Category Archives: Vedic Living

The Vedic lifestyle was amazingly healthy and complete on all levels. It was based on the principles of Sanatana Dharma, which covered all parts of life including diet, exercise, mental health, spiritual well-being, hygiene, Ayurveda health remedies and more. ~ Draupadi @ Jana Thevar

How to Hand Wash Silk Sarees

by Princess Draupadi

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I’m not sure where this myth (that silk can’t be hand washed) came from. If one is careful and does it the right way, most natural silk can be hand washed with no damage to the fabric.

I wash my silk sarees with baby shampoo, then protect them with a good quality hair conditioner. That’s right – those regular hair products you put on your hair every day. In fact, most silk fabrics (not just sarees) can be washed safely this way.

How does this work? Just like hair, silk is a natural fibre and doesn’t require harsh detergents. Regular laundry detergent will strip silk of its natural sheen and weaken the fibres, leaving it more prone to damage. Dry-cleaning is harsh, because strong chemicals and solvents are often used. Besides being potentially damaging and leaving chemical residue on your sarees, dry-cleaning can also be expensive. I use Johnson’s Baby Conditioning Shampoo and some drugstore-brand Italian conditioner which I bought in bulk during a sale. I’ve also used Loreal Elseve and Tresemme shampoos and conditioners, with great results.

If you’d like to know why I started hand-washing my silk sarees, scroll down below for the full story.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I cannot guarantee that your silk saree won’t be damaged by hand washing, as I am unable to see and judge the fabric. This article is solely based on my personal experience and current practise of hand washing my personal collection of silk sarees. Please read the precautions below to avoid damaging your sarees if you choose to hand wash them. If your saree is very expensive, intricate, rare, old or has sentimental value, it may be better to have it professionally cleaned.

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What You’ll Need:

• Baby shampoo (any variant)
• Good-quality hair conditioner
• A large pail
• An old towel
• Hot weather (or an indoor clothing drying device)

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Method:

1. Fill your pail with plain water (warm or cool) up to ¾ full. Add roughly 1 tablespoon of baby shampoo into the water. Use your hands to the shampoo in mix well.
2. Immerse your silk saree into the shampoo solution. Submerge it completely. Gently stir it around in the water using your hands. You can squeeze, knead and lift the fabric if required as long as you’re gentle. Don’t be too worried; silk is stronger than it looks. The key is to always be gentle when handling wet silk. Never tug, pull or wring wet silk.
3. After 2 – 3 minutes of cleaning, it’s time for rinsing. Lift the entire saree out of the pail in a heap with both hands. Let the water drain from the silk naturally for a few seconds, then place it somewhere to continue draining (while still in a loose heap). Never, ever wring your silk saree.
4. Fill the pail again, but this time with plain water. Immerse the whole saree again, using your hands to work the fabric gently for about 10 seconds, then lift it out again and drain per Step 3. Note: You can rinse once or twice; it’s entirely up to you. I do it twice to get all traces of shampoo out.
5. Fill the pail for the last time, while the saree is drip-draining. Add 1 tablespoon of hair conditioner into the water and stir vigorously. Depending on what conditioner you use, you may work up a froth or foam – that’s fine. Ensure that the conditioner has dissolved well into the water. You can add the conditioner while the water is running to ensure it mixes better.
6. Dip the saree into the conditioner solution. Work it for a few seconds, then lift out and drain again. Allow the saree to dip-drain a little longer this time, about 5 minutes. For the final draining, I like to ‘pile’ the fabric over a bathroom rail so more water leaves the cloth. Don’t leave the silk wet for longer than 10 minutes – dry it as soon as possible.
7. If you live in a hot climate, line dry your saree in the shade and secure it with clothes pegs. It’s best to dry it during midday, between 11am and 2pm when the sun rays are strongest. It should be sufficiently dry in about 20 to 45 minutes.
8. If you’re using an indoor drying device (like a laundry-room drying closet), lay the saree over an old towel first. Then, roll the towel up from one edge with the saree inside it (like a Swiss roll) and squeeze so that the towel absorbs the water. After that, unroll the towel and hang the saree in the drying device. Keep the temperature on mild to medium heat to prevent fabric damage. Absolutely DO NOT tumble-dry or spin-dry silk sarees – the fabric will develop permanent creases, and possibly shrink or tear in the process.
9. Once your silk saree is dry, you may fold it up and store it as usual. Steam ironing is best for silk sarees. If you’re using a regular iron for your saree, it’s safer to iron over a thin piece of white cotton fabric (like muslin) to avoid burning the silk.

