Why do we?
Why do we consider the lotus as special?
Why do we do pradakshina?
Why do we fast?
Why do we regard trees and plants as sacred?
Why do we ring the bell in a temple?
The lotus flower symbolises truth, auspiciousness and beauty (satyam, shivam and sundaram). It is also said to help remove unpleasant things and is referred to as the King of flowers.
The lotus is sometimes compared to our minds. The flower blooms with the rising sun and closes at night, and similarly our minds open up and expand with the light of knowledge. The lotus grows in mud and water yet it remains untouched or affected by its environment. This serves as a good reminder to ensure we too can remain pure and beautiful regardless what circumstance we are in.
In the Bhagavad Gita 5.10 it states:
“One who acts by dedicating all activities to the Ultimate Truth, giving up attachment
Is not affected by sin just as a lotus leaf remains unaffected by water”
In our bodies we have certain energy centres described as chakras. Each chakra is associated with the lotus flower varying in the number of petals they posses. A lotus with thousands of petals represents realisation which is essential on the path of liberation. More so, Padmaasana (the lotus posture) is recommended for anyone who wishes to meditate to a higher level.
According to the Puranas, a lotus emerged from the navel of Lord Vishnu. Lord Brahma originated from the lotus and thereafter proceeded to create mankind. The lotus is seen as a link between the creator and the Supreme Cause, along with symbolising Brahmaloka (the abode of Lord Brahma). Lord Vishnu is often described as having lotus-eyes and in various texts the lotus is used as a description of divine beauty.
In the Shatpat Brahman, the forepart of the uterus in a woman has been equated with the lotus. In fact, the natural birth that mammals undergo where the umbilicus detaches by itself is known medically as a “lotus birth”. So the lotus is the symbol not only of purity and divinity but of creation.
Puranas and Bhagavad Gita
Truth, auspiciousness and beauty, creation, divinity
Padmaasana (Lotus position)
Purity within your surroundings
On visiting a temple, have you ever wondered why we follow a common path encircling the deities? This act of circumbulation is called pradakshina, translating as ‘to the right’ in Sanskrit.
When circumbulating the deities, we chant:
‘Yaani kaani cha paapaani
janmaantara krtaani cha
taani taanni vinashyanti
pradakshina pade pade’
“All the sins committed by an individual from innumerable past births are destroyed by each step taken whilst doing pradakshina.”
A circle can never been drawn from the centre. Using the deities to focus our attention on the Lord we place them in the centre, seen as the source and essence of our lives. When one can recognise the Lord as the focal point, they have essentially understood the significance of pradakshina.
Through the act of pradakshina the Lord imparts grace to every devotee without partiality. With every point on the circumference of a circle being equidistant from the centre, we are all equally as close to the Lord irrespective of wherever and whoever we maybe.
One may ask why pradakshina is performed in a clockwise manner. Many have said it helps to avoid “traffic jams”, however past the convenience of this action there is a meaningful motive.
As our scriptures state, the right side symbolises auspiciousness and with this in mind, our path of circumbulation ensures we lead ourselves to an auspicious life of righteousness. The Lord is seen as an indispensible source of help and strength, our guide, the ‘right hand’ of our lives. This act helps one to overcome their wrong tendencies and avoid repeating the sins of their past.
‘Matridevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava.’
– May you consider your parents and teachers as you would the Lord.
In ancient time and tradition, many children have done their pradakshina around their parents and others have done it around divine personage. There is a similar story of how Lord Ganesh went around his parents to show that they are the centre of his life and world.
Furthermore, pradakshina is customarily done around ourselves to recognise and remember the supreme divinity within us. This act is usually done after one has completed their prayer and puja.
To the right
To recognise the Lord as our focal point
All sins are destroyed by each step taken whilst doing pradakshina.
The purpose of fasting symbolises self-control. Since food is seen as the most common weakness in humankind, control over eating is seen as a difficult task. In Sanskrit fasting is called ‘Upavaasa,’ which translates to “Upa” (near)and “Vaasa” (to stay). Upavaasa therefore means staying near the Lord, in this context.
