Our culture is one of the richest and oldest cultures in the world. This can be better understood by the range of scientific explanations that we have arrived at. Let us see some of the explanations that we have found out from the innumerable spiritual masters that this place has produced.
1. The culture behind Lighting the Lamp
Lighting the lamp is an activity of every household in India. Every home is lit with a lamp at a particular time. One of these scenarios is very evident in every Indian home.
- A lamp is lit in the dawn
- A lamp is either lit in the dawn or at dusk
- A lamp is lit always without allowing it to get turned off
Lamps are always lit before the god that we worship. It is also lit on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, programs and events at the beginning to mark the absence of darkness.
But why is it so important to mark this Lamp Lighting?
The Lamp, according to Indian philosophy signifies knowledge. The knowledge that gets us out of the darkness. Darkness is the ignorance that we possess due to a lack of knowledge.
But, why do we need this knowledge in the form of a Lamp instead of fluorescent light or tube light? There is a hidden meaning with respect to the lamp that gets lit using one of these two ingredients that represent Vaasanas or Negative tendencies. These Vasanas affect us in the form of Lethargy like bad qualities. The ingredients used to Light Lamps are:
By burning them we make sure that this lethargy in the form of potential energy is metabolized and is used in helping us in learning or in other words acquiring knowledge. Moreover, this light that is lit using one of the above-mentioned ingredients, is always burning bottom up. Similarly, the knowledge that we acquire takes us upwards in our spiritual path and helps us reach the goal.
2. Prayer Room built, in Indian Houses
In most of the Indian houses, it is an important aspect to dedicate a place to the lord. This place is where all the idols and photos reside, helping any prayer that takes place on any special occasion, utilize. Festivals are to be celebrated by starting the prayers from this part of the house. What is so important to a place that is dedicated to the Lord?
Well, to understand this, a clear understanding of the difference between a house and a home is a must. A house is just a geographical boundary that is built at a particular measurement as decided by a set of people. On the contrary, a home is a place that comprises human beings, especially a housewife who owns the place by keeping it neat, tidy and holistic. This is the reason why she is called by another name, “domestic goddess”.
Further to this, is the Lord, who is the owner of the whole universe or cosmos. Since he is omnipresent, he is present everywhere in our homes and is obviously the owner of our respective houses. This comes to a theory where we are, in reality, living in the lord’s house. Because it is not practical to leave the whole place to the Lord and we occupy a small place, we dedicate a place for this omnipresent lord where we practice prayers.
Like how each room is constructed for a specific activity:
|1||Kitchen to prepare food|
|2||Bedroom to take rest|
|3||Bathroom to bathe and so on and so forth|
Similarly, to awaken our spiritual capability, enhance our intuitive powers, this very place is extremely important and is built for such occasions.
3. Usage of Namaste for greeting in Indian Culture
When two Indians meet each other, the first thing they do is get involved in this special kind of greeting each other, where the two hands join together above the center of the chest and the head bow. This is the position that is accompanied by a word called Namaste. What is the significance of such an act and how does it help the individuals in performing such acts.
First of all, before knowing about the actions part, let us understand the meaning of the word Namaste. Namaste is a Sanskrit word and can be divided mainly into two parts.
Namaha + Te = Namaste.
Namaha is salutations/greetings and Te is you. It literally means salutations to you. Narrating this, when we bow down, it means that we are giving respect to the person whom we have just met. In a broader sense, the person whom we are saluting is made out of the same natural resources that we are made out of. Giving due credit to Adi Shankaracharya, who coined the word “Aham Brahmasmi”, where every being in this world has an inner self for which Brahma is the main ingredient. So, we salute the other person the same way that we salute the Lord.
Moreover, the word Namaha is derived from another word Nama. Two words Na and Ma combine to form this word.
Na means Not
Ma means Mine
Another reason for this type of salutation is this is not mine. We are already crushing our egos by bowing our heads to the other person. In addition to that, by saying that nothing here belongs to me adds a lot of meaning to it. So, the next time you do a Namaste to the other person, you now know what all you are intending.
