Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Om Shanti Om

Om Shanti Om

Often we do so many things in life mechanically that we fail to understand why exactly we are doing something and what exactly the implications are. Since childhood we had been taught, “This is what I had been told by elders” etc but never really given a reason as to WHY…Oh Why?

The same question intensifies when it comes to religion, customs and traditions. Generations of men/women doing the same thing without understanding the significance is simply appalling.

When I was young, the sole purpose of me going to a temple along with mom was to dress-up and play in the sand (behind the temple) while mom is inside offering her devotion. My good friend used to come to temple because she was in love with the priest’s son and wants to be in his vicinity. Another friend (this time a guy) comes to temple because that’s the only place he can rub his shoulder against the lady standing in front, without being slapped.

Then I asked my mom why she goes to a temple…her answer was, “Oh you know, it’s good to offer a coconut every Saturday”. I ask my mom why it is good. She had no answer then, not even now. I asked the ‘aunty’ (in India we call everyone who is elder as aunty/uncle/sister/brother…I will explain why we do so in another blog as it is rather an interesting custom (if I can call it so)) next door and she said, “I want to showoff my saree and jewelry”. I was impressed because she was honest. I asked my friends mom and her answer was, “to socialize”. If we look deep within we (at least I) fail to understand that real reason behind we going to a temple. Maybe we go for all of the above reasons. But I do not know if that was the reason why a temple is there for. How many of do anyway?

About a year ago I had been to Srinivasa Kalyanam in one of the temples. There the priest had broken about 50 coconuts in less than 1 hour. Later when I asked why he had to break 50 of them (if it was 1, I would not have asked), he didn’t have an answer to satisfy me.

Somewhere I read, “You can easily excuse a child who is afraid of darkness. The irony of life is when an adult is afraid/ignorant of light”.

So that’s how my quest began to understand about every small thing we do in our day to day (or I should say special days) prayers/Pooja’s.

In this blog I intend to address a few rituals which Hindus regularly perform but have little/no understanding of why we perform them. This blog is for people who want to know that so controversial word, ‘why’.

Cleaning the deities and doing the Abhishekam:

God does not need to be cleaned (as he is the abode of perpetual cleanliness and purity). But in the olden days, many kings and maharaja’s used to awoken with songs, be bathed with fragrant oils etc and are decorated by their devote followers.

The same custom has been adapted by our elders as we consider God to be the highest of the celestial kings in the human world.


The red dot, Kumkum is believed to be the seat of concealed wisdom. During meditation and during the time when we are offering prayers/yoga/tapasya, the latent energy called ‘kundalini’ raises from the base of the spine towards the head and is concentrated/gathered in the center of the forehead (between the eye brows). The red dot (Kumkum) acts as an outlet for the potent energy which is thus created. Kumkum also retains the energy in the human body and controls various levels of concentration. Kumkum thus is the central point of creation itself symbolizing good fortune, suhaagan (married women).

This is why when we are decoration God; we also put Kumkum on the forehead, between the eyebrows.

So this means, Kumkum is also meant to be worn by guys (need not necessarily be worn only by women, as is the age old practice). Unfortunately, these days Kumkum has become a fashion statement or a convenient accessory more than anything else.

Manjal/ Haldi/ Turmeric:

Apart from the antiseptic and cooling reasons, Haldi is one the five wealth’s of a married women. The first one is the Mangalsutra (Thali), Kumkum, Manjal, glass bangles and ear rings respectively. This is why it is the most important ingredient while decorating a Goddess (especially Goddess, Kaamakshi Amman who is believed to be the Goddess of sumangali).

Breaking the coconut:

Coconut trees are one of the tallest which grow in India. This means that it is closer to heaven absorbing full sun. The sweet coconut water is considered very pure as it is untouched by human hand.

Coconut water also signifies the inner purity, which can be attained only by breaking the external coarse outer fibers of the coconut (jealousy, lust, greed and all the selfish attributes of a human being). The 3 eyes of the coconut signify the two physical eyes and the third eye (the inner eye) which is the conscience. It is this third eye, when it awakens, wipes ignorance in us, enlightening us with the ultimate truth. The 3 eyes also symbolize the 3 eyes of Lord Shiva, Creation, Preservation and Destruction.

The breaking of coconut also signifies destruction of evil (the outer layer) leading to a pure soul.

Betel leaves:

Betel leaves signify the prosperity, freshness and fertility. Betel leaf given with Betel nut and lime is associated with Brahma (betel nut), Vishnu (leaf) and Shiva (lime).

The alliances are sealed with the exchange of betel leaves.

Betel Nut:

Betel nut is hard, like our ego. Offering betel Nut to God is like offering/surrendering our ego to God.

Diya…Light; this denotes knowledge. Knowledge wipes off ignorance, illuminating the inner self. This is why a lamp is lit in a Pooja room. When we bow down to God, we are also bowing down to the lamp/knowledge, the greatest form of wealth given to us by God.

When camphor is burnt, it burns itself out completely with out leaving behind any residue. God wants us to burn our illusions and wants us to be one with Him. Burning camphor signifies burning our illusions.

Pooja Ghanti:
The sound of Ghanti produces the sound of Om, the name of God. Ringing the bell also helps to wipe out all the unnecessary noise in homes/temples. This is why everyone in the temple would pay attention to God at least when Aarti (mangala Arati) is being performed.


Honey symbolizes the sweetness of love. The lord Kama carries a bow, strung with bees, representing that love can also cause pain, however sweet it is.

Well, well, well…enough for one day! Hopefully, next time you (reader) go to a temple or you are at home doing your regular Pooja, you understand better about why you are doing certain things.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose many of the rituals and rites have got some scientific meaning to it but many just do it because "it has to be done"

    My friend who used to have his lunch with me in the office canteen, always used to sprinkle water around his plate before starting his meal.
    One day I asked him why he does it, and he simply said "in our religion we are supposed to do like that"
    I explained to him, in the olden days, people used to sit on the floor and have food, and to prevent ants and other crawlers from getting into the plate or banana leaf, a ring of water was made around it.