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Precautions:

Take note that not all silk can be hand washed safely. Most Indian sarees, such as kanchipuram and tussar, are sturdy fabrics and can usually be hand washed if one is gentle and careful. If in doubt, wash a small, hidden part of the inner corner and iron it while damp to see how the fabric is affected. Alternatively, you may cut off the blouse piece and wash that first to test how it stands up to hand washing.
Deep colors, especially red shades, are HIGHLY likely to run. If you have made the decision to handwash your silk saree anyway, prepare for the fact that a lot of the color may bleed into the washing water. There’s no reason to panic; I find this is usually the excess dye coming out. If the saree is of good quality, handwashing will not fade the color. Just remember to wash it separately so the dye doesn’t stain other items. If your saree has many bright, contrasting colors (such as yellow and blue), it’s best not to hand wash it for the first wash as the colors may bleed into one another.
• If you have sarees of similar colors, they can be washed together if your pail is big enough. Use ample water when it comes to washing silk sarees to ensure any dye that bleeds into the water is diluted and less likely to stain.
NEVER put pure silk sarees into a washing machine, not even in a laundry bag. Machine washing and drying is too rough for silk.

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Why Hand Wash Silk Sarees?

Hand washing is much gentler than dry-cleaning. The latter utilises chemicals and solvents which can be damaging to delicate silk fibres.
Your sarees will last longer. When you add hair conditioner, you’re effectively adding a coat of protection over the silk fibres. This helps shield the fabric from wear and tear, sun damage and pollution. The hair conditioner also adds a natural sheen and body to the silk, keeping the fabric supple.
Remove chemicals left over from the manufacturing process. I am severely allergic to many types of synthetic substances, hence why I wash anything that will come into contact with my skin. Even if you don’t have allergies, it’s always better to have less factory-manufactured chemicals involved in your daily life.
Improves the fabric texture. Many Indian silk sarees are highly starched. This makes it look good for display in the showroom, but can be annoyingly stiff to drape. I personally prefer the soft feel of natural fabrics. I find that once washed and conditioned, silk sarees are easier to work with and hug the curves of the female figure beautifully.
It’s good exercise. I’ll admit, it’s tough work – all that rinsing, draining and refilling. Not to mention the weight of heavy silk once wet! Washing one saree is alright – wash a few at once and you’ll realise how many calories you’re burning. I welcome the work: it makes me appreciate my sarees better and keeps me fit. Anyhow, I don’t trust my prized pieces in anyone else’s hands.
It’s way cheaper than dry cleaning. All you need is shampoo and conditioner, sunlight (or a dryer) and some effort on your part.

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Image: Actress Tamanna Bhatia in a silk saree

My Story

My mum, sister and I jointly own a few hundred sarees – we lost count a few years ago. Many of those are made of silk. When I was little, mum thought nothing of sending her silk sarees for dry-cleaning regularly. It was such a hassle; she always had to travel back and forth between laundrettes, especially during wedding season.

I noticed how the texture of the silk changed after just the first cleaning: the silk often lost its natural sheen and sometimes changed color. Upon draping, it fell flat and ‘dead’. Not very nice, as silk fabrics should look and feel lustrous. I guess that’s what strong chemicals does to delicate fabrics.

The first silk saree I bought was a single-shade piece with a gold border. I was 18 years old and bored to death in a saree shop in Chennai. The shop workers were enthusiastically spreading out length after length of cloth all over the place, creating colourful heaps and mounds of cloth around the store. My mother was picking the pieces she wanted.  I had a headache just looking at the colors; dazzling, vibrant reds, blues and greens in every imaginable combination.

