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. ~ Jana Thevar @ Princess Draupadi

Inner Engineering with Sadhguru: My Experience

by Princess Draupadi

Photo Credits: Pictures of Sadhguru were taken from Isha Foundation’s official webpage.

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Where, When and Cost

  • Program: Inner Engineering with Sadhguru
  • Venue: 14th and 15th April, 2018
  • Venue: Mines International Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Ticket price: RM630 (‘Early Bird’ for lowest range) to over RM1000 (closer to Sadhguru’s dais on stage)

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As a business convention centre, the venue itself was nothing to scream about. It was large, clean, spacious, boring – functional enough for a city event, but unfortunate considering the spiritual nature of the program. I’d have liked something like this to be held amidst nature, under large old trees or in a more rural location.

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I must commend Isha on their excellent event management. In fact, it was one of the best I’ve experienced in terms of organization and pre-planning. Volunteers were strategically placed everywhere to guide participants, all the way from the car park to random road junctions around the venue, to the inside of the hall.

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There were even volunteers about half a mile away from the venue to redirect participants who had driven to the wrong area (yes, being an idiot with roads I was one of them, so thank you, random cute Isha volunteer dude). Once inside the venue, everything was in place and it was a well-oiled transition from registration to shoe organization, to taking the right lanes to reach designated seating areas.

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What is the Inner Engineering Program About?

Their official website says this about the program:

“Inner Engineering provides tools and solutions to empower yourself to create your life the way you want it. It gives you the opportunity to intellectually explore the basics of life using methods from the distilled essence of yogic sciences. The course imparts practical wisdom to manage your body, mind, emotions, and the fundamental life energy within. The program has been designed by Sadhguru, a yogi, visionary, and the foremost authority on yoga.”

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I’ve always liked Sadhguru for his down-to-earth attitude and his frankness. Sometimes I find him long-winded, but I understand that he’s speaking in a way tailored to the masses.

I attended Inner Engineering without any major goals or expectations in mind. I went for purely one reason: to see Sadhguru and experience his aura and energy in person. That’s it.

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As a (self-proclaimed) yogi, I’ll say this from my years of personal experience in all things spiritual: every yogic practice with ancient roots has complex and highly scientific reasons for them – it just wasn’t labelled as ‘science’ back then because it was simply a way of life. The effects of yogic practices are far-reaching and encompass many aspects of material life as we know it in addition to spiritual dimensions.

This review by me in no way discounts the value of Inner Engineering and my experience with Sadhguru. Some things can’t be fully explained using mere words, and the only way to truly know is to see, hear and feel it all in person. So I ask that you take my review with a pinch of salt, but attend Sadhguru’s program anyway if you feel it could be a valuable experience for you.

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All participants had to complete some online sessions as a prerequisite to the course. This involved watching a number of pre-recorded talks by Sadhguru and answering questions based on the content of his sermons in the videos. The questions weren’t like what you get in exams; they were geared towards inner reflection, self-realization and self-awareness, aimed more at turning the mind and focus inwards. I found this part extremely trying, but I diligently completed all sessions without cheating. Discipline, yay me.

Apart from some very simple physical exercises and the Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya, the program was mainly made up of Sadhguru’s sermon, like his YouTube videos.

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What is the Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya?

The Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya is the highlight of Inner Engineering. It’s a combination of actions, plus meditation and breathing (or breath control) techniques which, when done correctly, change the energy of the practitioner. Some people report various experiences during the 21 minutes it takes to complete this kriya, such as feelings of extreme bliss, weightlessness, seeing auras and colors, etc. To paraphrase from Sadhguru’s words, regular practice of this kriya will permanently raise and transform the energy levels of the body and give one heightened spiritual awareness.

Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya Initiation

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Sadhguru asked participants to refrain from initiating others into Shambhavi Mahamudra themselves, as it takes a proper spiritual master to do so. As a gesture of acknowledgement and respect to his request, I’ll not describe the kriya in detail here. It is, however, fairly straightforward and simple to do, as long as you receive proper initial instructions.

During the initiation of the kriya, Sadhguru himself went into what I would call a meditative state. He makes a whistling sound and claps his hands on and off when he goes into that mode. I’m not sure what that does, but perhaps it’s his way of dispersing his energy over large numbers of people – it was a crowd of more than 2000.

