Category Archives: Hindu Significance and Symbolism

Temple: A Place to “fine-tune” the Mind ~ Swami Chinmayananda

[Excerpts from letters and articles by Swami Chinmayananda]

God, the Lord is All-pervading, but to invoke Him we need an Altar. Even though Narayana pervades everywhere, He can directly be contacted in a TEMPLE. The Temple is a place conducive to ‘fine-tune’ your mental equipment in order to receive the Divine Message.

Temples are the monuments of our Culture. Temple is a social centre and must become the place of cultural revival. A temple is a place of reverence (Sangam) where the love of the mind and respect of the intellect (Ganga and Jamuna) join together. Temples should function as the very heart of the community, responding most sensitively to all the changing needs of the society. The “Houses of God” in the past stood as intelligent guards protecting the needs of the community and therefore, they were extremely respected and revered and very devotedly served by the grateful members of the community. The love and care and the enormous sacrifice that they had made in building these edifices of beauty and grandeur eloquently speak volumes of their loyalty and gratitude. These are to be generated in their hearts by the service, both secular and sacred, rendered by the temples.

A Temple becomes famous not because of its elaborate architectural beauty nor its dimensions. When a large number of devotees continue to visit year after year, day by day, the center gathers a growing glory of divine presence. Within a community, such temples declare the beauty and culture possessed by the society. Temples are where large masses of people congregate and thereby develop in their thoughts and actions a RHYTHM, at once loving and divine. For centuries, temples and worship of the Deities held the Hindu society together, providing a common bond of love and devotion, creating among them a great sense of pride and brotherhood. Temples: community inspiration centres from where spiritual ideas and thoughts are spread out into the community.

To revive a true interest in the Temples, we must gain a clearer understanding of what are the significance of their “Divine Representations” (Deities) and in what way each one of them is suggesting some aspect of the Infinite Self within. No piece of stone in any temple can provide for the devotee his life’s goal of achieving happiness and peace. But, without an idol self-improvement ‘is impossible’. The method of superimposing a meaning upon an object is the technique called IDOL-WORSHIP. The idol is the means; self-discovery is the goal. To confuse the means with the goal is the Grand Trunk Road leading to sorrow. The idol serves the spiritual aspirant as a spring-board to heave himself out of samsara and plunge into himself. The IDOLS in temples are to remind the devotee of the IDEAL, the Supreme. To the earnest devotee, the idol appears as a living embodiment of his Lord.  All “poojas” are techniques by which you learn the art of putting the mind where the hand is working. However, it is necessary to remember that the idol is NOT God, but represents God.

TEMPLES are only places to discipline one’s mind. The mind must be perfectly tuned to receive the message of the Divine. The temple visits and worship should elevate the mind of the seeker and help him to keep his mind in a higher plane. A temple fulfils itself successfully in a “bhakta” when he comes to enquire into the nature of Godhood, the nature of himself, the structure of the world and the relationship between these three. At “this” moment the integrated personality of the “bhakta” though physically standing in front of the “sanctum sanctorum”, has grown to such a stature that he no longer can be contained within the confines of any Gopuram….

Just as a gymnasium is for the science of health, the temple is for the science of Reality. Temples are gymnasiums for the mind. You have to go there and apply your mind in it. Remember that it is a mental gymnasium. Surrender the mind in devotion unto Him. He will purify it and return it back to you immediately. You must go to the temple, and tune up yourself in order to get the message of the Divine.

In India, we don’t build a temple because we have money or we can collect money. It is always ordered or commanded by an Acharya. When an Acharya decides what deity or deities should be installed in the temple, thereafter there is no difference of opinion amongst the public. Temples are built by the members of the community, through a temple building committee. But every such temple committee is fulfilling the wishes of a Guru, or of an Acharya. The Guru accepts the plan, sanctions the administrative set up, decides upon the altar to be raised, and generally lays down the tradition to be followed by that DEVASTHANA. He watches over its conduct and appoints one or two of his people into the Executive Committee to be his eyes and ears in the day-to-day affairs and conduct of the temple.

Religion is to bring out the best in man by helping him to shed his animal passions still lingering in his mind which has evolved through the animal stage. This self purification is gained through devotion to the Lord, by everyone, through meeting and interacting in a common place like a TEMPLE, which serves more than the modern concept of a community Hall. Temple has to serve as a total schooling for the growing children. MAY WE USE THE TEMPLE IN THE CREATIVE FIELDS OF MOULDING THE CHILDREN AND THE YOUTH OF OUR COUNTRY.

