When a family moves in to a new building or an apartment, they change the mere building of walls to a live vibrant home. In the same way when the Deities are brought to the temple and inauguration ceremony takes place, They can transform the entire community surrounding the temple into a spiritually vibrant community. Different elaborate activities are involved in inaugurating a temple and among them the most important one is the installation of the Deities – prana pratistha. From the scriptures we know that Lord’s name, form, qualities and pastimes are identical with Him. In the same way the Deity form of the Lord and the Lord Himself are identical. This raises an interesting question of why do we need a separate installation ceremony, fire sacrifice and other rituals.
The installation process is a formal way of accepting the Lord’s manifestation, a conscious acknowledgement or a contract between the devotee and the Lord, whom the devotee requests to be formally present and to reciprocate with a certain standard of worship. “As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly,” says Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (4.11).
Before going further into the details of the installation process, let us look at the significance of Deity worship in Kali yuga where the yuga dharma is chanting of the holy name. It is true that meditation, Deity worship, and yajnas are less relevant methods of worshiping the Lord in Kali-yuga, but when carried out in such a way to support the chanting of the holy name they make a powerful impact and play a crucial role in purifying the mind and senses. When an aspiring devotee engages his senses in the service of the Deity, he gets an opportunity to engage his senses in a spiritual activity and thus purify them.
Many devotees are involved in the rituals of Deity installation process and this way it acts like a forum for them to have a visual transformational experience. For example, when we invite a friend for dinner, we serve a meal, which acts as the medium to enjoy the company of the friend. The relationship in the heart is manifested externally in the form of a meal. Internally the emphasis is on the relationship; externally the focus is the meal. Similarly, with an installation process, we express our relationship with the Lord through specific rituals that involve our senses, thus creating an environment for us to experience the transformation in a tangible way.
Six Installation Rituals
The chanting of the maha-mantra Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Haredestroys the false ego and gradually awakens the spiritual identity of the chanter. In the same way the six rites of the installation process represent a twofold theme
- the material elements used in carving the Deities are purified
- the Deity forms are “re-created” from spiritual ingredients
In other words, the theme of the installation is the very crucial part of purifying matter and transforming it into spirit.
The first of the six installation rituals performed is called sodhita pancagavya snana, a Sanskrit term meaning “purification by bathing with five items from the cow.” The five ingredients are milk, yogurt, ghee, cow urine, and cow dung are sprinkled over the deities. In Vedic culture, everything about the cow is considered sacred and purifying, so this process purifies the deities of any faults that occurred during the carving. It also indicates that the craftsman’s external work on the deities is complete and henceforth the priests are taking over responsibility for the Deity service.
The second step is called netra unmilinam, or opening the eyes of the deities. Arjuna tells Krsna, sasi-surya-netram: “The sun and moon are among Your great, unlimited eyes” in the Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. In this ritual, the eye that is the moon is opened by pouring honey; ghee is used for the eye that is the sun. Once t
he eyes are opened, mantras are chanted and auspicious items are shown to the Lord: gold, silver, copper, stone, rice, ghee, yogurt, the Vedic swastika design, water from the Ganges, earth from a holy place.
In the third part, known as sayanadhivasa, the deities are placed on a bed surrounded by many auspicious items. Rice paddy is placed under the bed, which is decorated with beautiful cloth and owers and surrounded by auspicious water pots. Milk sweets are offered to the deities and left by the bed overnight. The deities are invited to rest, and devotees stay up all night singing devotional songs.
The fourth ceremony is known as tattva-samhara-nyasa. In this rite the deities are connected to the fire arena by a rope made of kusha grass. The priest touches different parts of the deities’ bodies with a kusha-grass stick while chanting a mantra. The gopala-mantra is chanted backward to destroy the material elements used to create the deities, and then forward in the normal manner to re-create the deities in their spiritual form.
One of the most popular and visual aspects of the installation procedure is the fifth stage, known as abhiseka, or bathing. Rather than merely using water, the priests use pancamrta, or “five nectars” milk, yogurt, ghee, honey, and sugar water. The deities are also bathed in fruit juice, herbal waters, and flower-infused waters. This ceremony culminates with sahasra-dhara, “a thousand streams,” when the priests pour water into a silver pot with one thousand tiny holes. Held over the Deity’s head, it produces a shower of one thousand streams to rinse away all the liquids used to perform the bathing.
The sixth item of installation is known as prana-pratistha, “establishing the life force.” The hearts of the deities are touched, and They are offered a formal prayer requesting Them to please be present in Their Deity form. Those performing the ceremony meditate on the Lord in their heart entering the heart of the deities.
At the conclusion of these six processes, the priests conceal the deities behind a curtain to dress them in opulent silk garments, ornament them with jewelry, and offer them a feast of 108 preparations. When the curtain opens, the deities are revealed once again in all Their glory for the pleasure of the assembled devotees