Monday, June 11, 2007

Hindu Rituals & significance

This was not composed by me

1. Why do we light a lamp?

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 ¡V at dawn and
dusk ¡V and in a few it is maintained continuously (akhanda deepa). All
auspicious functions 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.

Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness. Also knowledge
is a lasting inner wealth by which all outer achievement can be
accomplished. Hence we light the lamp to bow down to knowledge as the
greatest of all forms of wealth

Why not light a bulb or tube light? That too would remove darkness. But the
traditional oil lamp has a further spiritual significance. The oil or ghee
in the lamp symbolizes our vaasanas or negative tendencies and the wick,
the ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge, the vaasanas get slowly exhausted
and the ego too finally perishes. The flame of a lamp always burns upwards.
Similarly we should acquire such knowledge as to take us towards higher

Whilst lighting the lamp we thus pray:

Deepajyothi parabrahma

Deepa sarva tamopahaha

Deepena saadhyate saram

Sandhyaa deepo namostute

I prostrate to the dawn/dusk lamp; whose light is the Knowledge Principle
(the Supreme Lord), which removes the darkness of ignorance and by which
all can be achieved in life.

2. Why do we have a prayer room?

Most Indian homes have a prayer room or altar. A lamp is lit and the Lord
worshipped each day. Other spiritual practices like japa (repetition of
the Lord's name), meditation, paaraayana (reading of the scriptures),
prayers, and devotional singing etc is also done here. Special worship is
done on auspicious occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, festivals and
the like. Each member of the family ¡V young or old ¡V communes with and
worships the Divine here.

The Lord is the entire creation. He is therefore the true owner of the
house we live in too. The prayer room is the Master room of the house. We
are the earthly occupants of His property. This notion rids us of false
pride and possessiveness.

The ideal attitude to take is to regard the Lord as the true owner of our
homes and us as caretakers of His home. But if that is rather difficult, we
could at least think of Him as a very welcome guest. Just as we would house
an important guest in the best comfort, so too we felicitate the Lord's
presence in our homes by having a prayer room or altar, which is, at all
times, kept clean and well-decorated.

Also the Lord is all pervading. To remind us that He resides in our homes
with us, we have prayer rooms. Without the grace of the Lord, no task can
be successfully or easily accomplished. We invoke His grace by communing
with Him in the prayer room each day and on special occasions.

Each room in a house is dedicated to a specific function like the bedroom
for resting, the drawing room to receive guests, the kitchen for cooking
etc. The furniture, decor and the atmosphere of each room are made
conducive to the purpose it serves. So too for the purpose of meditation,
worship and prayer, we should have a conducive atmosphere ¡V hence the need
for a prayer room.

Sacred thoughts and sound vibrations pervade the place and influence the
minds of those who spend time there. Spiritual thoughts and vibrations
accumulated through regular meditation, worship and chanting done there
pervade the prayer room. Even when we are tired or agitated, by just
sitting in the prayer room for a while, we feel calm, rejuvenated and
spiritually uplifted.

3. Why do we do namaste?

Indians greet each other with namaste. The two palms are placed together in
front of the chest and the head bows whilst saying the word namaste. This
greeting is for all ¡V people younger than us, of our own age, those older
than friends, even strangers and us.

There are five forms of formal traditional greeting enjoined in the
shaastras of which namaskaram is one. This is understood as prostration but
it actually refers to paying homage as we do today when we greet each other
with a namaste.

Namastecould be just a casual or formal greeting, a cultural convention or
an act of worship. However there is much more to it than meets the eye. In
Sanskrit namah + te = namaste. It means ¡V I bow to you ¡V my greetings,
salutations or prostration to you. Namaha can also be literally interpreted
as " na ma" (not mine). It has a spiritual significance of negating or
reducing one's ego in the presence of another.

The real meeting between people is the meeting of their minds. When we
greet another, we do so with namaste, which means, "may our minds meet,"
indicated by the folded palms placed before the chest. The bowing down of
the head is a gracious form of extending friendship in love and humility.

