Few days ago, my mom and I were discussing the why’s of many Vedic rituals, something I have never done until recently, at least with her. It’s a case of ‘Curious George” these days, and I am happy to be so. You remember that big book of “Tell me Why?” So when my kids (the plural in reference to the many who attend my class every week) ask me anything related to Vedic rituals, I want to be like that book, know it all. It makes a whale of a difference when you do something mechanically v/s doing it with proper understanding. So here’s understanding the simple yet profound ritual that we ALL perform, almost every day in our homes, Aarti.
Aarti is a simple act of gratitude in which we symbolically offer various items that represent the different elements this creation is made of. Bhagvad Gita chapter 7 verse 4 talks about the 8 elements which comprise of God’s material energy namely earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego. Great reference verse for children to learn/memorize when explaining about aarti.
bhumir apo ‘nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakrtir astadha
Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego–all together these eight comprise My separated material energies.
- Earth represents all solids, for e.g. flowers, cloth etc
- Water represents all liquids
- Ghee lamp represents fire
- The yak tail fan (also known as chamara) and peacock feather (vyajan) represent the air element
- The sounds of the conch shell and the bell represent the ether element
- The emotional involvement in the songs sung and mantras chanted during the aarti represent the mind
- The focus on the purpose of performing aarti (which is MOST important) represents intelligence
- and lastly the obeisances and respect offered to the deity is surrendering our false ego and humbly accepting the supremacy of the Lord.
By cyclic motion of each of the 5 gross elements we are reminded to always keep God as center of all our activities. The circular motion also fixates our attention on the deity while performing the aarti.
The best way to understand this type of offering is, let’s say your child brings you a flower from your backyard (which you technically own) and you lovingly appreciate his/her effort and accept it, because it is the thought that counts. Offering the aarti is on a similar platform, where we are presenting a minuscule part of the creation to the creator with love and gratitude even though everything belongs to Him. When we prayerfully perform or observe the aarti ceremony we become recipients of God’s grace and His divine energy. This energy is then transmuted through those items offered which explains why we pass our palms over the flames and subsequently touch our forehead.
So next time lets tune in to the frequency of love and gratitude when we are a part of the aarti ceremony.