I didn’t experience anything drastic during the 21 minutes of the Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya. What did happen for me was mild and pleasant. When I was doing the special breathing technique as instructed, I ‘saw’ what looked like cloudy violet auras or purple smoke behind my closed eyelids. It was fascinating to watch the colors swirling and transforming.

I did cheat one time for a few seconds and open my eyes a little, just to make sure they weren’t flashing any colored lights above me. Nothing of the sort. The lights in the hall were regular ones.

The only disruptive thing that happened during the kriya were a bunch of people wailing and screaming sporadically throughout. I’m not sure if those reactions were genuine or faked, but it sure annoyed the crap out of me. Guess I’m not yogi enough to be all blissful all the time, but hey, even Lord Shiva toasted Kamadeva to ashes when the latter dared disturb his meditation, and made him take a rebirth and everything. So whatever. Go ahead and judge me.

Much later into the program, about an hour after the kriya was done with, some fat guy stood up abruptly and started yelling, “Where are you Sadhguru, I can’t see you Sadhguru” while turning around in circles. With his eyes closed. Must’ve been some delayed spiritual enlightenment or chakra activation thing I’m clueless about. Anyway, Sadhguru was talking on the stage at that point, and spoke into the microphone to the volunteers, “Make him sit down”. I disagree with what Sadhguru did – should have said, “Make him open his eyes” instead.

Mortifying moments and cringe-worthy drama aside, all else was pretty normal.

Was Inner Engineering Life-Changing?

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As I went without expectations, everything I took away from the program was a bonus in terms of learning experience. The biggest life-changing experience for me happened in an ashram in the hills of Kerala in 2012, when I was meditating alone under a yellow-flowering tree abuzz with honeybees. My mind literally blew open on that sacred soil as I sat facing Mount Agastya, and my life has never been the same since.

Nothing else has ever come close to that astounding experience, but every spiritual thing I’ve done since has added on to it over the years. This was one of those things.

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Ananda Alai – A Wave of Bliss

This was the most touching part of the program. “Alai Alai” is a fantastic Tamil song created by the immensely talented artists and musicians of Isha, and it was played during Inner Engineering. Sadhguru got up from his dais, walked down the stage ramp and danced exuberantly with everyone. People were singing along, dancing, jumping, waving and crying tears of joy. It was simply fabulous.

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I was standing alone among the wildly ecstatic crowd, smiling at everything and nothing. I looked at the person next to me, a young man who had been incredibly stiff and serious since the start of the program. He had melted like butter and given himself up to the wave of bliss that was washing over the crowd. We smiled at each other, a brief moment of understanding between two strangers. I watched as he clapped, laughed and twirled  around with his arms in the air along with the rest.

That was a very moving experience with Sadhguru, and I’m glad I was there in person. The song is fantastic too. Here it is.

Conclusion

I’ll leave you with these final words.

If you’re thinking to go for Inner Engineering, don’t go if you feel it costs too much. Don’t go if you’re expecting some kind of mind-blowing, miraculous transformation to happen there. Don’t go if you want to ‘compare’ the man with other gurus and see if he’s the real thing or not.

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I would say Inner Engineering is like a bija mantra – a seed, if you will. Let it sow itself within you and you will flourish and transform, like a magnificent sacred tree.

If you’re open to learning and experiencing the magic of life as it unfolds moment by moment, this program could do something incredible for you. If you go into every experience in life without expectations, then you’ll see each moment anew, with fresh eyes, like a new-born baby who’s fascinated by the simplest things existence has to offer. Like Sadhguru says, again and again, “This moment is inevitable. This moment, now, is inevitable.”

I went for only one reason – Sadhguru. I saw him. I touched his feet when he walked past me. That was enough for me. He has added yet another lotus to my spiritual pond; this time, a lovely violet one.

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“As there is a science and technology to create external wellbeing, there is a whole dimension of science and technology for inner wellbeing.

