Sunday, March 27, 2011

What is Arati? - Rituals at the Sivananda Ashram

If you have visited any ashram in India or even temples you most likely have witnessed different kinds of puja (act of worship) or an Arati (waving light before a deity with reverence) which is a form of Puja. At the Sivananda Ashram in Madurai or in Neyyar Dam we performed twice a day the Arati at the end of each satsang
(meeting with spiritually minded people which might include meditation, chanting and teachings) but although we did it every day I actually had no idea what it really means, and I'm sure many people don't but we just do it knowing that it is some sort of ritual. So to get out of the ignorance I just decided to write a short explanation based on what I found in the Sivananda Chanting book and in one of the Swami Sivananda's book. I'm not intending to do an exahustive research, this is just to have an idea about what these rituals are. But first maybe you would like to watch the video below of a beautiful Devi Puja closing with the Arati. It is not always like this at the Ashram, this was a special day were the Sivananda Ashram director decided to do a special puja to bring some positive energy into the ashram.

The performance of Pujas, Aratis, Kirtan (chanting) are all part of Bhakti Yoga, one of the four main paths of Yoga, the devotional path which leads the aspirant to Self realization through the use and control of his emotions, directing them towards the Divine. It is specially suitable for those who are of a devotional or emotional character. That is why these rituals form part of a normal ashram life where an integral aproach to yoga is tought like in the Sivananda Ashram.

What is Puja?
(Summary from "Bhakti and Sankirtan" by Swami Sivananda)

Puja is worship of the Lord and is the common term used for ritual worship. This act of worship helps the devotee to "sit" near the Lord or to commune wih Him. It purifies the heart and steadies the mind. It fills the mind with Suddha, Bhava and Prem or pure love for the Lord. It gradually transmute men into a Divine being. The object of worship is the Ishta Devata or guiding Deity or the particular form of the Deity whom the devotee worship such as Vishnu as such or in His forms as Rama, Krishna, Siva or Devi. For a Christian it could be Jesus or Mary.

What is Arati?
(Extract from the Sivananda Ashram Chant Book)

Lights are waved while mantras are chanted. This denotes that the Lord is Jyoti Swarupa (whose real form is light). The devotee says: O Lord! Thou art the Light in the sun, moon and fire. Remove the darkness in me by bestowing your divine light. May my intellect be illumined

Lighting of camphor denotes that the individual ego should melt like the camphor and the Jivatman (individual sould) should become one with the Supreme Lights of Lights

Prasad is the sacred offering of the Lord. The devotee offers sweet, rice, fruits and other such articles. After offering them to the Lord they are shared among the devotees. The mental Bhava (attitude) is very important.

The dedication song (This is my favorite part. It is included in the video)

Tvameva Mata Ca Pita Tvameva
Tvameva Bandhusca Sakha Tvameva
Tvameva Vidya Dravinam Tvameva
Tvameva Sarvam Mama Devadeva

Kayena Vaca Manasendriyairva
Buddhyatmana va Prakritessvabhavat
Karomi Yadyat Sakalam Parasmai
Narayanayeti Samarpayami


Oh God of Gods, Thou alone are my mother, father, relative, friend, learning, wealth and everything
Whatever actions I perform with my body, speech, mind senses, intellect, my nature or my emotions, all these I dedicate to the Supreme Lord.

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