Hindu Mommy

June 7, 2006

Hindu Rituals and Prayers – Part III

Filed under: Hinduism,Kids,Slokas — hindumommy @ 7:22 am

Why do we apply the holy ash?

Why do offer food to the Lord before eating it?

Why do we fast?

Why do we do pradakshina (circumambulate)?

Why is pradakshina done only in a clockwise manner?

Why do we regard trees and plants as sacred?

Why do we ring the bell in a temple?

Why do we apply the holy ash?

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 as worship of the Lord. Or the deity is worshipped by pouring ash as abhisheka and is then distributed as bhasma.

Bhasma is generally applied on the forehead. Some apply it on certain 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 implied 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 it 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 chants) 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 the body and become free of the limitations of birth and death. This is not to be misconstrued 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.

Shiva devotes apply bhasma as a tripundra. When applied with a red spot at the center, the mark symbolizes Shiva-Shakti (the unity of energy and matter that creates the entire seen and unseen universe).

Bhasma has medicinal value and is used in many ayurvedic medicines. It absorbs excess moisture from the body and prevents colds and headaches. The Upanishads say that the famous Mrityunjaya mantra should be chanted whilst applying ash on the forehead.

Tryambakam yajaamahe

Sugandhim pushtivardhanam

Urvaa rukamiva bhandhanaan

Mrytyor muksheeyamaa amrutaat

“We worship the three-eyed Lord Shiva who nourishes and spread fragrance in our lives. May He free us from the shackles of sorrow, change and death – effortlessly, like the fall of a rip brinjal from its stem.”

Why do offer food to the Lord before eating it?

Indians make an offering of food to the Lord and later partake of it as prasaada - a holy gift from the Lord. In our daily ritualistic worship (pooja) too we offer naivedyam (food) to the Lord.

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 through the act of offering food to Him. This is exemplified by the Hindi words “tera tujko arpan”– 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 consuming it. We do not demand, complain or criticise the quality of the food we get. We eat it with cheerful acceptance (

prasaada buddhi). Before we partake of our 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 plate 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 a family culture, the sages (rishi runa) as our religion and culture have been “realised”, aintained 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.

Thereafter 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

After offering the food thus, it is eaten as prasaada - blessed food.

Why do we fast?

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.

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 minds dull and agitated. Hence on certain days man decides to save time and conserve his 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.

The Bhagavad-Gita 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.

Why do we do pradakshina (circumambulate)?

We cannot draw a circle without a center point. The Lord is the center, source and essence of our lives. Recognizing Him as the focal point in our 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 center. This means that wherever or whoever we may be, we are equally close to the Lord. His grace flows towards us without partiality.

Why is pradakshina done only in a clockwise manner?

The reason is not, as a person said, to avoid a traffic jam! As we do pradakshina,the Lord is always on our right. In India the right side symbolizes auspiciousness. So as we circumambulate the sanctum sanctorum we remind ourselves 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”.

Indian scriptures enjoin – matrudevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava.

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.

After the completion of traditional worship (pooja), we customarily do pradakshina around ourselves. In this way we recognize and remember the supreme divinity within us, which alone is idolized in the form of the Lord that we worship outside.

Why do we regard trees and plants as sacred?

The Lord, the life in us, pervades all living beings, be they plants or animals.

Hence, they are all regarded as sacred. Human life on earth depends on plants and trees.

They give us the vital factors that make life possible on earth: food, oxygen, clothing, shelter, medicines etc.

Hence, in India, we are taught to regard trees and plants as sacred. Indians scriptures tell us to plant ten trees if, for any reason, we have to cut one. We are advised to use parts of trees and plants only as much as is needed for food, fuel, shelter etc. we are also urged to apologies to a plant or tree before cutting it to avoid incurring a specific sin named soona.

Certain trees and plants like tulasi, 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 Lord.

Why do we ring the bell in a temple?

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 aarati, 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 drowned any inauspicious or irrelevant noises and comments that might disturb or distract the worshippers in their devotional ardour, concentration and inner peace.

As we start the daily ritualistic worship (pooja) we ring the bell, chanting:

Aagamaarthamtu devaanaam

gamanaarthamtu rakshasaam

Kurve ghantaaravam tatra

devataahvaahna lakshanam

I ring this bell indicating

the invocation of divinity,

So that virtuous and noble forces

enter (my home and heart);

and the demonic and evil forces

from within and without, depart.

For related articles, please see http://hindumommy.wordpress.com/2006/06/06/hindu-rituals-and-prayers-why-do-we-do-them-part-ii/

and http://hindumommy.wordpress.com/2006/06/06/hindu-rituals-and-prayers-why-do-we-follow-them-an-explanation-for-kids-and-adults-2/

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5 Comments »

  1. In one View applying ASH is not at all good and should not be applied. Ash comes from burning of dead body and it is to be immersed in holy waters. It is wrong practice being continued. One should wear orange coloured mark on his/her forhead like Lord Balaji. The Marks worn by Lord Balaji is indicative of we want to go to heaven. There are looking upwards.
    The special nerves on the forehead
    are protected and nourished if one wears Tilak on his forehead not ash.

    Comment by swaralu — June 9, 2006 @ 10:42 am | Reply

  2. Trees an plants are a part of the support system for human existence.Plants and trees can live without humans, but humans cannot live without them. Hindu system has built eloborate ways of offering thanks to various support systems.
    Serve all beings as service to GOD.

    Comment by swaralu — June 9, 2006 @ 10:46 am | Reply

  3. Why do we fast?

    Compiled by Swaralu:

    Fasting means abstaining from taking the food. It is not just a case of not filling our stomachs. It is a symbol of control of senses. Taste is one sense that is difficult to control and hunger is basic instinct, difficult to overcome. Rishis and sages used to fast for controlling physical and mental urges. Bhagavd gita also fully endorses the fasting method. It has also scientific rationale. Fasting, weekly once gives rest to digestive system and improves health and longevity.

    It is not recommended to substitute regular food with snacks and fruits during fasting. It is a practice to fast on a particular day to please the deity ruling that day. For example,
    Sunday to please sun God, this is good for reputation and defeat of enemies.
    Monday pleases Moon and is good for marital life
    Tuesday will do well. Many married women fast for longevity and prosperity of their husbands.
    In Srivaishnava tradition, people fast once in 15 days on an Ekadasi day, that is eleventh day from new moon or full moon.
    Translated from Swati weekly 6-10-2006

    Comment by swaralu — September 30, 2006 @ 12:32 am | Reply

  4. I have been reading the blogs and they are good and informative.

    I have my own scientific expalnations for various things that are done in a hindu society.

    1. The Ash, Ash being nearly equal to activated Charcoal is a good adsorbent. Applying it on your forehead and the joints adsorbs the sweat. Then one may ask why didn’t the women wear it? My reason for this is the men went out to earn money while the women stayed at home. The Ash, therefore was more necessary for the men than the ladies.

    2. The offering of food to god. I would say the reason being to bring the temperature down so that they can be served.

    Comment by Ganesh — November 16, 2006 @ 3:07 pm | Reply

  5. @Ganesh:

    Thanks for commenting….What you have written makes sense.

    Now that I have kids and am answering their questions, I find it very illuminating that a lot of the stuff that we’ve been following just because…have actually a very scientific logic behind them
    example, the recent article on how curd helps prevent diabetes and high blood pressure

    Comment by hindumommy — November 16, 2006 @ 3:59 pm | Reply


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