The spiritual meaning is even deeper. The life force, the divinity, the
Self or the Lord in me is the same in all. Recognizing this oneness with
the meeting of the palms, we salute with head bowed the Divinity in the
person we meet. That is why sometimes, we close our eyes as we do namaste
to a revered person or the Lord ¡V as if to look within. The gesture is
often accompanied by words like "Ram Ram", "Jai Shri Krishna", "Namo
Narayana", "Jai Siya Ram", "Om Shanti" etc ¡V indicating the recognition of
this divinity.

When we know this significance, our greeting does not remain just a
superficial gesture or word but paves the way for a deeper communion with
another in an atmosphere of love and respect.

4. Why do we prostrate before parents and elders?

Indians prostrate before their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls by
touching their feet. The elder in turn blesses us by placing his or her
hand on or over our heads. Prostration is done daily, when we meet elders
and particularly on important occasions like the beginning of a new task,
birthdays, festivals etc. In certain traditional circles, prostration is
accompanied by abhivaadana, which serves to introduce one-self, announce
one's family and social stature.

Man stands on his feet. Touching the feet in prostration is a sign of
respect for the age, maturity, nobility and divinity that our elders
personify. It symbolizes our recognition of their selfless love for us and
the sacrifices they have done for our welfare. It is a way of humbly
acknowledging the greatness of another. This tradition reflects the strong
family ties, which has been one of India's enduring strengths.

The good wishes (Sankalpa ) and blessings (aashirvaada) of elders are
highly valued in India. We prostrate to seek them. Good thoughts create
positive vibrations. Good wishes springing from a heart full of love,
divinity and nobility have a tremendous strength. When we prostrate with
humility and respect, we invoke the good wishes and blessings of elders
which flow in the form of positive energy to envelop us. This is why the
posture assumed whether it is in the standing or prone position, enables
the entire body to receive the energy thus received.

The different forms of showing respect are :

Pratuthana¡V rising to welcome a person.

Namaskaara¡V paying homage in the form of namaste (discussed separately in
this book).

Upasangrahan¡V touching the feet of elders or teachers.

Shaashtaanga¡V prostrating fully with the feet, knees, stomach, chest,
forehead and arms touching the ground in front of the elder.

Pratyabivaadana ¡V returning a greeting.

Rules are prescribed in our scriptures as to who should prostrate to whom.
Wealth, family name, age, moral strength and spiritual knowledge in
ascending order of importance qualified men to receive respect. This is why
a king though the ruler of the land, would prostrate before a spiritual
master. Epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata have many stories
highlighting this aspect.

5. Why do we wear marks (tilak, pottu and the like) on the forehead?

The tilak or pottu invokes a feeling of sanctity in the wearer and others.
It is recognized as a religious mark. Its form and colour vary according to
one's caste, religious sect or the form of the Lord worshipped.

In earlier times, the four castes (based on varna or colour) ¡V Brahmana,
Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra ¡V applied marks differently. The brahmin
applied a white chandan mark signifying purity, as his profession was of a
priestly or academic nature. The kshatriya applied a red kumkum mark
signifying valour as he belonged to warrior races. The vaishya wore a
yellow kesar or turmeric mark signifying prosperity as he was a businessman
or trader devoted to creation of wealth. The sudra applied a black bhasma,
kasturi or charcoal mark signifying service as he supported the work of the
other three divisions.

Also Vishnu worshippers apply a chandan tilak of the shape of "U", Shiva
worshippers a tripundra (of the shape of "º ") of bhasma, Devi
worshippers a red dot of kumkum and so on).

The tilak cover the spot between the eyebrows, which is 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 ¡V "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 a
protection against wrong tendencies and forces.

The entire body emanates energy in the form of electromagnetic waves ¡V the
forehead and the subtle spot between the eyebrows especially so. That is
why worry generates heat and causes a headache. The tilak and 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

6. Why do we not touch papers, books and people with the feet?

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 ¡V academic or spiritual ¡V was considered
divine and taught by the guru in the gurukula.

The custom of not stepping on educational tools is a frequent reminder of
the high position accorded to knowledge in 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. In fact, each day before starting our studies, we pray:

Saraswati namasthubhyam
Varade kaama roopini
Vidyaarambham karishyaami
Sidhirbhavatu me sadaa

O Goddess Saraswati, the giver of
Boons and fulfiller of wishes,
I prostrate to You before
starting my studies.
May you always fulfill me?

