Friday, May 18, 2012



What is its origin?
Motivation behind modality of ceremonial Hindu Worship in temples and homes today could be traced back to Kritayuga. These modalities are also ratified by Aagama and Taantric religious texts which claim them to be based on Vedas. Prahlaada of Kritayuga was the great devotee of Lord Vishnu to whom Lord appeared instantly as Narasimha, the Sadyojatta, Man-Lion Avatar of Vishnu. Prahlaada mentions in Bhagavata Purana Sravanam (Listening), Keertanam (Praising), Vishnoh Smaranam, (Constantly remembering Vishnu), Paadasevanam (serving at the feet of the Lord), Archanam (worshiping the Lord with Various names praising his glory), Vandanam (obeisance), Daasyam (subservience), Sakhyam (friendly disposition with the Lord), Aatmanivedanam (self-surrender) as the various means of worshiping the Lord in Kritayuga, the starting of the Puraanic period. Thus he laid the guidelines for the present day worship of the various deities in temples and homes which helped Aagamas and Tantras to come out with code of procedures for the Worship of the Lord and Moorti Upaasana.
Rama was an ardent worshiper of the Lord Soorya, Naaraayana and the Goddess Durga. His worship of Durga and Soorya are well recorded in Ramayana prior to his launching attack on Lanka praying for the success in the ensuing battle. A famous quote from Ramayana reads as follows: "Sahapatnyaa Visaalaakshyaa Narayanam Upaagamatu"—Rama sought Narayana with his wife Seeta of broad eyes (vision). Since then it has become customary to conduct all rituals and worship together with wife, a tradition set by Rama. It also gives the clue to the present belief when in trouble dial the Lord with reverence and plead for his help! You all know the famous incidence how Sita conducted Sraaddha (ceremonial rites) alone for Dasaratha at the prescribed time in Ayodhya in the absence of Rama and got into trouble.
Lord Krishna has dealt with the subject elaborately in his conversation to Arjuna in Bhagvadgeetaa from which present day Aagamas and Tantras have drawn support and help for Nityapooja (daily worship as a duty) as well as grand-scale temple worship (Shodasa upachaara Pooja)for drawing set of procedures and rules. It is worth recalling relevant hymns from the Song of the Celestial.
Krishna says in Bhagavadgeetaa that whatever deity a person may worship, his or her obeisance and prayers reach the Supreme Being as all waterfalls as rain and rivers eventually reach the ocean. Whatever name and form of divinity one adores, it is the worship of the same Supreme Being and one gets the reward for that deity worship when performed with faith:
Yo yo yam yam tanum bhaktah sraddhaya-architum icchati |Tasya tasyaa-chalaam sraddhaam taam eva vidadhaamy-aham || Sa tayaa sraddhayaa yuktas-tasyaaraadhanam eehate | labhate cha tatah kaamaan mayaiva vihitaan hi taan ||
"Whatever form or deity with faith one may wish to worship I make his faith unswerving. Endowed with steady faith they worship that deity and obtain their wishes through that deity" conveys Lord Krishna to Arjuna his ardent disciple who has been mesmerized by seeing his Universal Form.
Hindus later have taken the benefit of the message of the Lord literally and, as well as influenced strongly by Puraanic stories have created a multitude of deities with their wild imagination for worship at home and temples whose count man has lost sight off. They even included many natural shrines, anthills, rivers, plants etc. This process has not yet stopped. This is based on several beliefs as follows:
  1. Supreme Being comes down from the heaven and assumes the form human beings.
  2. All human beings evolve spiritually by leading righteous and pious life. They get enlightened and become noble souls and finally release the people from worldly bondage called Maaya or Samsaara in vedaantic terminology. They transform the society for new world order. There are number of illustrations here and the trend is still continuing— Sankara, Aandal, Ramaanuja, Madhwa, Swami Narayan, Saibaba, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Chaitanya etc.
  3. The Theory of Avataaravada influenced by the Buddhist conception of former Buddhas who were worshiped in their own Stupas as early as 300 B.C.E. A large number of Buddhists were admitted to the fold of Vaishnavas towards the close of the Buddhist period as indicated by the inclusion of Buddha in the list of Dasaavataara (Principle Ten Avatars).
