Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"The Beauty and Science of Temple Culture" Significance of Parikrama

Why do we do Parikrama?

Parikrama, also known as Pradakshina or circumambulation is a regular religious activity for the one who daily visits the temple. When we are blessed with Darshan, special Pooja or other different religious ceremonies, we walk circumambulating the idol, reciting verses silently or singing loudly the glories of God. This is known as Parikrama. 

Parikrama is not just a ritual but it also has a deep devotional sentiment and significance!

We cannot draw a circle without a center point. God is the center of our entire existence. Parikrama reminds us this very very important point of devotional life! When we get out of the temple and get engaged in the daily chores, we should keep the God in our center. We should always remember that what we do is the God's energy and inspiration which empower us. We are just an instrument. It is only His pure Grace that we can do whatever we do, whatever we gain, whatever we achieve.

Wherever we go in this world which is so wide and full of varieties, our center should be God. We should live the life which moves around God, the center.

Parikrama also reminds us the principle of a circle. Every point in the circle is equidistant from the center. This indicates that when God is the center of the whole existence, we all are equidistant from Him. We all are equally close to God. Whoever, wherever and whatever we are, God's grace flows to everyone at the same pace, time, quantity, and quality. God showers His Grace without any partiality!

The idols of God are situated in the middle of the temple. They continuously spread divine vibrations in the entire ambiance of the temple. Maximum vibrations stay accumulated in this area. By circumambulating the idols, devotees absorb maximum devotional vibrations.

yaani kaani cha papani
janmantar krutaani cha
taani taani vinashyanti
pradakshina pade pade

"All the sins committed by an individual from innumerable past births are destroyed by each step taken whilst doing Pradakshina."
This verse also explains the importance of Parikrama.

Sing with great while circumambulation:
"Hare Ram Hare Ram Ram Ram Hare Hare!
 Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare!!"


"The Beauty and Science of Temple Culture' Significance of Arati

After every spiritual discourse, kirtans, religious ritual or any other ceremony, we unfailingly end up with an Arati. Even when welcoming the God or a saint we first offer them Arati. By offering Arati, we honor them and their arrival. Thus Arati is an inseparable part of spiritual ceremonies!

Why do we offer Arati?
For Arati we lit one or more lamps with ghee or oil and put them in a well- decorated plate. Then we rotate the Arati clockwise, circling the full form of our beloved deities. The beautiful forms illuminate with Arati in front of us and that adds to the beauty and emotions in our hearts. At the end of the Arati, we place our palms on the lamp and then take the same palms and put on our eyes, forehead and on the top of the head. We are all familiar with this process of Arati since the time of our childhood. We do it ritually every time we are in the temple, but how many of us know the reason behind this spiritual activity?

When we offer the Arati to the Lord, in circling movement, and the light illuminates the idols in a divine manner, our eyes, mind, and heart automatically get focused on to the idols and these Darshans are done with the deep concentration. Thus it becomes a meditation with open eyes!! It also facilitated Roop Dhyan process because of the visual memory we create of our idols.

At the end of Arati, when we put our palms on the top of it and then take the palms to our eyes and forehead, we are praying that "May the light that illumined the Lord, lights up my vision, may my vision be divine and my thoughts noble and beautiful."

The only rule of Bhakti is to develop devotional and spiritual sentiments towards God. The singing of Arati should also be done believing that the God Himself is standing in front of us. And that we are calling out for Him by singing this Arati. The more intense the sentiment one has while doing Arati, the faster the prayers reach to God.

Arati is mostly accompanied by singing, clapping, ringing the bells, blowing a conch and playing many other musical instruments like drums etc. When the Aarti is done by a group of people with all other musical instruments then a more powerful divine atmosphere is created. This is a beautiful way to add joy and cheer to the devotional practices. This deeply purifies every person present there, along with the place of Aarti.

The only intention here in singing the melodies of devotion accompanied with musical instruments is to PLEASE GOD! Once the intent is pure and the sentiments are high, the purpose is automatically achieved.

Keeping all these significant aspects of Arati, sing this divinely melodious Arati of Shree Radha Krishna!

