accidentally touch papers, books, musical instruments or any other educational equiment, children are told to reverentially touch waht was stamped with their hands and then touch their eyes as a mark of apology.
To Indians, knowledge is sacred and divine. So it must be given respect at all times. Nowadays we separate subjects as sacred and secular. But in ancient India every subject - academic or spiritual was considered divine and taught by the guru in the gurukul.
The custom of not stepping on educational tools is a frequent reminder of the high position accorded to knowledge in the Indian culture. From an early age this wisdom fosters in us a deep reverence for books and education. This is also the reason why we worship books, vehicles and instruments once a year on Saraswathi Pooja or Ayudha Pooja day, dedicated to the Goddess of Learning.
Children are also strongly discouraged from touching people with their feet. Even if this happens accidentally, we touch the person and bring the fingers to our eyes as a mark of apology. Even when elders tuouch a younger person inadvertently with thier feet, they immediately apologize.
To touch another person with feet is considered an act of misdemeanor because : man is regarded as the most beautiful, living, breathing temple of the lord! Therefor touching another person with feet is akin to disrespecting the divinity within him or her. This calls for an immediate apology, which is offered with reverence and humility
Thus, many of our customs are designed to be simple but powerful reminders or pointers of profound philosophical truths. This is one of the factors that hs kept indian culture alive across centuries.
|Why do we apply holy ash?|
The ash of any burnt object is not regarded as holy ash. Bhasma (the holy ash) is the ash from the homa (sacrificial fire) where special wood along with ghee and other herbs is offered by pouring ash as abhisheka and is then dirtributed as Bhasma
Bhasma is generally applied on the forehead. Some apply it on certian parts of the body, like the upper arms, chest etc. Some ascetics rub it all over the body. Many consume a pinch of it each time they receive it.
The word Bhasma means "that by which our sins are destroyed and the Lord is remembered". Bha implies bhartsanam ("to destroy") and sma implies smaranam ("to remember"). The application of Bhasma therefore signifies destruction of the evil and remembrance of the divine. Bhasma is called vibhuti (which means "glory") as it gives glory to one who applies and raksha (which means a source of protection) as it protects the wearer from ill health and evil, by purifying him or her.
Homa (offering of oblations into the fire with sacred mantras) signifies the offering or surrender of the ego and egocentric desires into the flame of knowledge or a noble and selfless cause. The consequent ash signifies the purity of the mind which results from such actions. Also the fire of knowledge burns the oblation and wood signifying ignorance and inertia respectively. The ash we apply indicates that we should burn false identification with body and become free of the limitations of birth and death.
The application of ash also reminds us that body is perishable and shallone day be reduced to ashes. We should therefore not get too attached to it. Death can come at any moment and this awareness must increase our drive to make the best use of time. This is not to be misconstructed as a morose reminder of death but as a powerful pointer towards the fact that time and tide wait for none.
Bhasma is specially associated with Lord Shiva who applies it all over his body. lord Shiva devotees apply bhasma as a tripiundra. When applied with a red spot in the centre, the mark symbolizes Shiva-Shakti (the unity of energy and matter that creates the entire seen and un-seen universe)
Ash is whta remains when all the wood is burnt away and it does not decay. Similarly, the Lord is the imperishable Truth that remains when the entire creation if innumerable names and forms is dissolved.
Bhasma has medicinal value and is used in many ayurvedic medicines. It absorbs excess moisture from the body and prevents colds and headches. The Upanishads say that the famous Mrityunjaya mantra should be chanted while applying ash on the forehead.
|Why do we do pradakshina|
|Why do we offer food to the Lord before eating it?|
In western tradition food is partaken after a thanks giving prayer - grace. Indians make an offering of it to the Lord and later partake of it as prasad - a holy gift from the Lord. in temples nd in many homes, the cooked food is first offered to the Lord each day. The offered food is mixed with the rest of the food and then served as prasad. In our daily ritualistic worship (pooja) too we offer naivedyam (food to the Lord)
This is done because : The Lord is omnipotent and omniscient. Man is a part, while the Lord is the totality. All that we do is by his strength and knowledge alone. Hence what we receive in life as a result of our actions is really his alone. We acknowledge this thru the act of offering food to him. This is exemplified by the Hindi words "Tera tujko arpan from the aarti "Jai Jagdesh Hare" - I offer what is yours to you. Thereafter it is akin to his gift to us, graced by his divine touch.
