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In the ritualistic Hindu Vedic Poojas the deity is worshiped by offering 16 services known as the Shodasa Upacharas. Pooja actually has a tow fold puorpose. One is the Baahya-Pooja or the rituals we perform outwardly for the Deity like offering flowers and fruits etc. It is an expression of our faith and reverence. Worship of God in any form in any way you like is good as it reduces the negative side of your Karma and improves the positive effects. Doing it in a systematic time tested ritualistic manner is better as it gives better results. It also gives you discipline and better satisfaction & peace of mind. The pictures and idols of the deities whom we worship in this ritualistic way neither wear the flowers we offer nor eat the fruits. We do get some satisfaction of having offered something to the deity. But apart from that there is a deeper and greater spiritual significance behind the rituals and that is why they were prescribed and practiced by millions of our ancient seers. Understanding this is known as Antah-Pooja. Baahya Pooja is your formula. Antah Pooja is understanding and applying the formula to get better results and achieve greater heights. In the Bhavanopanishat sutras 28 to 43 describe the philosophy behind the 16 Upacharas in Devi worship. The same is applicable other Deity worships also. The Shodasa (16) Upacharas 1. Avahana - Welcoming the deity. Sutra 28. "Bahyantahkaranam roopagrahana yogyataasti tyaavahanam" The human soul finds its identity through the antarendriys and the baahyendriyas. So avahana of the deity is inviting their Devine form. 2. Asanam - Offering seat. Sutra 29. "Tasya baahyaantahkaranaanaamekaroopa vishaya grahamaasanam" Controling the 14 senses like the gyanendriyas, the karmendriyas, manas, buddhi, chitta and ahankara and accepting everything in the world as Devi is the symbolic gesture of offering a seat at your Pooja place to the Devi. 3. Padyam - Washing the feet. Sutra 30. "Rakta shukla padaikikaranam paadyam" Devi recides in the sadhakas heart. Her prakasha shakti uniting with the atma shakti forms the shukla bindu representing fire. The vimarsha shakti uniting with the shukla bindu forms the rakta bindu representing the moon. The two of them uniting together form the mishra
bindu representing the sun, which is the source of creation. Devi's right leg represents the shukla bindu and her left leg represents the rakta bindu. Hence by washing and worshiping her feet we invoke the 3 primordial forces of creation - the sun, moon and the fire. 4. Aarghyam - Washing the hands. Sutra 31. "Ujjwala daamodaanusandhanamarghyam" Recognising the atma as Devi and purifying it is represented by washing Her hands. 5. Achamanam - Offering water to drink (to wash mouth). Sutra 32. "Swachhamswatasiddhamityaachamanam" It is recognising that the impure is purified by worshiping Her. 6. Snanam - Bathing. Sutra 33. "Chichaddramayi sarvanga pravaranam snanam" The Kundalini Shakti lying dormant in our body at the Mooladhara Chakra is raised by yogic practices to the Sahasra Chakra. Once united with the Sahasra it causes an Amrita Varasha (rain of divine nectar) which bathes and purifies the 72000 Nadis in the human body. Offering snanam to the Deity is symbolic of this Amrita Varsha. 7. Vastram - Offering clothes. Sutra 34. "Chidagni swaroopa paramanandashakti sphuranam vastram" The human form and its beauty are a reflection of Her Devine effulgence. Offering and decorating the Deity with clothes is a recognition of this. 8. Yagyopaveetam - Offering sacred thread. Sutra 35. "Brahmanaadi Brahmasutram yagyopaveetam" Of the 72000 Nadis in our body, the Shushumna Nadi is the most important one as it it is through this that the Kundalini rises. Hence it is also called Brahma Nadi - that which bestows the knowledge of the Ultimate Para Brahman. Recognising this we symbolically offer a sacred thread to the Deity. This is also the reason we recite the following mantra at the time of Upanayanam, the sacred thread cerimony. "Yagnopaveetam paramam pavitram prajapatheh yat sahajam purasthath ayushyam agriyam pratimuncha subram yagnopaveetam bhalam asthu tejah". "The best among those that purify, that which emerged along with the four-faced Brahma at the time of creation that which bestows life and prominence- I wear that sacred thread. Let it confer on me both knowledge and power". 9. Aabharanam - Offering ornaments.
