Friday, February 24, 2012

SOME CUSTOMARY RITUALS IN LORD’S WORSHIP



 
SOME CUSTOMARY RITUALS IN LORD'S WORSHIP
(DISCOURSE BY N. R. SRINIVASAN-2006)

 

YAAGA AND HOMAS
Homa is synonymous with Yagna. Yagna is derived from the Sanskrit route 'yaj' to worship. Yagna refers to a Vedic ritual in which one offers specific materials such as melted butter, fagots of medicinal plants, resinous incense etc. to various deities, called celestial gods through the medium of fire god, while reciting prescribed vedic mantras. Worship through yagna is a unique form of prayer in the vedic tradition, even though any karma, action performed for the sake of the supreme is Yagna or Homa. Five vital elements of nature are considered as part of the Supreme and worshipped as celestial gods, besides a host of others. These are called as Devatas in Sanskrit to distinguish them from Deva, the Supreme, in Sanskrit language. Unfortunately both these terms are used to mean the God and translated as such into English language also. This has created a lot of confusion and given raise to the criticism that Hindus worship too many Gods. Hinduism visualizes God in every manifestation of His and enjoys the freedom to worship ONE and only one through these manifestations. The five vital elements are: Varuna, god of water; Prithvi, goddess of earth; Aakaasa, god of space; Vaayu, god of air; Agni, god of fire. Since fire is the subtlest among the elements with form, many rituals contain invocation and worship of Lord Agni, the presiding deity of fire. Fire element is most colorful and conspicuous among the five elements. Yagnas are more elaborate than Homas and are conducted at the temples for the health and prosperity of the society as a whole, irrespective of one's religious leanings including atheists. Sanaatana Dharma widely misunderstood as Hindu religion (for dharma goes far beyond religion) focuses all its prayers and offerings to the Supreme for the benefit of general public besides devotees-'Sarve janaaha sukhino bhavantu' meaning 'May all the people be blessed with prosperity and happiness. Further it postulates 'Vasudeka kutumbakam', the whole world is one family'.

 
Agna chakra is the point midway between the eyebrows. It is regarded as the meeting place of the three nerve currents Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. An aspirant of the Supreme in the meditation form of worship is instructed to concentrate on that point. It is there one gets the Divine Light within. The ash paste from yagnas has strong medicinal and disinfectant value when done with vedic prescribed materials. Applying this paste on the forehead seems to strengthen the nerve currents. Some of the ash from the holy fire is preserved in the houses all through the year to apply to the foreheads as an effective remedy against minor ailments and ward off evil. Fagots of peepal (Aswatta) tree and wood resins incense used in yagas have great medicinal and disinfectant values. The fumes resulting from homas spread a pleasant fragrance in the closed up spaces of the temple, removing the musty odor.

 
[For a detailed discourse on Yajna, the Vedic fire sacrifice visit BLOG: <nrsrini.blogspot.com>]

 
ABHISHEKA (THE RITUAL OF BATH TO THE LORD)

 
Hindu religion gives one the freedom to worship the Supreme in many ways and forms of which worship by concentration through the medium of consecrated images or symbols is widely practiced in Temples, in a spiritual atmosphere far from the maddening crowd.
After the consecration, the image in the sanctum sanctorum is no more looked upon as a stone or bronze image. Now, it is the Lord Himself in living form worshipped in all His glory and the devotee feels that he is in direct communication with the Absolute. The mode of worship in Hindu temples heightens this feeling and establishes communion with God, in course of time. Worship in temples is quite elaborate when compared to worship at home. Several rituals that constitute worship are called, Upachaaras, meaning offerings. The number of Upachaaras varies from five to sixty-four. In current practice only sixteen are generally offered. These include inviting the Lord, Aavaahana; offering the seat, aasana; offering water for the feet, Padya; offering bath, Snaana; offering decorations, Alankaara; offering food, Naivedya; and, waving light, Neeraanjana. Offering a ceremonial and luxurious bath is called Abhisheka. This is done with rich nutrient and healthy products like oil, honey, yogurt, milk etc. One may here recall the life style of Cleopatra who used to take bath in tubs filled with milk, considered to be a luxury bath and beauty aid.

