North Texas Hindu Mandir
SYMBOLISM IN POOJAA
Standing at the beginning - This is an act of welcoming into your home your guest, who is the Lord - your own higher Self. It is a mark of respect to stand before someone whom you hold in the highest regard.
Bedi - In every religion, an altar is used to propitiate the gods and goddesses. In Poojaa, the Bedi is the altar of worship, representing the altar of the heart. Just as Poojaa materials are offered on the Bedi, so too we must imprint purity of thoughts in our mind, and a positive personality in the altar of our hearts. Hindu philosophy states that the altar of worship is really the universe in which all actions, duties and obligations are offerings to God. The Bedi is the seat for the gods and goddesses. The dirt within the Bedi represents Mother Earth (Dhartee Maa - Sustainer of creation), upon which all other gods and goddesses are propitiated.
Fig-tree - found in or east of the centre of the Bedi. Bhagavad-Geeta says, of all trees, this represents the vegetation of life. It is also a symbol of Lord Vishnu.
Gobar - the lump of cowdung on the Bedi is the symbol of Mother Gowree. It also represents the sacred cow, which is a symbol of fertility and prosperity, while it is also a purifying agent for cleansing the place of worship.
Peintee (Ring) - The ring is placed on the ring finger, from which there is a vein leading directly to the heart. Thus, whatever is offered on the Bedi is being offered straight from the heart. The ring establishes a direct link between the heart, filled with love and devotion and the Lord, who is the object of worship. The ring also symbolizes the unbroken union of the mind with the Lord.
Kalash (Kalsaa) - the earthen vessel, representing the cosmos. It contains water, representing the holy life-giving waters of the earth (Varuna, god of the sea). It is placed in the middle, indicating to us that we need to centre ourselves to create a balance of equilibrium of the mind for consciousness to be achieved. The five mango leaves on top represent the five elements which Lord Vishnu sustains and which Mother Lakshmee sanctifies. Lakshmee is manifested in the Deeya above the Kalash. The Kalash also represents the body, in which case the five leaves are the senses, the water is the life-force, and the light of the Deeya is the "Aatma-Jyoti" or the spark of the Divinity in man (the soul).
Havan - This is the manifestation of Agni, the god of fire. He represents the Shakti or power of God. All offerings must be digested by him, so that they can be received by the Devas. Thus, the fire is the mouth of the Poojaa, through which all the Devas are fed. At the end of each offering "Swaahaa" is recited, since Swaahaa is the consort or energy of Agni. Swaahaa is derived from "Swa", meaning "Self", and "Ha" from "Ahamkaar" meaning ego. Every time we chant "Swaahaa", we must offer ego to be burnt so that the true Self can be attained. Offerings are made into the Havan Kund in which the fire is lit. The main objectives of fire offerings (Havan) are regulation of seasonal changes, purification of air, mental discipline and inculcating a spirit of sacrifice for the benefit of others. Yagna signifies sacrifice and one must learn to sacrifice one's evil thoughts and actions.
Water - used for purification of the devotee and for the washing of the hands, face and feet and the bathing of the Devas, just as one would wash the feet of a guest arriving at one's home. At a deeper level, water represents the tears of devotion for the Lord and the cleansing of the mind.
Doob Grass - This represents the seat (Aasana) that is offered to the guest. It symbolizes that we are offering back to Him the herbs and plants that He has given us to sustain life. The Doob grass also has a deeper symbolic meaning. It is a grass that spreads rapidly, and if left unchecked, becomes extremely difficult to remove. So too, if our bad habits and endless desires are allowed to grow without restraint, they will become deeply rooted in us, and their removal will require tremendous effort.
Naivedya (Food) - This consists of a mixture of ghee and sugar or honey. It is a symbolic offering of a meal to the guest and giving the sweet food of devotion to the Lord.
