In a recent Zingcreed Posts called ‘LOL #14: Getting pasted at poojas’, I described how as an ignorant non-Hindu visiting Hindu religious festivals I had been surprised at getting paste smeared on my forehead by a small boy sent out by the pundit (priest) in charge, and how I felt ambushed when respectful young men bent down to touch my shoes. (It happened to all the men, not just to me.)

Well, two new interesting ‘invasions of my private space’ occurred at poojas in Trinidad last week and I’d like to tell you about them. At the family prayer meeting called to celebrate the oldest family member’s 80th birthday, the pundit strode through the room with a brass pot of water and a paint brush. He flicked water in everybody’s faces with the brush. As it was a hot evening this was quite refreshing. I was told it symbolised our cleansing.
The second event came at the end of the tenth anniversary remembrance of a man’s death. One of his daughters came up to me with a brass plate afterwards, on which burned a candle or wick. She waved the plate in a circle about a foot from the end of my nose, all the while staring at me expectantly. I felt trapped and out of place (just like I usually do in Christian church services where everyone else knows when to kneel and when to stand.) I spotted a friend and asked them to help me out. Soon I was wafting the smoke into my face with both hands. The procedure is called an ‘aarti’ in Hindi and Sanskrit. The girl smiled and moved on. I decided to research aartis. This is what I found out.

Aarti or aarthi is a fire ritual which may be conducted in a mandir (temple) or at home. Any Hindu can perform it. You don’t have to be a priest. It usually comes at the end of a pooja/puja (prayer meeting).The term aarti also refers to the song(s) sung in praise of the deity when lamps are being offered to it.

The steps are as follows:-
One: collect together objects symbolising the five elements
a flower representing the earth or PRUTHVI
a handkerchief or some water representing water or JAI
a wick representing fire or AGNI
a peacock fan symbolising air or wind, VAYU
a yak-tail fan representing the ether, space, AKASH
Some rice (fertility) may be added
Some incense, e.g. a burning sandalwood joss stick represents a purified state of mind
The devotee’s intelligence is offered through their adherence to the rules of the ritual

Two: Light the cotton wick or candle on a brass plate. It is first soaked in ghee (purified butter).
Face the deity as represented by a statue or image or if appropriate the River Ganges!
There are lots of Hindu Gods/deities, and with time it becomes clearer which one to pray to for which problem/issue at home or at work.
One’s entire existence and all facets of material creation are symbolically offered to God via this ritual. A song is sung.

Three: The deity’s blessing passes to the plate.

Four: The pundit or his representative takes the plate with the burning wick on it to everybody present so that the deity’s blessing may pass on to them from the plate. It is held in both hands and moved in a clockwise circular fashion in front of the devotee’s face. This represents the cycle of daily activities revolving round God. God is thus at the centre, and our worldly human concerns are secondary. It sets things in proportion.

Wikipedia and personal observations

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Getting pasted at poojas
Hindu weddings

[281 linked & indexed, t&c]



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