6a. To touch another with the feet is considered an act of misdemeanor. Why
is this so?

Man is regarded as the most beautiful, living breathing temple of the Lord!
Therefore touching another with the feet is akin to disrespecting the
divinity within him or her. This calls for an immediate apology, which is
offered with reverence and humility.

7. Why do we apply the 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 as worship of the Lord. Or the deity
is worshipped by pouring ash as abhisheka and is then distributed as

Bhasma is generally applied on the forehead. Some apply it on certain 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 implied 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 it 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 chants) 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 the body and become free of the limitations of
birth and death. This is not to be misconstrued 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. Shiva devotes apply bhasma as a tripundra (the form of "ƒtƒßƒâƒÔƒÝƒ« ").
When applied with a red spot at the center, the mark symbolizes
Shiva-Shakti (the unity of energy and matter that creates the entire seen
and unseen universe).

Bhasma has medicinal value and is used in many ayurvedic medicines. It
absorbs excess moisture from the body and prevents colds and headaches. The
Upanishads say that the famous Mrityunjaya mantra should be chanted whilst
applying ash on the forehead.

Tryambakam yajaamahe
Sugandhim pushtivardhanam
Urvaa rukamiva bhandhanaan
Mrytyor muksheeyamaa amrutaat

"We worship the three-eyed Lord Shiva who nourishes and spread fragrance in
our lives. May He free us from the shackles of sorrow, change and death ¡V
effortlessly, like the fall of a rip brinjal from its stem."

8.Why do offer food to the Lord before eating it?

Indians make an offering of food to the Lord and later partake of it as
prasaada ¡V a holy gift from the Lord. In our daily ritualistic worship
(pooja) too we offer naivedyam (food) to the Lord.

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 through the act of offering food to Him. This is
exemplified by the Hindi words "tera tujko arpan"¡V I offer what is Yours
to You. Thereafter it is akin to His gift to us, graced by His divine

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 consuming it. We do not demand, complain or criticise
the quality of the food we get. We eat it with cheerful acceptance (
prasaada buddhi).

Before we partake of our 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 plate acknowledging the debt owed by us to the Divine forces (
devta runa) for their benign grace and protection, our ancestors (pitru
runa) for giving us their lineage and a family culture, the sages ( rishi
runa) as our religion and culture have been "realised", aintained and
handed down to us by them, our fellow beings ( manushya runa) who
constitute society without the support of which we could not live as we do
and other living beings ( bhuta runa) for serving us selflessly.

Thereafter the Lord, the life force, who is also within us as the five
life-giving physiological functions, is offered the food. This is done with
the chant

praanaaya swaahaa,
apaanaaya swaahaa,
vyaanaaya swaahaa,
udaanaaya swaahaa,
samaanaaya swaahaa,
brahmane swaahaa

After offering the food thus, it is eaten as prasaada ¡V blessed food.

9. Why do we fast?

Most devout Indians fast regularly or on special occasions like festivals.
On such days they do not eat at all, eat once or make do with fruits or a
special diet of simple food.

Fasting in Sanskrit is called upavaasa. Upa means "near" + vaasa means "to
stay". Upavaasa therefore means staying near (the Lord), meaning the
attainment of close mental proximity with the Lord. Then what has upavaasa
to do with food?

A lot of our time and energy is spent in procuring food items, preparing,
cooking, eating and digesting food. Certain food types make our minds dull
and agitated. Hence on certain days man decides to save time and conserve
his energy by eating either simple, light food or totally abstaining from
eating so that his mind becomes alert and pure. The mind, otherwise
pre-occupied by the thought of food, now entertains noble thoughts and
stays with the Lord. Since it is a self-imposed form of discipline it is
usually adhered to with joy.

Also every system needs a break and an overhaul to work at its best. Rest
and a change of diet during fasting is very good for the digestive system
and the entire body.

The more you indulge the senses, the more they make their demands. Fasting
helps us to cultivate control over our senses, sublimate our desires and
guide our minds to be poised and at peace.