Knowing this, our entire attitude to food and the act of eating changes. The food offered will naturally be pure and the best. We share what we get with others before comsuming it. We do not demand, complain or criticise the quality of the food we get. We do not waste or reject it. We eat it with cheerful acceptance (prasad buddhi). When we become established in this attitude, this goes beyond the pre-view of food and prevades our entire life. We are then able to cheerfully accept all we get in life as his prasad.
Before we partake daily meals we first sprinkle water around the plate as an act of purification. Five morsels of food are placed on the side of the table acknowledging the debt owed by us to the :
There after the Lord, the life force, who is also within us as the five life - giving physiological functions, is offered the food. The five life-giving functions are praanaaya (respiratory), apaanaaya (extretory), vyaanaaya (circulatory), udaanaaya (reversal) and samaanaaya (digestive). After offering the food thus, it is eaten as prasad - blessed food.
|Why do we regard trees and plants as sacred?|
|Why do we ring the bell in the temple?|
|Why do we worship the kalash?|
|Why do we consider the lotus as special?|
Shaanti, meaning 'peace', is a natural state of being. Disturbances are created either by others or us. For example, peace already exists in a place until someone male noise. Therefore, peace underlies all our agitations. When agitations end, peace is naturally experienced since it is already there. Where there is peace, there is happiness. Therefore, everyone without exception desires peace in his/her life. However, peace within or without seems very hard to attain because it is covered by our own agitations. A rare few manage to remain peaceful within even in the midst of external agitation and troubles. To invoke peace, we chant prayers. By chanting prayers, troubles end and peace is experienced internally, irrespective of the external disturbances. All such prayers end by the chanting shaanti thrice.
It is believed that trivaram satyam - that which is said thrice comes true. For emphasizing a point we repeat a thing thrice. In the court of law also, on who takes the witness stand says, "I shall speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth". We chant shaanti thrice to emphasize our intense desire for peace.
All obstacles, problems and sorrows originate three sources:
We sincerely pray to the Lord that at least while we undertake special tasks or even in our daily lives, there are no problems or that, problems are minimized from the three sources written about above. May peace alone prevail. Hence shaanti is chanted thrice.
It is chanted aloud the first time, addressing the unseen forces. It is chanted softer the second time, directed to our immediate surroundings and those around, and softest the last time as it is addressed to oneself.
In India one of the most common offerings in a temple is a coconut, it is also offered on occasions like weddings, festivals, the use of a new vehicle, bridge, house etc. a pot (kalash) full of water adorned with mango leaves and a coconut on top is worshiped on important occasions and used to receive revered guests.
It is offered in the sacrificial fire while performing hom. The coconut is broken and placed before the Lord. It is later distributed as prasad. It is offered to please the Lord or to fulfill our desires.
There was a time when animal sacrifice (bali) was practiced, symbolizing the offering of our animalistic tendencies to the Lord. Slowly this practice faded and the coconut was offered instead. The fibre covering of the fried coconut is removed except for the tuft on the top. The marks on the coconut make it look like the head of a human being. The coconut is broken, symbolizing the breaking of the ego. The juice within representing the inner tendencies (vaasanas) if offered along with the white kernel - the mind, to the Lord. A mind thus purified by the touch of the Lord is used as prasad (a holy offering).
In the traditional, abhishekh ritual done in all temples and many homes, several materials are poured over the deity like milk, curd, honey, tender coconut water, sandal paste, holy ash etc. Each material has a specific significance of bestowing certain benefits on worshippers. Tender coconut water is used since it is believed to bestow spiritual growth on the seeker.
The coconut also symbolizes selfless service. Every part of the coconut tree - the truck, leaves, fruit, coir etc. is used in innumerable ways like thatches, mats, tasty dishes, oil etc. It takes in salty water and converts it into sweet nutritive water that is especially beneficial to the sick people. It is also used in the preparation of many ayurvedic medicines and applications.
The marks on the coconut are even thought to represent the three-eyed Lord Shiva and therefore it is considered to be a means to fulfill our desires.
Om is one of the most chanted sound symbols in Hinduism. It has a profound effect on the body and mind of the one who chants and also on the surroundings. Most mantras and Vedic prayers start with Om. All auspicious actions begin with Om. It is even used as a greeting - Om, Hari Om etc. it is repeated as a mantra or meditated upon. Its form is worshipped, contemplated upon or used as an auspicious sign.