Eventually, my mum had picked out a stack of sarees for herself and was ready to pay. The shop owner felt bad that I had chosen nothing for myself, so he came over with his workers to see if they could help me find something I liked. They must’ve felt sorry for me – an awkward teenager in jeans and a black heavy metal t-shirt, in a country where females wore feminine things and fresh flowers in their hair.

I told them I had only one thing I mind: I wanted a cream or white saree with a gold border. They were disappointed as they didn’t have it – they had every shade except what I wanted. I told them not to worry about it and was about to leave. Suddenly, the shop owner smiled and told me to wait a bit. He said he had a special piece that he was sure I would like. I was sceptical but I decided to see it anyway.

He disappeared into the warehouse, then came out with this lovely piece in his hands. It was shimmering gently under the lights, the color of fresh sandalwood paste. It had a simple frosted gold border. The saree wasn’t white, but I fell in love with it immediately. It was elegant and resplendent, with the natural sheen of new, untreated Indian silk. I wore it a few times, mainly for occasions like Janmasthami and also for a stage play I acted in, called Jaganatha Priya Nataka, during the years I was active in ISKCON.

After a couple of uses, I decided (unwillingly) to send my precious saree for dry-cleaning, simply because I didn’t know any better back then. The result? It wasn’t completely destroyed, but the fabric came back lacklustre and ‘dead’. It had lost its natural sheen and fell flat upon draping. I was heartbroken – it was a rare piece, both by color and design. That was the first and last time I ever sent a saree to the dry-cleaners. I have been hand-washing all my silk sarees ever since.

See Also:

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti

Index of Articles

Bhakti Yoga Through The Art Of Puja (Part 3)

by Jana Thevar

Part 3: The Reasons Behind Everything We Do in Puja

How to Benefit from the Sacred Energy Exchange

Meditation 3

Remember that every offering used in puja will become energized in two ways:

1) The energy you send out into the universe and to the deities, in the form of love and devotion; and

2) The energy that returns to you in the form of blessings and positive vibrations.

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Hence, it’s important to use items of good quality, such as fresh flowers, fresh milk and an edible, cooking-grade puja oil. A transfer of energy takes place with each item you offer, so be aware of this when you purchase things for puja use.

Stale food, synthetic and processed items are energetically inferior and considered tamasic (possessing dark and negative qualities). For example, it’s spiritually more beneficial to offer whole dried turmeric than the factory-produced powdered version, and fresh milk instead of UHT recombined milk.

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Here are some explanations for the items, utensils and offerings used in puja:

Pictures and Statues

Some think it’s ridiculous to ‘pray’ to pictures and statues. Contrary to popular belief, followers of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) are not blindly worshipping idols and paintings of fantasy humanoid beings in fancy clothes and tons of jewellery.

It’s rather pointless to get agitated over the ramblings of people like Zakir Naik – the best defence is to get educated over why we do the things we do, and leave the simpletons to their own delusions. If we consider the sheer volume of Vedic spiritual scripture available to us, we really don’t have the time to entertain such mundane things.

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You can help educate others on the ways of Sanatana Dharma and the reasons we do the things we do:

1) The pictures and deities are representations of the various types of higher spiritual energies in the universe;

2) The pictures and deities are more for our benefit as mortals, so it’s simply an easier way to focus the mind on worship and communion – the gods, demigods, deities, elevated beings and spiritual masters who have attained Mahasamadhi are beyond this mundane material existence and are not confined to a material body like we humans are.

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Maha Vishnu, Srimad Bhagavatham Canto 1

Time and time again, we are confronted with ‘scientific evidence’ that we’re not the only living beings in this universe. The Vedic scriptures have confirmed this thousands of years ago, especially the first Canto of the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatham), which essentially is the Sanatana Dharma version of the book of Genesis. Mantras and prayer rituals help us connect with highly-elevated beings and request their help, in the form of spiritual guidance and blessings.