Fasting should not make us weak, irritable or create an urge to indulge
later. This happens when there is no noble goal behind fasting.

The Bhagavad-Gita urges us to eat appropriately ¡V neither too less nor too
much ¡V yukta-aahaara and to eat simple, pure and healthy food (a saatvik
diet) even when not fasting.

10. Why do we do pradakshina (circumambulate)?

We cannot draw a circle without a center point. The Lord is the center,
source and essence of our lives. Recognizing Him as the focal point in our
lives, we go about doing our daily chores. This is the significance of

Also every point on the circumference of a circle is equidistant from the
center. This means that wherever or whoever we may be, we are equally close
to the Lord. His grace flows towards us without partiality.

11. Why is pradakshina done only in a clockwise manner?

??????????? The reason is not, as a person said, to avoid a traffic jam! As
we do pradakshina, the Lord is always on our right. In India the right
side symbolizes auspiciousness. So as we circumambulate the sanctum
sanctorum we remind ourselves to lead an auspicious life of righteousness,
with the Lord who is the indispensable source of help and strength, as our
guide ¡V the "right hand".

Indian scriptures enjoin ¡V matrudevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo
bhava. May you consider your parents and teachers as you would the Lord.
With this in mind we also do pradakshina around our parents and divine

After the completion of traditional worship (pooja), we customarily do
pradakshina around ourselves. In this way we recognize and remember the
supreme divinity within us, which alone is idolized in the form of the Lord
that we worship outside.

12. Why do we regard trees and plants as sacred?

The Lord, the life in us, pervades all living beings, be they plants or
animals. Hence, they are all regarded as sacred. Human life on earth
depends on plants and trees. They give us the vital factors that make life
possible on earth: food, oxygen, clothing, shelter, medicines etc.

Hence, in India, we are taught to regard trees and plants as sacred.
Indians scriptures tell us to plant ten trees if, for any reason, we have
to cut one. We are advised to use parts of trees and plants only as much as
is needed for food, fuel, shelter etc. we are also urged to apologies to a
plant or tree before cutting it to avoid incurring a specific sin named

Certain trees and plants like tulasi, peepal etc., which have tremendous
beneficial qualities, are worshipped till today. It is believed that divine
beings manifest as trees and plants, and many people worship them to
fulfill their desires or to please the Lord.

12. Why do we ring the bell in a temple?

Is it to wake up the Lord? But the Lord never sleeps. Is it to let the Lord
know we have come? He does not need to be told, as He is all knowing. Is it
a form of seeking permission to enter His precinct? It is a homecoming and
therefore entry needs no permission. The Lord welcomes us at all times.
Then why do we ring the bell?

The ringing of the bell produces what is regarded as an auspicious sound.
It produces the sound Om, the universal name of the Lord. There should be
auspiciousness within and without, to gain the vision of the Lord who is

Even while doing the ritualistic aarati, we ring the bell. It is sometimes
accompanied by the auspicious sounds of the conch and other musical
instruments. An added significance of ringing the bell, conch and other
instruments is that they help drowned any inauspicious or irrelevant noises
and comments that might disturb or distract the worshippers in their
devotional ardour, concentration and inner peace.

As we start the daily ritualistic worship (pooja) we ring the bell,

Aagamaarthamtu devaanaam
gamanaarthamtu rakshasaam
Kurve ghantaaravam tatra
devataahvaahna lakshanam

I ring this bell indicating
the invocation of divinity,
So that virtuous and noble forces
enter (my home and heart);
and the demonic and evil forces
from within and without, depart.

13. Why do we worship the kalasha?

First of all what is a kalasha ? A brass, mud or copper pot is filled with
water. Mango leaves are placed in the mouth of the pot and a coconut is
placed over it. A red or white thread is tied around its neck or sometimes
all around it in a intricate diamond-shaped pattern. The pot may be
decorated wit designs. Such a pot is known as a kalasha.

When the pot is filled with water or rice, it is known as purnakumbha
representing the inert body which when filled with the divine life force
gains the power to do all the wonderful things that makes life what it is.