Om is the universal name of the Lord. The sound emerging from the vocal chords starts from the base of the throat as 'A' with the coming together of the lips, 'U' is formed and when the lips are closed, all sound ends with 'M'. The three letters symbolize the three states (waking, dream and deep sleep) the three Lords (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), the three Vedas (Rig, Yajur and Sama) the three worlds (Bhuh, Bhuvah and Suvah) etc. The Lord is all these and beyond. The formless, attribute-less Lord is represented by the silence between two Om chants. Om is also called pranav that means "that (symbol or sound) by which the Lord is praised". The entire essence of the Vedas is enshrined in the word Om.
It is said that the Lord started creating the world after chanting Om and atha. Hence it sound is considered to create an auspicious beginning for any task that we undertake.
The Om chant should have the resounding sound of a bell. It fills the mind with peace, makes it focused and replete with subtle sound. People mediate on its meaning and attain realization.
Om is written in different ways in different places. The most common form is displayed above and on our home page, symbolizes Lord Ganesh.
Thus Om symbolizes everything - the means and the goal of life, the world and the Truth behind it, the material and the sacred, all forms and the formless.
Towards the end of every ritualistic worship (pooja or bhajan) of the Lord or to welcome an honoured guest or saint, we perform the aarti. This is always accompanied by the ringing of the bell and sometimes by singing, playing of musical instruments and clapping.
It is one of the sixteen steps (shodasha upachaara) of the pooja ritual. It is referred to as the auspicious light (mangala niraajanam). Holding the lighted lamp in the right hand, we wave the flame in clockwise direction to light the entire form of the Lord. Each part is revealed individually and also the entire form of the Lord. As the light is moved we either do mental or loud chanting of prayers or simply behold the beautiful form of the Lord, illuminated by the lamp. We experience an added intensity in our prayers and the Lord's image seems to manifest a special beauty at that time. At the end of the aarti we place our hands over the flame and then gently touch our eyes and the top of the head.
We have seen and participated in this ritual from our childhood. Let us find Why we do the aarti?
Having worshiped the Lord with love - performing abhishekh, decorating the image and offering fruits and delicacies, we see the beauty of the Lord in all His glory. Our minds are focused on each limn of the Lord as it is lit up by the lamp. It is akinto silent open-eyed meditation on His beauty. The singing, clapping ringing of the bell etc. denotes the joy and auspiciousness, which accompanies the vision of the Lord.
Aarti is often performed with camphor. This holds a telling spiritual significance. Camphor when lit burns itself out completely without leaving a trace of it. Camphor represents our inherent tendencies (vaasanas).when lit by the fire of knowledge which illuminates the Lord (truth), our vaasanas thereafter burn themselves out completely, not leaving a trace of the ego which creates in us a sense of individuality that keeps us separate from the Lord. Also while camphor burns to reveal the glory of the Lord it emits a pleasant smell even while it sacrifices itself. In our spiritual progress, even as we serve the guru and society, we should willingly sacrifice ourselves and all we have, to spread the perfume of love to all.
We often wait a long while to see the illumined Lord but when the aarti is actually performed, our eyes close automatically as if to look within. This is to signify that each of us is the temple of the Lord - we hold the divinity within. Just as the priest reveals the form of the Lord clearly with the aarti flame, so too the guru clearly reveals to us the divinity within each of us with help of the 'flame' of knowledge. At the end of the aarti, we place our hands over the flame and then touch our eyes and top of the head. It means - may the light that illuminated the Lord light up my vision, may my vision be divine and my thoughts noble and beautiful.
The philosophical meaning of aarti extends further. The sun, moon, stars, lighting and fire are the natural sources of light. The Lord is the source of all these wondrous phenomena of the universe. It is due to Him alone that else exist and shine. As we turn our attention to the very source of all light which symbolizes knowledge and life.
Also the sun is the presiding deity of the intellect, the moon that of the mind, and fire, that of speech. The Lord is the supreme consciousness that illumines all of them. Without Him the intellect cannot think, nor can the mind feel nor the tongue speak. The Lord is beyond the mind, intellect and speech.
Another explanation is the most important ritual and is performed during almost all ceremonies and occasions. It involves the waving of an 'Arati plate' around a person or idol and is generally accompanied by the singing of songs in praise of that deity or person.