 
In olden days, these products after Abhisheka were collected and absorbed in the soil that helped bio-degradation and served as soil nutrients to feed the earthworms, ants and plants. This was considered as one of the Yagnas (sacrifice) called Bootha yajna, in the service of God's creations.

 
The spirit behind this is to honor God as a special guest in His living presence in the temple. It is a Vedic tradition to receive great sages and saints in this manner whenever they pay a visit to a royalty or devotee. Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad Geetaa, 'whatever form or procedure with which a devotee chooses to worship me with devotion, I am pleased with the same and enjoy it'. Here the Lord is welcomed as an honored guest by the devotee and worshipped singing His glory, praising His manifestations and handy work.

 
While the abhisheka water is poured on a crystal Linga (Siva image in a formless form), the Linga is hardly visible through it, its colorless form being completely lost in the water that flows over it. When colored substances like sandal paste or vermilion are poured on it, it takes the color of those substances though it has no color of its own. This phenomenon is the best representation of 'Nirguna Brahman' of the Upanishads, all pervading Supreme without any attributes who for our sake takes on the qualities and exhibits Himself as the 'Saguna Brahman'. "Nirguna Brahman" is God without any form or attributes while "Saguna Brahman" means, the all virtuous personified form of God, in which form He is worshipped as a Deity.

 
Abhisheka rituals are prescribed in the Aagama Saastras, which are prakarana (explanatory) texts of Vedas, the holy scriptures of the followers of Sanaatana Dharma. Shilpa Sastra exclusively deals with iconography and temple building. Sculpted stone idols should be free from all flaws for worship at the time of consecration or later. Abhisheka rituals, when done periodically with choice materials help in preserving the original glaze and beauty of the sculpted divine figure without developing cracks or chipping. Some of the idols in famous temples in India are said to be divine sculpted, and are more than two thousand years old. In the Vedic culture, where everything is looked upon as an expression of the Lord, works of art were another glory of the Lord that receive even to-day all care and attention for long time preservation in addition to limitless reverence.

 
Abhisheka for granite icons are done more often in South India than on marble icons in the North. When white substances like milk and yogurt or colored substances like honey and sandal paste water are poured on the black icon and then the light is waved called Aaarati devotees are able to see all the details of the deity who are standing in reverence at a distance in the devotees hall (Mukhya Mantapa). The Garbha-griha (sanctum) is always kept dark intentionally and lighted only with oil wick lamps generally. In order to conserve material this is done only once and rest of the times only water is used when it is hard to see the details of the deity. In some temples this abhishekam for the main deity is reserved for special festival days or holy days and regular abhishekam is done for the miniature bronze or metal icon called procession deity. In Puri Abhishekam is not carried out on the main deity because it is made out of neam wood and painted. Instead Abhishekam is performed on the mirror image only.

 
Idol worship and rituals connected with it are only the beginning of religion. There are different grades of worship. The supreme state is Self Realization. Second in rank is the meditation on the Supreme Self. The third is the worship of the symbols. The fourth is the performance of rituals and pilgrimage to holy places. The shastras and the Guru are like kind mother. They take hold of the hands of the aspirants and take them step-by-step till they are established in the highest super-conscious state. The same Hindu scriptures which prescribe idol worship and rituals for beginners, also speak of meditation on the Infinite or the Absolute and contemplation on the significance of "Tat tvam asi", (that thou art) for advanced aspirants. The Jewish God is named 'Jehovah' meaning 'I am that'. "Aham Brahmasmi" is the well known Vedic principle that means the same thing.

 
AARATI

Aarati is one of the sixteen steps of the Pooja ritual. It is referred to as auspicious light. Aarati is often performed with camphor. Camphor when lit burns itself completely without leaving a trace. Camphor represents our inner tendencies. When lit by the fire of knowledge which illuminates the Lord (Truth), our inherent tendencies (called Vaasanas in Sanskrit) also 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 when camphor burns to reveal the glory of the 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.
The sun, moon, stars, lightning 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 all exist and shine. As we light up the Lord with the flame of the Aarati, we turn our attention to the very source of light, which symbolizes knowledge and life. The Lord is the Supreme Consciousness.  As we perform Aarati, we chant:
"Na tatra sooryoe bhaati na Chandra taarakam; Nema vidyutoe bhaanti kutoeya-magnihi; tameva bhaantamanubhaatisarvam tasya bhaasaa sarvamidam 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 this universe shines only with His light alone and with this light alone we are all illuminated."(Sveta 6-14; Katha 2-18; Mundaka 2-2-11).

