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  • Aarti – ‘Blessings of Light’ ritual

    Posted on April 3, 2014 by in Uncategorized
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    Blessings of Light ritual – yoginis ‘Salad’ Hill (offering) & Rosalind Widdowson (receiving)
    Shibumi Yoga Centre, Meditation Room.

    Shibumi Yoga Centre’s ‘Blessing of Light’ Ritual

    Every day at the Shibumi Yoga Centre, after meditaton practise, we perform a little ritual or ceremony – a Blessing of Light.  We take one of the lighted candles that have illuminated our Ganesha statue (who’s removing obstacles energy we have been addressing) and offer it to participants who have joined us in the meditation.  This is a version of the aarti ceremony that is so common to yoga centres and temples throughout the world (see below).  We symbolically take the light into ourselves and thus feel refreshed, blessed and protected.  It is a fitting conclusion to the precious time we have taken to connect to our eternal consciousness.

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    Blessings of Light ritual – yoginis Rosalind Widdowson (offering) & ‘Salad’ Hill (receiving)
    Shibumi Yoga Centre, Meditation Room.

    In the sequence illustrated above, yogini Rosalind Widdowson offers the candle flame to yogini ‘Salad’ Hill.  Feeling the heat and illumination of the flame, Salad draws the energy to her by firstly bringing the light to her ajna chakra (third eye) then over bindu and sahasrara (the crown and fontanelles) of her head, around her shoulders and finally coming to rest at anahata chakra (heart centre) in anjali mudra (prayerful hands gesture).  The energy thus resides in her heart and acts as a warming reminder through the rest of her day.

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    Blessings of Light ritual – yoginis ‘Salad’ Hill (offering) Rosalind Widdowson (receiving)
    Shibumi Yoga Centre, Meditation Room.

    In this second illustration yogini Rosalind Widdowson takes the offering of the candle flame, bringing the energy firstly to ajna chakra (third eye) and eyes, ears and mouth.  This is a reminder or request to keep her inner vision paramount to her exterior one, to listen to her inner voice and to keep silent unless she can speak with truth and kindness (one interpretation).  For those of a certain mind-set this might be interpreted as: ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’.  Then Ros, like Salad, puts an aura of protection around her upper psycho-energetic centres and brings all them to rest in the stillness of her heart.  And this has not become a habit.  Ros makes conscious choices after every practise to vary this routine to include other ritualistic ideas that act as prompts and reminders in other regards, as does swami Tantramurti.

    Ros has also introduced the ‘Blessings of Light’ element at the end of her yoga classes, encouraging her students to utilise a sankalpa (‘san‘ means ‘altogether’, ‘kalpa‘ means ‘idea’ or ‘resolution’) that will serve them for their week ahead.  Modern Western idiom might suggest ‘positive affirmation’ as a close approximation although the Sanskrit language has many more subtle shades of meaning.  Although one’s sankalpa might be one that is used over a long period, possibly for a lifetime, a ‘thought for the week’ approach introduces key yogic ideals and spiritual principles.  An apt and appropriate sankalpa might be: “I am an instrument of Peace and Light”.

    What is a rite or ritual, and how can how can it benefit your meditational practise?

    A rite (Latin: rītus) or ritual (Latin: rītuālis) is a formal or ceremonial act, sometimes a religious observance or the the performance of a sacrament, often solemn, ancient or holy.

    Meditation at its heart is a very simple practise (although difficult to achieve) of establishing oneself in ‘reflexive self-consciousness’ for a period of time, and does not need or require any ritual or ceremony.  However, anything that aids that concentrated effort to engage or subdue the distraction of the ‘wild horses of the senses’ to the ‘chariot of endeavour’ and help us connect with that deeper and sublime part of ourselves, is to be welcomed.  This is why an altar (for ‘altered consciousness’) is specifically designed to engage the senses of sight, sound, smell, etc. and to provide a focus for the practise of meditation, whatever form that might take.  An object of concentration or contemplation, for instance an icon of the Buddha, a Hindu deity or the form of Christ on the cross, is often present and is likely to be illuminated by candles or lamps, certainly in times before electric illumination.  It’s fairly natural, I suspect, for those very candles or lamps used to illuminate worship to be seen to be imbued with something of the energy of that which it illuminates.  Thus by taking in that light one might feel blessed and protected.

    A secondary definition of a rite or ritual:  An established or customary procedure, practice, routine or convention, often public, either inherited through culture or custom or acquired through frequent repetition.  Often such rituals are required as part of religious instruction in childhood or by cultural custom, too often devoid of its deeper meaning.  If you’ve had a Christian religious upbringing, as a Catholic for instance, you would likely be used to dipping your finger in ‘holy water’ and making an the sign of the cross (‘spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch’), or saying “Bless You” when somebody sneezes (so the devil doesn’t get in during a moment of vulnerabilty).  For many that becomes mechanical.