4. Prostrating the Lord and its values
This is an advanced version of the previous section. Here instead of just bowing out head down, we lie down on the floor on our tummy and touch the feet of the person from whom we seek blessings. The person from whom we seek blessings could be:
There could be a few questions that might come to our minds as we talk about this. In the first place, when we said in the previous section that we are all made out of the same natural resources, why are we contradicting that part here?
It is not to the inner self of the other person that we are prostrating at. By prostrating we are actually respecting the experience that the person possesses. If you see the list of the people who we are prostrating at, it is clear that either the experience as age or some special experiences that we want them to bless us with.
Moreover, every person stands on their feet because of which the feet play an important part while prostrating. So, touching the feet is a sign of:
There is a Sanskrit shloka that is relevant that you can check out here.
5. The tradition behind applying marks on the forehead
Women are more frequent in wearing marks on their foreheads than the men folks. This does not have a very long history as the others. However, it looks like it was started in South India. This is mostly worn after taking bath or on special occasions like Birthdays, Festivals or important events. It comes in different colors and also, there is a great level of diversity when it comes to this.
The main reason why it is worn by people is because of the Chakra according to the Yogis. Chakras are a part of our Astral Body that has subtle levels of impact on us. One such chakra forms itself in between the two eyebrows, called Ajna. This chakra is known for enabling memory power in us. Furthermore, memory power is used to remind us of three major things:
|1||Remembering the Lord|
|2||Retain the above pious feelings for all activities|
|3||Being Righteous in one’s own deeds|
There were four varnas based on people’s responsibilities towards society. Each varna had the habit of wearing marks in different colors.
- Brahmans used to wear Chandan signifying purity as their foremost duty
- Kshatriyas, the warriors used to wear red-colored marks depicting their valor
- Vaishyas wore a yellow turmeric mark portraying their earnings as their important part
- Shudras, on the other hand, applied white marks denoting their help in other services
6. The ancient tradition of offering food to the lord
We are what we eat. This is a fundamental part of our lives, especially those who are in the spiritual path. We offer food to god and eat. This offering is never to our knowledge taken by the god. Then why do we follow such a practice?
For a spiritual person, everything is God. Furthermore, when we eat just for taste and pleasure we are bound to express certain qualities that are not called for. For e.g. the tamasic qualities like the pride that we cooked, we grew the plants, etc. or the anger that the food is not of good taste, it is not our type of food, etc. will creep and sit on our heads.
To avoid all this, when we offer whatever little or rich food that we would have prepared, the feeling of what remains from what we offered god will make us spiritually enabled in our consumption. Besides, what we have prepared is also a part of the Lord. I am reminded of the bhajan “Jai Jagdish Hare” where the poet says “Tera Tujhko Arpan”, meaning “what is yours is offered to you“. There is nothing much that we are doing here.
7. The reason behind Pradakshina (Circumambulate)
At the time of our visit to temples, the first practice is to circumambulate the deity there. This process is called Pradakhina. Walking around the deity in a clockwise direction in an odd number of times can be considered Pradakshina.
To answer the question of why Prakshina, we should know that our temples are masterpieces in terms of engineering. They are structured in such ways that the alignment, the geometrically carved lines, the idols made out of a combination of metals like panchaloha, all add to the emission of positive energy of high volumes.
For a common man, it is not advised to be in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple for more time. Due to this warning, most of us have to circle the idol in a further distance that is suitable for us to retain the positive energy that we can absorb.
Since the right side is auspicious for spiritual growth, it is advisable to encircle the temples in a clockwise direction.
8. What Indian Culture towards trees
Before even entering the temple, we first perform prayers and worship the sacred trees. Not just in temples, even before we pluck the plants for our food, we pray and then pluck. This culture has been the foremost in teaching such values and spiritual aspects about everything. With plants and trees having a life and known for their sacrifices, it is even more important for us to protect them, one step ahead, worship them.