  4. Self in Me (Lord) is the Self in all. Tulsidas says, "Siyaram main sabajaga jaani, karaun pranaam jori jug paani"--Knowing that the entire world is pervade by Lord—Seetaa Raama, with folded hands, I prostate to all things I see".
Why do we worship so many deities?
Lord Krishna in Chapter ten says that he is manifested in all great souls and great things. He says he is Om, Vishnu, Aaaditya, Sun, Indra, Varuna, Bhrigu, Naarada, Raama, Kapila, Skanda, Kubera, Prahlaada, Seven Goddesses, Brihaspati, Gayatri, Manmatha, Aaryama, Pavana, Vyaasa, Vasudeva, Garuda, Vasuki, Aswattha, Ganga, Airaavata, Ucchaisaravas, Himalayas, Meru etc.; in fact whatever best and ideal in the species. This has given wide scope to worship various icons, Vedic deities, Puraanic deities etc., which has guided Hindu iconography with all imaginations and subsequent consecration for worship. Some of the things he mentioned have gone into his mounts (Snake, eagle, elephant, horse, bull, peacock, rat, etc.) too for worship. Some are worshiped as nature (aswattha, tulasi, myrabolan plant, mountains, rivers etc).
Guided by Geetaa, Sankara who strongly propagated his Advaita philosophy even recommended Panchayatana Pooja (five deities at a time) and also established six traditions of worship (Shanmatas)—Vishnu, Siva, Ganapati, Subhramanya, Devi and Surya moving from the Vedic dictum "Tadekam"—that ONE. He also sung the glory of several deities in his poetic compositions which are recited by all devotees while worshiping their chosen deities, for e.g., Narasimha Karavalamba stotram, Lalita Sahasranaamam, Jagannatha stotram, Bhajagovindam, Govindaashtakam, Sri Ganga stotram, Sri Yamunaashtakam, Achyutaashtakam, Sivaashtakam, Ganesha stotram etc. Sankara also was the first to bring out his commentary on Vishnu Sahasranaama.
Lord Krishna asks Arjuna in 9-34 of Bhagavadgeetaa: Manmanaa bhava madbhaktoe madyaajee maam namaskuru | Maam evaishyasi yuktvaivam aatmaanam matparaayanah ||

Fix your mind on me; be devoted to me; worship me; and bow down to me.
Thus uniting yourself with Me (Lord) as the supreme goal and sole refuge, you shall certainly come to Me.
In this assurance of the Lord devotees have found an easy way for salvation moving away from the difficult path of Vedic sacrifices and Brahmopaasana (meditation on the Supreme Principle). This has also given way to various modes of worship as found in present day practices.
Why do we still continue with fire sacrifices? What is Praanaahuti?
Again Lord Krishna says in Bhagavadgeetaa: Aham kratur aham yajnah svadhaaham aham Aushadham | Mannoham aham eva aajyam aham agnir aham hutam ||

I am the prescribed ritual; I am the sacrifice; I am the food offered to ancestors; I am the medicine prepared from plants; I am the sacrificial mantra; I am also the clarified butter (ghee); I am the fire and offering thrown into fire as oblation and the fire is also me.
This message from the Lord has given scope for many rituals by way of Homas (fire sacrifices) practiced today not only in his worship but also the ancestors (Pitru devatas) as deities.
It also encouraged many who were wavering to switch over to Bhakrtimarga while they were reluctant to discontinue earlier practices of fire sacrifices (yajna). Vishnu was called and worshiped as Yajanpurusha. Aagamas and Tantras introduced sacrificial form of rituals (Yaaga and homa) into the present day mode of worship thus keeping the link with Vedic procedures and introducing Vedic mantras in the present day Aaraadhana (worship). Yajnas were also introduced in honoring ancestral deities (pitru devatas) with the Vedic mantra Swadha while Svaaha was kept exclusively for higher deities in Yajnas. Medicinal plant products are used in Teertha Prasadam (sacred water served for consumption after the worship of the Lord—light decoction of herbs and spices). It contains cloves, cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, cooking camphor, Tulsi etc. Incidentally this is soothing to the throat and voice of the devotee who engages himself in loud pitch of Bhajans (singing hymns in praise of the Lord) for long hours to reach the height of Bhakti (perhaps to subside the cross talks and external disturbances) besides their medicinal value for common ailments. Some even believe it needs louder voice and noises to rise to the height of heavens blowing the conch and beating the bell metal discs!