    What is the ritual of aarti?

    Aarti (Hindi: आरती), also spelled arathi, aarthi (Sanskrit: आरात्रिक) is a Hindu religious ritual of worship, a part of puja (Sanskrit: पूजा reverence, honour, homage, adoration or ritualistic worship), in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (clarified butter) or camphor are offered to one or more deities. Aarti also refers to the songs sung in praise of the deity, when lamps are being offered. Arati is derived from the Sanskrit word Aratrika, which means something that removes Ratri, darkness.  (wikipedia)

    In Sanskrit the prefix a means ‘not or non’, hence himsa (harming) becomes (a)himsa meaning ‘non-harming’ (one of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga’s niyamas – restraints, observances, rules or restrictions).  Thus if ratri is darkness/ignorance (a)ratri or aarti (non-darkness), means light, a spiritual illumination.

    And we’re not really talking about physical light here, but the spiritual light of true knowledge and perception.  So the process of taking or acknowledging the light is really about awareness of spiritual truths and founding them in our conscious and subconscious minds.  The ritual serves to remind us of our true nature as, perhaps for only a moment or the few minutes whilst we are engaged in the ritual, we rekindle that connection.

    How is aarti practised?

    Whether performed in the home, at a mandir (temple) or place of worship, the ritual of aarti will contain the following elements and procedures.

    Aarti-Thali

    Aarti Thali containing diyas (lamps) flowers, prasad (edible offerings), incense stick stand, camphor, shell. copyright: Pramal Lal

    A metal plate, usually copper, bronze or silver may contain flowers, incense and akshata (rice) and, like a mini altar, would have things that represent one or more of the five elements: akash (ether), vayu (wind), agni (fire), jal (water), pruthvi (earth).  Most crucially it contains a single lamp or diya (light) fuelled by oil or preferrably ghee (clarified butter) that attracts sattvic energy (spiritually pure), or have multiple wicks such as the five-wick candle called a niranjan (without blemishes, spotless, pure), ‘तमसो मा ज्‍योतिर्गमय ।’ – ‘the lamp that leads us from darkness towards light’.

    The priest(s) face the deity or deities in a spirit of humility and gratitude.  They circulate the aarti plate containing the lamps clockwise around the form of the chosen deity or deities accompanied by praise songs (themselves called aartis), immersing their gaze into the eyes.

    ‘After every circle (or second or third circle), when aarti has reaches the bottom (6–8 o’ clock position), the performer waves it backwards while remaining in the bottom (4–6 o’ clock position) and then continues waving it clockwise. The idea here is that aarti represents our daily activities, which revolves around God, a center of our life. Looking at God while performing aarti reminds the performer (and the attendees of the aarti) to keep God at the center of all activities and reinforces the understanding that routine worldly activities are secondary in importance.  Just as the lighted wick provides light and chases away darkness, the vigilance of an individual can keep away the influence of the material world.’ (Wikipedia)

    Om Jai Jagadish Hare is a Hindu bhajan (devotional song), composed in or near the 1870s by Pandit Shardha Ram Phillauri in Punjab, India. Although a Hindi language composition, it is widely sung  to accompany aarti by many Hindus within the Indian Diaspora, regardless of their mother tongues.

    This first version of Om Jai Jagadish Hare (below) comes from the excellent YouTube channel: Spiritual Mantra and displays the lyrics verse by verse.

    This second (below) is sung by Anuradha Paudwal and illustrates the use of aarti lights.

    I couldn’t leave out this contribution featuring the divine vocie of Lata Mangeshkar.

    So ubiquitous is the aarti prayer that it is not unusual for it to make an appearance, even in a modern film, and for everyone to understand its meaning.  The excerpt (below) features Rani Mukherjee from the film ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’.

    (1)

    Om jai Jagadisha hare                          Victory to the lord of the universe
    Swami Jai Jagadisha hare                    Lord, victory to the Lord of the universe,
    Bhaka jano ke sankata                          Who will remove in a second,
    Dassa jano ke sankata                           The sorrow of all his devotees,
    Shaname doora kare                             And the sorrows of all his followers.
    Om jai Jagadisha hare                          Om victory to the Lord of Universe

    (2)

    Jo dhyave phala pave                           He who meditates will get the fruit,
    Dukha binase mana ka                         Of a mind without sorrows,
    Swami dukha binase mana ka            Lord, mind without sorrows,
    Sukha sampati ghare ave                     Pleasures and wealth will come to his house,
    (Swami) Sukha sampati ghare ave    Lord, Pleasures and wealth will come to his house,
    Kashta mite tanneka                             And the sufferings of his body will be cured.
    Om jai Jagadisha hare                         Om Victory to the Lord of the universe.

