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Thread: Customs and Traditions

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    Customs and Traditions

    hariḥ oṁ
    ~~~~~

    Namaste
    Customs and traditions - I thought those new to sanātana dharma might have some questions about various things that are done. And those that have been practicing a bit may also have a question or two on some of the traditional things done.

    There are many customs. Perhaps those that wish to participate may want to offer their knowledge of why a particular custom is done, or may want to add to the list.

    Let me suggest a few below - I ask all those that wish to participate to please join in so others can have an appreciation of why these things are done and perhaps may take-up one or two of them themselves - or better understand the significance behind what they are doing today.

    I know one custom I do but have not found the root meaning of why.
    I have a lamp lit at home. I understand the significance of the flame yet if I wish to extinguish the flame ( upon leaving the home) it is custom to not blow it out with one's breath. So I fan the flame with my hand and put it out with wind (vāyu). So why is it that the breath ( which is prāṇa/vāyu and some would call it apāna) is not acceptable?
    I could surmise the following:
    • The flame is agni and the physical expression of the Supreme. One's breath could be considered impure and blowing on the pure ( agni) is inappropriate.
    • Another view is that of the mahābhūta-s ( space, air or wind ~gas~, fire, water earth). This vāyu is subtler then agni and is not considered 'superior' to it, and hence putting it out via wind is not appropriate.
    • Many put out a flame with their fingers, pressing the flame out. This would be considered 'earth' or the phyical make-up of our body. Yet touch is a function of vāyu, and we once again are back to the air principle ( vāyu mahābhūta ).
    Those are just few ideas, but perhaps I can learn from others on this matter. Please offer your insights as you wish on the spiritual significance of these customs.

    I will do lamp (dīpa दीप) on the next post and give my views and learning - please join in.
    • Why light a lamp (dīpa दीप) ?
    • Why bow (namaskāra नमस्कार) or namas by word or gesture to another ?
    • Why do many wear a mark ( tilaka तिलक) on the forehead i.e. vibhūtiḥ (sacred ash) , kuṁkum (power for red dot) etc.
    • Why do we offer food (naivedya नैवेद्य) to the Supreme first, before eating?
    • Why do many circumambulate ( pradākṣiṇā प्रदाक्शिणा) i.e. walk clockwise around a temple, holy place, or even turn-round the axis of of selves?
    • Why is it traditional to say peace ( śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ शान्तिः ) 3 times?
    • Why do we ring a bell (ghaṇtā घण्ता) ?
    • Why meditate at the junctions (sandhyā or saṁdhyā संधि) of the day i.e. dawn, dusk , etc?
    pranams
    Last edited by yajvan; 17 December 2008 at 01:54 PM.
    यतस्त्वं शिवसमोऽसि
    yatastvaṁ śivasamo'si
    because you are identical with śiva

    _

  2. #2

    Re: Customs and Traditions

    Isn't shanti said three times for the "three worlds"? I don't remember what the three worlds are; something like how in shaman traditions they often believe in three layers: heavens, earth, and underworld. I could be wrong.

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    Re: Customs and Traditions

    Quote Originally Posted by yajvan View Post

    • Why light a lamp (dīpa दीप) ?
    • Why bow (namaskāra नमस्कार) or namas by word or gesture to another ?
    • Why do many wear a mark ( tilaka तिलक) on the forehead i.e. vibhūtiḥ (sacred ash) , kuṁkum (power for red dot) etc.
    • Why do we offer food (naivedya नैवेद्य) to the Supreme first, before eating?
    • Why do many circumambulate ( pradākṣiṇā प्रदाक्शिणा) i.e. walk clockwise around a temple, holy place, or even turn-round the axis of of selves?
    • Why is it traditional to say peace ( śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ शान्तिः ) 3 times?
    • Why do we ring a bell (ghaṇtā घण्ता) ?
    • Why meditate at the junctions (sandhyā or saṁdhyā संधि) of the day i.e. dawn, dusk , etc?
    pranams

    Naskaram Yajvan:

    Thank you for starting this line. I, for one am ever-curious. I will tell what I've heard, and add a few more, keeping in mind that there may be more than one correct interpretation, based on what Sanatan school you're from. I was recently exploring why we clap three times at the end of the puja in front of Sandeeshwara (sp?) So far I've heard 3 reasons: 1) you're waking him up from his meditationso he can take aarti 2) its a signal to temple authorities that your hands are clean, you haven't taken anything from the temple, and 3) (my preferred) it is a sign to the inner beings simple stating that the puja is over.