Vedas prescribe Mantras for Praanaahuti (sacrifice for Vital forces) which are considered as Vyahritis (compliments) of the Supreme Principle as described in Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishad. Stomach is believed to hold Jatharaagni (stomach fire). Food before consumption is offered to the stomach fire by gulping small portion of solid food offerings to Praana, Apaana, Udaana, Vyaana and Samaana (five vital forces) and through them to Aatman or Brahman within individuals. This is a prerequisite before eating food for nourishment. These Mantras have also been introduced by Aaagamas and Tantras to offer food to the various deities also during worship as in the Vedic practice. They have also drawn support from the following sloka from Bhagavadgeetaa:
Brahmaarpanam brahma-havir brahmaagnau brahmanaa hutam | Brahmaiva tena gantavyam brahmakarma-samaadhina ||
Supreme Being (Brahman) is the Oblation; Brahman is the clarified butter (ghee). The offering is made by Brahman into the fire of Brahman; Brahman shall be realized by the one who considers everything as a manifestation or an act of Brahman.
Life itself is an ever burning fire as it depends on that stomach fire (Jatharaagni) for its existence where sacrificial ceremony is going on non-stop, a holy act. Any offering to Jatharaagni is in essence obeisance to that Supreme Being. Hence this mantra is also chanted as a ritual before taking food like Vedic mantra "amritopastaranmaci" (see MNU). 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 (referring to the five physiological functions—respiratory, excretory, circulatory, digestive and reversal systems respectively and to the Supreme Being). After offering the food thus, it is eaten normally as Prasaada—blessed food.
We have already seen how Bhagavad Geetaa gives the idea of Yagna to be a part of our worship. This gives scope for the use of incense materials, fagots and ghee or melted butter. These fagots (samits) are celebrated in Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishad (MNU). These are Asvattha, Udumbara, Samee, Vikankata, Pushkaraparna, and Asanihatavriksha. These are also known for their medicinal values. We have already referred to plant products of medicinal value which are used in the sacred water (Teertha prasaadam) distributed which can be linked to Geeta by the ardent devotee. It is also customary to chant another sloka from Geetaa and a Mantra from Upanishads:
Aham vaisvaanarobhootva praaninaam dehamaasritah | praanaapaana-samaaayuktah pachaamyaannam chatur-vidham||
Residing in all living beings as Jatharaagni (digestive fire), I digest the four types of food eaten by them as an offering to Me.
Praanaanaam granthiraci rudro maa avisaantakaste na annenaap-yaayasva ||
You are the knot in which the vital airs are bound. You make one cry. You are the destroyer of food that is eaten. Enter into me. Cause satisfaction (to the praanas) through that food.
[Please visit <> for
very elaborate and traditional Mantras for the mealtime given in "Vedic Mantras from MNU"]
Lord's choice on materials for worship
The oft quote Sloka by Bhaktimarga followers given below refers to the essential materials with which worship starts:
Patram pushpam phalam toyam yo may bhaktyaa prayaccchati | tad aham bhakty-apahritam asnaami prayattatmanah || [Whoever with devotion offers me a leaf, a flower, a fruit and little water, I accept the devotional offering of that person who has a steady mind and steadfast devotion.]
So it has become customary to use these materials in worship of the Lord and these are also prescribed in Aaagamas and Tantraas. It also indicates, God also feels hungry (and therefore cognizably disposed towards pangs of hunger) as his devotees and expects food to be offered during worship. In reality the Lord is hungry for love and the feeling of devotion. Vedic mantras chanted during worship are even called Mantarapushpas (flowery mantras). Food is offered to God first in all worships and then consumed as blessed food (prasaadam).
In this sloka God meant small quantities of materials and lot of devotion. The words patram, pushpam and phalam used are all in singular in Sanskrit language. Pooja guidelines more often than not go overboard on all these things mainly concentrating on materials and show rather than devotional heart and mind. People also showed preferences to these materials and also made them specific to their favorite deity. For example Vishnu is always worshiped with Tulasi and Siva with Bilva and these are also linked to Puraanic stories. In their enthusiasm devotees often decorate deities with flowers and leaves and sometimes with, butter, sandal paste, vermilion, fruits and favored snacks as seen in Hanuman idols to-day. Milk and milk products over flows out of Bhakti and help the soil as nutrients or contribute to Bhoota Yajna (duty towards living beings). One should visit any Tamil devotee's home during Gokulashtami. Lord Krishna can be seen under a canopy of fruits, vegetables and snacks hanging from a frame called Phalavatsaram.