Inner Engineering is neither a religion, nor a philosophy or dogma. It is a technology for wellbeing. One does not have to believe or disbelieve, just have to learn to use. Technology will produce results irrespective of who you are.” – Sadhguru

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Related Links:

Everything You Need to Know About Rudraksha (Part 1)

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Part 2)

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti

by Jana Thevar

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The Vedic age was one of flamboyant beauty in all ways. It was a lifestyle that combined spirituality,  laws of dharma and art in equal proportions. From architecture to city planning, common speech to styles of everyday wear, everything was steeped in art. This is apparent from the elaborate, poetic descriptions of the Vedic lifestyle in various ancient scriptures.

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For example, the following excerpts were taken from the Bhagavata Purana. These describe the opulence of the legendary thousand-gated city of Dvaraka, where Sri Krishna reigned as king in the Dwapara Yuga age.

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sarvartu-sarva-vibhava-
puṇya-vṛkṣa-latāśramaiḥ
udyānopavanārāmair
vṛta-padmākara-śriyam

TRANSLATION

The city of Dvārakāpurī was filled with the opulences of all seasons. There were hermitages, orchards, flower gardens, parks and reservoirs of water breeding lotus flowers all over.

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sitātapatra-vyajanair upaskṛtaḥ
prasūna-varṣair abhivarṣitaḥ pathi
piśaṅga-vāsā vana-mālayā babhau
ghano yathārkoḍupa-cāpa-vaidyutaiḥ

TRANSLATION

As the Lord (Krishna) passed along the public road of Dvārakā, His head was protected from the sunshine by a white umbrella. White feathered fans moved in semicircles, and showers of flowers fell upon the road. His yellow garments and garlands of flowers made it appear as if a dark cloud were surrounded simultaneously by sun, moon, lightning and rainbows.

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Artist Giampaolo Tomassetti (spiritually initiated as Jnananjana Dasa) has captured the splendor of this era beautifully in his exquisite works of art. What a gift indeed to be blessed with a mind and hands that can create wonders like these. Words fail me as I try to praise this man’s stunning work. All I can say with a sigh is, this is true art.

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Here’s a video showing some of these works in progress:

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About Giampaolo Tomassetti

He was born on March 8, 1955, in Terni, Italy. From 1980 to 1987, he was a founding member of the International Vedic Art Academy, located at Villa Vrindavan in Italy. A number of his paintings appear in books published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. He has held about thirty exhibitions all around Italy. One of his great loves is painting frescoes and walls. He worked on the Mahabharata project for the last twelve years in Citta di Castello, Perugia, Italy.

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Finally, this is Villa Vrindavana, where Giampaolo’s paintings are currently being exhibited.

 

Update: As many of you have written to me asking details about these works of art, I’d like to clarify a couple of things. The artist, Jnananjana Dasa (Giampaolo Tomassetti), informed me that all these paintings (original pieces) were sold to the Museum of Spiritual Art (MOSA) at Villa Vrindavana, Italy and are currently exhibited there. There was a limited edition book with these prints for sale, but most websites selling it have updated me that copies have been sold out. I don’t have HD quality images of any of these paintings.

Jana Thevar @ Princess Draupadi

 

Related Links:

Bhakti Yoga Through the Art of Puja

Choosing a Mala: Tulasi, Rudraksha or Both?

Everything You Need to Know About Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Choosing a Mala: Tulasi, Rudraksha or Both?

by Jana Thevar

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Hare Krishna and Om Namashivaya.

The reason why Sanathana Dharma (known to some as Hinduism) is not easily defined is because it’s not quite a religion. People who follow these paths come from all walks of life and have spiritual principles that come in all combinations. This in turn, reflects in the external paraphernalia they choose to adorn themselves with, including spiritual beads (Sanskrit: mala).

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Ask any person who claims to be a Hindu: what makes someone a Hindu? It’s not a question anyone can answer with absolute certainty and finality. Sanathana Dharma has no real boundaries that ‘disqualifies’ a follower of its varied paths.

Some Hindus are staunch worshipers of Shiva and only Shiva. Others will bow before none but Vishnu. Then there are people who connect with various deities, from Karthikeya to Ganesha to Durga. Our ISKCON friends chant Krishna’s names with every breath. And finally, there are people like me who can’t be categorized – I happily do regular archanais for every major Hindu deity, I go to both Catholic and Protestant churches, I like mosques, I’m an atheist and an omnist, and finally I’m everything and nothing. I can’t be bothered to consider what labels and limitations fit me – I’m too busy immersing myself in the unlimited wonders of the universal experience.

