Tag Archives: Hinduism

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

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The Vedic age was one of flamboyant beauty in all ways. It was a lifestyle that combined spirituality,  laws of dharma and art in equal proportions. From architecture to city planning, common speech to styles of everyday wear, everything was steeped in art. This is apparent from the elaborate, poetic descriptions of the Vedic lifestyle in various ancient scriptures.

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For example, the following excerpts were taken from the Bhagavata Purana. These describe the opulence of the legendary thousand-gated city of Dvaraka, where Sri Krishna reigned as king in the Dwapara Yuga age.

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sarvartu-sarva-vibhava-
puṇya-vṛkṣa-latāśramaiḥ
udyānopavanārāmair
vṛta-padmākara-śriyam

TRANSLATION

The city of Dvārakāpurī was filled with the opulences of all seasons. There were hermitages, orchards, flower gardens, parks and reservoirs of water breeding lotus flowers all over.

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sitātapatra-vyajanair upaskṛtaḥ
prasūna-varṣair abhivarṣitaḥ pathi
piśaṅga-vāsā vana-mālayā babhau
ghano yathārkoḍupa-cāpa-vaidyutaiḥ

TRANSLATION

As the Lord (Krishna) passed along the public road of Dvārakā, His head was protected from the sunshine by a white umbrella. White feathered fans moved in semicircles, and showers of flowers fell upon the road. His yellow garments and garlands of flowers made it appear as if a dark cloud were surrounded simultaneously by sun, moon, lightning and rainbows.

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Artist Giampaolo Tomassetti (spiritually initiated as Jnananjana Dasa) has captured the splendor of this era beautifully in his exquisite works of art. What a gift indeed to be blessed with a mind and hands that can create wonders like these. Words fail me as I try to praise this man’s stunning work. All I can say with a sigh is, this is true art.

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About Giampaolo Tomassetti

He was born on March 8, 1955, in Terni, Italy. From 1980 to 1987, he was a founding member of the International Vedic Art Academy, located at Villa Vrindavan in Italy. A number of his paintings appear in books published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. He has held about thirty exhibitions all around Italy. One of his great loves is painting frescoes and walls. He worked on the Mahabharata project for the last twelve years in Citta di Castello, Perugia, Italy.

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Related Links:

Bhakti Yoga Through the Art of Puja

Choosing a Mala: Tulasi, Rudraksha or Both?

Everything You Need to Know About Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Choosing a Mala: Tulasi, Rudraksha or Both?

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

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Hare Krishna and Om Namashivaya.

The reason why Sanathana Dharma (known to some as Hinduism) is not easily defined is because it’s not quite a religion. People who follow these paths come from all walks of life and have spiritual principles that come in all combinations. This in turn, reflects in the external paraphernalia they choose to adorn themselves with, including spiritual beads (Sanskrit: mala).

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Ask any person who claims to be a Hindu: what makes someone a Hindu? It’s not a question anyone can answer with absolute certainty and finality. Sanathana Dharma has no real boundaries that ‘disqualifies’ a follower of its varied paths.

Some Hindus are staunch worshipers of Shiva and only Shiva. Others will bow before none but Vishnu. Then there are people who connect with various deities, from Karthikeya to Ganesha to Durga. Our ISKCON friends chant Krishna’s names with every breath. And finally, there are people like me who can’t be categorized – I happily do regular archanais for every major Hindu deity, I go to both Catholic and Protestant churches, I like mosques, I’m an atheist and an omnist, and finally I’m everything and nothing. I can’t be bothered to consider what labels and limitations fit me – I’m too busy immersing myself in the unlimited wonders of the universal experience.

Tulasi or Rudraksha?

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I wear both. And more, including neem, sandalwood, spathikam (clear quartz) and navrattan (nine sacred gems). I even have Christian rosaries. Sometimes I use just one. At other times, I wear a few together.

Why choose? Your spiritual experience of the universe is only as limited as your mind – remember that.