Devotees enthusiasm can be seen in the choice flowers for different deities some of them being rare species. These flowers are glorified in various Puraanas and explain how Gods are pleased with them—Vishnu, Naaradeeya, Dharmottara, Kaalika etc. Lalitaasahsranaama glorifies flowers stringed together thus: "maam sobhaa laateeti maalaa". A maalaa is an ornament for the deity.
Those made of pundareeka, white lotus are considered to be most auspicious even though Krishna was not specific on any one flower or fruit or leaf. Krishna is often described playing under Paarijaata trees in Puraaanas. Deities are seen with flowers and agricultural products like sugarcane in their hands and their icons are also profusely decorated with flowers.
In our worship even Gods have preferences for certain flowers like humans. Here are few descriptions:
Ganesha: except for Tulasi, the holy basil plant (Ocimum Sanctum), all others. Sri Ganesha likes all flowers according to Aachar Bhushan.
Sankara: It is customary to offer Maulsari flowers (Mimusops Elengi), Dhatura (dhatura stramonium), Harsinger (sweet smelling flower), Naagkesar (Mesua ferrea), dried lotus, Kaner (oleander), Jabakusum, aak (Calotropis gigaantea) and Kush (Doa cynosuroides).
Gauri: She likes all the flowers Lord Siva likes.
Besides her preferences are Apaamarg, bela (a variety of Jasmine), madaar (a variety of Calotropis gigantea), white lotus, Palaash (flame of the forest) Champa (Pulmaria acutifolia), and Chameli (Jasminum Grandiforum)
Vishnu: He is particularly fond of Lotus flower, Maulasari, Juhi, Kadamba (Nauclea cadamba), Kewra (the screw pine), chameli, ashok (Saraca indica), Maalati (jasmine variety), basanti (jasmine variety), champa and Vyjayanti (The garland of Vishnu)
Lakshmi: Lotus
Krishna: Kumud (the red lotus), Karvari, chanak (cicer arietinum), maalti, Nandik (mahogany family). Palash, Paarijaata, Vanamala (wreath of wild flowers)
Surya Narayana: Kutaj (Wrightia tinctoria), kaner (oleander), lotus, champa, Maulsari, palaash, aak, ashok. Flowers of tagar are prohibited.
The flowers of Ketaki are never offered in prayers. Lotus and Kumud stay fresh for long. Agastya flowers do not go stale.
[These are only illustrative and not exhaustive. Regional traditions differ. This is just to show how puranas and people have created preferences for individual Gods contrary to what Krishna said.]
Among fruits, cocoanut, banana, mango and Jack fruits are considered at the top tier.
Milk, jaggery, honey, butter are seen almost in every day worship particularly in the bathing ceremony of the Lord overflowing and flooding the drains.

PRASAADAM (Blessed food)
For Hindu devotees religion has entered into the cooking pot as Swami Vivekananda once lamented. Ganesha is seen with his favorite Modaka (Modaka Hasta) in his hand and Krishna (navaneeta-chora) with butter. There are even Modaka (sweet-meat) and Appam (a sweet cake) Homas believed to be recommended by Aagamas. If anyone would like to know Gods' choice preferences he should make a survey of all temple kitchens for one full year as and when festivals are celebrated. The most popular items seem to be Laddu, Peda, Vada, Payasam, Sakkarai Pongal and Sundal (Indian snacks and sweet dishes). Hanuman is worshiped with a garland of the favorite South Indian snack called Vada (108 in number), probably to indicate 108 Naamaavali (names of the deity). Some of the festivals in Tamil Nadu are named after the favorite dish and not the deity--Pongal, Kaaradiyan Nonbu etc. To have a quick glance one should visit Jagannath Puree where every day God is offered 32 varieties of food items. On Gokulashatami (Krishna's Birthday) it is customary to prepare this many varieties to please Krishna, particularly in South India. Poor Raama is satisfied with some soaked lentils and sweet lime juice for his Birthday. I am afraid I need to do more research to come up with an exhaustive discourse on Hindu Temple cuisines.