Plants and trees, as we know are sacrificial in many ways. When you throw a stone at a plant, instead of returning you what you gave, it returns you with fruit. It is by birth sacrificial, this way. There are many other ways that it is sacrificial, like:
|1||Provides us with the right Vitamins in the form of food from vegetables|
|2||Provides us with oxygen for breathing, by converting carbon-di-oxide to oxygen using a pigment called chlorophyll|
|3||Provides us with fruits in the form of minerals|
|4||Provides us with wood for our furniture|
|5||Provides us with wood to ignite the fire|
|6||Provides us with ample shade under the burning sun|
Together, considering these qualities of trees without any expectations, we revere them as we revere the holy cow for their selfless services.
9. Importance of fast in Indian Culture
Even today if we go to famous temples like Mantralaya or similar places, food is not served as Prasadam on Ekadashis, promoting fasting. This same way, in most households this procedure of fasting on Ekadashi (the eleventh day in the Lunar Calendar) is observed.
So why fasting at all?
There are several benefits of fasting, and it is one of the important steps that we follow in our spiritual journey.
- The first and foremost important aspect of fasting is giving rest to the stomach. What if we work nonstop without taking rest? Yes, the stomach will be facing the same issue when we continuously keep it busy by eating. Once every fifteen days at least we need to give rest to our stomach.
- Secondly, controlling our minds. While it might not be too stressful to avoid food and give rest to our stomach. Our bodies will get used to such punishment easily. But our mind will still not be ready to give up on tasty food. Controlling this is tougher than our bodily adjustments.
- Thirdly, meditating on this auspicious day, that happens to be the eleventh day of the lunar calendar equips us without troubling us in concentrating. Read More here.
10. The intention behind ringing the bell in a temple
When we visit a temple, as children, it naturally provokes us to ring the bell irrespective of what culture we belong to. The metal bell that resonates in our ears is a must in all the temples. A bell is also rung during the following occasions.
|1||During mangal arati (while showing light to the idol)|
|2||While we offer food to the lord|
|3||While bathing (abhisheka) the deity|
These are the bells that are specially made to retain the sound by resonating them back in our ears.
Why is it important to ring the bell before we pray or visit the innermost part of a temple?
The science that comes out from the Kundalini Yoga perspective is that:
It enables the chakras and balances them in a way that positive energy can be retained and we can get rid of the negativity within ourselves
The sharp sounds also enable our consciousness and send out the lethargy that is within
- The energy within the body that is connected to the chakras are balanced and equally spread when our ears hear the sound of the bell
Usually, the bell is made of brass or from the below five metals to keep up to the sound that it produces.
that are collectively called as panchaloha.
11. The tradition of worshiping Kalasha
A Kalasha is a metal container that is in the shape of a vertically elongated pot. It is spun with thread across its body and covered with coconut. In between the coconut and the pot are the mango leaves. The pot is filled with water (preferably that of Holy Ganga).
It is placed close to any of the deities whose pooja is being performed. The Kalasha has a rangoli underneath it which will either be Swastik or Aum. It symbolized either of the two gods:
Going back, the Kalasha has everything that mother Earth possessed in its initial days in the cosmos. The raw materials that mother earth took to form who she is now.
- The body of the pot along with the leaves and the coconut form the cosmos whose part is earth
- The water inside the pot forms the primordial water elixir of life or the soul, filled with love and compassion
- This water in the form of Varuna is invoked by filling the pot with water, indicating that life began with water. Life cannot exist without water and this is also depicted by lotus emerging out of Vishnu who is resting on the water
- The life forms are represented by the Mango leaves that are inserted in between the coconut and the pot Coconut represents the product from the lifeforms, which in turn is filled with water forming the endless lifeforms that is an ongoing cyclic process
- All of this happens in a single thread that is tied to the pot
Kalasha is an important and integral part of the Vedic system. It is the manifestation of Gayatri who stands for the enormous knowledge that she possesses. Kalasha is a part of every auspicious occasion, especially the ones accompanied by Homas and Havanas.
12. Worship Tulasi and its benefits in Indian Culture
Most of the Indian houses invariably contain a Tulasi plant inside their houses or on the premises. This plant is worshipped mainly by the homemaker of the house at least once if not twice. Dawn and dusk are the times of the day that it is worshipped. It is watered, decorated and circumambulated. In modern-day apartments, they are grown in pots due to lack of place and ample soil, but the practice is still not discontinued.