Here are some facts to consider:

  • The foremost known Vedic scripture about rudraksha (the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad) does not mention anywhere in it that wearers of rudraksha cannot wear tulasi beads.
  • Similarly, nowhere is it stated in any accepted Vaishnava-related Vedic scripture that the use of rudraksha is forbidden for Vaishnavas.

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I’ll leave these self-explanatory Vedic verses below for you to think about:

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Rudranam sankaras casmi.” (Translation: “Of all the Rudras, I am Lord Shiva.”)

~ Bhagavan Sri Krishna, Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10, Text 23.

Vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh.” (Translation: “Lord Sambhuh [Shiva] is the greatest of Vaishnavas.”)

~ Bhagavata Purana, SB 12.13.16.

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The highest universal powers don’t have issues with each other, yet we humans are arguing over wooden beads.

Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti“. ~ Rig Veda

(Translation: That which exists is One. The sages call It by various names.)

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Conclusion

Sanathana Dharma (Hinduism) is not a limited concept and will never be. There is no such thing as “if you do X, you’re a proper Hindu and if you do Y you’re breaching the boundaries of Hinduism”.

Come on. We have cannibalistic Aghori sadhus in rudraksha, and tulasi-wearing Vaishnavas who won’t even consume garlic in keeping with their strict vows of a vegetarian sattvic diet. Who’s to say they’re right or wrong in their practices? Those paths have their scriptural backing too.

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That which is said to have good energy and positive vibrations (tulasi, rudraksha, Ganges water, Vibhuti or Bhasma, Gopi Chandan, prasada, etc.) will always remain purifying, sacred and beneficial to the wearer, regardless if they are used in combination with each other or alone.

In summary, wear rudraksha beads if you wish. Wear tulasi if you prefer that instead. Wear both if your heart so desires – neither Krishna, Shiva nor any authoritative figure of Sanathana Dharma has ever forbidden it.

~Loka samasta sukhino bhavantu~

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Related Links:

Everything You Need to Know About Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

 

Thaipusam: A Malaysian Indian Experience

by Jayna Valen

What is Thaipusam?

Thaipusam is quite something. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a festival and holy day dedicated to the Hindu deity Muruga (also known as Karthikeya). The biggest Thaipusam celebration in the world takes place annually in Batu Caves, Malaysia. Smaller-scale celebrations also take place in other locations, mainly Penang and Ipoh.

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I was in Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple in South India last year after my yoga course, and one of the street vendors handed me a name card. Guess what? It had a picture of Batu Caves on it, under the words “Sila Datang Lagi”. I mean, how cool is that? Malaysian Indian pride! Vetrivel Murugannuku Arohara!

The festival is made up of so many things. I don’t quite know how to describe Thaipusam in simple terms. It’s not just a cave temple, 272 steps and a big golden statue that offends religious fanatics of unrelated faiths for no apparent reason. Thaipusam is spiritual, religious, fun, exciting, overwhelming, chaotic, controversial, shocking, mesmerizing, colorful, loud and awe-inspiring. Yes, all at once.

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It’s having between one to two million people in one location for the purpose of taking part in one of the most thrilling religious experiences in the world. It’s thousands of pierced human beings, with spears through their tongues and cheeks, single-mindedly making their way through absolute chaos to reach the temple on the top of the hill to fulfil their vows. There’s a silver chariot procession. Lots of coconut breaking. Dancing kavadi bearers and urmi drums.

Attendees of the festival? About as diverse as it can get. Old, young, Indian, Chinese, white, black, devotees, atheists, locals, tourists, vendors. The usually calm temple grounds explode into a pandemonium of sights and sounds for an all-encompassing sensory experience.

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Experiencing Thaipusam for the First Time?

If you’re new to this and would like to experience the festival first-hand, I have some words for you: it will be an experience of a lifetime for sure, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. If you can’t deal with massive crowds, loud noises, shocking sights, garbage, tropical heat and / or rain and the subsequent burning tar roads and / or mud-sludge, Thaipusam in Batu Caves is not for you (try Penang for a milder version).

