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Dr K K Aggarwal

What are the Rituals For A Pooja?

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Pooja means to take care or to serve. As per the Vedas, pooja can be Shodasha Upachara Pooja (16 steps), Dasopachara Pooja (10 steps) or Panchopachara Pooja (5 steps).  Most follow the path of 16 steps, which have a deep Vedic meaning.

As God resides within us, we should incorporate these 16 basic steps as the foundation of our daily routine or dincharya.  These should also form the steps of our conduct with others and how to receive and treat guest at home (atithi devo bhava).

1.    The first step is Dhyana and Avahana where the ritual involves sitting and meditating before the image or the idol of the deity or the coconut depicting God . Dhyana (focused attention) with prayers (intention) invokes the deity into the idol. The symbolic message behind the ritual is to start the day with meditation and invoking the self within us hidden behind the triad ofkama, greed and ego. It also means inviting guests to our home.

2.    The second step is Asana and the ritual involves offering the deity a seat by touching the deity idol and asking God to sit. In the context of guests, it symbolizes offering them a warm welcome. In daily routine, it prepares one for the next step of personal hygiene.

3.    The next three steps involve Padhya (washing the deity’s feet with water and offering respect), Argya (offering water to wash hands), and Achamanya and Madhuvarga (offering water to clean the mouth and face). Madhuvarga (honey) is a beverage made of honey and milk offered for drinking. These three steps symbolize the sequence of external bath  in daily routine.

4.  The sixth step is Abhishekam or Snanam and involves bathing the deity with different things (water, milk, rose water, sandalwood paste, panchamrut (milk, water, curd, water, honey, water, ghee, water and sugar, water). It provides a natural way of bathing, not only with soap.

5.    The seventh, eight, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth steps involve various offerings. Firstly, Vastra or offering dress; secondly, Gandha or sandalwood or kumkum (red powder); thirdly, Abarana or gold/silver/stone ornaments; fourthly Pushpa mala or garland of flowers; fifthly, Archana or offering prayers by reciting the Lord’s name and also with flowers etc. and finally Dhoop or agarbatti (incense stick).

6. The thirteenth step is Deepam or offering light in the form of a lighted lamp. The fourteenth step is Naivedya or offering food which is satvik (fruits) and or cooked, including kheel and patasha symbolizing fulfilled desires.  It is followed by Tambol (or betel) along with supari (areca nut), and clove symbolizing internal cleansing.

7.    The fifteenth step is the Aarti, wherein camphor is lit and mantras are recited. Here, mantras symbolize intentions or the check list of the day to be completed by the end of the day. Aarti ends with Dakshina, a reminder to start the day with some charity.

8.    The last step is the Pradakshina and Namaskara or offering flowers at the feet of God symbolizing surrender and then prostrating before the deity and thanking him for giving us one another day to live. It also invokes humility within us to live yet another day full of inner happiness.

Whenever we pray, think of God, undertake an internal healing procedure, make love, kiss someone, or meditate, we automatically close our eyes. It is a common Vedic saying that the soul resides in the heart and all the feelings are felt at the level of heart.

Most learning procedures in meditation involves sitting in an erect, straight posture,  closing the eyes, withdrawing from the world and concentrating on the object of concentration. Yoga Sutra of Patanjali describes pratihara (withdrawal of senses) as one of the seven limbs of yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratihara, Dharma, Dhyana and Samadhi.

After pranayama, one needs to withdraw from the world and the senses and then begin dhyana on the object of concentration. The process of pratihara becomes easy and is initiated with the closing of the eyes. The inward journey starts with the detachment of the body from the external world and in yogic language, it is called Kayotsarga, the first step of meditation..

Even when the process of hypnosis is begun, a person is made to lie down, look at the roof and withdraw from the world. The procedure involves asking the person to gently roll the eyeball up until he goes into a trance. Rolling of the eyeballs upward has the same physiological significance as that of closing the eyes.

When we close our eyes, there is a suppression of sympathetic nervous system and activation of parasympathetic nervous system. The blood pressure and pulse reduce and skin resistance goes up. A person goes into a progressive phase of internal and muscular relaxation. The inward journey is a journey towards restful alertness where the body is restful yet the consciousness is alert. The intention is to relax the body and than the attention is focused on the object of concentration. Most visualization and meditation techniques involve closing of the eyes.

By detaching from the external stimuli, the activities of the five senses are suppressed and ones awareness shifts from a disturbed to an undisturbed state of consciousness. This inner journey helps in producing a state of ritam bhara pragya where the inner vibrations of the body are in symphony with the vibrations of the nature.

People who visit Vaishno Devi by traveling long distances on foot enter the cave and as soon as they have the darshan of Maa Vaishno Devi, they close their eyes. This is natural and instant. Even though Maa Vaishno Devi cannot be felt in the murti, her presence is felt in the heart and that presence can only be felt by closing the eyes.

Most yogic techniques like shavasana, yoga nidra, body-mind relaxation, progressive muscular relaxation, hypnosis involves closing the eyes in the very first step. Daytime nap is also incomplete without closing the eyes. Shok Sabha and two minutes silence are also practiced with the eyes closed. When we think of someone or try to remember something, the body automatically closes the eyes and one starts exploring the hidden memories. To recall something, one has to withdraw from the external world through its five senses.

Only advanced yogis or rishis acquire the power where with eyes opened they are in a state of Ritam, Bhara, Pragya. These yogic powers are acquired by practicing advanced sutra meditation for hours, days and years.  Lord Shiva is often portrayed in a meditative pose sitting on Kailash Parvat with his eyes semi opened. But for ordinary persons like us where the aim is to be in that phase only for 20 minutes twice in a day, the best is to close our eyes as the first step towards the process of meditation.