The Science of offering Arati to Deities
Arati – Is it just a series of hand movements?
A common sight when one visit a temple is a pujari or priest standing on the edge of the inner sanctum and offering a series of things to the Deity. From a pure mechanical point of view one can think of programming a robot to do the “ceremony” for the “statue”. But because those with spiritual point of view know the significance of the form of the Lord, who is the central figure of the entire temple, they perform the Ärati with love and devotion. This is to show their heartfelt feelings of awe, reverence and love to the Deities.
What exactly is Arati?
The word Ärati literally means reception. It is an offering of respect, welcome and worship to an exalted person. Since the most exalted person in the temple is Sri Krsna, all the celebration and welcoming is done for Him. During the process different things are offered to the Lord to welcome Him and make Him feel at home. In the beginning of the ärati ceremony, the pujari steps to the edge of the Deity room and sounds a conchshell announcing the beginning of the ceremony and then opens the curtains. The Lord kindly gives His audience to the public. The pujari then offers incense, lamp with camphor, lamp with ghee wicks, scented water (in a small conchshell), a napkin, varieties of flowers, yak-tail whisk and the peacock fan in that order. The pujari presents the first six items to the Deities with graceful, circular hand motions. Then as a symbol of royal honor he waves the yak-tail whisk and finally to give the pleasant feeling of breeze he fans the Lord with peacock fan. In the winter peacock fan is not offered. This is a very general description of the Ärati. The number of items offered will vary according to the type of Arati.
Different types of Arati
Depending on what time of the day the Arati is offered, the ceremony has a different name and carries a different mood and flavor.
In the early morning hours, especially the Brahma Muhurta, when spiritual activities begin, the priest opens the temple, wakes up the Lord by chanting auspicious prayers. Then the Lord is offered different types of milk sweets. These two activities of waking up and offering food are done in private. After the Lord has tasted the sweets, they are brought out and the priest prepares for the Mangala Ärati. At 4.30 am he begins the Arati. He offers the list of items mentioned above except the lamp with camphor. While the priest is offering the Arati, the devotees assembled outside sing in melodious tune the song composed by Srila Visvanath Chakravarthi Thakur glorifying the spiritual master. This song is followed by prayers to glorify Srila Prabhupada, Pancha Tattva and the Hare Krsna Maha mantra. The singing goes on till the priest finishes his offerings to the Lord and blows the conchshell to announce the end of first half of the Arati. Then he offers fragrant oil to the Lord while the devotees sing the prayers of Lord Narasimha dev. After the prayers are finished, the priest closes the altar curtain and thereby concluding the Arati.
After Mangala Arati finishes, Srimati Tulasi Devi is worshipped by offering Arati to Tulasi plant. Lord Sri Krsna is very pleased when His devotees are glorified and worshipped. Further Srimati Tulasi Devi is very merciful and helps devotees to progress rapidly in their spiritual life. It is stated in the Skanda Purana as follows “Tulasi is auspicious in all respects. Simply by seeing, simply by touching, simply by remembering, simply by praying to, simply by bowing before, simply by hearing about or simply by sowing this tree, there is always auspiciousness. Anyone who comes in touch with the tulasé tree in the above-mentioned ways lives eternally in the Vaikuntha world.”
Devotees first offer their obeisances to Srimati Tulasi Devi, simultaneously chanting prayers. Then they assemble around Her and start singing a song glorifying Her qualities with heartfelt feelings and love. Simultaneously one of the devotees offers Her incense, lamp and flowers. After the Arati, devotees circumambulate Her and offer water. The worship concludes by offering Her obeisances and simultaneously chanting prayers.
After Mangala Arati, the Lordships are given an elaborate bath (only for Deity forms in metal) and are dressed with exquisite clothing. Flowers and garlands add a fragrant dimension to the dressing while the ornaments add an artistic dimension. Together a grand feast for the eyes awaits the eagerly assembled devotees. When the curtains open for Sringar Arati, devotees sing prayers from Brahma Samhita, commonly called as ‘Govindam’ prayers. The mood of this Arati is to welcome the Lord after He is dressed up nicely and please Him by singing prayer with love and devotion . While the assembled devotees sing the prayers, the priests offer fragrant oil, yak-tail whisk and the peacock fan. The number of items offered to the Lord in this Arati is less when compared to others but the important aspect is the lovely singing of ‘Govindam’ prayers, the devotees eagerly taking Darshan of Deities and appreciating the beauty.
Raj Bhog Arati
In the noon around 12, the Lordships are offered an elaborate lunch and the Raj Bhog Arati is offered after that. This Arati is the most elaborate in terms of the items offered. All the items listed in the earlier section are offered to the Lord. The devotees assembled sing the ‘Hare Krsna’ Maha mantra while the priest is doing the worship. After this Arati, the Lordships are put to rest.
In the evening around 3.30 pm the Lordships are woken up from Their siesta. They are offered varieties of fruits and fruit juices. This Arati is one of the simplest in terms of the items offered. Incense and flowers are offered followed by yak-tail whisk and the peacock fan.
In the late evening around 6.60 pm the Lordships are offered dinner. After the offering Sandhya Arati is offered. A specific song named ‘Gaura Arati kirtan’ is sung to create the mood of evening. Those who finish their daily work, assemble eagerly to see the Lordships and participate nicely by singing the kirtan. This way they get out of the day’s anxiety. In terms of items offered during Arati, this is also elaborate, second to Raj Bhog Arati. Except for the lamp of camphor, the rest are offered to the Lordships.
Just by looking at the types of Aratis and the different moods that are being created, it is clearly brought out that Arati is not just a series of hand movements involving waving different items to the statue. It is very personal to the extent that appropriate clothing, food, dresses are offered according to the time of the day and the season and most importantly with love and devotion. The whole Arati process is part of ‘Archana’ which is the processes of bhakti. In this context it is worth mentioning that its not that only the priest doing the worship gets the benefit but each and every person who attentively participates in the Arati process gets the same benefit as that of the priest. This is how powerful bhakti yoga is, one person’s practise can benefit many. Having understood the power of bhakti yoga, one must take full advantage of it and participate actively in Arati and kirtan.