If you really think about it, it’s not such a shocking thing to accept. In such a vast, endless universe, why would we assume that we’re the only existing forms of life?

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Puja Oil

Pure cow’s ghee is the best oil for puja. Remember, the oil you use is what fuels the sacred fire of your puja (agni), and the quality of energy you receive in return will be affected by the oil you use. I strongly recommend against using factory-manufactured puja oils due to the chemical additives and inferior quality.

Puja is a very sacred spiritual act of summoning and merging with powerful universal energies, so it’s wise to use quality ingredients accordingly. If you can’t afford ghee, it’s perfectly fine to use any pure, edible vegetable oil.

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Flowers for Offering

When choosing flowers to offer to your deities and spiritual masters, don’t just grab the nearest thing on a stalk and pay for it. Envision what your ishta deva would like and make it a devotional, loving process. Won’t your Shakti look fabulous in that red rose garland? Wouldn’t Krishna just love this dew-fresh tulsi?

Make it personal and pour your love into everything you do for puja. That’s how you earn the favour of the higher powers and get the best positive vibrations in return.

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The best flowers for puja are all types of jasmine, roses, chrysanthemum and lotus. It’s highly beneficial to offer flowers that have natural fragrance and are white, yellow, orange, red or pink in color.

Certain flowers and leaves shouldn’t be offered to certain deities; for instance, tulsi should only be offered to Vishnu or Krishna, or placed in the hands of a Srimathi Radharani deity. Lord Shiva likes white flowers and bilva leaves, but shouldn’t be offered ketaki flowers (frangipani). Ganesha should be offered the sacred kusha (also known as darbha) grass. Durga, Lakshmi and avatars of goddesses in general may be offered fragrant, colored flowers (preferably yellow, orange, red and pink).

Why do we avoid offering certain flowers to specific deities? To make a very long story short, some items match the energies of the deities better, and some don’t. Even as human beings, we have our specfic likes and dislikes, favorites and things we hate, plus allergies to items that just don’t agree with our bodily energy. It’s a similar concept with deities, just on a deeper level.

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Fruits for Offering

Most sweet and juicy fruits can be offered during puja, as long as they’re fresh. It’s best not to offer pungent-smelling fruits like durian. Durga and her avatars may be offered large green limes in specific numbers, usually 9 or 27 – please check with your local pujari for more information.

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Preparing Food as Puja Offerings

Everything you offer to the deities and the universal energy during puja is a representation of your love and devotion in multiple material forms, such as various types of food.

To be able to cook foodstuff to be offered in puja is a great blessing indeed. Imagine being able to create an offering for the highest energies in the universe with your own two hands and skills, in your very own kitchen – you get to choose the ingredients with love and care, prepare them and blend them into exquisite flavors.

Cooking for the deities is therefore a highly personal and divine act, and one of the highest forms of love and devotion possible while one is in this temporary human form. If you decide to cook for puja, I assure you that it’ll be a very spiritually fulfilling and highly rewarding experience. Just remember to maintain cleanliness during food preparation; the saying that ‘cleanliness is godliness’ was not without reason. All food offered during puja must be sattvic (no meat, seafood, eggs, onions, garlic or mushrooms).

Also, food being prepared for puja shouldn’t be tasted before offering – it’s better to use less salt, sugar and spices when cooking, until experience enables you to decide on the correct measures.

Maintaining the Purity of Puja Utensils

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All utensils used for puja (plates, cups, spoons, wiping cloths, ect.) should be kept solely for that purpose to maintain their purity, energy-wise. It’s best to use serving ware made of brass or stainless steel.

Porcelain and glass are energetically inferior, but still better than plastic. Avoid having any form of plastic on the altar.

Disposing Used Puja Offerings (Organic)

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Don’t dispose items previously used for puja in the garbage, such as dried flowers or incense ash. These items still contain sacred energy from the puja and they’re considered to be prasada. Plants will benefit immensely from them, and they will thrive and grow beautifully when nourished by used puja offerings.