The arati plate is generally made of metal. On it must repose a
lamp made of kneaded flour, mud or metal, filled with oil or ghee. A
cotton wick is put into the oil and then lighted, or camphor is
burnt instead. The plate also contains flowers, incense and akshata.
The purpose of performing arati is to ward off evil effects and the malefic influence of the 'evil eye' (see Nazar Utarna). Arati is hence performed on people of high social or economic status; small children during various ceremonies; on people who are going on or are coming back from a long journey; on a bride and bridegroom when they enter their house for the first time; on grain (if one has had a good harvest); on animals or anything else of importance. It is also performed on newly acquired property, like a house or a tractor.
It is believed that the idol of a deity too is susceptible to the evil eye, and needs regular arati, with the singing of special arati songs. These songs laud the glory of the deities and describe the benefits that one might gain by praying to them.
While arati is being performed, the officiating priest waves the arati plate over the image of the deity. In doing so, the plate itself is said to acquire the radiance and the power of the deity.
The priest then takes the plate around to all those present as prasada. Arati The devotees cup their downturned hands over the flame and then raise their palms to their forehead. By doing this, it is believed that the purificatory blessing, passed from the deity's image to the flame, has now been passed to the devotee.
The ridding of the effects of the evil eye' is a very popular practice. It is commonly believed that all kinds of illnesses, pains, epileptic fits and handicaps are caused by the 'evil eye', or because one is possessed by an evil spirit Bhuta, Preta, Pishacha. Unless this is nullified, the effects are said to stay. In such cases, no medication is believed to help the patient, therefore other 'remedies' have developed.
A person is said to possess the evil eye if whatever he or she looks upon is harmed. A person with an evil eye need not necessarily be wicked; usually the effect of the evil eye is unintentional. Such people do not have any distinguishing physical feature to set them apart from the rest. However, one or two 'incriminating' incidents from everyday life may doom a person to the detested category of those with the 'eye'. All those believed to be witches, wizards, and beggars are so castigated. If these people look upon any desirable object, it is believed to get ruined.
If a person falls under an evil spell, there are many ways through which it can be broken. Waving a whole chilli over the person and throwing it in fire is another way. If the smoke smells of the chilli, the illness is not attributed to the evil eye or nazar. However, if the smoke does not smell of chillies, it is believed that the person was afflicted by the evil eye, whose spell has now been broken.
Nazar utarna of a more elaborate kind is performed by astrologers or professionals who do it with the help of secret and mystic rites. At times, a lemon with four or five chillies tied together, or a piece of stale unleavened bread (roti) are used for the purpose. With the help of mantras, the effects of the evil eye are. They are then either thrown away or left at a crossroad. Therefore, most people are very particular about avoiding these objects when they spot them lying at a crossroad, for fear of catching the eye if they step over them. At times these chillies are also hung on the front door to shield the house from the evil eye.
Good-looking children, young boys and girls, brides and grooms, are considered most susceptible to the eye. Small children are generally made to wear special, protective charms and lockets. Eyeliner (see Kajal) is applied to their eyes and a small black dot (kala tika) to their foreheads. This is believed to mar their beauty and make them unappealing to the evil eye. Charms like bits of pottery from a burial ground, the dried foot of a tortoise, the tooth of a crocodile, a bristle from the tail of an elephant, a tiger's claw, or a talisman with magic mantras inscribed on it are all popular. S
Nazar Utarnaas a pre-emptive measure against nazar. When a north Indian bridegroom leaves for his bride's house, his face is always covered with a screen of flowers, as a camouflage against the evil eye. When he arrives at the bride's house, the mother of the bride performs a ritual for the groom aarti to nullify the effects of any nazar acquired on the way. So too, a bride's mother-in-law performs the same ritual for her when she first enters her in-laws' house.
Nazar is also said to affect healthy domestic animals, trees in blossom, a good harvest or fine houses. Stone slabs inscribed and engraved with letters, characters and figures are often set up at the village boundary to safeguard the inhabitants and their cattle and crops against sickness, epidemic and disease caused by nazar. To protect their homes from the eye, women often draw mystical designs on the threshold. Black mud pots with fierce faces drawn on them are also hung on the door of It is believed that if the malefic effect of the first look is neutralized, subsequent glances will have no effect. All these devices are believed to catch the effect of the evil eye before it affects the crops, the building, or the beings they protect. It is believed that only the first look is deadly, and once its effect is neutralized, subsequent glances will have no effect. Dhrishtamani (eye beads) are used as an indicator of the evil eye. These beads are strung together and worn by children. It is believed that if the child falls under an evil spell, the necklace breaks or the beads change colour. Rudraksha beads are also used as charms, either strung into a necklace or tied on a thread and worn on the body.