    (3)

    Mata pita tuma mere                           You are my father and mother,
    Sharana Kahoo kisiki                           To whom should I surrender,
    (Swami) sharan paoon me kisiki       Lord, to whom should I surrender?
    Tuma bina auruna dooja                    Except you I do not see anyone else,
    Prabhu bin auruna dooja                   Lord except you I do not see anyone else,
    Asakaroo jisaki                                      To whom I should surrender,
    Om jai Jagadisha hare                        Om victory to the Lord of universe.

    (4)

    Tuma poorana Paramatma                   You are the complete eternal lord,
    Tuma Antareya mi                                   You are the one who resides in me,
    Swami tuma Antareya mi                      Lord, you are the one who resides in me,
    Para Brahma Parameshvara                You are the greatest Lord who is the eternal truth,
    (Swami) Para Brahma Parameshwara Lord, who is the eternal truth,
    Tuma sabuke swami                                And you are the lord of everyone.
    Om jai Jagadisha hare                           Om victory to the Lord of the universe.
    (5)

    Tuma karuna ke sagara                       You are the ocean of mercy,
    Tuma pa lana karata                            You are the Lord who takes care of us all,
    (Swami) tuma pa lana karata            Lord, you are the one who takes care of us all,
    Me moorakha khala khami                 I am a simpleton with wrong wishes,
    Me sevaka tuma swami                        And Lord, also your humble follower,
    Kripa karo Bharata                              Shower your mercy on me, Oh lord.
    Om jai Jagadisha hare                         Om victory to the Lord of the universe.

    (6)

    Tuma ho eka agochara                        You are the one who is beyond my sight,
    Sabake prana pati                                You are the lord of soul of everyone,
    (Swami) sabake prana pati                Lord, you are the lord of soul of everyone,
    Kisse vidha miloo Dayame                 What rules should I follow sage?
    Kisse vidha miloo Dayalu                   What rules should I follow, merciful one?
    Tuma ko me kumati                            In worshipping you, this foolish one.
    Om jai Jagadisha hare                        Om victory to the Lord of the universe.

    (7)

    Deena bandhu dukha harata             You are the relation of the oppressed,
    Thakura tuma mere                             You are the one who removes all sorrows,
    (Swami) Thakur tuma mere              Lord you are my leader,
    Apane hath uthao                                  Please lift your hand,
    Apani sharana lagao                            Then bless me,
    Dwara pada mai tere                             As I have reached the gate of yours.
    Om jai Jagadisha hare                         Om victory to the Lord of the universe.

    (8)

    Vishaya vikara mitao                           Remove emotions in case of all issues from me,
    Papa haro Deva                                     Oh Lord, who destroys all sins,
    (Swami) papa haro Deva                    Lord, who destroys all sins,
    Shradha bhakti badhao                      You increase my devotion and attachment to you,
    (Swami) Shradha prema badhao    Lord, increase my devotion and attachment,
    Santana key seva                                   And make me serve you who does not have an end.
    Om jai Jagdisha hare                           Om victory to the Lord of the universe.

    (9)

    Om jai Jagdisha hare                           Om victory to the Lord of the universe,
    Swami jai Jagadisha hare                   Lord, victory to the Lord of the universe,
    Bhakka jano ke sankata                      The sorrows of your dear devotees,
    Dassa jano ke sankata                         The sorrows of your followers,
    Shana me doora kare                          You drive away far, far away in a second,
    Om jai Jagadisha hare                         Om victory to the Lord of the universe.

    Prayers for Guidance From Darkness to Light

    This well-known ancient Sanskrit prayer (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28) prays for guidance to grow from darkness to light, to distinguish the real from the unreal, and to be guided from death of the physical to the immortality of the Spirit.

    Asato ma Sadgamaya                        From the unreal lead me to the Real
    Tamaso ma Jyotir Gamaya              From the darkness, lead me to the Light
    Mrityor ma Amritam Gamaya        From death, lead me to Immortality.

    The following Christian Prayer of Saint Francis similarly addresses the journey from darkness to light.

    Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.
    Where there is hatred, let me sow Love.
    Where there is injury, thy Pardon, Lord.
    Where there is doubt, let there be Faith.
    Oh Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.
    Where there is despair, let me bring Hope.
    Where there is darkness, let there be Light.
    Where there is sadness, let there be Joy.
    O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek:
    To be consoled, as to console,
    To be understood, as to understand,
    To be loved, as to love.
    Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.
    Where there is hatred, let me sow Love.
    For it is in giving that we receive,
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
    And it’s in dying that we are born
    To eternal life, to eternal life.
    Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.

    Comments and Suggestions Invited on Your own Rituals

    What rituals, as either student or yoga teacher, do you utilise to enhance focus and attention during or after your class?  We’d be pleased to hear from you.