Navagrahas have their own preference for grains and even jewelry and clothing. Please refer to the discourse on Navagrahas. The taamasa mode of worship in the Saktaa tradition employs five things based on pancha makaara tattva—madya (wine); meat (maamsa), fish (matsya); occult gestures (mudra) and copulation (maithuna).
Madyam maamsam tathaa mudraam maithunam-eva cha | makaara panchakam praahur-yoginaam muktidaayakam || Suraa saktih sivoe maamsah tadbhoktaa bhairavam samam ||
Some Saktas believe they attain salvation by following Pancha Makaara Tatva in worship and rituals. This practice is still in vogue in pilgrim centers like Jagannath Puree and Kalighat. One other text speaks of wine as Sakti and meat as Siva, and explains that the devotee who consumes them both is himself the Bhairava. We can thus see how far the offering food to the deity has gone. This should be a solace for many non-vegetarians! Even Christianity has substituted bread for meat in worship though they too have retained wine representing blood in the Feast of Passover.
No food before prayer and thanking lord!
Food should be cooked for the Lord and offered first to him with love before consuming. Children should be taught to pray before taking food. There seem to be universal agreement on this by all religions. "No food before prayer and thanking Lord" seems to be an unwritten law. Guidelines for this are also found in a sloka from Bhagavadgeeta:
Yajnasishtaasinah santo muchyante sarva kilbishaih | Bhunjate te tv-agham paapaa ye pachanty-aatma-kaaranam ||
The righteous, that eat the remnants of selfless service, are freed from all sins but the impious who cook food only for themselves without first offering Me (Lord) or sharing with others verily eat sin.
Whose welfare Lord is concerned about?
Devotees who focus mainly their attention on these guidelines and choice materials not only in varieties but in quantities (more the quantity larger the benefit seems to be the belief) for rituals and worship have also found solace in the divine assurances found in these slokas:
Ananyaas-chintayanto maam ye janaah paryupaasate | teshaam nityaabhiyuktaanaam yogakshemam vahamy-aham ||
I personally take care of both spiritual and material welfare of all those ever-steadfast devotees who always (in all their activities) remember and adore Me (Lord) with single minded contemplation.
Again Raama says in Tulsidas Ramayan "I always take care of those who worship me with unswerving devotion as a mother takes care of her child".
Choice Mantras for specific deities
In Upanishads all Mantras have been directed to the Meditation on Brahman. Thus even the melted butter (ghritam) is meditated upon as Brahman. Contrary to this step today in worship specific Mantras are used for worship of particular deities. For example Purushsooktam is exclusively employed for Abhishekam (bathing ceremony) of all Vishnu deities only. It is never used for Siva and his retinue. Similarly Rudram is used exclusively for Siva and his retinue. It is never used for Vishnu and his Incarnations. Vishnu Sahasranama is exclusively used for male Vishnu deities though it contains references to Siva; some names are feminine and some neuter too and refer to Supreme Principle. The aaposana mantras, Achyutaaya namah, Anantaaya namah and Govindaaya namah (Cleansing with water) are used for all deities; similarly the Mantra "Gandhadvaaram duraadarsham" is used for all deities while applying sandal paste, though this appears only in Srisuktam, meant for a Vishnu consort in modern concept of compartmentalized worship. In fact Gandhadvaaram refers to Mother earth because earth is always associated with smell conveyed by the epithet gandha and does not mean sandal paste (see MNU). Similarly Gayatri Mantra is addressed to all deities.
OM is Universal
As per Vedic injunctions all prayers should be started with Om and should also end with Om:
Yad vedaadau svarah prokto vedante cha pratishtitah | Tasya prakritileenasya yah parassa mahesvarah||
The Pranava OM is ordained to be recited at the beginning of the Veda and also at the end. The letter akaara (alphabet 'a') into which it merges is the source of it. He that is denoted by the akaara (letter 'a') is the Supreme Lord. [This mantra expounds that Sriman Naaraayana is the Maheswara. Yet we make difference in worship for Naraayana and Maheswara.]
In present day worship this is strictly followed. No ritual starts without invoking Pranava Om. Probably this is due to Divine assurance in Bhagvadgeetaa:
Om ity-ekaaksharam brahma vyaaharan maam anusmaran | yah prayaati tyajan deham sa yaati paramaam gatim ||
When one leaves the physical body uttering OM, the sacred mono syllable one attains the Supreme Abode. [The Omnic meditation mentioned by the Lord is a very powerful and sacred Mantra and therefore all worship starts with OM and ends with OM for all deities.]