Disposing Used Puja Offerings (Food)

If food offered in puja (prasada) becomes spoiled for any reason, it should be buried or placed in running water. If the food is still edible but not fresh, it may be offered to animals. Please avoid food wastage at all costs.

Disposing Used Puja Offerings (Synthetic)

If flower garlands were tied with synthetic string, remove the string and dispose it in the trash as it’s not biodegradable. On our path of self-realization, we should strive to heighten our awareness in even the simplest daily tasks. Hence, we should take care to avoid damaging the environment.

I strongly advise you to avoid using anything synthetic for puja, as these materials are tamasic in nature and don’t absorb divine vibrations well. I also personally feel that disposing puja remnants as garbage is insulting to the deities – it’s like throwing a sacred gift away.

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Final Note: Puja in the Vedas

A reader asked me where in the four Vedas puja is mentioned. The simple answer is this: puja was never a separate part of Sanatana Dharma as a form of Bhakti Yoga. Per scriptures, divine worship is an essential part of life and shouldn’t be neglected.

Each Veda is divided into 4 parts – the Samhitas (which outlines the use of mantras), the Aranyakas (detailed instructions on how to conduct worship rituals and divine ceremonies), the Brahmanas (commentaries and explanations of Vedic rituals and worship ceremonies) and finally, the Upanishads (also known as Vedanta, or the ‘end parts of the Vedas’, and these generally discuss philosophy and meditation). In summary, the entire Vedas is interwoven with various aspects of puja.

Related Posts:

Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 1)

Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 2)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Bhakti Yoga Through The Art Of Puja (Part 2)

by Jana Thevar

Part 2: How to Perform Simple Puja

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Most Indians are familiar with puja and would know how to perform a simple, basic puja at home (or anywhere, actually). If you’re new to this and would like to start, congratulations on taking this first step in Bhakti Yoga.

Puja can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. Remember, the most important aspects of puja are devotion and sincerity. Don’t worry about doing something wrong. As long as you perform puja with love and good intentions, your offerings will be accepted and you’ll receive the benefits of the ritual in the form of positive energy.

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Basic things you’ll need for puja:

An incense holder
A clean cloth for the altar
New cotton wick
A brass puja bell
A brass oil lamp
Pictures or statues of your deities of choice
Pictures of your spiritual masters / gurus
A container for water (for offering)
Oil for the lamp (ghee or any pure, edible vegetable oil)
Fresh flowers, leaves or fruits (all three, if possible)

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Additional items (optional):

A camphor holder
A frankincense holder
A container for water with a spoon (to purify your hands)
Plates for offering food (kept specifically for puja purposes)

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Method:

1. Shower. Always be freshly showered before having anything to do with puja, even if you’re just cleaning or setting up the altar. Purity on all levels is best when it comes to puja.
2. Clean the altar. If you don’t have an altar, a table covered with a clean, new cloth will do. If the altar was used previously for puja, remove any dried flowers, dried garlands, leftover incense ash and previously offered water. Dispose all organic material under a tree or plants. Any previously offered water should be consumed or poured on plants. It’s not necessary to throw away leftover oil in the lamp – it can be reused and replenished as needed.

A photo by Boris  Smokrovic. unsplash.com/photos/ZUDOdyNSWPg

3. Arrange your pictures and puja utensils. Every altar should ideally have a picture or statue of Ganesha, as he is the deity in charge of removing obstacles. Place Ganesha on the left, followed by the other deities to the right. If you have a two-tiered altar, you can place the pictures of your spiritual masters below the pictures of the deities; otherwise, place these to the sides. Place the incense holder, water container and bell on your altar, in front of the pictures. Note: You can easily make additional tiers on your altar using bricks, wooden blocks or books, and covering these with a cloth.
4. Decorate the altar and prepare your offerings. If you have fresh flowers or garlands, decorate the altar with these, in any style you like. Light the incense. Fill the water container up with clean drinking water or fresh milk. If you have sattvic vegetarian food or fruits you’d like to offer, arrange these on the altar on plates specifically purchased for puja. If the oil lamp is empty, refill it with fresh ghee (or vegetable oil). Trim a cotton wick to about 1 ½ to 2 inches in length, then lightly dip the edge you’re going to light into the oil. Squeeze the wick’s tip to remove excess oil, then place the whole wick into the lamp, with the edge of the wick sitting on the pointed rim of the lamp.