Paan, Supaaree - (Betel-leaf, betel-nut) This represents "dessert" to aid in the digestion of the meal that was just served to the guest. These are of great medicinal benefit, since both are enriched with calcium. The supaaree is symbolic of the nut of the ego that must be offered on the altar of God. It represents the hard, coarse qualities that must be surrendered to God, leaving only the soft, pure qualities.
Gift of Cloth - This is also another token of gratitude to God, and teaches us to clothe ourselves with noble, positive, attractive and virtuous thoughts.
Prasaad & fruits - This is another offering of a meal to God. Here the devotee prays to God for his life to be always fruitful and sweet. When the Lord is pleased with this very special offering, He blesses it, making it sacred and pure, and charged with divine vibrations. Thus, the grace of the Lord is transferred directly to the devotee through the Prasaad.
9 Paan Leaves - represent the Aasana or seat for the Navagraha Devas (nine presiding deities or planets).
Cotton - represents an offering of clothing to the guest, and also the warmth of the devotee's love. It is a symbol of modesty.
Rice - is used as the seat (Aasana) for the guest. It is also used to represent an invitation and a warm welcome. The rice grain itself has a deep esoteric meaning. The outer husk must first be removed before the rice is used. So too, we must remove the outer shell of the ego before we can surrender ourselves to the Lord. Hardi - represents purity, and is also used for the beautification and the cleansing of the skin. It represents the offering of cosmetics for the adornment of the Lord.
Hardi is a very cleansing substance and represents the purifying of the thoughts to adorn the mind.
Sindoor - symbol of loyalty, devotion and commitment. Placing the sindoor, signifies that the mind of the devotee must be fully committed to the Lord. It is also a reminder to brighten one's personality with the beauty of virtues and good qualities.
Flowers - serve as a decoration and a method of beautification of the Bedi. They are also another means with which to occupy the senses in a positive way. The offering of the flower symbolizes the offering of our soft, petal-like, pure hearts and fragrant thoughts to the Lord, and reminds us to beautify our own personalities.
Sweet Scents - Perfume, incense and Dhoop are all used to fill the room with pleasant fragrance, and to act as disinfectants against bad odors and negative vibrations. They sweeten the senses towards devotion and promote or foster a divine atmosphere within the place of worship.
Chandan - made from sandal-paste, and placed as a Tilaka or sacred mark on the forehead. This is a mark of auspiciousness which is placed at the point where the third eye of wisdom or the spiritual eye is located. Chandan has a very cooling effect, and great medicinal value. It can prevent headaches while it lowers blood pressure by reducing anger and regulating the blood flow. There are three types:
1. Shaiva Chandan - Devotees of Lord Shiva apply Chandan in 3 horizontal lines, using Bhasma or ashes.
2. Vaishnava Chandan - the Vaishnavites, or the devotees of Lord Vishnu, apply three vertical lines with sandal-paste.
3. Devi Chandan - worshippers of Durga place the dot on their foreheads with the red Devi chandan.
Aartee - the waving of the sacred light symbolizes the removal of the darkness of ignorance from our minds and serves to ignite the light of hope within our lives. The burning camphor leaves no residue and teaches us that we must so live our lives that no Karma is accumulated at the end. Similarly, the ego must be consumed totally so that the Jeevaatma can become one with the Supreme Light of lights. As the devotee waves the light before the Lord, his prayer should be, "Lord, may the light of my soul be as bright as the sun, moon and stars. As I wave the light, may I recognize the Supreme Light in everyone else."
Dakshina (Coin) - This is a monetary gift to the Lord. It is an acknowledgement that everything comes from Him and in gratitude, it is symbolically offered back to Him. This act says, "O Lord! Whatever I have is solely because of Your grace. May You bless me with prosperity now and always."
This excerpt was taken from the book Jyotir Vigyaan - The Light of True Knowledge, written by Pdt. Munelal Maharaj and Smt. Naveeta Maharaj. This excerpt is reproduced with the written permission of Pundit Munelal Maharaj. Copyright @ 1999 Pdt. Munelal Maharaj.