Tulasi or Rudraksha?

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I wear both. And more, including neem, sandalwood, spathikam (clear quartz) and navrattan (nine sacred gems). I even have Christian rosaries. Sometimes I use just one. At other times, I wear a few together.

Why choose? Your spiritual experience of the universe is only as limited as your mind – remember that.

Here are some facts to consider:

  • The foremost known Vedic scripture about rudraksha (the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad) does not mention anywhere in it that wearers of rudraksha cannot wear tulasi beads.
  • Similarly, nowhere is it stated in any accepted Vaishnava-related Vedic scripture that the use of rudraksha is forbidden for Vaishnavas.

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I’ll leave these self-explanatory Vedic verses below for you to think about:

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Rudranam sankaras casmi.” (Translation: “Of all the Rudras, I am Lord Shiva.”)

~ Bhagavan Sri Krishna, Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10, Text 23.

Vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh.” (Translation: “Lord Sambhuh [Shiva] is the greatest of Vaishnavas.”)

~ Bhagavata Purana, SB 12.13.16.

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The highest universal powers don’t have issues with each other, yet we humans are arguing over wooden beads.

Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti“. ~ Rig Veda

(Translation: That which exists is One. The sages call It by various names.)

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Conclusion

Sanathana Dharma is not a limited concept and will never be. There is no such thing as “if you do X, you’re a proper Hindu and if you do Y you’re breaching the boundaries of Hinduism”.

Come on. We have cannibalistic Aghori sadhus in rudraksha, and tulasi-wearing Vaishnavas who won’t even consume garlic in keeping with their strict vows of a vegetarian sattvic diet. Who’s to say they’re right or wrong in their practices? Those paths have their scriptural backing too.

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That which is said to have good energy and positive vibrations (tulasi, rudraksha, Ganges water, Vibhuti or Bhasma, Gopi Chandan, prasada, etc.) will always remain purifying, sacred and beneficial to the wearer, regardless if they are used in combination with each other or alone.

In summary, wear rudraksha beads if you wish. Wear tulasi if you prefer that instead. Wear both if your heart so desires – neither Krishna, Shiva nor any authoritative figure of Sanathana Dharma has ever forbidden it.

~Loka samasta sukhino bhavantu~

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Related Links:

Everything You Need to Know About Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti

 

Blue Butterfly Spiced Milk

by Princess Draupadi

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, fresh milk is a highly recommended food for hatha yogis. This 15th-century yoga manual by Swami Svatmarama praises milk as a wholesome, nourishing food and states that it is an essential part of a sattvic yogic diet.

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Understandably, unethical dairy farming methods are a huge concern these days. I usually get my supply from small local dairy farms or ISKCON centers (ISKCON cows are protected for life and never slaughtered) to ensure that the least cruelty is involved. If you can get ahimsa milk where you live, fantastic! For a vegan version of this drink,  see the notes within the recipe below.

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Spiced milk (Hindi: masala doodh) is a common beverage in India. The spices in this recipe impart fragrance, flavor and medicinal properties to the milk, as well as help in aiding digestion.

It just so happens that my favorite color is blue and my good friend, Alex Lee, has a Clitoria Ternatea flower farm in Australia. Alex provided me with a sachet of her organic, all-natural Blue Butterfly powder, and this is my first attempt at using it in my cooking. This flower is commonly known as bunga telang in Malay, and it’s popular in Peranakan cuisine. The plant is a creeper, and pretty easy to grow in a tropical climate.

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As a kid, I saw Luke Skywalker drinking blue milk in Star Wars, and I’ve wanted to drink it ever since. There you go, an idea to get your kids to drink more milk – actual dairy or a quality vegan substitute, whichever your choice may be.

Here’s a simple recipe for spiced milk. I consume this almost daily before bedtime. You can vary the spices if you wish, or add a pinch of saffron. This beverage makes an excellent and nourishing meal substitute, especially at night.

