Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Symbolic Meaning of Acts Performed During Hindu Pujas and Prayers


A simple prayer before the deity with hands folded and placed near the heart is the most common form of praying in Hindu religion. But there are also various other acts that Hindus perform while praying like lighting the lamp, offering flowers and leaves, burning camphor or offering food etc. In Hinduism, each act performed has a symbolic meaning.

§  Sprinkling of Water and Sipping while doing Puja
Sprinkling of water symbolically performs the purification of the surroundings. Sipping of water is purification of oneself. It is because water is everywhere such as in air, surroundings, and also in our body.

§  Why do Hindus light a lamp at home before the altar of a deity?
In every Hindu home a lamp or ‘diya’ or 'deepam' is lit daily before a Hindu deity or any symbol associated with Hinduism. Many Hindus also perform an ‘Aarati’ with the traditional oil lamp. The lamp is lit in the morning or evening or both morning and evening. In some houses the lamp is maintained continuously and is known Akhand Deep or Akhanda Diya. 

The light in the lamp symbolizes knowledge. It removes darkness, which symbolizes ignorance. Thus light symbolizes Brahman.The formless state of Him.

The wick in the traditional oil lamp symbolizes ego and the oil or ghee used symbolizes our negative tendencies. When we are lit by self knowledge, the negative tendencies (oil) melt away and finally the ego (wick) perishes. When the ego perishes, we realize that we are all part of Brahman and that life is a continuity.

The lighting of ‘diya’ or lamp at home is considered highly auspiciousness as it brings prosperity and good health. The daily evening lamp lit at home also gives us an opportunity to ponder over one’s omissions and commissions in a day.
§  Burning of Camphor
Burning of camphor symbolizes the destruction of our egos and arrogance. When ego melts what is left is the pure Self.
§  Lighting of Incense and Agarbathis
This is used for fragrance which symbolically suggests the presence of the deity and the love of deity.
§  Performing Aarati or waving of lamp around the deity
Waving of lamp and camphor around the deity is symbolically an act of surrender.

Why do Hindus Break Coconut in Ganesh Temples and Before Auspicious Events?
Breaking a coconut in Hindu temples – especially in temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha - and before auspicious events and new beginning is considered highly beneficial in Hinduism. The offering of a coconut is a common offering to a deity in Hindu religion and it is distributed later as ‘prasad.’
The most important reason for offering coconut is that is the purest thing that a human being can offer to a deity. The water and the white kernel inside the coconut are the only unadulterated offering that a devotee makes to the Lord. It is not polluted as it remains covered by the hard outer shell until it is offered to the God.
Lord Ganesh is the deity invoked before any auspicious event or new beginning. Coconut is one of the most favorite foods of Ganesha. This is one reason why coconut is broken during housewarming, after the purchase of new vehicle etc.
Next, the breaking of coconut symbolizes the breaking of the ego. The coconut represents the human body and before the Lord it is shattered – breaking the ‘aham’ or ego and symbolically total surrendering and merging with the Brahman – supreme soul.
Coconut is also an important aspect in Kalasha or Poorna Kumba.Apart from this there are numerous other symbolic meaning to the coconut. Most of them revolve around its appearance like the three eyes on the coconut represent the three eyes of Lord Shiva.

§  Offering of Betel leaves and Betel nuts
Betel leaves and nuts symbolize fertility and is usually offered for the birth of children at home. It is also part of all important pujas in South India.
§  Bells Rung during Puja
The bells that are rung during puja are to keep out other noises and it is also a means of celebrations. Bells rung in the beginning is done to ward away evil forces.
§  Offering of Food or nevediya
Symbolically, offering of good indicates a thanksgiving to the deity. It is an act of sharing God’s bounty. It is then distributed as 'prasad.' What is offered should be shared with the poor and the needy.
§  Offering of Flowers
Flowers are offered basically because of their fragrance and due to the association of a particular flower with a particular deity. For example Bilva leaf is associated with Lord Shiva and Tulsi with Lord Vishnu. Puranas have stories which explain why a particular flower is associated with a particular deity.
On the symbolic level, the flowers and leaves are picked up with five fingers and is offered with all five fingers. It is usually placed at the feet of the deity. The five fingers symbolically indicate the five senses and thereby surrendering of it before the deity.
Flowers are also offered by bringing it close to one’s heart. This symbolically suggests that one is offering the soul or atma to the deity

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