If you’re a thrill-seeker, adventurous enough and game for it, then…welcome, welcome! Be prepared to have your senses assailed and for an experience you can talk about till your dying day. To get the best out of your Thaipusam experience, go with a trusted Malaysian Indian friend or family and you’ll be just fine. They will brief you on the precautions, take care of you and show you the ropes.

Why Thaipusam is Celebrated

Very briefly, the religious story goes something like this. Lord Muruga, one of the most powerful deities in Hinduism, is asked to defeat a powerful and evil demon. He was provided with divine weapons by his parents, Lord Shiva and the Goddess Parvati. The most powerful weapon he received was a celestial spear from his mother (Tamil translation: vel). After a long and difficult battle, Lord Muruga successfully vanquished the demon. During the festival of Thaipusam, one will hear the chanting of “Vel, vel” or “Vetri vel” continuously (Tamil translation: vetri = victory), and this is the reason why.

Therefore, Thaipusam is a symbolic and metaphorical celebration of victory against the dark forces, as well as a day for devotees to show their love and appreciation to Lord Muruga. The act of spiritually observing and participating in the festival can also be interpreted in other ways, such as victory over a personal weakness or challenge.

Why Devotees Do What They Do On Thaipusam

The main reason why Thaipusam is so sensational among non-Hindus is the practice of mortification of the flesh, done by thousands during the festival. Devotees pierce their tongues, cheeks, chests and backs with long spears and hooks as part of their vows. They have their personal reasons for this.

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For instance, my friend had prayed for the speedy recovery of his mother who was suffering from cancer. His mother eventually got better, and he made a vow to carry a kavadi the following year and have his body pierced with 108 steel hooks. I have never done it, but I see tongue-piercing as a symbolic act of ‘victory’ over the organ of taste and speech, which is capable of making one a slave to the senses, or cause damage to others merely by the use of words.

My family astrologer and priest, gurukkal Velu Iyer, shared similar views with me about this. He said that the tongue is an organ that can be detrimental to spiritual advancement. The tongue can cause one to become attached to sense gratification, such as becoming addicted to food, leading to greed and gluttony.

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The organ can also cause problems if one utters words that are negative or cause harm to others due to improper speech. He told me that piercing the tongue with a small spear for Thaipusam is one way to increase one’s awareness of such things, and gain spiritual control over these weaknesses. In some ways, it’s an act of purification and sanctification. Of course, not everybody will agree with this point of view, but this was his interpretation. Similarly, devotees have their personal reasons for the austerities they undertake during Thaipusam.

What’s Beautiful about Thaipusam

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Unity. It’s lovely to see the whole Indian community coming together from all over the country for a religious / spiritual reason. Shaivites, Vaishnavites, Sai Baba or ISKCON people, it doesn’t matter. They’re all there and everyone’s in a good mood, helping each other.

Diversity. While Hindus make up the majority of crowd, there are people of all other faiths, races and nationalities there as well. Many are friends and well-wishers of kavadi bearers who’ve come there to show their support. Others are tourists, vendors and stall owners. What’s great is everyone is helpful and respectful throughout the festival.

Festive Atmosphere and Shopping. There’s almost nothing you CAN’T buy at Thaipusam. The grounds are packed with stalls selling everything from vegetarian food to clothing, desserts to toys. My best Thaipusam buy was years ago. It was a solid bronze bangle carved with ancient dragon heads at the openings, not unlike Celtic jewellery. I bought it from a creepy-looking, dreadlocked gypsy man covered in talismans. The bangle was neatly displayed on his cloth mat of wares, next to a row of jackal skulls and rusted horseshoes.

Here’s a picture of the bangle, captured by a friend in Rishikesh, sometime in 2016.

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Spiritual Experience. Even mere onlookers can benefit from the spiritual vibrations of the festival. Any observer will quickly realize that carrying a heavy steel kavadi under the searing Malaysian heat, in addition to having to navigate through a jam-packed colossal crowd while barefoot, then climbing 272 stairs up a hill is no easy feat.