Monday, July 10, 2017

"The Beauty and Science of Temple Culture" Significance of Offering Food to God "Prasadam"

Why Do We Offer Food To God Before Eating It?

In western tradition, people pray before eating their meals. They pray to God as Thanksgiving. In India in almost every temple, food is offered as "Bhog" or " Naivedyam". Once the Lord “partakes” from the offering, the remaining food is considered sacred and blessed and is thereafter consumed by the devotees as “Prasadam”.

There are many reasons why we offer food to God.

1. God has provided many varieties of edibles in unlimited abundance. Whatever we have been receiving is nothing else but the sheer grace of God- even the meals that we eat! Hence, God doesn't need a 'Bhog', it is our way of acknowledging his grace by offering the food to Him. It is said in Hindi "Tera Tujako Arpan'. I offer to you what is Yours. Then I accept it with reverence as Your gift to me. We thus cultivate this sentiment that whatever I receive and gain throughout this life span, is all of God and comes to me by His grace.

Once the food is offered to God, it becomes 'Prasadam". We always share the Prasadam. We do not eat it alone. Thus we learn to share whatever we have. Another important point is when we receive Prasadam we never complain about its quantity, quality or taste. We never criticize Prasadam. We eat it with a cheerful attitude and unconditional acceptance. When this attitude is internalized in our way of lives, it helps us live a more fulfilling life. We learn to receive pains and gains alike as a gift or Prasadam of God.

2. Once the 'Bhog' is offered to God, the value of food transforms from materialistic to spiritual. It no longer remains a nutritious meal alone, it also becomes a spiritually nutritious , which nourishes the soul alike! When the food becomes Prasadam and reaches to the different parts of our body, it cleanses the soul and removes negativity from our mind, body and intellect.

3. Often we forget to "Thank" God after we get what we desire. By Thanking God or remembering Him before eating food, we develop the habit of Thanksgiving.

4. The scriptures say that God is poorn kaam and param nishkaam. He is the original creator of unlimited universes. Even then devotees sing songs to wake him up in the morning. They prepare different varieties of food and offer them as Naivedyam or Bhog with great love and reverence. They offer different Shringars and also sing lullabies to make Him sleep. While God does not need any of these things, the one and the only reason why devotees do these is that the intent and love with which these are done is to establish a devotional relationship with God. Even God also craves for these types of sentiments! Bhavgrahi Janardanha"- God receives and accepts our devotional sentiments and He has proved it by the examples of Sudama and Vidurani.

Does God really accept our offerings?
Someone has nicely explained, "A Guru-Shishya Conversation" which with simple example answers the question "Does God really come and eat our offerings?"

A Guru-Shishya conversation:

The shishya who has many doubts in mind, asked his Guru:

"Does God accept our 'Naivedyam' (offerings)? If God eats away the 'Prasadam' then from where can we distribute it to others? Does God really consume the 'Prasadam', Guruji?"

The Guru did not say anything. Instead, asked the student to prepare for classes.

That day, the Guru was teaching his class about the Upanishads. He taught them the 'mantra': "Poornamadam, Poornamidam, ......Poornasya Poornamaadaaya...." and explained that: "Every thing came out from "Poorna or Totality." .

Later, everyone was instructed to practice the mantra by-heart. So all the boys started practicing. After a while, the Guru came back and asked that very student who had raised his doubt about Naivedyam to recite the mantra without seeing the book, which he did.

Now the Guru gave a smile and asked this particular shishya who had doubts: 'Did you really memorize everything as it is in the book? The shishya said: "Yes Guruji, I've recited whatever is written as in the book.

The Guru asked: "If you have taken every word into your mind then how come the words are still there in the book?" He then explained: "The words in your mind are in the invisible form. The words in the book are there in the visible form."

"The offering made to God is done in visible form but God takes the food in invisible form. Hence the food doesn't become any less in quantity. While GOD takes it, we take it as Prasadam. "

Hearing this the shishya felt guilty for his disbelief in God and surrendered himself to his GURU.

Meerabai has very nicely explained this devotional sentiments in her one of bhajans which we also can sing while offering food to Shree Krishna...

Shyam rasiya mere man basiya, ruchi ruchi bhog lagao rasiya.