Yet another step employed in present day worship is Archana which Prahlaada recommended. This could be with the help of the materials recommended by the Lord, flower or leaf, but they are needed in larger numbers than what Lord Krishna suggested. Bhishma is considered as Pitaamaha (grandsire) not only to Pandavas and Kauravas but for all of us. He is the one who gave us Vishnusahasranama (1000 names of the Lord to meditate upon or use in worship) for the first time drawing inspiration from Srirudram of Vedas. Vishnusahasranama format is used for all Sahasranaamaavali (1008 names) and Ashtottaras (108 names of the Lord) in today's worship. Aagamas and Tantras added to the list kumkuma (vermilion) for use during Archana (Kumkumaarchana) form of worship to Goddess with ashtottaRA OR Sahasra naamaavali. Drawing support from these there are homas with 1000 Modakas or 1000 Appams in typical South Indian Practice; also Poornaahuti--Pour all materials left behind as grand finale of Homa).
Is God Stotrapriya? Origin of Ashtottara, Sahasra and Lakshaarchana.
One of the Vedic mantras in MNU reads as follows: "Ghashotkaaya swaaha"—oblation unto the Paramaatman who is deeply interested in the praise of His qualities; Svaahaa. It implies God is Stotra-priya (pleased with his praise) which again induces the devotee in Archana form of worship. Modern temple management has also found Sahasranaama Archanaa, Ashtottara Archanaa, Abhisheka etc, are good source of revenue on daily basis to run the temple sound which is appealing to the sentiments of religiously devoted.
Motivation for waving the light and lighting the lamps?
Arjuna saw the real light when he saw the Universal form of the Lord. During Worshipsymbolically light by way of Aarati is used to have the vision of the Lord. Of course here again there are lamps with 108 wicks today. There is no end to the ingenuity to the religious hunger of Hindu devotees. By waving the little light symbolically we make our intentions clear. We aspire for the divine light which Arujuna saw and the strength and wisdom he got from it. Aaagamas prescribe the use of Aarati and the lamp inspired by the incidence to remember the Lord as given in the sloka below from Geetaa but expressing our inner feelings from the Vedic mantra as prescribed by Aagama and Tantric texts. (Deepam samarpayaami)
Divi soorya sahasrasya bhaved yugapad-utthitaa | Yadi bhah sadrisee saa syaad bhaasas tasya mahaatmanah ||
If the brilliance of thousands of Suns were to radiate forth all at once in the sky, even those would not resemble the glow of the Exalted Being.
This sloka in Baghavadgeetaa is based on Vedic Mantra given below, as Geetaa is more often than not reflects Upanishadic thoughts. That way Lord Krishna forces us to go back and study Upanishads and concentrate on Svaaadhyaaya (Study of Vedas). Otherwise why would he repeatedly refer to Vedas and repeat Vedic mantras, He being the Supreme Principle?
Na tatra sooryoe bhaati na Chandra-taarakam nemaa vidyutoe bhaanti kutoyam-agnih |
Tameva bhaantam-anubhaati sarvam tasya bhaasa sarvam-idam vibhaati ||
There the Sun does not shine; neither the moon and the stars; nor do lightening flashes shine. How then can the fire? All these shine after Him only, who is ever shining. He is the source for all these lights.

Vishnu resides far above the highest heavens in Vaikuntha, where all who attain Moksha or spiritual liberation through him gather
and enjoy the eternal bliss.
Lord Krishna gives his advice to achieve that status as follows:
Mat-karma-krin mat-paramoe madbhaktah sangavarjitah | Nir-vairah sarvabhooteshu yah sa maam eti Pandavah ||
He who performs all actions for Me, who regards Me as their end, who is devoted to Me, unattached, with no animosity towards all things, such a one attains Me, O Paandava.
It is this motive force that makes one to go through all complex procedures of worship in so many ways with so much paraphernalia and to many gods guided by Aaagama and Tantra rules of worship. But Lord Krishna only emphasizes in Geetaa devotion, free from enmity and no attachment most needed in any worship of Him.
Phalsruti, the carrot before us!