    As far as putting out the lamp goes, I've only heard the one that says the breath may be or is impure, and the flame is considered sacred, so it would be innappropriate.

    As far as lighting the lamp, since my personal tradition is a mystic one, I would say that the inner plane beings can see flame through the barrier between the worlds, so it attracts them. This is basically the same answer for the bell ringing, the incense burning, etc.

    Circumambulating clockwise has to do with going the opposite direction as the chakras spinning, such that kundalini rises, rather than goes downward. The deity would 'pull' on your aura a bit each time you pass, or circle.

    Namaskaram or bowing is greeting the other person's soul. The general lack of touch is keeping auras pure and not intertwined.

    Never heard much about meditating at junctions, although perhaps I shared this story before. I once asked a Swami about people living above the Arctic Circle here in Canada. (I live at latitude 54) meditating pre dawn etc when there really is no dawn, its light all day. His response was 'No Hindu in their right mind would be living up there anyway." which of course was meant to be humourous.

    Here are some more questions:

    Why the ring finger for kumkuma?
    Why the right ear for flowers (prasad flowers)
    Why while prostrating turn and alternate putting ears to the ground?
    Why stepping into the temple right foot first?
    Is passing gas accidentally innappropriate? What would be proper atonement?
    Why prostrate across instead of directly toward?
    Why break a coconut?
    Why fan the deity?
    Why raise hands above head during higher points of the puja?

    I'm sure I have a few more, and can post further if people get interested in this discussion.

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    Re: Customs and Traditions

    hariḥ oṁ
    ~~~~~~
    Namaste simex, EM (et.al)

    There is lots to discuss and I hope others offer their views. I will offer what I know and I think as a group we can advance the overall subject accordingly.
    Simex, you mention the following:
    Isn't shanti said three times for the "three worlds"? I don't remember what the three worlds are
    Yes, I have heard this too… what are these 3 worlds? The material level or prthivi, the mid-region or antarika, and the spiritual or heaven called dhauḥ. Surely the intent of peace (śāntiḥ) for these 3 worlds can only bring good to the individual and the inhabitants on this earth.

    Let me offer a few more ideas
    This 3 world idea is a most beautiful concept. We have bhuh, bhuvah suvha + maha + janaha , tapaya, satyam ; we know these as vyāhṛti¹ or sacred utterances. Bhūḥ + bhuvaḥ+ suvaḥ can be considered the 3 lower and janaha + tapaya + satya are considered the 3 higher.
    What connects the lower to the higher? ...this maha. According to rishi Mahachamasyaḥ this mahah is Brahman¹, same as ātman. It connects the lower to the higher ( 3 + 3) . And according to Svāmi Śivananda this ātman, has its root in vyāp, to cover or pervade. So this mahaḥ 'connects' by covering all.

    Another 3
    This 3 comes up often most notably as a u ṁ. It encompasses Brahmā , Viṣṇu and Śiva - or totality - Bhūmā.
    Brahman ( even though is beyond description), the closest we can get in vedānta is again 3 - sat-chit-ānanda and many write it as satchidānanda. Sat is existence or Being, some call it pure Truth, cit consciousness and ānandaor bliss.

    This trīka (3) is repeated again and again in creation, components and throughout sanātana dharma. The Chāndogya Upaniṣad calls out 3 kinds of births i.e. egg-born ( birds, reptiles), organism-born ( humans, many in the animal kingdom) and earth born ( trees, flowers , shrubs, etc).
    I am sure others will offer sample of the triplicate view of identification, praise and recognition of the Supreme.

