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The arati ceremony is the customary Hindu method of honouring a special guest, welcoming a friend, greeting a returned loved one, or worshipping the Lord. It is central to the process of Deity worship, whether at home or in the temple. Auspicious articles are offered to altar-pictures or the Deities. Worship in the home is generally quite simple and informal, whereas that in the temple is more opulent and requires exacting punctuality and rules of cleanliness. The ceremony lasts from between five minutes to half-an-hour.
The priest (pujari) first cleanses himself. In temple worship he (or she in some traditions, including ISKCON) must have fully bathed, applied clay markings (tilak), according to his particular tradition, and donned clean robes (a dhoti with a wrapper, or chaddar, on top). He then performs archaman, a purificatory process, by applying water to, or touching, various parts of the body, whilst uttering mantras.
Sounding the conch-shell with three short blasts, the priest announces the beginning of the arati. Then, whilst ringing a small bell in his left hand, he successively offers the articles of worship to the pictures or Deities with clockwise movements of his right arm. Before offering each article he purifies it with three drops of water, and after offering it to the Deities, with one sweep of his arm offers it to the congregation.
After they are offered, some of these articles, which are now considered sanctified, are passed around the congregation. The ghee-lamp is respected by placing the right hand over the flame (carefully!) and then touching the fingers to the forehead. In some cases money is placed on a tray carrying the lamp–a practice similar to passing the offering plate in church. The water is sprinkled over the heads of the worshippers and the flowers are distributed, allowing the congregation to appreciate their fragrance.
During the ceremony there is singing, possibly dancing, and the public should at least stand up out of respect. Three blasts of the conch signify the end of arati.
The Articles of Worship:
(Note: These might vary according to the type of worship. Those mentioned here are according to the Gaudiya (Bengali) Vaishnava tradition.)
a) Incense. One or three sticks in a holder. It is offered to scent the Deities’ clothes. It represents the element earth.
b) A lamp consisting of one, five, or more, ghee wicks. It is offered to reveal the forms of the Deities. In some aratis a single wick lamp with camphor is also included. The lamp represents fire.
c) A conch-shell filled with pure water. This is offered as if bathing the Deities, and it
represents the element water.
d) A handkerchief. It is offered as if drying the Deities.
e) Fragrant flowers on a plate. These are offered as a sign of submission. They represent, again, the earth, the source of all fragrance.
f) A chamara, or yak-tail whisk. Considered a royal insignia, it adds flair to the ceremony. It represents the element air, as does the next article.
g) A peacock feather fan. It is cooling to the Deity, and is thus not offered in winter.
Note: According to Indian metaphysics, Sankhya, there are five gross elements. The final element, ether, is represented by the sound of the conch-shell.
The Arati Tray (Puja Set):
The paraphernalia for worship is gathered on a tray and placed on a small table for the ceremony. This includes: a small pot of water with a spoon; incense within a holder; a lamp with ghee wicks; a bell; a pot of pure water; a small conch-shell on a three-legged stand; a clean folded handkerchief; flowers on a little plate. The tray, bell, pots, etc, are made from brass, copper, bell-metal or, preferably, silver. Nearby are placed a large conch for blowing, a lit ghee lamp, a peacock feather fan and a yak tail whisk. The metal articles are washed after each arati, kept in a clean place, and regularly polished.
The Daily Arati Schedule:
There are various arati ceremonies with different names during the day. Some are “full” aratis, and others are short with fewer articles being offered. Schedules might differ from temple to temple and according to tradition.
The following is the schedule at Bhaktivedanta Manor:
- 4.30 am Mangala arati (full)
- 7.00 am Sundara arati (partial)
- 8.15 am Dhoopa arati (partial)
- 12.30 pm Raja Bhoga arati (full)
- 4.20 pm Dhoopa arati (partial)
- 7.00 pm Sandhya arati (full)
- 9.00 pm Shringara arati (partial)
The Purpose of the Arati Ceremony:
1. To attract the mind of the materialist towards spiritual life.
2. To engage all the senses in the service of the Lord, thereby purifying them. (The tongue is engaged by eating prashada, which is served at the end of every arati.)
3. To help the devotees develop their loving relationship with the Lord.