A bhuta is the spirit of a man who died a violent death either by accident, suicide, or capital punishment, and has not had a proper funeral ceremony.
A preta (literally departed, deceased, dead) is the spirit of a dead person before his funeral rites are performed. However the word is more commonly applied to the spirit of a deformed or a crippled person or of one defective in some limb or organ, or of a child that dies prematurely, owing to the omission of ceremonies during the formation of the embryo. A preta is not necessarily wicked or malicious towards people.
A pishacha is a demon created by a man's vices. It is the ghost of a liar, drunkard, adulterer, criminal, or of one who has died insane. There are many tales and fables about these spirits, describing some as malevolent and others as good-natured and helpful. Spirits are believed to live either at the site of their death or in secluded places. Abandoned homes and trees are two favorite spots.
The Hindus also believe that if a person goes too close to a spirit, or if the services of a professional are employed, these spirits can enter human bodies. The spirit could enter through any of the nine orifices of the body. A possessed person is said to fall sick, die, be unhappy, lose his wealth, or behave oddly.
In such cases an ojha (exorcist), through mystic rites, tries to 'talk' to the spirit inside and asks it to leave. If he knows the identity of the spirit, he asks its family members to perform certain ceremonies to pacify the spirit. This system is still prevalent in some of the parts of India. Diseases and other upheavals are sometimes attributed to the fact that a deceased family member's funeral rites have not been properly performed. To correct this, a tirthayatra is undertaken, and proper shradha is performed.
Sometimes, especially during ceremonies, a person is believed to become possessed by the spirit of a deceased family member who is either angry about something, or has come to take part in the festivities. A puja is performed to this spirit. Meanwhile the spirit is believed to be able to predict natural calamities, births and deaths through the possessed person.
Hindus wear talismans, lockets, bangles, and other adornments that are believed to have the power to protect from the gaze of spirits. The recitation of certain mantras is believed to have a similar effect.
The word ‘prasad’ means that which gives peace. During any form of worship, ritual or ceremony, Hindus offer some items of food to the Lord. Puja is done with Bael leaves, flowers, Tulasi (Basil plant), Vibhuti and these are given as Prasada from the Lord.
Prasada is that which gives peace. Prasada is the sacred food offering of the Lord. During Kirtans (Singing hymns), worship, Puja, Havan and Arati, the devotee offers sweet rice, fruits, jaggery, milk, coconut, plantain and such other articles to the Lord, according to his ability. After offering them to the Lord, they are shared between the members of the house or the Bhaktas (devotees) in a temple.
Water, flowers, rice, etc., are offered to the Lord in worship. This denotes that the Lord is pleased with even the smallest offering. What is wanted is the heart of the devotee. The Lord says in the Gita :
"Patram Pushpam Phalam Toyam Yo Me Bhaktya
Tadaham Bhaktyupahritamasanami Prayatatmanah" – Whoever offers a leaf, a flower, a fruit or even water with devotion, that I accept, offered as it is with a loving heart".
It is not necessary that one should offer gold, silver and costly dress to the Lord. The devotee offers these according to his ability and position in life, thereby denoting that the whole wealth of the world belongs to the Lord. A rich man offers costly things to the Lord. He feeds the poor and serves the sick, seeing the Lord in his fellow-beings.
The mental Bhava (attitude) of the devotee offering Bhog to the Lord has very great effect. If an ardent devotee of the Lord offers anything to the Lord, that Prasada, if taken, would bring very great change even in the minds of atheists. The Grace of the Lord descends through Prasada. Go through the life of Narada. You will realise the greatness of the sacred leavings of the Lord as well as those of advanced Sadhakas and saints.
Namadeva offered rice etc., to Panduranga Vitthala and He ate the food and shared it with Namadeva as well. If the food is offered with an yearning heart, sometimes, the Lord takes that food assuming a physical form. In other cases, the Lord enjoys the subtle essence of the food offered, and the food remains as it is in the shape of Prasada. While feeding Mahatmas and the poor people, that which is left behind is taken as Prasada. When a sacrifice is performed, the participants share the Prasada which bestows the blessings of the gods. When Dasaratha performed Putrakameshti (a sacrifice performed wishing for a son), he got a vessel full of sweetened rice that he gave to his queens, by taking which they became pregnant.
