Friday, August 28, 2009

Day 82, Hindu Rituals of India

Nopi and Marti are fascinated by the numerous magnificent temples we have seen in India....but they don't understand the symbolic significance of all these rituals.....
So today Prasad ( ) is going to answer some of their burning questions.....

Ok Prasad, why do Hindus light a lamp when they pray?

Well, to us light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness, ignorance. The Lord is the the enlivener and the illuminator of all knowledge.
Hence light is worshiped as the Lord himself. 
Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness.
So Marti says why not light a bulb or tube light? That too would remove darkness.
Aaah, but the traditional oil lamp has a further spiritual significance.
The oil or ghee in the lamp symbolizes our negative tendencies and the wick, the ego.
When lit by spiritual knowledge, our negative tendencies are slowly exhausted and the ego too finally perishes.
The flame of a lamp always burns upwards. Similarly we aim to acquire such knowledge as to take us towards loftier ideals.
Hmm, so why do you have a prayer room or altar in your home?
Hindus see the Lord as the entire creation. He is therefore the true owner of the house we live in too.
The prayer room is like the Master room of the house, and we are simply earthly occupants of His property.
This notion rids us of false pride and possessiveness.
It's like this ....the Lord as the landlord...and we are simply the tenants and caretakers of His home.

Spiritual thoughts and vibrations are accumulated through regular meditation, worship and chanting that is done in the prayer rooms or at the altars and this pervades the air... so 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 you say "namaste" when you greet someone?
Well, us Hindus believe that there is a Divine spark in everything....recognising this oneness with the meeting of the palms, we salute with head bowed the Divinity in the person we meet. .........
Basically "The Divine spark in me bows to the Divine spark in you is the deeper meaning of Namaste"
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.
Why do you  wear marks (tilak and the like) on the forehead?

The tilak( usually sandalwood paste) invokes a feeling of sanctity in the wearer and others.
The tilak covers the spot between the eyebrows, which is the seat of memory and thinking- the "third eye".
It is known as the Aajna Chakra in the language of Yoga.
The tilak is applied with the prayer –
"May I remember the Lord. May this pious feeling pervade all my activities. May I be righteous in my deeds."
Even when we temporarily forget this prayerful attitude the mark on another reminds us of our resolve.
The tilak is thus a blessing of the Lord and a protection against wrong tendencies and forces.
The entire body emanates energy in the form of electromagnetic waves – especially the third eye.
Anxiety and  worry generates heat and causes a headache, so the tilak cools the forehead, protects us and prevents energy loss.
The ladies who wear the plastic reusable "stick bindis" use it for decorative purposes only.....
We noticed that Indians do not touch paper or books with their feet....why??
Yes, to Indians, knowledge is sacred and divine, so it must be given respect at all times.
To touch another with the feet is considered an act of misdemeanor. Why is this so?

Man is regarded as the most beautiful, living breathing temple of the Lord! Therefore touching another with the feet is akin to disrespecting the divinity within him or her. This calls for an immediate apology, which is offered with reverence and humility.
Why do you fast?

Most devout Indians fast regularly or on special occasions like festivals.
On such days we do not eat at all, eat once or make do with fruits or a special diet of simple food.
A lot of our time and energy is spent in procuring food items, preparing, cooking, eating and digesting food.
According to Ayurvedic principles, 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 remains fixed on the Lord.
Since it is a self-imposed form of discipline it is usually adhered to with joy.
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.
Why do you regard trees and plants as sacred?
The Lord 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 makes 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 apologise to a plant or tree before cutting it to avoid incurring a sin 
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 you 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? 
Why do you 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.
An added significance of ringing the bell is that it helps to drown any inauspicious or irrelevant noises and comments that might disturb or distract the worshippers in their devotional ardour, concentration and inner peace.
Why do you consider the lotus to be so special?

The lotus is the symbol of truth, auspiciousness and beauty.
The Lord is also that nature and therefore, His various aspects are compared to a lotus .
The lotus blooms with the rising sun and close at night. Similarly, our minds open up and expand with the light of knowledge.
The lotus grows even in slushy areas. It remains beautiful and untainted despite its surroundings, reminding us that we too can and should strive to remain pure and beautiful within, under all circumstances.
The lotus leaf never gets wet even though it is always in water. It symbolises the man of wisdom  who remains ever joyous, unaffected by the world of sorrow and change.
This is revealed in a shloka from the Bhagwad Geeta: 
He who does actions, offering them to the Supreme, abandoning attachment, is not tainted by sin, just as a lotus leaf remains unaffected by the water on it.
From this, we learn that what is natural to the man of wisdom becomes a discipline to be practised by all spiritual seekers and devotees.
Our bodies have certain energy centres described in the Yoga Shaastras as chakras.
Each one is associated with lotus that have a certain number of petals.
For example, the Sahasra chakra at the top of the head, which opens when the yogi attains Godhood or Realisation, is represented by a lotus with a thousand petals.
Also, the lotus posture (padmaasana) is recommended when one sits for meditation.
Why do you blow the conch?

When the conch is blown, the primordial sound of Om emanates. Om is an auspicious sound that was chanted by the Lord before creating the world. It represents the world and the Truth behind it.
Why do you say Om shaanti, shaanti shaanti.....why thrice?

Shaanti, meaning "peace", is a natural state of being. Disturbances are created either by us or others.
For example, peace already exists in a place until someone makes noise.
Therefore, peace underlies all our agitations.
To invoke peace, we chant prayers.
By chanting prayers, troubles end and peace is experienced internally, irrespective of the external disturbances. All such prayers end by chanting shaanti thrice.
It is believed that which is said thrice comes true.
For emphasising a point we repeat a thing thrice. In the court of law also, one who takes the witness stands says, "I shall speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth".
We chant shaanti thrice to emphasise our intense desire for peace.
Obstacles, problems and sorrows may originate from different sources.
1.The unseen divine forces over which we have little or no control like earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions etc.
2.The known factors around us like accidents, human contacts, pollution, crime etc.
so we sincerely pray to the Lord that at least while we undertake special tasks or even in our daily lives, there are no problems or that, problems are minimised.
May peace alone prevail. Hence shaanti is chanted thrice.
It is chanted aloud the first time, addressing the unseen forces. It is chanted softer the second time, directed to our immediate surroundings and those around, and softest the last time as it is addressed to oneself.
Why do you chant Om?
Om is one of the most chanted sound symbols in India.  It has a profound effect on the body and mind of the one who chants and also on the surroundings. Most mantras and vedic prayers start with Om.
All auspicious actions begin with Om.
It is repeated as a mantra or meditated upon. Its form is worshipped, contemplated upon or used as an auspicious sign.
Om is the universal name of the Lord.
It is made up of the letters A (phonetically as in "around"), U (phonetically as in "put") and M (phonetically as in "mum").
The sound emerging from the vocal chords starts from the base of the throat as "A".
With the coming together of the lips, "U" is formed and when the lips are closed, all sounds end in "M".
The three letters symbolise the three states (waking, dream and deep sleep), the three deities (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva),the three Vedas (Rig, Yajur and Sama) the three worlds (Bhuh, Bhuvah, Suvah) etc.
The Lord is all these and beyond. 
Thanks for "enlightening" us Prasad.......this will certainly make our journey through India a more enriching experience..... 
We love India....don't we Ramzi?


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