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Navaratri Devi Pooja – Significance

SRI LALITHA MAHA TRIPURASUNDARI, the Mother of All, is invoked during the auspicious Sharannavaratri. The Sharad-Kaala (Autumn Season) represents the Creative Aspect of Nature. Since CREATION is synonymous with MOTHERHOOD, the Divine God-Principle is invoked as the MOTHER (Mathru-swaroopini) of the entire Universe of things and beings, of which we are also a part of. On the Mahalaya Amavasya day, Devi is invoked in her Jagat Prasuti Form – One who has delivered (created) the universe. With her grace and blessings alone the seeker can hope to totally dispel (Maha-Laya) the spiritual ignorance (Ama-Vasya) within himself. During the next nine days referred to as NAVARATRI, Devi is invoked and worshipped as MAHA DURGA (first three days), MAHA LAKSHMI (next three days) and MAHA SARASWATI (last three days). The sequence of worship of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati is different in different traditions and states, but the significance remains the same. The tenth day after Navaratri is known as VIJAYADASAMI (the day of Everlasting Victory – Mukti or Enlightenment).

DEVI DURGA is invoked during the first three days. Durga means “one who helps us to overcome our difficulties and negatives.” It is with her grace alone that the seeker can eliminate all the negative qualities lurking in him. They are represented as the various rakshasas whom Durga annihilates. She is depicted in red attire to represent Activity. In her hands, she carries different instruments of annihilation to destroy the various rakshasas. Mother’s destruction is ‘constructive destruction’ – it is creative and purposeful, it is for the sake of Dharma. Hence Durga is depicted as riding on a Simha (lion). SIMHA stands for Righteousness or Dharma. Its opposite is HIMSA which denotes violence and adharma. Simha also stands for “fearlessness”. 

The next three days, GODDESS LAKSHMI is worshipped. Lakshmi means “to guide” the seeker on the path of spirituality to reach the Ultimate Goal of Self Realisation (Lakshya). Lakshmi represents the WEALTH of Sattvik qualities (Lakshana-s, like Truthfulness, Humility, Nobility, Devotion, Faith, Compassion, Courage, etc.) that an individual has to nurture and nourish within himself. Sri Lakshmi’s attire is depicted in different colours depending on what she represents: White for Purity and Knowledge, Red for Selfless Activity and Material Wealth, Green for Plenty, Prosperity and Food, etc. The lotus which is associated with her represents Knowledge, Beauty, Symmetry as well as Moksha. She represents both, the Standard of Life and Standard of Living. When Goddess Lakshmi signifies material wealth she is portrayed as riding on the owl. She rides on an elephant when she is invoked for a higher and purposeful life. As the bestower of Mukti (Liberation), she along with her consort, Lord Narayana are shown seated on Garuda (eagle).

During the last three days, SRI SARASWATI is invoked and worshipped. SARA means “essence” and SWA means “one’s own”. Saraswati means “one who facilitates the individual to understand and experience his true Higher Nature (State of Immortality) within himself.” Therefore, Sri Saraswati represents Spiritual Knowledge and the Higher Divine Experience. She is always depicted in white attire indicating a pure, tranquil and contemplative mind. In one hand she holds a mala which signifies the akshara-mala or the alphabets. In the other hand she holds a book signifying knowledge. SARASWATI is invoked at every stage – right from AKSHARA-ABHYASA (initiation into the alphabets) through VIDYA-ABHYASA (study of scriptures) to DHYANA-ABHYASA (practice of contemplation). She sports a veena in the lower pair of hands. The veena represents an individual who has totally surrendered unto Mother Saraswati as an empty and willing instrument. When she uses such a devotee to accomplish her divine work, her Will and the Expression of it becomes the beautiful music of life – the Glory of a Man of Realisation! Goddess Saraswati’s vahana (vehicle) is the Hamsa (Swan). Hamsa is a mystical bird which has the ability to separate milk from water from milk-water mixture. This signifies the discrimination between the Real and the Permanent (milk) from the Unreal and the Impermanent (water). Therefore Hamsa represents a Man of Realisation. The Jivanmukta is known as “Supreme Swan” – PARAMAHAMSA. 