According to one ancient Indian story, there was a devoted wife of Shankhachuda, a celestial being, whose name was Tulasi. She assumed that she was tricked and sinned by Lord Krishna himself. For this act of Krishna, she cursed him to become a stone (which is known to us as Saligrama). The devotion and righteousness of Tulasi were recognized by the Lord and she was given a special place to be a worshipped plant in every household.
She is also believed to be a symbol of Lakshmi. So it is believed that those who worship her on a regular basis will be blessed with good family life.
Even scientifically, Tulasi is known to have the qualities of a good herb with great medicinal values. The air that it exhales while in respiration is very pure and has all the good qualities for humans to better inhale.
13. Treating Lotus in par with the Lord as a tradition
If you observe many of the shlokas in Indian culture, there are many instances where lotus is compared to the Lord, especially Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi. This couple goes in line with many of the qualities of lotus.
Lotus is the symbol of Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram, a special tagline defining Lord. Each of the words stands for Truth, Auspiciousness, and Beauty. Since the lord is also of the same nature, the lotus is often used to compare and depict god with it. His various aspects are compared to lotus like:
- Lotus like heart, etc.
- the lotus blooms with the rising sun and closes itself in the absence of it. In the same way our minds open-up and expand in the light of knowledge
- Even though the lotus blooms amidst slushy areas, it does not succumb to the environment it grows in. It is always untainted and retains its beauty. This reminds us that no matter what our environment is, we should strive to retain the inner beauty, under all circumstances
- It is unaffected by the water that it resides in, by never getting drenched or wet by its qualities, similar to a man with wisdom who remains ever joyous unaffected by the world of sorrow
- Above all this, there is a posture in Yoga that is associated with the lotus, called Padmasana (lotus posture). This is the recommended posture to sit and meditate
14. Blowing the conch before auspicious events
Before any auspicious program, we have the habit of blowing the conch in association with ringing the bells and beating drums. These are very important parts at Mangalarati’s time. It is said and observed in the history that this act was not confined to temples or homes, but even before the war, the usage of the conch was very evident.
If you observe, the sound that is produced by blowing the conch resonates with that of Aum. Aum is the auspicious sound that was considered to have been chanted by the lord before the creation of the world.
The story about the origination of the conch dates back to Matsyavatara where Lord, in the form of Matsya (a fish), kills a demon named Shankhasura for taking away Vedas and hiding them. After killing the demon, the Lord blows the conch-shaped bone of his ear and head. This is when the sound Aum was emanated from the conch and Vedas emerged out of it.
All the knowledge that is a part of the Vedas is an elaboration of Aum. The conch came to have derived from Shankhasura and went on to be called Shankha in general. Panchajanya was the name given to that particular conch that was blown by Lord Vishnu in the form of Matsyavatara. This Conch became a part of Lord Vishnu thereafter.
The other reason to blow at an auspicious time is to negate the negative sounds that might disturb or upset the atmosphere.
In ancient times, since India was a collection of small villages and places, people of the whole place used to get together for any event or a program. At the beginning of such incidents, the conch was blown sending a notification to the whole place asking the people who had not yet made it to the program to remind that the even is soon going to begin.
15. Rendering the word Shanti (peace) Thrice at the end of a Mantra
Shanti means peace. Most of our shlokas, especially the Vedas always end with Shanti three times. A human being is always in the want of peace thereby accomplishing the ultimate goal, that being bliss.
Peace, in reality, is what is already present within us. But unfortunately, by our worldly wantings and struggles, we have been in a state of chaos most of the time, leading to an uncontrollable environment.
The reason for rendering the word peace thrice is to show that we are stressing on it. Any action done thrice will be fulfilled with much better results than the effort gone once. This continuity has been the main reason behind the narration of Shanti thrice at the end of the shlokas.
Thrivaram Satyam: It is believed that anything told thrice comes true. To stress upon this very point, if we look at our legal system where, in the court, one who takes witness says, “I shall speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.