Sutra 36. "Swavyatirikta vastu sangarahita smaranam vibhooshanam". Recognising that we are part of the Divinity and the outer ornaments we wear are only attachments of maya, offering our ornaments to the Deity is a symbolic gesture of renouncing the worldly attachments. 10. Gandham - Offering Sandalwood paste. Sutra 37. "Satsangaparipooritaanu smaranam gandham" Sandalwood paste is considered to be symbol of purity. Hence offering sandalwood paste is a gesture of recognising that the Divinity and the self are purity personified. 11. Pushpam - Offering flowers and doing pooja. Sutra 38. "Ahimsa prathama pushpam, pushpamindriyanigraha dayakshmagyanapushpam panchapushpam tatahpara" Ahimsa or non violence, indriya nigraha or control over the senses, daya or kindness, kshama or forgiveness and gyana or knowledge are called the pancha pushpas or five flowers with which we can control our ahamkara or ego and surrender to God. Hence worshipping the Deity with flowers is symbolic of controlling these and surrendering to God. 12. Dhoopam - Offering perfumed Incense. Sutra 39. "Teshameva sarvadasweekaranam dhoopam" Dhoopam is perfumed incense smoke. The pleasures which our indriyas or senses give us are like its perfumed smoke which vanishes quickly. Offering Dhoopam is recognizing this and is an undertaking to control our sensory pleasures. 13. Deepam - Offering a lighted lamp. Surta 40 "Pavanaavachyisnordhyajwalana sachhidulkkakashadeho deepah" The effulgence of the Eternal Bhahman in union with Vayu is the Devine-light spread throughout the world. Offering a lighted lamp means considering our soul as the Divine light, which is ready for union with God. 14. Naivedyam - Offering food. Sutra 41. "Samastayaataayaata varjanam naivedyam" Overcoming the temptations of the indriyas and offering and renouncing our worldly pleasures and desires is the significance of naivedyam. 15. Taamboolam - Offering beetle leaves with caustic and beetle nut. Sutra 42. "Avasthaatrayaikeekaranam tamboolam" Tamboolam consits of beetle leaves, beetle nut and caustic represent the three avasthas or states of the human being - jagrad, swapna and shushupti or waking, dreaming and
sleeping states. Offering Tamboolam is the effort to go beyond these states - i.e. to the nirvikalpa state. 16. Pradakshina Namaskaram - Circumambulation and salutation of the deity. Sutra 43. Moolaadharaadi brahmabila paryantam, brahma randhraadi moolaadhara paryantam gataagata roopena praadakshinyam" The Pranavayu in our body, which can at best be described as the "life supporting Cosmic force", keeps rotating from the Moolaadhara Chakra to Sahasra Chakra and back through the Shushumna Naadi. recognising and saluting His Force is the act of Pradakshina Namaskaram or Circumambulation and salutation of the deity.
A Vedic ritual is never a meaningless act. Each and every one of them has a deep rooted spiritual philosophic significance. A more elaborate Pooja will include the 32 upacharas. They are as follows: Aavahanam, Asanam, padyam, Arghyam, Acamanam, Madhuparkam, Snanam, Vastam, Upavitam, Abharanam, Gandham, Akshatam, Pushpam, Dhuupam, Deepam, Naivedyam, Tambulam, Daxina, Phalam, Nirajanam, Pushpanjalim, Pradaxinam, Namaskaram, Stotram, Chatram, Chaamara, Vahanam, Nrityam, Gitam, Vaadyam, Prarthanam, Visarjanam with mantra pushpam and shanti patham.