O Shyamsundar! You always dwell in my heart, Kindly accept and relish these various foods offered.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

"The Beauty and Science of Temple Culture" Significance of Temple Bell

Why do we ring the bell in a temple?
Almost in all temples, we see one or more bells hanging either at the entrance or inside the temples. The sound of the bells adds devotional beauty to the whole ambiance. Usually, devotees first ring the bell and then they proceed for the darshan. Often we see even children enjoy to ring the bells and they keep jumping until they reach to it. What is so interesting about the bell in the temple?

Do we ring the bell to wake the God up the way we wake up by an alarm? Not really! Who are we to wake the one up who creates the dawn? Or do we ring the bell to get the permission of God before entering in His abode? But the temple is like a homecoming for a devotee and there is no need of permission for entering into the Lord's home! Then do we do it just to inform God about our arrival? God is all knower. He doesn't need to be informed.

The real reason why we ring the bell is for the sound it creates.

These temple bells are not prepared out of an ordinary metal. It is created from more than one metals. However, the real science is in the proportion of each of these metals. Due to the particular proportion of each metal, the bell produces a very distinctive sound which has a special healing power for body and mind.

The ringing bell prepares a person for a prayer. The moment the bell rings, all the thoughts get focused in the temple ambiance. The worldly thoughts start losing their grip. Thus it takes us to the special level of awareness. The mind starts getting disconnected from the outer circumstances which help to the receptivity and it gets maximum gain by concentrating on God.

It is said that the bell produces the auspicious sound 'AUM' which is a universal divine sound- the first sound that even occurred. Many Vedic verses start with 'AUM'. This sound aligns our inner self with the universal factor of divinity. The sound echoes for few seconds even after we stopped ringing the bell. That combination of sounds and vibration brings the mind to the different state of calmness through which the spiritual experience can be felt more deeply.
While ringing the bell remind yourself:

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

Therefore, the bell has a very auspicious significance along with its beauty of sound!

Friday, July 7, 2017

"The Beauty and Science of Temple Culture" Significance of Kalash

Significance of Kalash

Whenever it comes to the container for water in temple or pooja, we unfailingly remember the kalash. We don't use a glass, a jar, a jug, a tumbler, a pan or any other vessel for the purpose of pooja. Not only for any occasional pooja but for regular pooja also we prefer to use kalash. So much so that when we teach and train a child to offer different abhisheka, we prefer baby kalash for them also. We don't wish to use glass when a child offers abhisheka, who is just a beginner! So what is the importance of kalash? Why do we have kalash in our devotional practices?

What is a Kalash?
Kalash-Pooja is a very important part of any auspicious ceremony. According to scriptures, kalash-Pooja has a very special Vedic significance.

A mud, copper or silver pot which is filled with water or rice. Mango or asopalav leaves are placed on the mouth of the pot and a coconut is placed over it. A red, yellow or white thread is tied around its neck. Such pot is known as a Kalash. It is also called Kumbh which is representing the inert body which when filled with the divine life force, gains the power to do all wonderful things.

The Kalash symbolically represents creation 
Before the creation, Lord Vishnu was reclining on His snake-bed in the milky ocean. From His nevel emerged a lotus from which appeared Brahma, who thereafter created this world.

The vacant pot, symbolizes earth, and the water filled one symbolizes the primordial water from which life began on earth. Life began in water and nothing can exist in this world without water. It is the giver of life to all. The leaves and coconut represent creation. The thread represents the love that "binds" all in the creation. The kalash is therefore considered auspicious.

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 (kumbhaabhishek) 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.

Symbol of immortality
During Samudra Manthan when the asuras 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 symbolizes immortality.

Kalash as abode the of gods
According to the scriptures, the mouth, the throat, and base of the kalash are the seats of Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma respectively whereas the belly represents all goddesses and Divine-mother’s power streams. Thus in this small urn, the presence of all gods and goddesses is symbolized. This exemplifies that all the gods are essentially one and are manifestations of the same Supreme Power.

