Hindu Mommy

June 6, 2006

Hindu Rituals and Prayers – Why do we follow them? An explanation for kids and adults alike…

Filed under: Hinduism,Kids,Slokas — hindumommy @ 2:55 am

In the process of raising Hindu kids in the US , I have found that a lot of rituals and prayers that I just did by rote growing up now need to be explained scientifically

When I was a kid if I was told not to touch paper or books with my feet, that’s what I did  – or if I was told to ring the bell at the temple – that’s what I did and never bothered to question it.

But if I ask my kids to do something, it is followed by their all-time favorite question “Whhhhy?”

So to help other parents who may be in a similar situation here’s a compiled list of some of the reasons we follow certain Hindu rituals and traditions – Of course, the answers may need to be a bit modified depending on the age of the kids

Why do we light a lamp?

Why do we have a prayer room?

Why do we do Namaste?

 Excerpted from Chinmaya mission book by Swamini Vimalananda and Radhika Krishnakumar

Why do we light a lamp? 

In almost every Indian home a lamp is lit daily before the altar of the Lord. In some houses it is lit at dawn, in some, twice a day – at dawn and dusk – and in a few it is maintained continuously (Akhanda Deepa). All auspicious functions commence with the lighting of the lamp, which is often maintained right through the occasion.

Light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness, ignorance. The Lord is the “Knowledge Principle” (Chaitanya) who is the source, the enlivener and the illuminator of all knowledge. Hence light is worshiped as the Lord himself.

Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness. Also knowledge is a lasting inner wealth by which all outer achievement can be accomplished. Hence we light the lamp to bow down to knowledge as the greatest of all forms of wealth.

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 ghee in the lamp symbolizes our vaasanas or negative tendencies and the wick, the ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge, the vaasanas get slowly exhausted and the ego too finally perishes. The flame of a lamp always burns upwards. Similarly we should acquire such knowledge as to take us towards higher ideals.

Whilst lighting the lamp we thus pray:

Deepajyothi parabrahma Deepa sarva tamopahaha

Deepena saadhyate saram Sandhyaa deepo namostute

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 all can be achieved in life.

Why do we have a prayer room?

Most Indian homes have a prayer room or altar. A lamp is lit and the Lord worshipped each day. Other spiritual practices like japa (repetition of the Lord’s name), meditation, paaraayana (reading of the scriptures), prayers, and devotional singing etc is also done here. Special worship is done on auspicious occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, festivals and the like. Each member of the family – young or old – communes with and worships the Divine here.

The Lord is the entire creation. He is therefore the true owner of the house we live in too. The prayer room is the Master room of the house. We are the earthly occupants of His property. This notion rids us of false pride and possessiveness. The ideal attitude to take is to regard the Lord as the true owner of our homes and us as caretakers of His home. But if that is rather difficult, we could at least think of Him as a very welcome guest. Just as we would house an important guest in the best comfort, so too we felicitate the Lord’s presence in our homes by having a prayer room or altar, which is, at all times, kept clean and well-decorated.

Also the Lord is all pervading. To remind us that He resides in our homes with us, we have prayer rooms. Without the grace of the Lord, no task can be successfully or easily accomplished. We invoke His grace by communing with Him in the prayer room each day and on special occasions.

Each room in a house is dedicated to a specific function like the bedroom for resting, the drawing room to receive guests, the kitchen for cooking etc. The furniture, decor and the atmosphere of each room are made conducive to the purpose it serves. So too for the purpose of meditation, worship and prayer, we should have a conducive atmosphere – hence the need for a prayer room. Sacred thoughts and sound vibrations pervade the place and influence the minds of those who spend time there. Spiritual thoughts and vibrations accumulated through regular meditation, worship and chanting done there pervade the prayer room. Even when we are tired or agitated, by just sitting in the prayer room for a while, we feel calm, rejuvenated and spiritually uplifted.

Why do we do Namaste?

Indians greet each other with namaste. The two palms are placed together in front of the chest and the head bows whilst saying the word namaste. This greeting is for all – people younger than us, of our own age, those older than friends, even strangers and us.

There are five forms of formal traditional greeting enjoined in the shaastras of which namaskaram is one. This is understood as prostration but it actually refers to paying homage as we do today when we greet each other with a namaste.

Namaste could be just a casual or formal greeting, a cultural convention or an act of worship. However there is much more to it than meets the eye. In Sanskrit namah + te = namaste. It means – I bow to you – my greetings, salutations or prostration to you.

Namaha can also be literally interpreted as “na ma” (not mine). It has a spiritual significance of negating or reducing one’s ego in the presence of another.

The real meeting between people is the meeting of their minds. When we greet another, we do so with namaste, which means, “may our minds meet,” indicated by the folded palms placed before the chest. The bowing down of the head is a gracious form of extending friendship in love and humility.The spiritual meaning is even deeper. The life force, the divinity, the Self or the Lord in me is the same in all. Recognizing this oneness with the meeting of the palms, we salute with head bowed the Divinity in the person we meet. That is why sometimes, we close our eyes as we do

namaste to a revered person or the Lord – as if to look within.