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5. Light the lamp to begin your puja. Ring the bell firmly for a few seconds; this is done to invite the devas to accept your offerings and dispel any negative energies within the space. If you feel comfortable enough, ring the bell using your left hand and perform aarathi with your right hand (with lit camphor placed in the camphor holder). Aarathi should be performed in large, circular motions three times, in a clockwise direction. Some people prefer to perform aarathi at the end of the puja, but I do mine at the beginning.
6. Recite mantras or pray silently. If you want to recite mantras, always start with a Ganesha mantra before anything else. After Ganesha, the mantras for the other deities should follow in this sequence, according to your chosen deities : Vishnu / Krishna, Shiva, Lakshmi, Durga, Muruga, and the rest. If you don’t know any mantras, it’s perfectly acceptable to pray silently, in your mind and heart, in any language. Offer your greetings and obeisances to the deities respectfully, and thank them for coming to grace your puja (never doubt this – once you ring the bell, they are energetically present at your altar). Mentally share any concerns you have and ask them for help or guidance. Once you have completed your prayers, thanks the deities for everything you’ve been given so far – always remember to have an attitude of gratitude.

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7. Meditate. Make sure the flame is ‘safe’ so as not to accidentally cause a fire when you’re not watching it. You may place it on a large metal tray to prevent stray sparks from touching the altar cloth. Once you’re sure the lamp is burning in a safe manner, meditate with your eyes closed for about 10 to 20 minutes. It’s best to sit on a pillow or mat, with your hands in chin mudra or in your lap. You may also do japa chanting with the aid of a rosary.
8. Conclude the puja. Once you’ve completed your meditation, silently ask for permission to end the puja. Then, put out the lamp using a flower (or use a twig to drown the wick and flame in the oil). If you have offered milk, water, fruits or food, you may now remove the items and transfer them to your regular cups and plates for consumption.

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Note: If you’d like to perform a more elaborate puja for a special reason, you may want to consider hiring a priest as they are trained extensively in complex Vedic rituals. It does not mean that a simple puja you do yourself is inferior – it’s just more practical due to the complexity of the rituals, especially those done for specific purposes.

Related Posts:

Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 3)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Bhakti Yoga Through The Art Of Puja (Part 1)

by Jana Thevar

Part 1: Understanding the Art of Puja

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Note: This article may be a little long for today’s readers. However, if you wish to understand and explore the deeper spiritual meaning behind the practice of puja, I request that you read this article to the very end. One of my biggest challenges in writing about Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim) is trying to summarize vast amounts of information from Vedic scriptures and make content easy to understand for readers. Thank you for your time and patience. I hope you’ll be inspired to include puja as a part of your daily life and your personal journey on the path of Self-Realization.

An Introduction to Puja

Puja is a ritual of prayer or worship generally practiced by followers of Sanatana Dharma (better known in modern times as Hinduism). It is a form of Bhakti Yoga (the yogic path of devotional service and love). Puja may be done to honor and worship demigods, deities or any chosen manifestation of the sacred universal energy. It may also be performed to commemorate auspicious days or events.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Sri Krishna says this about Bhakti Yoga:

patram puspam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakti upahrtam
asnami prayatatmanah

Translation: If one offers Me, with love and devotion, a leaf, flower, fruit or water, I will accept it (Chapter 9, Verse 26).

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What’s the meaning of this verse? Simple: it’s easy to serve God or the universal energy through puja, as all one requires is a leaf, flower, fruit or water offered with sincerity, love and devotion.