Bear in mind that most kavadi bearers have undergone severe penance leading up to Thaipusam (usually 40 days or more), which means a strict vegetarian diet, complete abstinence from sex, sleeping on the floor and more. How do they do it? Two words: faith and devotion.

The Bad and the Ugly

I guess I can’t ignore the embarrassing news that make Malaysian headlines each year, so I may as well talk about it. You know that saying in Malay, kerana nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga? That’s pretty much sums up the behavior of certain members of the Malaysian Indian community.

Gang fights. Judging by past year occurrences, Thaipusam seems to be a popular time for this activity, and Batu Caves the chosen venue. Which baffles me…why? Machas have 364 other days in the year for limb amputation, parang-wielding, beheading and screaming slogans while brandishing numbered signs and flags.

Malaysia is a spacious country too, and Batu Caves isn’t the best venue for gang-clashing. Consider our country’s numerous crematoriums – spacious, peaceful, no police in sight for miles. And such convenience to dispose of those of you who don’t make it.

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Saree Blouse Moral Compass Committee. So we have this bunch of, er, well-meaning Malaysian Indian brothers who have deep concerns about the styles of saree blouses worn by women during Thaipusam. Too sexy, back too low, front too open, sleeves too short, etc.

I was always under the impression that if one attends a religious or spiritual festival, one’s attention should be focused on said religious or spiritual festival. You know, the whole inner peace, we-are-not-this-body and God-is-within thing. Not on trending saree blouse designs in the vicinity of Batu Caves and how much skin is showing. So, my dear brothers, if you make an attempt to focus on your faith and devotion, perhaps look inward instead of outward, you’ll save yourselves a lot of stress. People are responsible for their own words, thoughts and actions. If their choice of fashion offends Lord Muruga, rest assured he will deal with that and it’s really not your problem.

Perhaps you’d judge a woman for her manner of dressing in a temple, then go home and forget about it. Fair enough, that’s your right to do so. I’ve seen bottles of Club 99 littered around my office after weekends. Common Google searches that lead people to my blog include “Tamanna topless saree” and “mallu big boobs wet saree” (I’m sorry you were led to my article on how to wash silk sarees with an image of a decently-clad Tamanna). Can Lord Muruga see these things? Of course not. He’s in Batu Caves. Right?

To those brothers who are still overly fascinated with saree blouse designs, I highly recommend a trip to Tengku Kelana Road in Klang town. The tailors there will be more than happy to provide you with catalogues on the latest jacket designs. You could probably buy the catalogues off them to have your own copy and skip Thaipusam the following year altogether for everyone’s sake.

Huh. Vanthutanunge.

Disagreements. Some say the temple committee is corrupt. Others have something to say about the way Thaipusam is organized. And there’s that concern about milk wastage. I kind of agree with the last point. Anything offered to the deity should be consumed as prasada because it’s highly energized and blessed food, so what’s the point of letting it run down the drain? Quite insulting.

If after all these years the temple committee has still not figured out a way to collect the milk for consumption of the devotees, let me share something I practice which may be useful. Every year about a week before Thaipusam, I take offerings (milk, fruits, flowers) for the deity and have my archanai done, in any temple where there’s a Muruga deity. That way, at least I know the milk will be used for temple purposes such as cooking. The priests can have it too, I don’t mind, as long as it doesn’t go to waste.

Summary

So there it is, my take on the Malaysian Indian Thaipusam experience. I will continue to attend Thaipusam because I love it. I enjoy the good, ignore the bad and just have a great time with a delicious glass of mooru from the free stalls.

Vetrivel Murugannuku Arohara!

 

Related Links:

Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 1)

Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 2)

Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 3)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha (Part 1)

Bhakti Yoga Through The Art Of Puja (Part 2)

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

Part 2: How to Perform Simple Puja

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Most Indians are familiar with puja and would know how to perform a simple, basic puja at home (or anywhere, actually). If you’re new to this and would like to start, congratulations on taking this first step in Bhakti Yoga.