A kalasha is placed with due rituals on all-important occasions like the
traditional house warming ( grihapravesa), wedding, daily worship etc. It
is placed near the entrance as a sign of welcome. It is also used in a
traditional manner while receiving holy personages. Why do we worship the
kalasha? Before the creation came into being, Lord Vishnu was reclining on
His snake-bed in the milky ocean. From His navel emerged a lotus from which
appeared Lord Brahma, the creator, who thereafter created this world.

The water in the kalasha symbolizes the primordial water from which the
entire creation emerged. It is the giver of life to all and has the
potential of creating innumerable names and forms, the inert objects and
the sentient beings and all that is auspicious in the world from the energy
behind the universe. The leaves and coconut represent creation.

The thread represents the love that "binds" all in creation. The kalasha is
therefore considered auspicious and worshipped. The waters from all the
holy rivers, the knowledge of all the Vedas and the blessings of all the
deities are invoked in the kalasha and its water is thereafter used for
all the rituals, including the abhisheka.

The consecration (kumbhaabhisheka ) of a temple is done in a grand manner
with elaborate rituals including the pouring of one or more kalashas of
holy water on the top of the temple. When the asuras and devas churned the
milky ocean, the Lord appeared bearing the pot of nectar, which blessed one
with everlasting life.

Thus the kalasha also symbolizes immortality. Men of wisdom are full and
complete as they identify with the infinite Truth (poornatvam). They brim
with joy and love and respect all that is auspicious. We greet them with a
purnakumbha ("full pot") acknowledging their greatness and as a sign of
respectful and reverential welcome, with a "full heart".

14. Why do we consider the lotus as special?

The lotus is the symbol of truth, auspiciousness and beauty ( satyam,
shivam, sundaram). The Lord is also that nature and therefore, His various
aspects are compared to a lotus (i.e. lotus-eyes, lotus feet, lotus hands,
the lotus of the heart etc.).

The lotus blooms with the rising sun and close at night. Similarly, our
minds open up and expand with the light of knowledge. The lotus grows even
in slushy areas. It remains beautiful and untainted despite its
surroundings, reminding us that we too can and should strive to remain pure
and beautiful within, under all circumstances.

The lotus leaf never gets wet even though it is always in water. It
symbolizes the man of wisdom ( gyaani) who remains ever joyous, unaffected
by the world of sorrow and change. This is revealed in a shloka from the

Brahmanyaadhaaya karmaani
Sangam tyaktvaa karoti yaha
Lipyate na sa paapena
Padma patram ivaambhasaa

He who does actions, offering them to Brahman (the Supreme), abandoning
attachment, is not tainted by sin, just as a lotus leaf remains unaffected
by the water on it.

From this, we learn that what is natural to the man of wisdom becomes a
discipline to be practiced by all saadhakas or spiritual seekers and
devotees. Our bodies have certain energy centers described in the Yoga
Shaastras as chakras.

Each one is associated with lotus that has a certain number of petals. For
example, a lotus with a thousand petals represents the Sahasra chakra at
the top of the head, which opens when the yogi attains Godhood or
Realisation. Also, the lotus posture ( padmaasana) is recommended when one
sits for meditation. A lotus emerged from the navel of Lord Vishnu. Lord
Brahma originated from it to create the world. Hence, the lotus symbolizes
the link between the creator and the supreme Cause.

??????????? It also symbolizes Brahmaloka, the abode of Lord Brahma. The
auspicious sign of the swastika is said to have evolved from the lotus.

15. Why do we worship tulasi?

In Sanskrit, tulanaa naasti athaiva tulasi - that which is incomparable
(in its qualities) is the tulasi.

For Indians it is one of the most sacred plants. In fact it is known to be
the only thing used in worship, which, once used, can be washed and reused
in pooja - as it is regarded so self-purifying.

As one story goes, Tulasi was the devoted wife of Shankhachuda, a celestial
being. She believed that Lord Krishna tricked her into sinning. So she
cursed Him to become a stone ( shaaligraama). Seeing her devotion and
adhered to righteousness, the Lord blessed her saying that she would become
the worshipped plant, tulasi that would adorn His head.