Because of its uniformity and symmetry in all directions, the kalash is a symbol of the entire universe and of that omnipresent Brahm. All the gods in their microcosmic and macrocosmic subliminal forms are meditated, during devotional worships, as to be present in this symbolic form of the universe. Thus, through the medium of the kalash we are made aware of all the gods in one place, at one time and in one symbol. 
Likewise, the pyramids, the distinct geometry and symmetrical design of the kalash play an important role in storage and dissemination of natural energy currents. It is the kalash, which crowns the Vedic temple. Its size and positioning adjust the height of the building to a proportion consistent with the specific Vedic plan for the structure. This is aimed at adjusting the environment for a holistic living; with more energy, more joy, and increasing success. 

In the study of temple architecture, we always come across the term Kalash. It is top most part of a temple, above the shikhar which exactly looks like kalash. It is a belief among the people that the construction of the temple is very auspicious and it is completed only after the construction of kalash at the end on the top of it. 

Installing kalash is a very simple religious act which can be performed by all as an option for all tedious religious practices. On the other hand, it is a symbol of all gods, creation, knowledge, and wisdom. Hence the kalash is holy and pure.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

"The Beauty and Science of Temple Culture" Significance of Lighting a Lamp

Why do we light a lamp?

Indian way of devotion often leaves not only children but even adults question or turn curious to various practices and symbols associated with temple culture. Well, one of the most ancient devotional practices has to have not just beauty but a scientific reason for the practices that have continued all these while. 

To share the understanding of this deeper science, a series named "The Beauty and Science of Temple Culture" has been conceptualized. The objective is to understand the deeper science and the aesthetic utility, both of various practices in the temple. With each blog, we will explore one such practice or symbol having a deep connection with the temple. 

What is the significance of 'fire' or 'light' in devotion? Whether it is a church, an agiyari or any other devotional places, we see light/ fire in some candle.

Be it a Hindu temple or a house, the lamp is something that bears very close association with worship. Let us explore the science of a lamp in devotion.

Light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness symbolizes ignorance.The Lord is illuminator of all knowledge. Hence, light is worshipped as the Lord Himself. Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness.

There is a famous saying in Upanishad -"Tamaso ma jyotirgamay" तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय "From darkness, lead me to light" highlights that going towards lamp or a flame is like going towards knowledge. As lamp removes the darkness, knowledge removes the darkness of ignorance. Also, knowledge is a wealth which lasts forever. Therefore we light a lamp accepting knowledge as the greatest wealth. 

During all auspicious ceremonies, we light a lamp as a witness of our thoughts and actions. It also represents the main source of light on this earth- the Sun. The Sun is all-pervasive, omnipresent and visible to our eyes. The way Sun stands witnessing our Karmas throughout the day, the lamp is lit to stand as a witness in the home or in the temple to look over our karmas and to keeps guiding us. 

Another reason for lighting the lamp is the flame of the lamp. Whichever kind of wick you use in the diya, the flame will always go upwards and never downwards! The flame and its direction reminds us to think and grow upwards, always! This is defined as 'Urdhvagaami' approach of thinking.

Why we use a wick and oil or ghee to light a lamp and why not a bulb?- A bulb also gives the light! But when it is about devotion, we do not substitute the flame with the bulb! The ghee or oil in the lamp symbolizes the negative tendencies and the wick represents as ego. When spiritual light is lit, all the negativities get gradually vanished and the ego also perishes in the end.  

One more important reason for why do we light a lamp. A single lamp can light so many other lamps. The brilliance of lamp does not get dimmed by lighting even hundred other lamps. Likewise spreading knowledge is a beautiful way to spread light in many lives and as we all know knowledge only grows by sharing it with others. 

The lamp wick is a small start and has the capacity to ignite even a grand and holy havan kund or Yagnya when right ingredients are provided. Likewise, a small start with a good intent can yield huge auspicious results when accompanied with dedication, hard work, faith and devotion. That is the beauty of lamp!

While lighting the lamp, we thus pray:

दीपज्योतिः परब्रह्म दीपज्योतिर्जनार्दनः ।
दीपो हरतु मे पापं दीपज्योतिर्नमोऽस्तुते ॥

The light of the lamp represents the Supreme Brahman, the light of the lamp represents Janardana (Shree Vishnu).
Let the light of the lamp remove my sins; salutations to the light of the lamp.