Puja can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. Remember, the most important aspects of puja are devotion and sincerity. Don’t worry about doing something wrong. As long as you perform puja with love and good intentions, your offerings will be accepted and you’ll receive the benefits of the ritual in the form of positive energy.

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Basic things you’ll need for puja:

An incense holder
A clean cloth for the altar
New cotton wick
A brass puja bell
A brass oil lamp
Pictures or statues of your deities of choice
Pictures of your spiritual masters / gurus
A container for water (for offering)
Oil for the lamp (ghee or any pure, edible vegetable oil)
Fresh flowers, leaves or fruits (all three, if possible)

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Additional items (optional):

A camphor holder
A frankincense holder
A container for water with a spoon (to purify your hands)
Plates for offering food (kept specifically for puja purposes)

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Method:

1. Shower. Always be freshly showered before having anything to do with puja, even if you’re just cleaning or setting up the altar. Purity on all levels is best when it comes to puja.
2. Clean the altar. If you don’t have an altar, a table covered with a clean, new cloth will do. If the altar was used previously for puja, remove any dried flowers, dried garlands, leftover incense ash and previously offered water. Dispose all organic material under a tree or plants. Any previously offered water should be consumed or poured on plants. It’s not necessary to throw away leftover oil in the lamp – it can be reused and replenished as needed.

A photo by Boris  Smokrovic. unsplash.com/photos/ZUDOdyNSWPg

3. Arrange your pictures and puja utensils. Every altar should ideally have a picture or statue of Ganesha, as he is the deity in charge of removing obstacles. Place Ganesha on the left, followed by the other deities to the right. If you have a two-tiered altar, you can place the pictures of your spiritual masters below the pictures of the deities; otherwise, place these to the sides. Place the incense holder, water container and bell on your altar, in front of the pictures. Note: You can easily make additional tiers on your altar using bricks, wooden blocks or books, and covering these with a cloth.
4. Decorate the altar and prepare your offerings. If you have fresh flowers or garlands, decorate the altar with these, in any style you like. Light the incense. Fill the water container up with clean drinking water or fresh milk. If you have sattvic vegetarian food or fruits you’d like to offer, arrange these on the altar on plates specifically purchased for puja. If the oil lamp is empty, refill it with fresh ghee (or vegetable oil). Trim a cotton wick to about 1 ½ to 2 inches in length, then lightly dip the edge you’re going to light into the oil. Squeeze the wick’s tip to remove excess oil, then place the whole wick into the lamp, with the edge of the wick sitting on the pointed rim of the lamp.

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5. Light the lamp to begin your puja. Ring the bell firmly for a few seconds; this is done to invite the devas to accept your offerings and dispel any negative energies within the space. If you feel comfortable enough, ring the bell using your left hand and perform aarathi with your right hand (with lit camphor placed in the camphor holder). Aarathi should be performed in large, circular motions three times, in a clockwise direction. Some people prefer to perform aarathi at the end of the puja, but I do mine at the beginning.
6. Recite mantras or pray silently. If you want to recite mantras, always start with a Ganesha mantra before anything else. After Ganesha, the mantras for the other deities should follow in this sequence, according to your chosen deities : Vishnu / Krishna, Shiva, Lakshmi, Durga, Muruga, and the rest. If you don’t know any mantras, it’s perfectly acceptable to pray silently, in your mind and heart, in any language. Offer your greetings and obeisances to the deities respectfully, and thank them for coming to grace your puja (never doubt this – once you ring the bell, they are energetically present at your altar). Mentally share any concerns you have and ask them for help or guidance. Once you have completed your prayers, thanks the deities for everything you’ve been given so far – always remember to have an attitude of gratitude.

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7. Meditate. Make sure the flame is ‘safe’ so as not to accidentally cause a fire when you’re not watching it. You may place it on a large metal tray to prevent stray sparks from touching the altar cloth. Once you’re sure the lamp is burning in a safe manner, meditate with your eyes closed for about 10 to 20 minutes. It’s best to sit on a pillow or mat, with your hands in chin mudra or in your lap. You may also do japa chanting with the aid of a rosary.
8. Conclude the puja. Once you’ve completed your meditation, silently ask for permission to end the puja. Then, put out the lamp using a flower (or use a twig to drown the wick and flame in the oil). If you have offered milk, water, fruits or food, you may now remove the items and transfer them to your regular cups and plates for consumption.