The one worrying factor is the over emphasis on the benefits of observing a ritual or performing worship in the sastras and slokas which misguides the devotee and draws his attention more to the modus operandi than to the essential deep thought. Even in Vishnusahasranama elaborate Phalasruti has been added later which is not found in the original prayer of Bhishma. This has even gone into later Upanishads. It is said in the Upanishads that meditation on Trisuparna Mantras terminates the sin of killing a Vedic scholar, sin accrued due to destroying of the fetus and annihilation of a valorous being. All are not as lucky as sage Vaalmeeki who was a way side robber and murderer in his early life! Satyanarayana Vrata insists that forgetting to consume the Prasada after the vrata (ritual) can lead to disasters. Yet another Sloka says if you recite once you are free from capital sin, if you recite twice you become rich and if you recite thrice you will be free from the attack by enemies. Ignorant many may end up reciting twice to become rich, being best of the bargain!
Motivation behind circumambulation
It is customary to circum-ambulate the deity. This is drawing inspiration from the planets moving around the sun in clockwise movement. Planets also move around themselves (Aatma-pradakshinam-Self circumambulation). The divine halo moves clockwise. Divinity also moves clockwise. By moving along the magnetic field of the deity one can benefit from the positive vibration one receives. The longer one walks around the deity the greater the benefit from the vibrations. It is customary to walk 3, 5, 7, or 9 times around a deity. The positive vibrations influence a person beneficially. Therefore this is done keeping the deity to the right. This is a very slow process and probably regular visits might help. If we look back, all ancient famous temples are built at a higher planes preferably mountain tops where abundant positive energy is available from the magnetic and electric wave distribution of north south pole thrust and also clean air. In practice the deity was first installed and then the Garbhagriha (sanctum) came up later. Copper plates are also buried with vedic mantra etchings under the deity as per Aagama saastras. This also helps radiation. Now-a-days temples are built in crowded street corners and even bus stands due to mushroom growth of temples sacrificing the benefits claimed.
Wise advice of the Lord
Lord Krishna said in Bhagavadgeetaa: "We have jurisdiction over our respective duty only, but no control or claim over the results. The fruits of our work should not be our motive. We should never be inactive".
Karmenyeva-adhikaaras-te maa phaleshu kadaachana | maa karma-phalahetur bhooh maa te sangostva-karmani ||
He further says: "King Janaka and other great souls attained perfection by selfless service alone. You should also perform your duty with a view to guide people and for the universal welfare of society".
Karmanaivahi samsiddham aasthitaa janakaadayah|loka-sangrahameva-api sampasyan kartum arhasi|| Those who do selfless service like King Janaka and others are not bound by karma and attain salvation. Our prayers should not be based on self interest
or for self benefit.
A famous Vedic Prayer Mantra says: Viswaani deva savitar duritaani paraasuva | yad bhadram tanma aaasuva || Oh Resplendent Lord Savitar, the cause of this
Universe! Do destroy all our sins! Grant us that which is good for us.
[We do not know what is good for us. We pray to the Lord to grant us that which will be for our good leaving the decision to him. That way we may get the best for us.]

In this context it does not seem to be appropriate to do any worship to gain personal favors other than praying for forgiving our sins and granting us what is good for us leaving the choice to the God. We don't have to overstretch our love with more materials but focus on more devotion as Lord Krishna says—very little of the materials but tons of devotion and selfless service.














Religious texts claim lot of health benefits and psychological effects in employing various materials and techniques in the worship of the Lord as time tested which I have been referring on and off in my discourses. I have collected some more of them as described below for your analysis for the benefits claimed. Some have been backed by modern scientific research while some may be exaggerated.
The fragrance of flowers is said to please gods and goddesses. They are symbol of happiness and contentment.
The burning of incense generates positive magnetic vibrations that destroy negative feelings and promote health. Hindus even stand at the entrance of mosques sometimes to benefit from the copious smoke of incense waved with peacock feathers by the Caliph which leaves behind pleasant psychological feeling.