Puja is complex on every level, even when performed in a simple manner. It is especially resplendent with spiritual meaning. Every gesture, utensil, item and offering involved in puja has a purpose. The rituals, depending on the type of puja, may be lengthy and complex, and may include various types of offerings such as flowers, incense, fruits, food, clothing, frankincense, sacred powders and dried herbs. A daily home puja may involve nothing more than a small altar, a picture of a chosen deity (ishta deva) and some modest offerings.

What is Bhakti Yoga?

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There are four paths of yoga, namely Raja Yoga (the yoga of mental and physical control), Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge), Karma Yoga (the yoga of selfless action) and Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotional service). Each path represents a different approach to attain union with Brahman, a higher state of awareness or ultimate Self-Realization. Bhakti Yoga is the easiest of the four paths.

Is Puja Really Necessary?

Those who don’t understand the full spiritual significance of puja may question the practice or dismiss it altogether as unnecessary. It’s not uncommon to hear remarks along the lines of “If God is everywhere, why do we need to waste time with this ritual?” or “If God is the Almighty, why does He need these mortal offerings?”

These questions are valid. It’s always better to question something one does not understand – this is better than blind acceptance. One can only receive the right knowledge through questioning first, then subsequently seeking the answers.

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Why Do We Perform Puja?

Puja is done for many reasons, including these:

• It’s a way of sharing your love, joy and gratitude with the universe. Puja, in other words, is communion with the sacred universal energy. When you radiate these energies and corresponding thoughts, you attract equally positive vibrations back to you.
• It’s a method to communicate with higher powers and elevated beings, such as your chosen deities (ishta devas).
• You’re re-energising yourself and the surrounding spaces each time you perform puja. Think of it as a ‘spiritual reset’, to get rid of the negative energies you have accumulated through daily material life.
• The act of performing the ritual trains the mind to focus on communion with the universal energy.

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• The ritual develops mental discipline if you perform it regularly – it’s a manner of training the mind into a habit, so it becomes ready automatically when you merely think of performing puja.
• Puja helps ease the burden of the mind in times of stress, depression and sadness. Performing the ritual can be comforting to those facing mental distress.
• Puja helps you develop gratitude and appreciation. For instance, you may realize that you’re lucky to have food to offer during puja, and to be able to consume it later as prasada (blessed remnants). When you make offerings of flower garlands and leaves, you may realize how blessed you are to live in a place where plants are healthy and grow abundantly.

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• According to Vedic scriptures, fire (agni) is purifying in all ways. By lighting the lamp for puja, you are purifying the puja space, your home and yourself.
• The bronze bell that is used for puja eliminates negative energies through sound vibrations when it is rung. Good quality incense and frankincense act as air purifiers, can eliminate bacteria and act as natural insect repellent.

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Bhakti Yoga Through the Art of Puja (Part 2: How to Conduct Simple Puja)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Healing And Rejuvenation With Abhyanga

by Princess Draupadi

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Traditional Ayurvedic oil massage, known as abhyanga, has been practiced in India for centuries. A good-quality vegetable oil is massaged into the whole body and left on for a few minutes, than cleaned off in the shower. This simple practice has numerous amazing health benefits. The ancient Vedic health treatise, the Charaka Samhita, says this about abhyanga:

“The body of one who performs oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries or strenuous work. By having oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age.” – (Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, verses 88 – 89)

If you find yourself suffering from the effects of stress, aging, pollution and an unbalanced lifestyle, abhyanga will do wonders for you. The scriptures recommend that abhyanga be done daily, preferably in the morning. However, I find that a weekly or even monthly session gives wonderful results. It can be a little messy, but it’s well worth the effort.