In the Yajur-Veda, 19.30, it is said:
‘Mankind develops the ability for progressive living through fasts that serve as diksha (initiation) From diksha one moves to dakshina, that is, whatever one does, one finds success. From this, faith and devotion grow, and from them, one attains truth of one’s aim in life.’
To overcome imperfections and tensions that are a part of modern life, the best solution is self-purification through fasting. Through fasting one develops greater harmony; these develop other abilities and powers within a person.
Most devout Hindus are known to fast regularly or on special occasions. These fasts require one to not eat at all, eat once with fruits or a special diet of simple food. Some undertake rigorous fasts where they do not consume any food or liquid at all!
Fasting is not intended to make one weaker, irritable or create an urge to indulge later. This is usually experienced when there is no noble goal behind the fast. The Bhagavad Gita urges all to eat appropriately, neither too much nor too little and to eat simple, pure and healthy food (a saatvik diet) when not fasting.
With seven days in the week, a different form of God is said to govern each day. Depending upon the purpose of the day, one fasts accordingly. A common reason for fasting is to get over the malefic effects of a particular God or planet, or to achieve your goal through blessings from the Divine. Each day requires one to read a different katha, recite a different Aarti and carry out a specific form of worship.
Sunday is devoted to Surya, the Sun. When fasting on Sunday, food is eaten once in the day before sunset. The food must not be tamsika (food that develops ignorance) or contain any oil or salt. When inclined to give charity it is custom to give wheat, red pulses, jaggery, metals or gems.
Monday is devoted to Chandrama, the Moon. Many Hindus observe ‘saumya pradosh’ where they fast for 16 Mondays to seek pardon for their faults. You are permitted to eat once a day with the allowance of cereal consumption. When inclined to give charity it is custom to give white items such as rice, pearls, white clothes etc.
Tuesday is devoted to Mangal (Mars). Many Hindus observe this fast for 12 consecutive Tuesdays. Prayers are offered to Lord Hanuman and food is prepared from wheat and jaggery with its consumption once in the day.
Wednesday is devoted to Budh (Mercury). One is expected to eat green things once a day and prayers are offered to Lord Shiva. When inclined to give charity it is custom to give green gram, musk, blue clothes, gold, copper or five gems.
Thursday is devoted to Brihaspati (Jupiter). Prayers are offered to Brihespeshwar Mahadev (Lord Shiva) and food must be consumed once a day with yellow pulses. When inclined to give charity it is custom to give turmeric, salt, yellow clothes, yellow pulses, gold or topaz.
Friday is devoted to Shukra (Venus). This fast requires you to eat once a day with the consumption of white preparations such as rice porridge and milk preparations. Those inclined to charity must give rice, white clothes, ghee, diamond or gold.
Saturday is devoted to Shani (Saturn). Shani is fond of black items such as clothes, sesame seeds, iron and oil. When inclined to give charity one should give blacking things.
Many Vaishnavas (devotees of Lord Vishnu) choose to fast on Ekadashi (11th day of the lunar month) out of austerity to purify themselves and spend greater time in prayer and worship. Similarly, many people fast on important festivals such as Ram Navmi, Mahashivratri or Krishna Janmashtami. This has the benefits of austerity but also the practical motive in that less time can be spent in preparing food and more time in worshipping Bhagavan.
Fasting has various health benefits that are finally being uncovered by the scientific world. It is an ancient practice that is not exclusive to Hindus alone: nearly every culture has incorporated fasts as part of their lives.
Vedas and Bhagavad Gita
Chosen day of the week, Ekadashi or special ustav
Prayer, Aarti, food and charity
Self control, harmony, specific goals
Hindus have worshipped plants and trees and regarded all flora and fauna as sacred. Some would say this is ‘old fashioned or uncivilised practice.’ However this very act reveals the sensitivity, foresight and refinement of Indian culture.
In the Rig-Veda, 6.48.17 it states:
“Do not be like the devilish buzzard that troubles other birds by grabbing their necks and killing them. Do not trouble the trees. Do not uproot or cut them. They provide protection to animals, birds and other living beings.”
The divinity within us pervades all beings, be it humans, plants or animals; we as Hindus regard all forms of life as sacred. As humans, we are very much dependent on plants and trees as they provide us with food, oxygen, clothing, medicine etc. We can truly see how they are the perfect epitome of sacrifice. And when a stone is thrown on a fruit laden tree, the tree in return gives a fruit!