Also that all offerings would be incomplete without the tulasi leaf - hence
the worship of tulasi.

She also symbolises Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu. Those who
wish to be righteous and have a happy family life worship the tulasi.

Tulasiis married to the Lord with all pomp and show as in any wedding.

This is because according to another legend, the Lord blessed her to be His
consort. Satyabhama once weighed Lord Krishna against all her legendary
wealth. The scales did not balance till a single tulasi leaf was placed
along with the wealth on the scale by Rukmini with devotion.

Thus the tulasi played the vital role of demonstrating to the world that
even a small object offered with devotion means more to the Lord than all
the wealth in the world.
The tulasi leaf has great medicinal value and is used to cure various
ailments, including the common cold.

Yanmule sarvatirhaani
Yannagre sarvadevataa
Yanmadhye sarvavedaascha
Tulasi taam namaamyaham

I bow down to the tulasi, At whose base are all the holy places, At whose
top reside all the deities and In whose middle are all the Vedas.

16. Why do we blow the conch?

When the conch is blown, the primordial sound of Om emanates. Om is an
auspicious sound that was chanted by the Lord before creating the world. It
represents the world and the Truth behind it.

As the story goes, the demon Shankhaasura defeated devas, the Vedas and
went to the bottom of the ocean. The devas appealed to Lord Vishnu for
help. He incarnated as Matsya Avataara - the "fish incarnation" and killed
Shankhaasura. The Lord blew the conch-shaped bone of his ear and head. The
Om sound emanated, from which emerged the Vedas.

All knowledge enshrined in the Vedas is an elaboration of Om . The conch
therefore is known as shankha after Shankaasua. The conch blown by the Lord
is called Paanchajanya. He carries it at all times in one of His four

It represents dharma or righteousness that is one of the four goals (
purushaarthas) of life. The sound of the conch is thus also the victory
call of good over evil.

Another well-known purpose of blowing the conch and the instruments, known
traditionally to produce auspicious sounds is to drown or mask negative
comments or noises that may disturb or upset the atmosphere or the minds of

Ancient India lived in her villages. Each village was presided over by a
primary temple and several small ones. During the aarati performed after
all-important poojas and on sacred occasions, the conch used to be blown.
Since villages were generally small, the sound of the conch would be heard
all over the village. People who could not make it to the temple were
reminded to stop whatever they were doing, at least for a few seconds, and
mentally bow to the Lord. The conch sound served to briefly elevate
people's minds to a prayerful attitude even in the middle of their busy
daily routine.

The conch is placed at the altar in temples and homes next to the Lord as a
symbol of Naada Brahma (Truth), the Vedas, Om, dharma, victory and
auspiciousness. It is often used to offer devotees thirtha (sanctified
water) to raise their minds to the highest Truth. It is worshipped with the
following verse.

Twam puraa saagarot pannaha
Vishnunaa vidhrutahakare
Devaischa poojitha sarvahi
Panchjanya namostu te

Salutations to Panchajanya
the conch born of the ocean
Held in the hand of Lord Vishnu
and worshipped by all devaas

17. Why do we say shaanti thrice?

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 makes noise.
Therefore, peace underlies all our agitations. When agitations end, peaceis naturally experienced since it was already there. Where there is peace,
there is happiness. Therefore, every one 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 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, one who takes the witness stands says, "I shall speak the truth, the
whole truth and nothing but the truth".

We chant shaanti thrice to emphasise our intense desire for peace. All
obstacles, problems and sorrows originate from three sources.

Aadhidaivika : The unseen divine forces over which we have little or no
control like earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions etc.

Aadhibhautika : The known factors around us like accidents, human contacts,
pollution, crime etc.

Aadhyaatmika : 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 minimised 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.

18. Why do we offer a coconut?

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. It is offered in the sacrificial fire whilst
performing homa. The coconut is broken and placed before the Lord. It is
later distributed as prasaada.

The fibre covering of the dried coconut is removed except for a tuft on the
top. The marks on the coconut make it look like the head of a human being.
The coconut is broken, symbolising the breaking of the ego. The juice
within, representing the inner tendencies ( vaasanas) is offered along with
the white kernel - the mind, to the Lord.

A mind thus purified by the touch of the Lord is used as prasaada ( a holy
gift). In the traditional abhishekha 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 in abhisheka rituals since it is believed to bestow
spiritual growth on the seeker.

The coconut also symbolises selfless service. Every part of the tree -the
trunk, leaves, fruit, coir etc. Is used in innumerable ways like thatches,
mats, tasty dishes, oil, soap etc. It takes in even salty water from the
earth and converts it into sweet nutritive water that is especially
beneficial to sick people. It is used in the preparation of many ayurvedic
medicines and in other alternative medicinal systems.

??????????? 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.

19. Why do we chant Om?

Om is one of the most chanted sound symbols in India. 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. It is made up of the letters A
(phonetically as in "around"), U (phonetically as in "put") and M
(phonetically as in "mum"). 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 sounds end in "M".

??????????? The three letters symbolize the three states (waking, dream and
deep sleep), the three deities (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), the three Vedas
(Rig, Yajur and Sama) the three worlds (Bhuh, Bhuvah, Suvah) etc. The Lord
is all these and beyond.

The formless, attributeless Lord (Brahman) is represented by the silence
between two Om Chants. Om is also called pranava 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 its 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 ( aaooommm).

Om is written in different ways in different places. The most common form
symbolizes Lord Ganesha's. The upper curve is the head; the lower large
one, the stomach; the side one, the trunk; and the semi-circular mark with
the dot, the sweetmeat ball (modaka) in Lord Ganesha's hand. Thus Om
symbolizes everything - the means and the goal of life, the world and the
Truth behind it, the material and the Sacred, all form and the Formless.

20. Why do we do aarati?

Towards the end of every ritualistic worship (pooja or bhajan) of the Lord
or to welcome an honored guest or saint, we perform the aarati. 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 lighted lamp in the right hand, which we wave in a
clockwise circling movement 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 waved we either do mental or loud chanting of prayers or
simply behold the beautiful form of the ??????? Lord, illumined by the
lamp. At the end of the aarati 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 out why we do the aarati?

Having worshipped the Lord of love - performing abhisheka, 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 limb of the Lord as the lamp
lights it up. It is akin to silent open-eyed meditation on His beauty. The
singing, clapping, ringing of the bell etc. denote the joy and
auspiciousness, which accompanies the vision of the Lord.

Aarati is often performed with camphor. This holds a telling spiritual
significance. Camphor when lit, burns itself out completely without leaving
a trace of it. It represents our inherent tendencies ( vaasanas). When lit
by the fire of knowledge which illumines the Lord (Truth), our vaasanas
thereafter burn themselves out completely, not leaving a trace of ego which
creates in us a sense of individuality that keeps us separate from the

Also while camphor burns to reveal the glory of Lord, it emits a pleasant
perfume 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 aarati is actually performed,
our eyes close automatically as if to look within. This is to signify that
each of us is a temple of the Lord.

Just as the priest reveals the form of the Lord clearly with the aarati
flame, so too the guru reveals to us the divinity within each of us with
the help of the "flame" of knowledge (or the light of spiritual knowledge).
At the end of the aarati, we place our hands over the flame and then touch
our eyes and the 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 aarati extends further. The sun, moon, stars,
lightning and fire are the natural sources of light. The Lord is the source
of this wonderous phenomenon of the universe. It is due to Him alone that
all else exist and shine. As we light up the Lord with the flame of the
aarati, 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
illuminates all of them. Without Him, the intellect cannot think, nor can
the mind feel nor the tongue speaks. The Lord is beyond the mind, intellect
and speech. How can this finite equipment illuminate the Lord? Therefore,
as we perform the aarati we chant;

Na tatra suryo bhaati na chandra taarakam
Nemaa vidyuto bhaanti kutoyamagnib
Tameva bhaantam anubhaati sarvam
Tasya bhasa sarvam idam vibhaati

He is there where the sun does not shine,
Nor the moon, stars and lightning.
then what to talk of this small flame (in my hand),
Everything (in the universe) shines only after the Lord,
And by His light alone are we all illumined

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