The gesture is often accompanied by words like “Ram Ram”, “Jai Shri Krishna”, “Namo Narayana”, “Jai Siya Ram”, “Om Shanti” etc – indicating the recognition of this divinity. When we know this significance, our greeting does not remain just a superficial gesture or word but paves the way for a deeper communion with another in an atmosphere of love and respect.

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9 Comments »

  1. Light is a symbol of knowledge. To Light lamp the Cow’s ghee is preferable but Til Oil is OK. This will genearte a positive energy in the house. The light is to be faced towards God. It gives a good feeling to see God in the flame’s light. Generally, Hindus perform Prayers at least twice a day.
    Basically, God is considered as an extension of man. Man cannot see without light. So also God. So he can look after us!

    Comment by swaralu — June 9, 2006 @ 10:33 am | Reply

  2. The sacred plant of Tulasi

    Sri Maha Vishnu blesses Brunda Devi which incarnates as the plant Tulasi.
    So it is very dear to Maha Vishnu and offered in pujas. It has immense value.
    There are many benefits for health.

    Some of the benefits:

    Seeing a Tualsi palnt daily is good for the day.

    Tulasi leaves extract mixed with honey is good for mentally retarded children.

    A very good disinfectant and cures mouth ulcers.

    Water gets purified if a leaf of tulasi is put in it.

    Tualsi with ginger and lemon is good for digestion.

    Skin irritation is cured with a paste of taulsi leaves mixed with a few drops
    Lemon juice.

    Ramakrishna Addanki

    Comment by swaralu — July 17, 2006 @ 9:43 am | Reply

  3. hindu mommy:

    you appear to have pulled off a kaavya viswanathan with this post. all these deft definitions are part of a book “why do we…” written by swamini vimalananda and radhika krishnakumar, published before 2004. if you are not either of them, the least you could do is to provide a reference of where you got the information from, and – really – you need to seek their permission before lifting the contents word for word.

    the above-referenced book is published by chinmaya mission (publications@chinmaya.org)

    – s.b.

    Comment by some body — December 1, 2006 @ 7:41 pm | Reply

  4. Somebody:

    I sincerely apologize if I have hurt or offended anyone….
    I got this in a forwarded chain email with no link to authors…I did ask the person who forwarded it to me if she had a reference but couldn’t find one (guess we didn’t look hard enough )
    Now that you have kindly pointed out the authors, i will make sure to update the posts and credit it to them
    I definitely don’t want to take credit for something that is not mine….In my initial days of blogging, I was just using the blog as a repository to contain all the many emails that I had been accumulating
    As for being a kaavya vishwanathan i have to politely disagree…I am definitely not making any money out of this blog nor am i blogging for the name ( most of my real friends don’t know about my blog). It’s just a collection of stuff that is interesting to me
    Again apologies for my unintended mistake and thank you for giving me the name of the true authors….I shall rectify my mistake

    Comment by hindumommy — December 3, 2006 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

  5. thanks for the long explanation. that is great that you to keep the blog as a repository – i probably need to start a blog like that!

    but it would be nice if you were to put references for each post that is not totally yours, maybe a small thing like “from an e-mail” because, by default, i will (and i am sure, many of your readers will) assume that it is written entirely by you if you don’t provide any reference to tell where it is from.

    – s.b.

    Comment by some body — December 4, 2006 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

  6. Somebody…let me know if u start a blog – i’ll be sure to visit it 😀

    Comment by hindumommy — December 6, 2006 @ 12:15 am | Reply

  7. s.b.- Umm, maybe this post has been updated to relfect your comment, but when I read it, there was a reference to an “article” that she had found. True, the post doesn’t credit the authors, your comment takes care of that now. I didn’t get the wrong impression that her post was entirely her own words. Maybe it looked like that to begin with, I guess.

    Interesting post. Your comment makes me aware to be careful to provide links to the things I find and share in my own blog. I wouldn’t necessarily think to find out if something that came from a chain email was copyright infringement or not. I guess that happens a lot and I’m sure no harm was meant.

    Comment by Mrs Flipphead — July 6, 2007 @ 10:33 am | Reply

  8. There are several practices being followed by Hindus – worldwide. Examples of such practices are:

    (1) applying holy ash (vibhoothi) on the forehead after the head bath every morning by males and kumkum by females.
    (2) performing shashtanga namaskar (lying down on the floor with the stomach touching the ground and legs as well as hands are well streached.)
    (3) doing pranayama (systematic inhaling and exhaling through the nose) at least twice a day

    The above practices are just a few. All the above practices have scientific health benefits – especially to free anyone from sinus trouble, common cold, cough, etc.

    But none of the Hindus reveal these, although they practice them every day ‘religiously’ without knowing these, and they do not propagate the same among others.

    Comment by crvg2 — October 9, 2008 @ 4:32 am | Reply

  9. yes each and every action of hinduism signifies benediction to god/creator and if we follow sincerely we will be at peace
    god bless you
    swamiji
    monk and social worker
    india

    Comment by Swami Mahraj — October 10, 2013 @ 2:21 am | Reply


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