By Swami Bhaskarananda
THE HINDU CONCEPT OF GOD
God is one. Besides being one, God is formless, infinite, eternal, changeless and the only source of consciousness.
God is beyond time, space and causation, and yet God permeates every thing and every being in this entire creation as the divine essence. Being formless, God is beyond gender—neither male nor female.
When human beings try to think of infinite God they project the limitations of their finite minds on God. The human mind cannot think other than in human terms. Therefore, it projects human limitations, such as personality, motherhood, fatherhood, etc. on God. In reality God does not have any such attributes.
Worship is a method by which devotees can establish communion or the closest relationship with God through love and devotion.
WHAT IS RITUALISTIC WORSHIP?
Those who love God want to adore God. Therefore, with the help of tangible symbols they try to love and adore the intangible God.
God is all pervading, and must exist in every thing and every being. Therefore, Hindus choose various tangible symbols existing in creation to establish contact with the intangible God. It should be understood clearly that Hindus do not consider those tangible symbols to be God as God truly is.
Worship can be of two kinds: (1) mental worship and (2) external ritualistic worship. In mental worship no external symbols are used, while ritualistic worship uses external symbols. Mental worship is considered superior to external ritualistic worship. However, for the vast majority of people external ritualistic worship is more suitable, because it is easier to do.
Hindus mainly used fire as the symbol of God in ancient times. Fire dispels darkness, gives life-giving warmth, and purifies everything. Judging by these qualities and many more, fire was considered a suitable symbol of God by the early Hindus.
In course of time, however, the Hindus started using other symbols of God. They started using images made of various materials. Images, used as symbols, were made of wood, clay and different kinds of metal or metallic alloys. Some worshipers liked to think of God as the mother. They used images resembling female forms. Those who liked to think of God as father used images resembling male forms. Some images had many arms. Each arm represented a particular aspect of God. The images had different colors to show various divine aspects.
WHY OFFER FRUITS, ETC TO GOD?
The sign of true love is the urge to give all or the best things that we have to our beloved, without expecting any return. This is why devotees offer fruits, flowers, etc. as tokens of their love and devotion to God. God has no need for all these things. It is for our own satisfaction and spiritual benefit that we offer them to Him.
God is the Creator of this universe. Everything in the universe belongs to Him. So we cannot offer to God anything that does not already belong to Him. The only thing that we can give Him is our loving and devoted service.
According to Vedanta, the whole universe is made of five constituent elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. So devotees, with the help of symbols, offer to God the whole universe plus their love and devotion. A fragrant flower is used as the symbol of the earth element; common water and the flame of a lamp as symbols of the elements water and fire; a fan as a symbol of the element air, and a piece of cloth as the symbol of ether. The worshiper waves all these symbols before God as a gesture of offering. This is called Arati or Aratirkam. Anything offered to God with love and devotion is dear to Him. An offering lacking in love and devotion is not accepted by Him.
PURIFICATION: THE MEANS AND GOAL OF WORSHIP
God is the highest concept of purity and holiness. As His children, we all have the right to inherit that purity and holiness. Vedanta wants us to be as holy and as pure as God. But how to become pure and holy?
Vedanta teaches us that only through meditation on holiness can we become holy. What we think we become. Therefore, ritualistic worship starts with the thought of purification. All the items of worship: fruits, flowers, water, etc., are rendered holy with the help of purifying thoughts, hand-symbols and Mantras. The devotee also has to think that he has become completely pure and holy. Thus purified by meditation, he becomes fit to worship God. Then in an atmosphere of holiness, purity and serenity, he serves God, giving Him offerings of food, etc., with great love and devotion.
At the end of the worship, the devotee prays to God for more love and devotion and for the good of all living beings.