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Note: If you’d like to perform a more elaborate puja for a special reason, you may want to consider hiring a priest as they are trained extensively in complex Vedic rituals. It does not mean that a simple puja you do yourself is inferior – it’s just more practical due to the complexity of the rituals, especially those done for specific purposes.

Related Posts:

Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 1: Understanding the Art of Puja)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Bhakti Yoga Through The Art Of Puja (Part 1)

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

Part 1: Understanding the Art of Puja

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Note: This article may be a little long for today’s readers. However, if you wish to understand and explore the deeper spiritual meaning behind the practice of puja, I request that you read this article to the very end. One of my biggest challenges in writing about Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim) is trying to summarize vast amounts of information from Vedic scriptures and make content easy to understand for readers. Thank you for your time and patience. I hope you’ll be inspired to include puja as a part of your daily life and your personal journey on the path of Self-Realization.

An Introduction to Puja

Puja is a ritual of prayer or worship generally practiced by followers of Sanatana Dharma (better known in modern times as Hinduism). It is a form of Bhakti Yoga (the yogic path of devotional service and love). Puja may be done to honor and worship demigods, deities or any chosen manifestation of the sacred universal energy. It may also be performed to commemorate auspicious days or events.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Sri Krishna says this about Bhakti Yoga:

patram puspam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakti upahrtam
asnami prayatatmanah

Translation: If one offers Me, with love and devotion, a leaf, flower, fruit or water, I will accept it (Chapter 9, Verse 26).

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What’s the meaning of this verse? Simple: it’s easy to serve God or the universal energy through puja, as all one requires is a leaf, flower, fruit or water offered with sincerity, love and devotion.

Puja is complex on every level, even when performed in a simple manner. It is especially resplendent with spiritual meaning. Every gesture, utensil, item and offering involved in puja has a purpose. The rituals, depending on the type of puja, may be lengthy and complex, and may include various types of offerings such as flowers, incense, fruits, food, clothing, frankincense, sacred powders and dried herbs. A daily home puja may involve nothing more than a small altar, a picture of a chosen deity (ishta deva) and some modest offerings.

What is Bhakti Yoga?

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There are four paths of yoga, namely Raja Yoga (the yoga of mental and physical control), Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge), Karma Yoga (the yoga of selfless action) and Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotional service). Each path represents a different approach to attain union with Brahman, a higher state of awareness or ultimate Self-Realization. Bhakti Yoga is the easiest of the four paths.

Is Puja Really Necessary?

Those who don’t understand the full spiritual significance of puja may question the practice or dismiss it altogether as unnecessary. It’s not uncommon to hear remarks along the lines of “If God is everywhere, why do we need to waste time with this ritual?” or “If God is the Almighty, why does He need these mortal offerings?”

These questions are valid. It’s always better to question something one does not understand – this is better than blind acceptance. One can only receive the right knowledge through questioning first, then subsequently seeking the answers.

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Why Do We Perform Puja?

Puja is done for many reasons, including these:

• It’s a way of sharing your love, joy and gratitude with the universe. Puja, in other words, is communion with the sacred universal energy. When you radiate these energies and corresponding thoughts, you attract equally positive vibrations back to you.
• It’s a method to communicate with higher powers and elevated beings, such as your chosen deities (ishta devas).
• You’re re-energising yourself and the surrounding spaces each time you perform puja. Think of it as a ‘spiritual reset’, to get rid of the negative energies you have accumulated through daily material life.
• The act of performing the ritual trains the mind to focus on communion with the universal energy.