Blue Butterfly Spiced Milk

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • ½ tsp Blue Butterfly powder (mix with 2 tablespoons warm water)
  • 500ml fresh cow’s milk (or a vegan milk substitute)
  • 3-4 cardamom pods
  • 1-2 whole dried cloves
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 small springs of Indian holy basil (tulsi)
  • ½ tsp organic chia seeds
  • Honey or jaggery to taste (optional)

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Method:

1) Pour the milk into a sturdy pot. Add in all dried spices and stir well. Bring the milk to boil on medium heat, stirring regularly. Milk burns easily, so stir briskly and well, scraping the bottom of your pot.

2) When the milk comes to a rolling boil, stir well for 2-3 minutes, then turn off the heat. Allow to cool for approximately 5 minutes. (If you wish to sweeten the milk, allow the milk to cool for 10 minutes before adding the honey or jaggery, then stir well).

3) Add the Blue Butterfly powder solution to the milk. Stir briskly until the color is uniform.

4) Pour the milk into serving glasses or mugs. Add the springs of holy basil (one per glass), ensuring that the herb is at least partially submerged in the milk – this helps the Ayurvedic medicinal properties of the leaves to steep into the milk. Garnish with the chia seeds and serve hot.

Vegan variation: To make a vegan version of this recipe, simply substitute the cow’s milk with any vegan milk of your choice. Also, when using vegan milk, do not allow the liquid to boil – simply heat the vegan milk up, then turn off the heat when it’s close to boiling point. The best vegan milks to use for this recipe are soy, cashew, oat, almond and coconut. 

Related Links:

My Blue Tea – Blue Butterfly Flower Powder

Kitchiri, the Best Sattvic Detox Food

Index of Articles

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

Ashram Vacations: An Introduction

by Jana Thevar

Note: All images below were taken at my various ashram visits and stays from 2013 to 2017. The following pictures were taken at Yoga Niketan Ashram (Rishikesh), Dhanwanthari Ashram (Kerala), Meenakshi Ashram (Madurai), Parmarth Niketan Ashram (Rishikesh) and ISKCON Delhi (East of Kailash, Delhi).

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Is stress killing you? Do you experience inexplicable aches and pains, depression, migraines, digestion issues and fatigue on a regular basis? If your regular vacations aren’t cutting it anymore, an ashram vacation may be just the thing you need. It can be a hardcore experience for the uninitiated, but I can assure you it’ll be well worth the effort.

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First Things First: What’s an Ashram?

I’m just going to quote Wikipedia’s description here, because it’s so complete:

“Traditionally, an ashram (sometimes also ashrama or ashramam) is a spiritual hermitage or a monastery in Indian religions. The word ashram comes from the Sanskrit root śram which means “to toil”. An ashram would traditionally, but not necessarily in contemporary times, be located far from human habitation, in forests or mountainous regions, amidst refreshing natural surroundings conducive to spiritual instruction and meditation. The residents of an ashram regularly performed spiritual and physical exercises, such as the various forms of yoga.

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Sometimes, the goal of a pilgrimage to the ashram was not tranquility, but instruction in some art, especially warfare. In the Ramayana, the protagonist princes of ancient Ayodhya, Rama and Lakshmana, go to Vishvamitra’s ashram to protect his yajnas from being defiled by emissary-demons of Ravana. After they prove their mettle, the princes receive martial instruction from the sage, especially in the use of divine weapons. In the Mahabharata, Krishna, in his youth, goes to the ashram of Sandipani to gain knowledge of both intellectual and spiritual matters.”

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My Experience

To me, there’s nothing quite as magical as the ashram experience. Meditating in the Himalayas as the starless, obsidian sky bursts into the blazing pink ribbons of dawn. The chanting of mantras in the dark, amidst clouds of rose-sandalwood frankincense. Exotic birds in the mist. Sun-ripened fruits. Losing yourself in the transcendental bliss of meditation.

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I’m the kind of person who burns out easily with the demands of modern-day city living, so I need my ashram breaks. Every ashram is like a temporary second home to me. Over the last 5 years, I’ve stayed at various ashrams across India (the longest stays were in Sivananda ashrams, to complete my yoga certification).

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I’m so used to ashram life that I tend to incorporate parts of it into day-to-day modern living, often without realising it. No hot water in the mornings? Improvise with a bucket of cold water. Too tired for proper dinner after work? I make do with plain rice, yoghurt and fresh curry leaves. It’s a 360 degree turn-around for a woman like me who was raised with the comforts of big-city living for most of my life.