Furthermore, there are three known sources from which our sorrows originate:
|Aadidaivika||The unseen natural forces that cannot be controlled by anyone but the Lord himself, like Earthquakes, Volcanoes, floods, etc.|
|Aadibhautika||The known factors that a man is a part of like accidents, crime, pollution, etc.|
|Aadhyatmika||Problems that originate within us like diseases, frustrations, anger and other emotions|
Problems that originate within us like diseases, frustrations, anger and other emotions
To overcome all this we pray to god for peace in a way that it should come true, by saying it thrice.
16. Indian culture of offering coconut to the Lord
One of the first and foremost edible life forces that are offered before performing many actions is coconut. Be it in a temple or in a house, when a new vehicle is purchased or before launching a rocket, or even while performing a Homa, it is offered as a sacrifice. The coconut is broken into pieces (also a part of the sacrifice) and placed before the god, once it is done.
The shape of the coconut with the fiber on the top, the three eyes, and the round-shaped body that makes the coconut look like a human head is crushed before the god depicting the crushing of the ego of a human being.
There is juice within the coconut that represents the inner tendencies along with the white kernel, representing the mind getting offered to the god. The beauty of this action is another way of offering our mind (Manasa sancharare…) towards the lord’s feet and take it as an offering from the lord.
Like the holy cow, a normal tree, every part of the coconut tree (trunk, leaves, fruit, coir, water, fiber…) is used in innumerable ways helping us in providing many natural products that we survive on. This depicts the sacrificial aspect of the life of a coconut tree. It is also used in the preparation of many ayurvedic medicines from more than around five-thousand years.
17. Chanting Aum in Indian Culture
Aum is the most widely chanted symbol in India. Most mantras and Vedic chants begin with Aum. It is used by the spiritual masters from time immemorial till date. Some people use it as a daily salutation or for the purpose of greeting, like Aum, Hari Aum, etc.
Aum is the universal name of the lord. It is made up of three letters:
A – as in A of around
U – as in U of put
M – as in M of Mum
You can observe here the way it is pronounced. It starts as A from the throat, as it proceeds to U the lips start closing and by the time it comes to M, there is a complete closure of the lips.M – as in M of MumYou can observe here the way it is pronounced. It starts as A from the throat, as it proceeds to U the lips start closing and by the time it comes to M, there is a complete closure of the lips.
The three letters symbolize many things:
- Three States of Human consciousness: Waking – dream – deep sleep
- Three deities: Brahma – Vishnu – Maheshwara
- Three Vedas: Rig – Yajur – Sama
- Three worlds: Bhuh – Bhuvah – Suvah
Aum is referred to as Pranava when it is not used for chanting. Pranava means “That symbol of sound that is used to praise the lord”.
18. Performing Aarati and the Culture behind it
Every ritualistic worship is completed only by doing Aarti before the god. There are several other instances when Aarati is done during Birthdays, to welcome guests, to the newlywed…etc. This, in the temple, is accompanied by the bell, drums (jagate), incense sticks, flowers, etc.
It is done step by step by following the below actions:
|1||Use ghee or divine oil|
|2||Use camphor or cotton as the medium to ignite|
|3||Ignite the medium|
|4||The entire idol is circled using the right hand|
|5||Clockwise circling is ensured|
|6||Bell rings simultaneously and is produced using the left hand|
When the lamp is encircled over the idol, people viewing from far away distances can see the idol’s different parts clearly as it waves through the parts. It enables the viewership as the sanctum sanctorum is, as is dark inside. Moreover, it enables us to focus on each part of the Lord due to the part by part illumination.
Aarati is mostly performed by either Camphor or Cotton buds arranged in a certain fashion. These substances burn out completely without leaving any trace. In the same way, our inherent tendencies, also known as Vaasanas, when lit by the fire of knowledge burns completely without leaving any trace of ego, which creates in us a sense of individuality that separates us from God, truly depicting our oneness with the Lord.
The philosophical meaning extends further. There are many sources of natural light like:
The universal source of all this is the lord himself. It is because of him that all the sources of light in the first place exist and shine. The intention of aarti is to light up and turn to the very source of light that symbolizes knowledge and life.
Adhering to follow these rituals by understanding them makes a better life.