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• The ritual develops mental discipline if you perform it regularly – it’s a manner of training the mind into a habit, so it becomes ready automatically when you merely think of performing puja.
• Puja helps ease the burden of the mind in times of stress, depression and sadness. Performing the ritual can be comforting to those facing mental distress.
• Puja helps you develop gratitude and appreciation. For instance, you may realize that you’re lucky to have food to offer during puja, and to be able to consume it later as prasada (blessed remnants). When you make offerings of flower garlands and leaves, you may realize how blessed you are to live in a place where plants are healthy and grow abundantly.

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• According to Vedic scriptures, fire (agni) is purifying in all ways. By lighting the lamp for puja, you are purifying the puja space, your home and yourself.
• The bronze bell that is used for puja eliminates negative energies through sound vibrations when it is rung. Good quality incense and frankincense act as air purifiers, can eliminate bacteria and act as natural insect repellent.

Related Posts:

Bhakti Yoga Through the Art of Puja (Part 2: How to Conduct Simple Puja)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Part 1: Everything You Need To Know About Rudraksha

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

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Most people of Indian ethnicity are familiar with Rudraksha beads (or seeds), especially those with a strong inclination towards spirituality. However, there is much confusion about how or when to use Rudraksha, what type to buy and so forth. What color Rudraksha beads are best? Where does one obtain genuine Rudraksha beads? What are the benefits of wearing Rudraksha? Are there negative consequences if Rudraksha beads are used wrongly? Is information about Rudraksha mentioned in any particular Upanishad?

My Personal Experience

Edited
Gardening at Madurai Meenakshi Ashram, India (January 2017). These are Rudraksha beads I purchased at the Chinmaya Mission, Rishikesh.

I’d always wanted to use Rudraksha, but like most others I didn’t have enough information on the benefits or how to use them. I didn’t know if I could wear them ‘wrongly’ and incur the wrath of Shiva or some other deity. I didn’t know if women could wear them through menstrual cycles. I didn’t know if they could be worn to funerals, auspicious ceremonies or during sex. In short, I didn’t know anything about Rudraksha.

So me being me, what did I do? I embarked on a very serious, self-inflicted spiritual search to learn everything I could about Rudraksha. To make a long story short, I dug into Vedic scriptures, spoke to my gurus and went in search of a real-life Rudraksha tree.

Courtesy of my sister, we found a fully-grown Rudraksha tree, right here in Malaysia (I’ve been since told that there are more, though hidden in rural areas). I’ll never forget the sight; it was majestic and exuded a wonderful, calming energy, not dissimilar to that of a stone Shivalinga. I was ecstatic and moved at the same time, as I considered it a special blessing from Shiva for me to have had such a profound experience smack in the midst of Kali Yuga. I harvested my own Rudraksha beads from the bright blue fruits, peeled and scrubbed away the pulp, then dried them. Among the last few steps were soaking the seeds in milk and oiling them for preservation. I gave five to Agastya, my best yoga student, and kept the remaining ones for myself.

Here, I’ll share what I’ve learned about the spiritual vibrations and uses of Rudraksha, based on the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad. May you gain the full spiritual benefits of wearing these sacred beads, and the blessing of Lord Kalagni Rudra himself. Har har Mahadev!

Note: For the second part of this article, please see Part 2: The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad.

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The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad

There are varying pieces of information about the so-called ‘right’ way to choose and wear Rudraksha, and a string of supposed disasters than can happen by wearing the beads ‘wrongly’. The way I look at it, why get misled by the claims of mere mortals when the words of Shiva Himself are available for all to study? The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad is there for all to read and make their own decisions, based on Shiva’s clear and direct instructions.

This Upanishad was originally written in Sanskrit and is part of the Sama Veda. It makes up one of the 108 Upanishadic scriptures and is in the form of a profound conversation between Lord Shiva (referred to as Lord Kalagni Rudra in this scripture) and the revered sage Sanatkumara (sage Bhusunda).

The Upanishad begins with an invocation to Brahman, the Supreme Reality for the well-being of the physical body, the prana (life force), and speech. It concludes beautifully with a prayer of peace. The sage Sanatkumara (Bhusunda) asks Lord Kalagni Rudra various questions about Rudraksha beads, including their origins, spiritual properties, how to wear them and the benefits of wearing them.

