VEDABACE

INTRODUCTION to DEITY WORSHIP

[1] Why to perform Deity Worship?

Srila Rupa Gosvami has enumerated sixty-four activities by which a devotee in the beginning stage of devotional service (vaidhi-sadhana-bhakti) can engage all his senses in the service of the Lord. Among these he has selected five as principal:

1.Hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam.
2.Association with advanced devotees.
3.Living in sacred place, such as Mathura.
4.Chanting the holy name of the Lord.
5.Serving the Deity form of the Lord with great faith.

Practicing these items assures rapid advancement in devotional service, culminating in pure love of Krsna.
“The power of these five principals is very wonderful and difficult to reconcile. Even without faith in them, a person who is offenseless can experience dormant love of Krsna simply by being a little connected with them.” (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lild, 22.133, quoting Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu)

The Lord is present in His Deity Form; Srila Rupa Gosvami specifically enjoins devotees to worship the Deity with ‘full faith’.
                                                                ‘sraddha visesatah pritih sri-murter angri-sevane’
‘One should have full faith and love in worshipping lotus feet of the Deity.’ (C.c, Madhya, 22.133)

This faith and love depend on a proper understanding of the Deity’s identity:
                                                                 ‘pratima naha tumi,- saksat vrejendra-nandan’
‘My dear Lord you are not a statue, You are directly the son of Maharaja Nanda.’ (C.c, Madhya, 5.96)

Out of His causeless mercy, the Lord appears in His arca-vigraha form so that the conditioned soul can see Him and worship Him. By worshipping the arca-vigraha , the conditioned souls can engage all their senses in the devotional service. By enthusiastically performing sadhana bhakti and observing all regulations of arcana, devotees cultivate the understanding that Krsna is directly present in his Deity Form.

As Srila Prabhupada says in the Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.12.17, purport:
“Worship of arca-vigraha is not idol worship. The arca-vigraha is an incarnation of the Lord in a form appreciable by a devotee. Therefore devotees engage in the temple in the service of the Lord as arca-vigraha in a form made of sthula (material) objects such as stone, metal, wood jewels or paint. All these are called sthula or physical representations. Since the devotees follow the regulative principles of worship, even though the Lord is there in His physical form, He is non- different from His original spiritual form. Thus the devotee gets the benefit of achieving the ultimate goal of life that is to say, becoming always absorbed in the thoughts of the Lord.”

[2] Qualifications for Arcana

The Pancaratra-sastra clearly defines the preliminary qualifications a person must have to perform arcana. Family origins and social position are not considerations; all that is required is strong faith in Visnu or Krsna. By the authority of the Pancaratra scriptures, when the spiritual master judges his disciple qualified with sincere faith, he gives the disciple Vaisnava diksha, also known as panca-samskara, which consists of taking a Vaisnava name, wearing Vaisnava tilaka, wearing Vaisnava symbols, receiving Vaisnava mantras (secret mantras concerning Visnu or Krsna), and learning the spiritual master’s method of worshipping the Deity. The disciple is then qualified to perform arcana.

Of course, the devotee who is initiated by pancaratrika-mantras is expected to make steady progress in his devotional life, and a significant impetus for such progress is the privilege to perform Deity worship. As the personal servant of the Lord in the temple, one has great responsibility- not only to the Deities but also to all temple devotees and to guest who visit the temple. If pujaris are negligent in their services, there can be havoc in the temple owing to the dissatisfaction of the Lord. On the other hand, if the pujaris are Krsna-conscious and dutiful, the Deity worship becomes a most potent form of preaching Krsna consciousness. As Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter:

“So many people are coming to the New Delhi Temple because of the nice Deity worship. This is very good. Keep the standard of Deity worship very nicely.” [Letter from Srila Prabhupada, 11 July 76]

[3] Cleanliness (General Instructions)

Impurities of the self:
Since contamination spreads by touch, the pujari must be careful to avoid touching impure items, such as the holes of the body, hair, the floor, or any impure substance. Offered articles are considered impure for one who is going to offer fresh articles. Therefore the worshiper must be careful to avoid touching offered items.
According to Manu, there are twelve impurities (mala) exuding from the body. A person must purify himself by cleansing the body with earth (or soap) and water after he contacts the first six impurities: fat. Semen, blood, marrow, urine or stool.
Water alone purifies a person after he contacts the second six impurities: nose mucus, phlegm, tears, perspiration, ear wax and exudations from the eyes.
Other contaminating agents are alcohol; low animals such as pigs, donkeys, dogs, and crows; low-class people (candalas and mlecchas). hair; nails; bone; corpses (human or animal); the smoke from a funeral pyre; a menstruating woman; eating; sleeping; sex; passing urine or stool: sinful activities; ucchista (food remnants); and the birth or death of close relatives.
Contackious disease is also contaminating. A person suffering from a skin disease, such as eczema, should not enter the kitchen or worship the Deity. If one has sores or wounds that could contaminate the paraphernalia or the Deity, one should also refrain from cooking and worship. A person suffering from a respiratory disease should not enter the kitchen

Purifying the Body:
After waking, a devotee should cleanse his body and its orifices by employing water and earth (or soap), by brushing the teeth, and by submerging himself in water.
A person should bathe to purify himself after sex, a bad dream, shaving, vomiting, purging, or after touching a dead body, a woman in her menstrual cycle, a candala, or a dead animal or its fat or bones.
A woman purifies herself during her menstrual cycle by bathing on the fourth day.