The flora and fauna owned the earth before humans appeared. For millions of years, so many species have evolved and depended upon the vegetation, including ourselves. However at present, the callous attitude of man has left the world seriously threatened by the destruction of forestland and the extinction of many species of vegetation. Being Hindus, we take it as our Dharma to protect the divinity of the trees and plants.
There are many trees which hold special significance amongst Hindus. As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita 10.26- ‘Amongst the trees I am the Peepal Tree.’ This is one of many examples as to why Hindus believe respect is in itself worship. More so, the Peepal tree is mentioned in the Taittriya Samhita along with six other revered trees.
The Padma Purana states that by offering prayers to the Peepal tree and performing circumambulation, one attains longevity. Whoever offers water to the tree is absolved of all sins and attains heaven. It is believed that our forefathers find comfort in the Peepal tree and that all pilgrimages reside in the tree, therefore, when one cannot go on pilgrimage for a religious ceremony, it is customary to conduct the same under the shade of a Peepal tree.
The Tulasi plant is also seen in many Hindu homes as it is known to bring plentiful benefits. In the Skanda Purana we are told one can get rid of accumulated sins by growing numerous Tulasi plants – the more grown, the closer you move to liberation. Tulasi is seen as a consort of Lord Vishnu and is exceptionally dear to Lord Krishna, and is therefore used regularly in worship.
When offering prayers to Tulasi, one automatically prays to all Gods and it is akin to a pilgrimage, with benefits accruing accordingly. It is customary to offer prayers to the Tulasi plant in the evening along with lighting a lamp. The Brahmvaivartpurana, Prakritikhand, 21.40 states,
“Lord Hari is not so pleased after being bathed with thousands of pots filled with celestial nectar, as he is when even a single leaf of Tulasi is offered to him.”
Our ancestors and scriptures had realised not only the environmental and medicine importance of plants, but also their spiritual value. Whilst we believe that out foremost Dharma is ahimsa (minimal harm), trees and plants should also be protected because of their significance spiritually. Different plants are sacred to different deities, and offering leaves and flowers is the most natural and organic of all oblations to God. In many Vedic hymns, God is described through the beauty in nature, and so we see that Bhagavan resides in the plants and trees as much as He resides in you and me.
Padma Purana, Brahmvaivartpuran, Skanda Purana, Bhagavad Gita
Tulasi and Peepal
Longevity, removal of sins, prayer, medicine and spiritual value
All forms of Gods and ancestors.
Bells are usually seen hanging at the entry of the temples and rung to inform the deity of the devotee’s arrival. The bells are used during Aarti and prayers at both sunrise and sunset. Bells can come in all shapes and sizes, and between them, a definite beat and rhythm is employed for greater effectiveness. Ringing the bell produces an auspicious sound ‘Aum’ which is the universal name of the Lord. This auspicious sound allows the devotee to gain a vision of the Lord who is all-auspicious.
It is believed that the ringing of the bells arouse the divinity within the deities. If bells are not used, there is a risk the deity may remain in deep meditation and the prayers and offerings may not be accepted. The sound of the bell is said to also provide protection from any harmful effects of problems in the near future. The Skanda Purana states that the ringing of the temple bell absolves devotees from sins they have committed.
The Aarti is usually accompanied by the bell, sounds of the conch and other musical instruments. Alongside their musical purposes, these instruments also drown out inauspicious and irrelevant noises which can lead to distraction. As we start our daily rituals, one usually chants the following along with ringing the bell:
‘I ring this bell indicating the invocation of divinity,
So that virtuous and noble forces enter (my home and heart);
And the demonic and evil forces
From within and without, depart.’
Humankind was created in the presence of musical sound; this same sound is generated by the ringing of the bell and when one chants Aum. All these methods lead to the same endpoint and allow clarity of vision.
On the other end of the spectrum, a bell is also said to symbolise death due to the striking finality it carries with it. When taking dead bodies for cremation one is to ring the bell. It is also believed that when this world ends there will be a similar sound of ringing bells.
Prayer, rituals, temples and cremation
Clarity of vision and mind