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What’s Ashram Life Like?

It’s austere. Very basic, ascetic-style living. No luxuries or city comforts to speak of – no air-conditioning, hot water, comfy spring mattresses, washing machines, hair dryers. Ashrams in India serve only vegetarian food, often without onions and garlic (depending on the ashram, salt and spices may be omitted completely). Some ashrams provide more comfort at extra charge, but that’s usually limited to air-conditioning and hot water.

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Despite the obvious challenges of ashram life, thousands continue to throng ashrams across India for various reasons – personal spiritual retreats, study of Vedic scriptures, structured yoga vacations and more. Why are regular people who are used to a cushy life willing to rough it out? Simple – the benefits, despite the hardship, are immense.

A temporary ashram stay isn’t a vacation the way you know it. It gives your material-life overloaded, burnt-out systems a break (mind, body, soul) so you can begin self-healing on all levels.

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Generally, ashram dwellers:

1) Wake up during the auspicious brahma muhurta timing (between 4.30am and 5.00am)
2) Sleep on woven mats or thin, natural-fibre mattresses in same-sex dormitories
3) Eat sattvic food (vegetarian fare minus onions and garlic)
4) Hand-wash and line-dry their own laundry
5) Follow a daily ashram schedule, which includes satsang (singing spiritual hymns), yoga classes, spiritual talks or discourses, Bhagavadgita classes, meditation sessions and so on
6) Wear simple, modest clothing on ashram grounds
7) Perform karma yoga (selfless service) daily, usually cleaning duties within the ashram

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What’s the Reason for such Basic, Austere Conditions?

The goal of ashram living is to increase one’s self-awareness and enhance spirituality. Sensual pleasures including rich food, entertainment, sexual activity and indulgence in modern luxuries cause distraction within the human mind and subsequently, a lack of focus.

By intentionally withdrawing worldly pleasures and sense gratification, ashram life effectively tunes one ‘inwards’ and enables one to focus and channel their mental energy effectively. Additional ashram activities such as pranayama (breath control), yoga asanas (physical exercise) condition and meditation prepare the body and mind for transcendental experiences.

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Ashram life is good practise for those wanting to pursue the path of self-realisation on a deeper, more serious level. Consider it a physical, mental and spiritual ‘detox’ from the filth and imbalances of modern living.

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What are the Benefits of Ashram Living? What Changes Will I See?

I recommend that you stay in an ashram for a minimum of 2 weeks to see significant improvement. For best results, a 4-to-6 week stay will do wonders – it’ll literally transform you. However, if you can only manage a few days, it’s still better than nothing.

The first few days will be difficult as your body adjusts to the discipline and unfamiliar routine, but you’ll notice major changes on all levels (physically, mentally and spiritually) within the first 1 to 2 weeks. Most people feel lighter and more energetic. Your energy levels will increase, and you may be as surprised as I was to realize you only need 4 to 5 hours of sleep to wake up fully refreshed.

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The yoga asanas and healthy, meat-free sattvic diet will kick-start healing and rejuvenation processes within your body. Ailments, old injuries, digestive disorders, aches and pains will progressively improve. Stress melts away completely within the first few days.

Some people may experience certain ‘negative’ reactions including skin breakouts, temper flares, digestion issues and headaches in the first few days of ashram living. This is normal as the body is purging itself of various toxins and bad energies accumulated over the years. Skin will begin to take on a healthy glow within a few days, and bodily systems will usually harmonize once your energies sync with the routine and activities.

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I’d Like to Try an Ashram Vacation. Where Do I Start?

Most modern ashrams have an online presence these days. I suggest that you pick an ashram based on your needs. Are you interested in the teachings of a particular spiritual master? Do you want to visit a certain place and couple it with a short ashram stay? Do some searching online to see which one appeals to you the most. You’ll be spoilt for choice.

Remember that most ashrams are located in rural areas with limited internet access and phone facilities. Travel can be a challenge, and transportation is not as straightforward in lesser-developed areas such as the Himalayas. As such, plan ahead and give sufficient time (ideally between 4 to 8 weeks in advance) for ashram stay booking and confirmation.