 

WHY DO WE LIGHT A LAMP?

 

Light symbolizes knowledge and darkness, ignorance. The Lord is the "Knowledge Principle", who is the source, the enlivener and the illuminator of all knowledge. Hence, the light is worshipped as the Lord Himself. 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 melted butter in the lamp symbolizes our negative tendencies and the wick, the ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge, these negative tendencies get slowly exhausted and the ego too finally perishes. The flame of the lamp always burns upwards. Similarly, we should acquire knowledge that takes us to higher ideals.
A single lamp can light hundreds more – similarly, a person of knowledge can give knowledge to many more. The brilliance of the light does not diminish despite its repeated use to light many more lamps. Similarly 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. While lighting the lamp we pray:
"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 everything can be achieved in life"

 


 

WORSHIP OF LAKSHMI WITH VERMILION POWDER (KUMKUMA-ARCHANA)


 
We are all familiar with the worship of deities with leaves, flower, fruits and water being the essential materials of worship. This tradition is inspired by Bhagavaan in Bhagavadgeetaa where he says "Patram pushpam phalam toyam yo may bhaktyaa prayacchati | Tad aham bhakty-upahritam asnaami prayataatmanah || [Whoever offers me a leaf, a flower a fruit, or water with devotion, I accept and enjoy the offering of devotion by the pure-hearted] We are all clear why we do archana with Tulasi leaves to Vishnu and Bilva leaves to Siva as well as flowers. But why do we do Archana with Kumkum to Devi and why do we apply Chandan (Gandha) to deities after Abhishekam?
This aspect of Kumkumaarchana is not explained properly and is not easily understood as with the other materials of worship as described above. What god needs is dedication with pure heart with simple materials that too not in quantities. There are number of explanations as to this practice of worship with Kumkum. Some of them are explained below but there might be many more.

 
When Laksmi is worshipped alone she is worshipped as Primordial Energy that is the active part of the Supreme Being called Brahman.
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Brahman in the form of Agni represents Brahmana Varna amongst deities. Perhaps you are all aware that four Varnas, Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Soodra was a classification created by the Supreme Being for the divines to look after the procreation and sustenance of his creation amongst the divines only. It had nothing to do with the caste system later developed by the Vedic society with a view to keep harmony in society and maintain their ratio in society need based.
The arrangement of pooja materials for Devi in a platter consists of four kinds of materials in different colours—rice grains or white chandan (white color); Kumkum (Modified turmeric of red or lilac color): Haldi or Yellow Chandan and Akshata (Turmeric or Sandal Paste of yellow color; yellow colored rice); and black paste (kajal or black chandan which is sometimes worn on face by ladies particularly in Maharashtra).
Brahman in the form of Divine Agni belonged to Brahmana Varna. Agni is represented by white color (purity). Divinities Indra, Varuna represent Brahman and were Kshatriya deities. They are associated with Red color. The third group of divinities represented Vaisya group is Vasu, Rudra and Aaditya. They were represented by Yellow color. The last divinity was Earth represented by black color (black soil); She was classified as Soodra. When Lakshmi is worshiped with these materials divine forces envelop the whole atmosphere and the devotee is surrounded by divine atmosphere which makes devotee's prayer powerful. This is the significance using materials like Kumkum.

 
Shirdi Saibaaba has his own explanation to offer. He feels Kumkum represents human blood and amounts to self sacrifice of oneself to deity in lieu of the symbolic animal sacrifices to Devi which is still done even in a Vaishnava temple like Puri-Jagannath, leave alone Kali temples during Devi Worship as they follow Tantric worship. However Srivaishanvas strongly condemn animal sacrifices, as also followers of Madhva of Dvaita philosophy. They have their own explanations to offer.

 
There are Vedic Ritual Mantras and Homa Mantras in the Upanishad with which "Atma Samarpanam" is done during worship to Brahman on the model Purushasookta Yajna sacrifice which has been explained before. The other Vedic Ritual Mantras and Homa Mantras will be explained in detail later. Atma Samarpanam is the process in which the Self or Aaatman within each individual is offered as an oblation to the Supreme Being or Brhaman whom Vaishnavites call as Narayana or Paramaatman.