Purification of consciousness:
Purification of consciousness is very much interrelated with physical purification. Purification of the body and mind is done by spiritual knowledge, austerity and chanting Gayatri at the sandhyas.
The food one person eats, are very important. If a person eats pure food he becomes pure and if he eats impure food he becomes impure. Therefore one must always be careful to partake only of pure food at all times.

Pure Items:
A person does not need purification after contacting the following items, for they are considered pure:
Milk, Cow’s Urine & Dung, Yogurt, Ghee, Honey, Fruits, Kusa grass, running water.

Purification of Articles (dravya-suddhi):
Before touching an unoffered item during worship, the pujarl should purify his hands by performing acaman with samanya-arghya water from the panca-patra.
The left hand, which is considered impure, should not touch the Deity directly while He is being bathed. (If the Deity is made of metal, during the polishing, the pujari may hold or touch the Deity with a cloth held in his left hand.
Items like gold, silver, conchshell, jewels, stones, and spoons are purified by water. Grains, cloth, fruits, flower, grass and leaves are purified by washing them in water.

[4] Goal of Deity worship

Sometimes neophyte devotees think that they can continue the sravana-kirtana process without worshipping the Deity, but the execution of sravana-kirtana is meant for highly developed devotees like Haridasa Thakura, who engaged in the sravana-kirtana process without worshipping the Deity. However, one should not falsely imitate Haridasa Thakura and abandon Deity worship just to try to engage in sravana-kirtana. [C.c, Madhya, 19.152, purport]

Deity worship should be continued along with hearing and chanting. In all the mantras there are specific potencies, of which the grhastha devotees must take advantacke… But if one chants the holy name of the Lord he receives the result of chanting namah [i.e. Deity mantras] many times. By chanting the holy name of the Lord one can reach the platform of love of Godhead… One might therefore ask what then is the necessity of being initiated [by which one receives Deity mantras]. The answer is that even though the chanting of the holy name is sufficient to enable one to progress in spiritual life to the standard of love Godhead, one is nonetheless susceptible to contamination because of possessing a material body. Consequently, special stress is given to the arcana-vidhi. One should therefore regularly take advantacke of both the bhagavata process and pancaratriki process. [Bhag. 7.5.28, Purport]

[5] Aspects of deity worship

Regarding your questions about pujari, pujari means who will always be with the Deities. That is pujari. SPL Kulashekhara dec 8, 1969
The deity is the Master, the pujari is His servant, that’s all. SPL Himavati 26 dec 1971
Many think of Deity worship as offering an arati to the Lord. BUT it’s only a small part of the whole! 90% of Deity worship actually happens behind closed curtains! Thus, technically, worship of the Lord has many aspects:

** One, Abhigamana (approaching the temple)
All preliminary activities are part of abhigamana. Bathing, donning fresh cloth, ornamenting the body with tilaka, harinama, tulasi beads etc, cleaning the temple, removal of nirmalya and decorating the temple.
Generally all activities performed up to and including the early-morning mangala-arati are considered as abhigamana

** Two, Upadana (gathering articles for worship)
Gathering flowers that are suitable for worship, suitable food-stuffs, tulasi leaves, preparing cooked foods and selecting proper paraphernalia for the worship.
More broadly, it refers to collecting funds to worship the Deity or to help maintain the Lord’s temple!

** Three, Yoga (fixed in one’s spiritual identity)
The process of cleansing the body of the material conception and assuming a spiritual body fit for the service of the Lord by chanting mantras, bhuta shuddi (identifying oneself as the servant of the servant of the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna.
The worshiper further prepares his consciousness by worshiping guru and gauranga before performing worship of Krishna. Dhyana and manasa puja are also part of yoga.

** Four, Ijya (actual, physical worship of the Lord)
This refers to actual offering of sixty-four items of worship or upacharas to Supreme Personality of Godhead. These sixty-four items are broadly classified into seven groups and they are:

1.Mantrasana
2.Snanasana
3.Alankarasana
4.Yatrasana
5.Bhogasana
6.Paryankasana
7.Sayanasana

** Five, Svadhyaya (study and follow of sastra)
This refers to reading and hearing about the glorification of the Supreme Personality of Godhead on a regular basis.
If we will not regularly chant, read and hear, then ‘vigraha’ will become ‘galagraha’’.
Enthusiasm for serving the deities is sustained only when one is fixed in ‘svadhyaya’.

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