Alternatively, in some traditions, the sequence followed is: Maha Lakshmi, then Sri Saraswati and finally Sri Durga. Initially, a spiritual seeker invokes Goddess Lakshmi to cultivate within himself the noble and virtuous qualities. After that Sri Saraswati is invoked for Adhyatma Knowledge. Finally, Goddess Durga is invoked. By her grace alone, Mahishasura, the ego can be annihilated. Mahishasura is destroyed with the help of her trident (Trishula), which signifies the transcendence of the tri-groups (three gunas, three states of consciousness, three periods of time, the three equipments – body, mind and intellect, the three worlds, etc). This leads to the State of Self-realisation.  

During Navaratri, apart from the parayana of Durga Saptashati, Lalitha Sahasranama, Devi Stotras, etc., there is a beautiful tradition of singing Sri Kamalamba Navavarana Krithis (composed by Muthuswami Dikshitar) or Sri Kamakshi Navavarana Krithis (composed of Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer). The krithis are based on Sri Vidya Upasana and are structured around the 9-layered Sri Chakra. The 11 Krithis (1- dhyana, 9 – one for each of the 9 days, and 1- mangala), are deep in mysticism and rich in their significance. The krithis signify the seeker’s spiritual journey from the outer pluralistic world to the Innermost Divine Centre within himself. It is the unveiling of the Divinity present within us. It is the transcendence of our outer personality-layers to ultimately reach Sri Maha Tripura Sundari, the personification of Parabrahma – the Sarvanandamaya State within ourselves.

Therefore, the entire Navaratri Puja wherein Mother Goddess is invoked as Devi Durga, Maha Lakshmi and Sri Saraswati represents the spiritual journey of a seeker from the darkness of Spiritual Ignorance to the Light of Spiritual Knowledge – from the State of Mortality to the State of Immortality – from Mahalaya Amavasya to Vijayadasami !!

Ya Devi Sarvabhuteshu Buddhi Roopena Samsthita I

Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namaha II 

Ya Devi Sarvabhuteshu Lakshmi Roopena Samsthita I

Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namaha II

Ya Devi Sarvabhuteshu Shakti Roopena Samsthita I

Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namaha II 

Ya Devi Sarvabhuteshu Mathru Roopena Samsthita I

Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namaha II

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Origin of Sri Venkateshwara Suprabhatam!

Hasthigirinatha Annan (14th century) was born in a Sri Vaishnava family residing in Kanchipuram whose descendants were the disciples of Sri Ramanujacharya. Annan was the disciple of Nayana Varadacharya, the son of Sri Vedanta Desika. In time he mastered all the branches of knowledge and became an accomplished scholar. During this time, Narasimha Mishra, a great scholar and exponent of Vedanta came to Kanchipuram and challenged Nayana Varadacharya to a debate. The acharya was not inclined towards participating in the debate; but refraining from going would mean accepting defeat. Not knowing what to do, the acharya was in a dilemma. Annan noticed that something was bothering his Guru. He approached his Guru and asked him the reason. Varadacharya told him everything. Annan humbly prostrated to his Guru and asked permission to participate in the debate on his behalf. The Acharya consented. With his profound knowledge and communicative skills, Annan easily won the debate. Guru Nayana Varadacharya heard about his disciple’s stellar performance. Overjoyed, the acharya conferred on him the title: PRATHIVADHI BHAYANKARA (Terror to the Opponent) !! 

Annan continued to offer his services to Lord Varadaraja of Kanchipuram. Having heard of the glories of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala, Annan decided to go to Tirumala for the Lord’s darshan. Accompanied by his wife he reached Tirumala. He associated himself with the descendants of Anantazhwar, and engaged himself in the “abhisheka kainkaryam” of Lord Venkateshwara. Daily he brought waters from Akasha Ganga, added fragrant ingredients to the water as per the custom and tradition, and then handed over the water to the purohit for the abhisheka. One day, as he was carrying the waters to the temple, he met a devotee from Sri Rangam. The devotee narrated in length, the glories of the great saint, Manavala Mamunigal, residing in Sri Rangam. Annan was overwhelmed and wanted to hear more of the saint. He lost sense of time and even forgot about the water that he was carrying for the Lord’s abhisheka. On the other hand, the purohit having waited in vain for Annan came searching for him. On seeing Annan engrossed in satsangh, the purohit took the vessel of water from Annan and hastily proceeded to the temple to finish the rituals in the prescribed time. Suddenly, Annan realised that the fragrant ingredients had not been added to the water as was customary. He ran behind the purohit, but by the time he reached the sanctum, the purohit had started the abhisheka. Annan was very unhappy at his own negligence. He silently prayed to the Lord and sought forgiveness for the lapse. Annan heard a divine voice which consoled him saying that the abhisheka waters were exceptionally fragrant, in fact more fragrant than on other days because they carried the divine “fragrance of satsangh!” Indeed, the Lord was more than pleased with the services of Annan. 