 
Aatman is all pervading within one's body and blood is one material which is all pervading in the body and known by its predominant red color. Therefore this is symbolically offered as Aaatman to the Brahman in the form of Primordial Energy that is Lakshmi. When Lakshmi is worshipped alone without her consort we are concentrating on Primordial Energy, the active Brahman. Vedas elaborate Brahman as residing in the cavity of the heart which is in the form of a lotus bud. This spiritual heart should not be confused with the physical human heart of the individual. This spiritual heart pervades the whole body and its presence is felt wherever Consciousness is felt. Hence blood is considered to be the ideal material for worship. Kumkum represents symbolically blood and through it Aatman within each individual. Hence it is Aatma samarpanam or oblation of one's Self. Hence it amounts to self-sacrifice which Sai Baaba talks about.

 
Bhaktimaarga followers have their explanation too. Bhoodevi is the other consort of Lord Vishnu. Kalyanotsava of Vishnu is always performed with his two consorts Sridevi (Lakshmi) and Bhoodevi whoever be his specific consort of him, like Padmavati, Vedavalli, Ranganayaki etc. Whenever a Vishnu deity is worshipped it is customary to apply sandal paste (gandha) chanting the Vedic Mantra: "Gandhadwaaraam duraadharshaam nityapushtaam kareeshineem | Easvaree(ga)m sarvabhootaanaam taamihopahvaye sriyam || [I invoke you to come near us, O Goddess Earth who art the ruler of all entities, who art is known by odor, who art is invincible by sins, who art is ever full and who art is associated with cow-dung and others]. Kumkum is made from Turmeric which is a root from earth and hence symbolic of earth. It is yellow in color and kumkum is modified turmeric to red color with lime. Vishnu always carries Lakshmi (Sridevi) in his heart. Bringing Bhoodevi to Vishnu with the Mantra by the act, the devotee in kumkuma archana reunites Vishnu with his other consort which pleases him. In this act you are also paying obeisance to Bhoodevi. Earth used to be plastered with cow dung in Vedic days and still done in villages in huts to keep it disinfected as well as keep it off the dust. This practice was later replaced with modern floor covering materials.

 
There is a specific Sookta in Upanishads called Mrittika Sookta. In this Sookta obeisance is offered to Mother Earth asking her pardon for constantly trampling on her and then wearing the mud on the forehead as a mark of respect. Incidentally that is why ladies wear Kumkum on the head in North Indian practice. This signifies joining of the earth with his consort too when sandal paste is applied to the Vishnu idol. The above mantra "Gandhadwaaraam" is from Mrittika Sookta, a prayer to Mother Earth which will be explained in detail later in Vedic Matras from Maha Narayana Upanishad..

 
Yet another explanation is red represents Rajoeguna or Ego. By offering Kumkum you are surrendering your egos when you offer Kumkum to the feet of the deity.

 
It may be relevant to mention here that Naamam, U or Y mark worn on the forehead with china clay paste symbolizes wearing mother earth on face and head with reverence. Naamam is usually misunderstood as caste mark of Vaishanva Brahmins. On the contrary this is worn by all castes from Brahmins to so called Harijans who follow Vishnu, his contingent and his incarnations as their chosen deity. In Tamil language Naamam is called Tiru-man. (Tiru=sacred; man=mud or earth). Naamam sticks are made from pure form of China clay mined near Tirunarayanapuram (Melkote) near Mysore, Srirangam, Madurantakam and Srimoosanam in Tamil Nadu, and Pushpaka in Rajasthan. Tiruman stands for the Truth that everything is of the earth and mingles with it. Kumkum symbolizes Lakshmi. The white U or Y mark usually represents Vishnu's feet and the red line Lakshmi, consort of Vishnu. It may also mean both Bhoodevi (white Naamam) and Sridevi or Lakshmi (the red line), the two consorts of Vishnu in the marks worn on the forehead, Vishnu being seated on the top of the head the two seats of vital Chakras--Sahsraara and Aajnaa (psychic centers).