WHY DO YOU AND HOW DO YOU RECEIVE
Young and old have questions as to why certain rituals are performed and certain traditions followed at the temple. Our parents, whom we never questioned, have passed much of what we do at the temples today, down to us. The present generation’s thirst for knowledge has not left our practices unquestioned. This article is an amateur attempt to put things in perspective, and to give some meaning and significance to these practices. To examine some of them:
It is the Hindu custom to remove footwear before entering THE LORDS HOUSE. Or any house for that matter. It is believed that footwear carries germs dust and dirt from the streets. It is also customary for people to wash their hands and legs before they enter any temple. This is an example of how Hindus maintained sanitation and cleanliness of their surroundings.
WHY DO THE PRIEST CHANT SO MANY PRAYERS?
Prayer is the ultimate way for one to communicate with the almighty. The priests are a medium through whom one can communicate with the Almighty. Prayer with devotion brings about inner peace and invokes the Brahman (God) within you. When slokas are chanted with correct pronunciation and intonation, a divine atmosphere is created with holy vibrations all around.
It is a ritual performed in the worship of Hindu Gods, whereby a lighted lamp or lighted camphor is moved circularly (clockwise) around the idol. The sanctum sanctorum is usually dark, the idol is carved usually out of black stone, and Aarathi removes darkness and reveals the form of the Lord to you when the priest moves the lamp all around the idol. Before electricity was invented, the only way devotees could see the actual idol was when the priest performed aarathi. This also reminds us that God can lead us from darkness to light and from ignorance to knowledge “ Tamaso – ma Jyotirgamaya”. When the priests bring the flame to the devotees, it is customary to run both the palms of ones hand over the flame and then pat the palms over ones eyes as a mark of absorbing the Almighty’s light into ones body. It should also be remembered that fire is a purifying agent and what is pure is what is offered to the Lord.
THEERTHA OR HOW DOES ONE RECEIVE THE HOLY WATER?
It is the Hindu belief that all prayers chanted will invoke the Lord, in fire, water and air. Spiced water is offered to the Lord during the chanting of hymns. When the priests chant the mantras they imbue the water with good spirits, example the holy rivers, protecting elements (5 Life controlling elements) praana, apaana, vyaana, udaana, samaana and God himself. Water is thus turned to “THEERTHA” (holy water) during pooja. At the end of a pooja after distribution of the aarathi the priest hands out only half a spoon of this holy water to the devotee, in order that this holy water may be absorbed by the body and never desecrated, excreted or spilt on the floor. It is a practice among orthodox south Indian seniors, to visit their neighboring temples after morning rituals and receive this holy water before eating any solid food each day. Theertha should be received by placing a cup shaped form of the right hand over the left and sipped in, so that the Theertha does not run off to the floor and what is left over may be sprinkled on top of ones head. It is also a practice in South India for people to place the end of their sari or dhothi under the cup shaped right hand as a means to absorb the excess water spill, if any. Theertha should be received with reverence and devotion. Theertha usually contains water, tulsi (mint like herb), flavoring agents, lilac, cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, cooking camphor.
PRASAADAM: WHAT IS PRASAADAM AND HOW DO YOU RECEIVE IT?
Food offerings to the Almighty is called prasaad, it may be tulsi leaves (plant), flowers, nuts, raisins, coconut, fruits etc. These become sanctified as the priests offer them to the Lord by chanting the proper mantras (prayers) invoking the vital airs (the pancha pranas). Anything offered to the Lord must be given with devotion and a pure heart and he is said to accept it. As Krishna says in the Gita Patram Pushpam Phalam Toyam Yo me Bhaktya Prayacchati Tadaham Bhakty –upahratama –snaami prayaattmanah I will accept a leaf, flower, a fruit or water offered to me with devotion and a pure heart. The prasaad is only an expression which states that whatever produce of nature one obtains, or food which one has prepared, is actually HIS and one should consume it only after it is offered to the Lord. After the pooja is over, the priests distribute a small serving of prasaad to each devotee, which is to be consumed. When a meal is offered to the Lord, it is usually partaken by the offered, his family and friends. It should not be treated carelessly or discarded. It is not a practice to eat regular meals in front of the sanctum sanctorum. In Indian temples there are special places designated for this purpose. It is also a time to remember your creator and thank him for all the blessing of food that you receive.
SHATAARI OR BLESSING FROM A CROWN
Shataari is the Sri Vaishnava practice of placing a silver crown on the devotee’s head by the priest. Shataari comes from the word removal or emancipation from wickedness and evil (Shata means wickedness and ari means evil), which you seek at the feet of the Lord. Shataari is synonymous with “Paduka” (footwear) of Sri Rama. When Rama was exiled to the forest, Bharatha his brother was distraught and wanted Rama to come back to reign the kingdom of Ayodhya, Rama removed his “Paduka” and gave it to his brother. Bharata placed it on the throne and mythology says that the footwear protected the world, in Rama’s absence. If one closely observes the crown, one will see 2 feet impressions of Lord Vishnu on top. Men should receive with both hands covering the nose and a bowed head by women and with folded hands and a head bent down Shataari. Receiving the Shataari signifies the surrendering to the feet of the Lord and asking him mercy to relieve you from all wickedness. The purpose of various adornments (marks) on the forehead: Applying whatever it may be Vibhuthi, Kumkum, Chandan or Naamam on the forehead and other parts of one’s body is a form of decoration of the Lord within (Paramatman, Atman) and it is also considered a blessed gift (prasaadam) from the Almighty.
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