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Here are some of my personal recommendations:

Sivananda Ashrams (Kerala, Madurai and Rishikesh)
Omkarananda Ganga Sadan (Rishikesh)
Parmarth Niketan Ashram (Rishikesh)
Yoga Niketan Trust Ashram (Rishikesh)
ISKCON Delhi Temple (East of Kailash, Delhi)

Related Posts:

10 Tips for Women Traveling Alone in India

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

Five Main Benefits of Traditional Hatha Yoga

Bhakti Yoga Through the Art of Puja

 

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

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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

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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.

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Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 3)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

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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.

Related Posts:

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

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The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad

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Part 3: How To Know If Your Rudraksha Beads Are Genuine

by Jana Thevar

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It’s not difficult to tell real Rudraksha beads (or seeds) from fake ones if you know what to look for. The best way to be sure, of course, is to pick fresh Rudraksha fruits and get the seeds out of them yourself. However, if you decide to purchase Rudraksha seeds (or have received them from someone), read the steps below to learn how to differentiate the genuine ones from the fakes.

Note: Remember, Rudraksha seeds must not be chemically treated, heated, dyed or painted as these damage the subtle spiritual vibrations of the seeds.

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

1. Weight. Real Rudraksha seeds feel heavier than they look. The weight of the seed is focused at the core. Roll it around in your palm and you’ll be able to feel this. Fake beads carved from wood are light and have no noticeable core weight.

2. They sink in water. Genuine Rudraksha beads always sink in water. If they float, they’re likely fake. In rare circumstances, genuine beads treated with strong chemicals may also float (this is due to damage done by the chemicals; it’s best not to use these beads).

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3. Hair-like fibres. Look very closely at your Rudraksha seeds. Genuine Rudraksha beads have a ‘thorny’ surface, and between the thorns you should be able to see some hair-like fibres. These come from the dried pulp of the fresh fruit. It’s rare for anyone to be able to completely scrub away the pulp from the seed, so if the seed looks too ‘clean’, it may be fake.

4. Color. Rudrakshas naturally come in creamy-white, yellow, dark red and black. Remember that drying darkens the seeds, so it’s natural to see shades of dark gold, dark brown, reddish browns and brown-black. Beware of odd or bright colors like chilli red, orange and purple. The seeds may be genuine, but coated with dye or paint.

5. Shallow grooves and ‘chunky’ thorns. The uniqueness of Rudraksha lies mainly in the way the surface thorns are formed. These are usually fine, but irregular in a way that makes it very difficult for human hands to replicate (by carving). Use your judgement when it comes to this; natural thorns are almost impossible to copy perfectly.

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5. Shape. Rudraksha seeds are not always round, especially those with more than five faces, but the seeds generally have a round-oval shape. Familiarize yourself with Bhadraksha seeds, so you can recognize and avoid them (Bhadraksha seeds should not be worn as they don’t have the right spiritual vibrations).

6. Energy and vibration. Some people are sensitive enough to feel the spiritual energy and vibrations emitted by Rudraksha seeds. Try meditating with the seed (or seeds) in the palms of your hands. Rudraksha seeds radiate positive, grounding, serious vibrations. The energy can feel like a human pulse. With deeper spiritual practice, you’ll be able to feel these vibrations.

7. Number of faces (mukhi). Among the most expensive Rudraksha beads sold commercially are the one-faced (ekmukhi) and certain other types claimed to be ‘rare’ by the sellers. Keep the following in mind: one-faced Rudraksha seeds are EXTREMELY rare, so there are high chances of you purchasing an expertly-made fake seed. Rudraksha trees themselves are not very common these days, and the most trees produce the five-faced seeds. The more faces a bead has, the higher your chances of being cheated. Besides, if you read the Upanishad, even the more common seeds (three to nine faces) give great spiritual benedictions and blessings, so why risk it? So-called ‘Rudraksha experts’ have been known to insert metal pieces into fake seeds to make them react with magnets, copper and so forth. This is Kali Yuga, the age of tamasic values and corruption, so be careful when you make decisions and be wary of claims that are too good to be true.

 

See Also:

Part 1: Everything You Need To Know About Rudraksha

Part 2: The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti