|This section answers some of the common questions pertaining to the
spiritual practices followed since ages like :
- Why do we light a lamp? Answer
- Why do we have a prayer room? Answer
- Why do we do namaste? Answer
- Why do we prostrate before parents & elders? Answer
- Why do we wear marks on the forehead? Answer
- Why do we not touch papers, books and people with the feet? Answer
- Why do we apply holy ash? Answer
- Why do we offer food to the Lord before eating it? Answer
- Why do we do pradakshina? Answer
- Why do we regard trees and plants as sacred? Answer
- Why do we fast? Answer
- Why do we ring the bell in a temple? Answer
- Why do we worship the kalash? Answer
- Why do we worship the tulsi? Answer
- Why do we consider the lotus as special? Answer
- Why do we blow the conch? Answer
- Why do we say shaanti thrice? Answer
- Why do we offer a coconut? Answer
- Why do we chant Om? Answer
- Why do we do aarti? Answer
||Q. 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 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.
Knowledge removes ignorance just as light
removes darkness. Also knowledge is a lasting inner wealth by which all
outer achievements can be accomplished. Hence we light the lamp to bow
down to knowledge as the greatest of all forms of wealth. Knowledge backs
all our actions whether good or bad. We therefore keep a lamp lit during
all auspicious occasion as a witness to our thoughts and actions.
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 "vaasnas"
or negative tendencies and the wick, the ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge,
the "vaasnas" 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 ideals.
A single lamp can light hundreds more
just as a man of knowledge can give it to many more. The brilliance of
the light does not diminish despite its repeated use to light many more
lamps. So too knowledge does not lessen when shared with or imparted to
others. On the contrary it increases in clarity and conviction on giving.
It benefits both the receiver and the giver.
Swami Chinmayananda said :
Which else shall beautify a home
But the flame of a lovely lamp?
Which else shall adorn the mind
But the light of wisdom deep?
||Q. Why do we have a prayer room?
Most Hindu 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, 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
- young or old - communes with and worships the Divine here.
The Lord is the owner of 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. This notion rids us of false pride
The ideal attitude to take is to regard
the Lord as the true owner of our homes and ourselves as the caretakers
of His home. But if this 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
Also the Lord is all pervading. To remind
us that He resides in our home 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 bedroom for resting and sleeping, the drawing room
to receive guests, the kitchen for cooking etc. the furniture, décor
and the atmosphere of each room are made conductive to the purpose it serves.
So too for the purpose of meditation, worship and prayer, we should have
a conductive atmosphere - 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.
||Q. Why do we do namaste?
Hindus greet each other with "namaste".
The two palms are placed together in front of the chest and the head bows
while saying the word "namaste". This greeting is for all
- people younger than us, of our own age, those older than us, friends
and even strangers.
Namaste could 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 - I bow to you - 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 namaste to a revered person or the Lord as it to
look within. The gesture is often accompanied by words like "Ram
Ram", "Jai Shri Krishna", "Jai Siya Ram",
"Om Shanti" etc. - 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.
||Q.Why do we prostrate before parents & elders?
Hindus prostrate to their parents, elders,
teachers and noble souls by touching their feet. The elders in turn bless
by placing his/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 oneself, 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 that they have made for our welfare.
It is a way of humbly acknowledging the greatness of another. This tradition
reflects the strong family ties which has been of India's enduring strengths.
The good wishes (sankalpa)
and the 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 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 different forms of showing respect are :
Pratuthana - rising to welcome a person.
Namaskaara - paying homage in the form of namaste.
Upasangrahan - touching the feet of elders or teachers.
Shaashtaanga - prostrating fully with the full body touching
the ground in front of the elder.
Pratyabivaadana - returning a greeting.
Rules are prescribed in our scripture
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 a ruler of the land would
prostrate before a spiritual master. Epics like Ramayana
and Mahabharata have many stories highlighting this aspect.
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.
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.
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.
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 :
- Divine forces (devta runa) for their benign grace and protection.
- Our ancestors (pitru runa) for giving us their lineage and the family culture.
- The sages (rishi runa) as our religion and culture have been "realised" maintained 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.
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.
When we visit a temple. after offering prayers, we circumambulate the santum sanctorum. This is called pradakshina
We cannot draw a circle without a centre point. The Lord is the centre, source and essence of our lives. Recognising Him as the focal point in out lives, we go about doing our daily chores. This is the significance of pradakshina
Also every point on the circumference of a circle is equidistant from the centre. This means that whereever or whoever we may be, we are equally close to the Lord. His grace flows towards us without partiality.
The pradakshina is always down only in clockwise manner because, as we do pradakshina the Lord is always on our right. In Hinduism, the right side symbolises auspiciousness. It is a telling fact that even in the English language it is called the "right" side and not the worng one! So as we circumambulate the sanctum sanctorum we remind ourselves to lead an auspicious life of righteousness, with the Lord to lead an auspicious life of righteousness, with the Lord who is the indispensable source of help and strength, as our guide - the "right hand" - the dharma aspect of our lives. We thereby overcome our wrong tendencies and avoid repeating the sins of the past.
Indian scriptures enjoin - matrudevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava. Meaning : 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 personages. The story of Lord Ganesh circumambulating his parents is a well known one.
After the completion of traditional worship (pooja), we customarily do pradakshina around ourselves. In this way we recognise and remember the supreme divinity within us, which alone is idolised in the form of the Lord that we worship outside.
From ancient times, Hindus have worshipped trees and regarded all flora and fauna as sacred. This is not an old fashioned or uncivilised practise. It reveals the sensitivity, foresight and refienment of Hindu Culture. While modern man often works to "conquer" Mother nature, ancient hindus "worshipped" her.
The Lord, the life in us, prevades all living beings be they plants or animals. Hence, they all all regarded as sacred. Human life on earth depends on plants and animals. They give us the vital factors that make life possible on earth : food, oxygen, clothing, shelter, medicines etc. They lend beauty to our surroundings. They serve man without expectation and sacrifice thenselves to sustain us. They epitomise sacrifise. If a stone is thrown on a fruit-laden tree, the tree in turn gives fruit!
In fact, the flora and fauna owned the earth before man appeared on it. Presently, the world is seriously threatened by the destruction of the forest lands and the extinction of many species of vegetation due to man's callous attitude towards them. We protect only what we value. Hence, in Hinduism, we are taight to regard trees and plants as sacred. Naturally, we will then protect them.
Hindu scriptures tell us to plant ten tress if, for any reason, we have cut one. We are advised to use arts of the trees and plants only as much as is needed for food, fuel, shelter etc. We also urged to apologise to a plant or tree before cutting it to avoid incurring a specific sin named soona. In our shildhood, we are told stories of the sacrifice and service done by plants and trees and also about our duty to plant and nourish them. Certain trees ans plants like tulsi, 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 God.
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. Some undertake rigorous fasts when they do not even drink water the whole day! Fasting is done for many reasons- to please the Lord, to discipline oneself and even to protest. Mahatma Gandhi fasted to protest against the British rule.
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 mind dull and agitated. Hence on certain days man decides to save time and conserve 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. Some fast, rather they diet, merely to reduce weight. Others fast as a vow to please the Lord or to fulfill their desires, some to develop will power, control the senses, some as a form of austerity and so on. The Bhagavad Geeta urges us to eat appropriately- neither too less nor too much yukta-aahaara and to eat simple, pure and healthy food (a saatvik diet ) even when not fasting
In most temples there are one or more bells hung from the top, near the entrance. The devotee rings the bell as soon as he enters, thereafter proceeding for darshan of the Lord and prayers. Children love jumping up or being carried high in order to reach the bell.
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 all-auspiciousness.
Even while doing the ritualistic aarti, 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 drown any in-auspicious or irrelevant noises and comments that might disturb or distract the worshipper/s in their devotional ardour (dedication) , concentration and inner peace.
A kalash is a brass, mud or copper pot 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 an intricate diamond-shaped pattern. The pot may be decorated with designs. 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 power to do all the wonderful things that makes life what it is.
A kalash is placed with due rituals on all important occassions like the traditional house warming (grhapravesh), 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.
Before the creation came into being, Lord Vishnu was reclining on His snakebed 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 kalash symbolises the primodial 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 kalash 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 kalash 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 kalash of holy water on the top of the temple.
When the asurs and the devas churned the milky ocean, the Lord appeared bearing the pot of nectar which blessed one with everlasting life. Thus the kalash also symbolises immortality.
Men of wosdom are full and complete as they identify the infinite truth (poornatvam. They brim with jiy and love and represent all that is auspicious. We greet them with a purnakumbha ("full pot") acknowledging their greatness ans as a sign of respectiful reverential welcome, with a "full heart".
Either in the front, back or central courtyard of mst Indian homes there is a tulsi-matham an altar bearing a tulsi plant. In the present day appratments too, many maintain a potted tulsi plant. The lady of the house lights a lamp, waters the plant, worships and cirumambulayes it. The stem, leaves, seeds, and even the soil, which provides it a base are considered holy. A tulsi leaf is always placed in the food offered to the Lord. It is also offered to the Lord during poojas especially to Lord Vishnu and His incarnations.
In Sanskrit, tulanaa naasti athaiva tulsi - that which is incomparable (in its qualities) is the tulsi. For Hindus, 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, Tulsi was the devoted wife of Shankhachuda, celestial being. She believed that Lord Kirshna tricked her into sinning. So she cursed Him to become a stone (shaaligraama). Seeing her devotion and adherence to righteouness, the Lord blessed her saying that she would become the worshipped plant, tulsi that would adorn His head. Also that all offerings would be incomplete without the tulsi leaf - hence the worship of tulsi.
She also symbolises Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu. Those who wish to be righteous and have a happy family worship the tulsi. Tulsi is married to the Lord with all pomp ans how 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 tulsi leaf was placed along with the wealth on the scale by Rukmini with devotion. Thus the tulsi played the vital role of demonstrating to the world that even a small object offered with devotopn means more to the Lord than all the wealth in the world.
The tulsi leaf has great medicinal value and is used to cure various ailments, including the common cold.
The Lotus is India's national flower and rightly so. Not long ago, the lakes and ponds of India were full of many hued lotuses.
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(ie. lots-eyes, lotus feet, lotus hands, the lotus of heart etc.). Our scriptures ans ancient literature extol the beauty of the lotus. Art and architechture also portray the lotus in various decorative motifs and paintings. Many people have names of or related to the lotus: Padma, Pankaja, Kamal, Kamala, Kamalakshni etc. The Goddess of wealth, Lakshni, sits on a lotus and carries one in Her hand.
the lotus blooms with te rising sun and closes 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 although it is always in water. It symbolises the man of wisdom (gyani who remains ever joyous, unaffected by the world of sorrow and change. The lotus posture, padmaasana is recommended when one sits for meditation.
A lotus emerged from the navel of Lord Vishnu. Lord Bhrahma originated from it to create the world. Hence, the lotus symbolises the link between the creator and the supreme Cause. It also symbolises Brahmaloka, the abode of Lord Brahma.
The auspicious sign of the swastika is said to have volved from the lotus.
From the above, we can well appreciate why the lotus in India's national flower and so special to Hindus.
In temples or at homes, the conch is blown once or several times before ritualistic worship (pooja). It is sometimes blown whilst during aarti or to mark an auspicious occasion. It is blown before a battle starts or to announce the victory of an army. It is also placed in the altar and worshipped
When the conch is blown, the primordial sound of Om eminates. 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 the devas, stole the vedas and went to the bottom of the ocean. The devas appealed to Lord Vishnu for help. He incarnated as matsya avataar - 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 ellobration of Om. The conch therefore is known as shankh after shankhaasura. The conch blown by the Lord is called paanchajany. He carries it all times, in one of his four hands. It represents dharma or righteousness that is one of the four goals (purushaarthas) of life. The sound of the conch is thus also the vistory call of good over evil. If we place a conch close to our ears, we hear the sound of the waves of the ocean.
Another wel known purpose of blowing the conch and other instruments, known traditionally to produce auspicious sounds is to drown or mask the negative comments or noises that may disturb or upset the atmosphere or the minds of the worshippers.
Ancient India lived in her villages. Each village was presided over by a primary temple and several smaller ones. During the aarti 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, atleast 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 tirth (sanctified water) to raise their minds to the highest truth.
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:
- Aadhidaivika: The unseen divine forces over which we have little or no control like earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions etc.
- Aadhibautika: the known factors around us like accidents, human contacts, pollution, crime etc.
- Aadhyaatmika: Problems of our bodies and minds like diseases, anger, frustrations etc.
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.