The use of turmeric-lime mixture for tilak (religious marks) is good for the skins and helps in developing harmony within the nerves having applied on the forehead. The tilak covers the spot between the eye brows, which is the seat of Ajna chakra mentioned in Yoga practice which is the seat of memory and thinking. Turmeric is good for blood purification, brightens the skin and helps healing wounds. The tilak cools the forehead protects us against scorching and prevents energy loss. Sometimes the entire forehead is covered with chandan or bhasma. Bhasma is called vibhuti meaning glory in Sanskrit as it gives glory to one who applies it as raksha, a means of protection as it protects the wearer form ill health and evil, by purifying the wearer. Some ascetics and very orthodox people rub it all over the body. Bhasma has medicinal value and is used in many Aayurvedic medicines. It absorbs excess moisture from the body and prevents colds and headaches. The bhasma from homas has more medicinal value cif it is from the fagots of medicinal plants. Sandal wood paste keeps the mind cool and turmeric is germicidal. Pure china clay used for Naama (white religious paste) helps destroy infectious germs besides keeping cool and protecting against sun scorching. In Tamil it is called "Tiruman" meaning sacred mud.
During prayer, the use of tongue, the vocal cords and the larynx are under great stress that is common in everyday practice. The continued practice can cause problems pertaining to the throat and adjoining glands. Use of rosary (Rudrakshi) around neck helps prevent the occurrence of these problems. Wearing Tulasi beads neck-chain in contact with skin is believed to help prevent cough and cold, skin diseases and blood disorders.
By using mats made of Kusha grass one does not lose hair. It is also believed to help preventing heart attack. Kusha grass rings worn during worship and rituals help in prevention of loss of energy by leakage into the ground through accidental touch.
J.C. Bose a well known scientist concluded an experiment showing as far as the sound of Conch penetrated disease causing bacteria became ineffective or died. Investigation made in Berlin University confirmed that the sound of the Conch shell was an effective and cheap way of destroying bacteria in the atmosphere. It is also said that it helps control of cholera and malaria and is useful on any patient of hysteria, epilepsy and leprosy. It is good for people who stammer. Blowing conch enhances lung capacity and helps prevent lung ailments. It also helps in getting rid of mental tension, regulating blood pressure and preventing diseases affecting breathing and digestion. In East India tradition of temple worship conch blowing for long time during worship is quite common. I do not know why this is not popular in South Indian Tradition of temple worship though the product itself very popular and is used in temples for holding sacred waters during bathing ceremony, specifically right twisted? "Shankh baje
bhoot bhage" is a popular saying, meaning with the blowing of the conch the devil runs away.
Temple has also preferences for utensils of specific metals which absorb positive energy as we all know. Water left in copper vessel overnight and consumed the next morning is believed to relieve constipation, aches and pains and help immunity. Bronze is known to cool down bile and improve memory and mental faculties, phlegm and mucous are controlled by food cooked in brass vessels. But they react with sour food which may turn poisonous. When regularly cleaned, copper utensils are considered pure and are extensively used in temples for a variety of purposes. No iron vessels are used. Tirupati uses even burnt clay pots. Gold is highly acclaimed though prohibitive because of cost. Silver is very popular. It is believed to have cooling effect on the body; it calms down bile; it is good for eye sight and promotion of mental tranquility. Wearing jewelry in the nose protects it from nasal problems and provides relief in cough and colds. Wearing gold ring ear-rings by woman help regulation of menstrual periods and also help in problems like hysteria. Jewelry is also presumed to absorb positive energies in temples built on mountains. Maharashtrians usually wear nose rings during worship. Hindu woman have preference to wear heavy jewelry during worship as also normally. Famous temples are located at a place where earth's magnetic wave-path passes through densely. But this has been nullified due to mushroom growth of population around the temple. Clasping hands during worship is akin to physical exercise. The quick movements of arms stimulate the whole body. The heart, lungs, the kidneys function better. With improved circulation waste products washed out fast.
The Tulasi leaf has great medicinal value and is used to cure various ailments, including the common cold. It is used in many medicines of Aayurveda.
[Please also refer to the following discourses In the Blog <>: Squeezing the Ears in Ganesha Worship; Some customary rituals in Lord's worship; Hindu Traditional Practices for Temple Visit.]
  1. Ramananda Prasad, The Bhagavad Geetaa, American Gita Society, California, USA.
  2. Ananta Rangacharya, Prinmcipal Upanishads, Bangalore, India
  3. Srnivasan N.R., Pooja Vidhaanam, <>
  4. References to various scriptures: Valmiki Ramayana, Ramacharita Manas, Srimad Bhagavatam, Vishnusahasranama, Satarudreeyam
  5. Prem P Bhalla, Hindu Rites, Rituals, Customs & Traditions, Pustak Mahal, Delhi, India.