A special form of prasad is the Charanamrit, which is the water or milk used to wash the feet of the idol, or of a holy saint. The Charanamrit has tremendous powers. It can change the outlook of a devotee entirely. It has the power to cure diseases. There are cases where it brought back life to the dead. Charanamrit is a tonic or medicine for misery, pain and anxiety. Intense faith is the all-important necessity for taking it. Without faith it brings very little benefit. The benefits of Prasada and Charanamrita are beyond description. They have the power to change entirely the outlook of a man’s life. There have been ever so many instances in the past in this holy land of ours (India) which bears witness to the potency and efficacy of Prasada. Prasada destroys all pains and sins. It is an antidote for misery, pain and anxiety. Faith is the important factor in testing the accuracy of this statement. For faithless persons, it brings very little effect.
Those who are brought up in modern education and culture have forgotten all about the glory of Prasada. Many Western educated persons do not attach any importance to Prasada when they get it from Mahatmas. This is a serious mistake. Prasada is a great purifier. As they are brought up in the Western style of living, they have imbibed the spirit of Westerners and forgotten the spirit of true children of Indian Rishis of yore. Live for a week in Vrindavana or Ayodhya or Varanasi or Pandharpur. You will realise the glory and the miraculous effects of Prasada. Many incurable diseases are cured. Many sincere aspirants get wonderful spiritual experiences from mere Prasada alone. Prasada is a panacea. Prasada is a spiritual elixir. Prasada is the Grace of the Lord. Prasada is a cure-all and an ideal pick-me-up. Prasada is an embodiment of Sakti. Prasada is Divinity in manifestation. Prasada energises, vivifies, invigorates and infuses devotion. It should be taken with great faith.
The prasad of the Lord is very sacred and purifying. If it is taken with faith and devotion, it brings miraculous results to the devotee.
The Lord enjoys the subtle essence of the food offered. The food is then eaten as prasad by the devotees.
While feeding Mahatmas, Sannyasins and the poor, that which is left over is also taken as prasad, because in feeding them, we feel that we are feeding God Himself.
When a ceremony is performed all the devotees
should share the prasad and thus receive the blessings of the
Deities. Prasad is extremely sacred. There is no restriction of any
kind in taking prasad. Time, place or condition does not affect one.
Prasad is all purifying.. Prasada is the most sacred object for a
devotee. One should consider himself lucky to take the Prasada, and
there is no restriction of any kind in taking Prasada. Prasada is
Abhisheka is a part of the worship of Lord Siva. Without it, the worship is incomplete. It is the ceremonial bathing of the Siva Lingam in Siva temples.
A pot made of copper or brass, with a tiny hole in the centre, is kept hanging over the image or Lingam of Siva. The water drips (falls) on the image throughout the day and night. Pouring water, milk, ghee (clarified butter), curd, honey or coconut water over the Lingam is also Abhisheka. Whilst this is done, the Rudram is chanted loudly with devotion and love. Lord Siva is invoked by performing this Abhisheka.
Monday is a very important day for worshipping Lord Siva. The thirteenth day (Pradosha) of the bright and dark fortnights is also considered sacred. On these days, devotees of Lord Siva offer special worship with plenty of prasad.
The water of the Abhisheka is considered very sacred. It is known to grant great benefits on the devotees who take it as the Lord’s prasad. It purifies the heart and destroys countless sins. You should take it with intense faith and devotion.
When you perform Abhisheka with devotion, your mind is concentrated. Your heart is filled with divine thoughts and with the image of the Lord. You forget your body and your surroundings. Egoism vanishes. When the body is forgotten, you begin to enjoy and taste the eternal bliss of Lord Siva. The recitation of Mantras during the Abhisheka purifies the mind.
The greatest and the highest Abhisheka is to pour the waters of pure love on the Lingam in the lotus of the heart. The external Abhisheka with objects is intended to lead to this internal Abhisheka, wherein there is a flow of pure love.
The sacred prasad of the Lord and the holy water of the Abhisheka purify the heart if taken with faith and devotion. They can bring peace and prosperity.
Incurable diseases are cured by performing Abhisheka. It bestows health, wealth, prosperity, peace of mind and purity of heart. It expands the heart. It calls for self-sacrifice and self-surrender. There must be a natural feeling in the heart. "I am Thine, my Lord. All is Thine, my Lord."