If you have genuine interest in the spiritual benefits of wearing Rudraksha, I highly recommend that you study this Upanishad. I’m a firm believer that spiritual guidance or knowledge should always come from legitimate sources, which equates to:

  • (a) the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, and;
  • (b) teachings contained within the vast array of Vedic scriptures, plus
  • (c) some basic common sense to assimilate the knowledge received (in other words, you are your own teacher).

I have included the full English translation of the Upanishad here. This is a version I have edited only for language clarity. For the original version in the Sanskrit Devanagari script, please refer to this Upanishad within the Sama Veda.

Summary: Benefits of Rudraksha Beads and How to Wear Them

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Once again, I strongly recommend that you read the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad for your own spiritual benefit. It’s surprisingly concise as far as Vedic scriptures go and you should be able to complete it within 10 to 15 minutes.

However, if you’re pressed for time, here’s a summary on the important parts:

  • The five-faced Rudraksha (panchmukhi) may be worn by everyone for overall spiritual well-being. In the Upanishad, Lord Kalagni Rudra describes the benefits of the one-faced to the fourteen-faced type of beads in great detail. However, the five-faced beads have general positive vibrations which will suit all users. Lord Kalagni Rudra says, “The five-faced Rudraksha represents Panchabrahman, the five-faced form of Shiva (Sadyojata to Isana). The wearer of this bead attains the grace of Panchabrahman and relieves himself of the sin of homicide.”shiva
  • You can choose the type of benefits you want according to the number of faces on the beads. For instance, the wearer of a three-faced Rudraksha obtains the blessings of Agni for the three types of sacred fires.
  • Seeing, handling and uttering the word ‘Rudraksha’ results in amazing spiritual benefits and blessings. Read the Upanishad for full details.
  • The recommended colors for Rudraksha beads are white, yellow, red and black. I find that the red and black are the most common. Do note that fresh Rudraksha seeds will darken considerably after drying, and this is normal. For instance, red seeds will darken to a deep brown. Also, be wary of ‘painted’ or dyed seeds. The best beads are those that are not treated with chemicals, heat or paints.
  • Always choose beads that are well-shaped and undamaged. Broken, cracked, misshapen seeds or those damaged by worms cannot be used.
  • The best type (quality) of Rudraksha beads have a natural hole. According to the Upanishad, a bead which has a man-made hole is secondary in quality, so wear the best type you can realistically obtain.
  • Rudraksha beads are best strung on white silk or cotton thread. Some gurus have also said that gold and silver wire are okay to use, and generally these metals are good conductors of spiritual vibrations. However, I believe that with this particular piece of advice, Lord Kalagni Rudra is teaching us that simplicity and humility is all you need to gain even the highest spiritual benefits.thread-848501_640
  • There is no ‘incorrect’ way to use Rudraksha. There are no ill-effects of wearing any type of Rudraksha. Nowhere in the Upanishad does Lord Kalagni Rudra mention any negative consequences of wearing Rudraksha. Rather, the Upanishad focuses on the various types of positive effects exuded by the beads; it provides enough information for one to personally decide on the type he or she needs most.
  • No restrictions are mentioned for the use of Rudraksha during menstruation. A woman’s bodily energy field changes during the menstruation cycle. The effects vary from person to person, so women are recommended to make their own decisions based on their individual bodily energy during menstruation. I personally find that Rudraksha has a calming, grounding effect on me during my periods.
  • Wearers of Rudraksha are recommended to be vegetarian. There is no mention of any ill-effects of wearing Rudraksha as a non-vegetarian. However, bearing in mind the cyclical flow of Rudraksha’s energy in the form of a mala (rosary), it is best to refrain from non-vegetarian food as much as possible. Rudraksha amplifies one’s own bodily energy and vibrations, and as the consumption of meat is highly tamasic, it would be wise to reduce the consumption of non-vegetarian food and eventually cease it altogether.

Part 2: The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

Part 3: How To Know If Your Rudraksha Beads Are Genuine