Annan realised that this was all because of the glory of the great Manavala Mamuni. Longing to have the darshan and blessings of the saint, he proceeded to Sri Rangam. He became the disciple of Mamunigal and was given the deeksha name, Sri Vaishnava Dasan. Sri Vaishnava Dasan learnt the doctrines of Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya from his Guru and devoted himself to the propagation of the Sri Vaishnava Philosophy. Many scholarly works are attributed to Sri Vaishnava Dasan. Since he was a great exponent of Sribhashya, he became known as Sribhashyacharya as well. 

Sri Vaishnava Dasan and Mamunigal undertook a yatra and they finally reached Tirumala. Mamunigal asked his disciple to compose a SUPRABHATAM for Lord Venkateswara. Sri Vaishnava Dasan composed the famous SRI VENKATESWARA SUPRABHATAM which has four sections: Suprabhata (29 verses), Stotra (11 verses), Prapatti (16 verses) and Mangalam (14 verses). The Acharya was immensely pleased with the composition of his disciple and ordained that, all through the year (except in the Margazhi month during which Sri Andal’s Tiruppavai is chanted), every day, early in the morning, the SUPRABHATAM will be recited at the sanctum. The beautiful SUPRABHATAM which consists of the glories of Lord Venkateswara, composed by Sri Vaishnava Dasan are chanted during the opening of the sanctum till date.

श्री पद्मनाभ पुरुषोत्तम वासुदेव 

वैकुण्ठ माधव जनार्धन चक्रपाणे ।

श्री वत्स चिह्न शरणागत पारिजात

श्री वेङ्कटाचलपते तव सुप्रभातम् ॥ (Suprabhata: Verse #22)

विना वेङ्कटेशं न नाथो न नाथः
सदा वेङ्कटेशं स्मरामि स्मरामि ।
हरे वेङ्कटेश प्रसीद प्रसीद
प्रियं वेङ्कटॆश प्रयच्छ प्रयच्छ ॥ (Stotra: Verse #9)

श्रीमन् कृपाजलनिधे कृतसर्वलोक
सर्वज्ञ शक्त नतवत्सल सर्वशेषिन् ।
स्वामिन् सुशील सुल भाश्रित पारिजात
श्रीवेङ्कटेशचरणौ शरणं प्रपद्ये ॥ (Prapatti: Verse #2)

श्रियः कान्ताय कल्याणनिधये निधयेऽर्थिनाम् ।
श्रीवेङ्कट निवासाय श्रीनिवासाय मङ्गलम् ॥ (Mangala: Verse #1)

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Sri Maha Ganapati ~ Significance

SRI MAHA GANAPATI is the Lord of Knowledge and Wisdom. He is “Prathama Pujitha” (First Worshipped) before any undertaking or activity – worldly, religious or spiritual. Ganapati means Lord of Ganas. Gana denotes groups or categories. The mineral, plant, animal and human kingdom, the celestial beings, the devatas, the lower and the higher worlds can all be classified into various groups. He who is the Lord of all of them is known as GANAPATI or GANESHA. His Sakti-s are known as SIDDHI (Success and Fulfillment) and BUDDHI (Knowledge and Wisdom). He is also known as VINAYAKA (Vi-Nayaka) – One who is the Suprememost Lord and therefore has no one to claim lordship over him. Lord Ganapati is also known as VIGHNESHWARA, both as, VIGHNAHARTA (Remover of Obstacles) and VIGHNAKARTA (Creator of Obstacles for our constructive progress in life).

Ganesha is sindoora-varna, which is the colour of the rising sun which denotes knowledge and dispassion. The Lord is elephant-faced. The Elephant signifies Abundant Knowledge and Intelligence. The two small eyes represent sharp and in-depth vision. The Lord’s large ears indicate that He has an “Ear for All prayers”. The long trunk of the elephant can handle a huge log of wood with the same ease as that with a blade of grass. Therefore, the trunk represents our VIVEKA (discriminative capacity) – the ability to handle and balance our materialistic as well as spiritual life. The single tusk indicates the Advaita (One-without-a-second) State. The Kalasha held by the Lord’s trunk represents the State of Immortality (All-full or Poorna State) which he bestows upon the seeker who has intelligently and efficiently used his discriminative powers. He is clothed in vastras of different colours. Red represents Selfless Activity. White denotes Purity. Yellow stands for Spiritual Knowledge. Green for Plenty and Prosperity. Blue signifies His All-pervading Infinite Nature.