Benefits of Abhyanga:

  • Keeps the body healthy, toned and youthful
  • Helps eliminate accumulated toxins
  • Improves blood flow
  • Cures stress-related problems
  • Promotes abundant and luxurious hair growth
  • Improves digestion
  • Reduces body odour
  • Helps heal skin damage (i.e. from eczema, psoriasis and acne)
  • Restores balance to bodily functions

How to Perform Abhyanga at Home

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Things You’ll Need:

  • ½ cup of good-quality vegetable oil, preferably cold-pressed and organic (recommended oils: sesame, coconut or olive oil)
  • 2 – 3 old towels (kept specifically for this purpose)
  • A pair of old socks or flip-flops with good sole traction
  • 5-8 heaped teaspoons of chickpea flour (also known as gram flour)

Method:

1. Pick an appropriate spot to perform abhyanga. It should be comfortably warm and free of distractions, such as pets and children. Bear in mind that once you start abhyanga, you’ll be unable to do anything else until the oil is rinsed off in the shower, so plan in advance. You may play some relaxing music if you wish.
2. Put the chickpea flour into a bowl and add enough water to make a thick paste. Stir well to remove lumps. Leave this paste near your shower area.
3. Warm the oil slightly, taking care not to burn it. The safest way is to put the oil in a metal container, then place the container in a larger bowl filled with hot water for a few minutes. Place the warmed oil near your designated abhyanga area. Note: NEVER microwave the oil; microwaving damages the delicate healing botanical properties, and can be very dangerous if the oil heats unevenly.
4. You may have a quick, warm shower with plain water before abhyanga if you wish. I personally do this to remove dust and sweat. If you do have a shower, dab your skin dry before beginning the massage.
5. Lay one of the old towels down on the floor. Undress and sit comfortably on the towel. Dip your fingers into the warmed oil and start the massage, beginning at the crown of your head and moving down your body, eventually ending at the soles of your feet. Take your time – abhyanga should be performed leisurely and lovingly for best results. Use generous amounts of oil.
7. Use gentle but firm pressure, moving in circular motions across the scalp. Switch to long, firm strokes once you get to the neck, shoulders, arms and legs. The stomach should be massaged with firm, clockwise strokes – this greatly aids digestion. Massage every inch of your skin, paying particular attention to joints, chakra centres, the fingers and toes as well as the spaces between them. When massaging the face, avoid the eye area (oil may irritate sensitive eyes).
8. Once you’ve covered all parts of your body, sit in a comfortable position and meditate for about 5 to 10 minutes. Relax and internally observe the new flow of positive energy. Envision your body regenerating youthful, new tissues and eliminating accumulated toxins. Maintain a gentle smile on your face.

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9. Complete your meditation with your palms pressed together and a personal prayer of gratitude to the Universe. I always end my meditation by reciting the Shanthi mantra. Then, using the spare towel, gently but thoroughly wipe all traces of oil off your body. Wipe your feet and toes well to minimise slipping.
10. Put on the socks (or flip flops) and head to the shower. Wet yourself thoroughly, then use the chickpea flour paste to clean yourself, the same way you would with soap. Give your body a good scrub with the paste, then rinse off and towel dry. If you have long hair, you may need an additional amount of chickpea paste to get the oil out.
11. Gently towel dry after your shower and wear loose-fitting cotton clothing. Sit (or lie down) and relax for at least 10 minutes. You may use some music or sip some herbal tea if you wish.

Notes:

  • Make sure the vegetable oil used is of good quality and cooking-grade. Baby oil is unsuitable for abhyanga (it is made of mineral oil, which is a petroleum derivate and has no Ayurvedic medicinal value)
  • Take extra precautions to prevent slipping and accidents, especially in the bathroom.
  • Don’t use soap to wash off the oil – you have just infused your skin with the precious rejuvenating properties of a natural oil, and we don’t want to ruin that with chemicals immediately after. Chickpea flour paste is sufficient to soak up and remove any excess oil; a very thin film of oil left over after showering is highly beneficial. If you prefer to remove all traces of oiliness completely, prepare more chickpea paste for your shower after abhyanga.
  • Abhyanga should be done in a warm room. The shower water should be warm as well. This ensures muscles stay warm and aids circulation, as well as enhances the effects of the massage. If you’re unable to reach all parts of your back, it’s perfectly fine to get someone’s help or use an oiled massaging aid.
  • You may play some relaxing music if you wish.