Sri Ganesha has a large belly to indicate his capacity and ability to contain all the myriad experiences. The serpent which denotes the ego is an ornament (waist-band) to him indicative of the ego-less state. His Yagnopavita signifies discipline. The three strands of the sacred thread also indicate his transcendence of the tri-groups (past, present, future periods of time; OR waking, dream and deep sleep states; OR, the gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas; OR, body, mind and intellect equipments). Sri Vighnesha is seated with his right leg firmly rooted on the ground. The left leg is folded and the left foot is pointing towards the right leg. The RIGHT leg represents the “intellect” well-established in the Higher Knowledge. The folded LEFT leg represents the “mind” aligned with the “intellect”. 

Lord Ganesha is depicted with four arms. In the upper hands he carries the “pasha” and “ankusha”. The Ankusha is a pointed instrument to goad the individual onto the righteous (spiritual) path. The Pasha or Rope is to pull the seeker towards Himself. In one of the lower hands he holds the Modaka (sweet) which denotes happiness, success and fulfilment. Modaka also represents the State of Bliss (Ananda). The outer white cover of the Modaka is made of rice flour while the filling inside is made of jaggery. It is then steamed. To prepare the rice-flour covering requires extra effort (rice flour does not bind like wheat flour). Rice is the ‘dhaanya’ associated with the Moon. And the Moon is the presiding deity of our mind. This suggests that through right effort, the mind has to be made pure and satvik and such a well prepared mind alone can contemplate on the blissful (sweet) Nature of Parabrahma. This is indicated by the ‘sweet-filling inside the outer covering’. It is then steamed. In the heat of meditation, the seeker realises his perfect identity with the Lord. The other hand is in Abhaya Mudra – an assurance to the devotee: “I am there – why fear!?”

Lord Vinayaka’s Vahana (vehicle) is Mooshaka or the Mouse. Mooshaka represents our INTELLECT. A tiny mouse can eat into an entire granary! Similarly, the human intellect has almost an inexhaustible capacity to gather, classify and store information and knowledge. Just as Lord Ganesha uses Mooshaka as his vehicle, the seeker should invest all his intellectual and mental capacities, abilities and capabilities in search for the Higher Truth. Sri Ganesha was bestowed with the Jnana-Phala (Fruit of Knowledge) by Lord Sankara because he went round the divine couple instead of the universe. This represents “God-centered” Activity. Only then GANAPATI – SAKSHATKARA (Darshana or Liberation) is possible.

Lord Vighneswara is invoked and worshipped using one of the smallest and tiniest of Lord’s creations – the DURVA GRASS. It indicates that nothing in the Lord’s creation is insignificant – everything is significant, important and has a purpose. The durva grass also has immense medical benefits and extraordinary healing effects. It has the capacity to annul even the most powerful negative energy fields. 

Lord Ganapati is invoked on the tithi of Chaturthi (4th day). The 4th day on both sides of Amavasya and Poornima (Chaturthi and Ekadashi) are days on which the moon’s influence on the ocean waters is maximum. Moon being the presiding deity of our mind, the mind has a tendency to get more agitated and become extremely extrovert on these days. Hence our Acharya-s have prescribed UPAVASA (fasting) on Chaturthi and Ekadashi. No food for the physical body means no food for the mind also. Upa-Vasa not only means fasting, but it also implies staying near, or identifying with the Lord by prayerfully invoking Him. Chandra-darshana (Seeing the Moon) on Chaturthi is prohibited. Symbolically it means refraining from extroverted activities. 

On Chaturthi, a clay-idol of Lord Ganesha is brought home and worshipped. The puja concludes with visarjana of the idol in water. Parabrahma, the Unmanifest with the help of Prakriti (clay) takes a Manifest form – SRI GANAPATI. This is to enable the devotee to easily anchor his mind at the Altar of the Lord. All the puja-vidhi (rituals) are a dramatisation of the inner spiritual journey. Once the vedantic significance has been understood, the manifest form dissolves in the “waters of spiritual knowledge”, and the Unmanifest alone remains – the “visarjana” leading to ISWARA DARSHANA – the STATE of JIVANMUKTI !!

“Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha!”

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