    So, lets get back to peace and the 3 number
    Peace (śāntiḥ) is our natural state of Being. Peace, even-ness (samatva), is something that is natural and we look for it, as it is at our Core. Hence we offer the recitation (svādhyāya) as an affirmation of who we are, a condition we expect to achieve , and as upāsana or worship, as śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ that ends one's chant or prayer.

    Now where could disturbances (un-peace) come from? Here is one point of view of 3:
    • On an individual level, our karma that we have accumulated,
    • On a social level, other people, places and things in the surrounding environment;
    • And on a Universal level - those things that are cosmic in nature where we are just by-standers to the influences
    Some may call them out this way:
    • ādhidaivika - Divine forces on a grand universal scale
    • ādhibhautika - Forces and interactions from within society and environment that affect us
    • ādhyātmika - inner forces and 'triggers' as karma, etc. within the human
    And some may say in general these aggregate influences are adhidaivata अधिदैवत or divine agents operating in material objects.
    So, once again we have this triad (trika) of 3 at our disposal. And the notion of śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ to bring peace to these 3 levels.

    Hence , it is tradition and believed that trivaram satyam, or that which is repeated 3 times manifests, or comes to pass and ...
    It is custom to say śāntiḥ on our lips and verbally , directing it to the unseen forces and influences fond at the grand scale of things, then softer directed at our surroundings, then at the lightest whisper directed inwardly to our selves. Our intent is peace, and getting back to our original state of even-ness (samatva), sattā ( Being).

    oṁ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

    pranams

    words
    • vyāhṛti व्याहृति - utterance, speech, declaration; also considered the 7 utterances of the names of the seven bhūr, bhuvar [or bhuvaḥ], svar, mahar, janar, tapar, satya i.e. भूर्, भुवर् [or भुवः] , स्वर्, महर्, जनर्, तपर्, सत्य.
    • Brahman - He resides in agni as Bhuh, in air as Bhuvah, in the sun as Suvah, in Brahman as Mahaḥ. He Himself becomes Lord (of all the gods). Lord of the mind, of speech, of the eyes, the Lord of the ears and of the intellect. Then He beccomes this, Brahman who has space (akaśa) for His body. Whose nature is Truth (satyam) who sports in life (prāṇa) whose mind is bliss, who is full of peace, who is immortal. Taittrīya Upaniṣad- 6th anuvaka, śloka-s 1 & 2.
    • sat सत्- Being, existence that which really is , entity or existence , essence, sattā is the feminine position of Being.
    • cit चित् - knowing, to have consciousness ; 'piling up'
    • ānanda आनन्द - 'pure happiness' ~bliss~. A quality recognized of ātman or brahman in vedānta
    Last edited by yajvan; 17 December 2008 at 09:43 PM.
    यतस्त्वं शिवसमोऽसि
    yatastvaṁ śivasamo'si
    because you are identical with śiva

    _

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    Re: Customs and Traditions

    hariḥ oṁ
    ~~~~~~

    Namaste

    Why light a lamp (dīpa दीप) ?

    There is little doubt we associate light with the Supreme, with sattva. Lighting a lamp is a reminder of this light that is found in the spirit i.e. prakāśa¹. Many keep akhaṇḍa dīpa or a continuous lamp ( a+khaṇḍa = not + break ) at home or at the maṇḍir (temple). A close-ness to the Spirit is kept.

    Agni is considered flame, light, a devatā in the veda. In fact agni is the first word found in the ṛg veda i.e. agni ie purihitam - agni I adore.

    This flame , when it is in a windless place is also used as an example of the ātman, perfectly still, unflickering, yet bright from within.

    Now some suggest¹ the the oil or ghee lamp has another significance. The oil is the symbol of our vāsana-s¹ , the wick is the ego. The flame then is the burning-up the vāsana-s as they are 'wicked-up' through the burning element ( the wick) and brought to the flame ( knowledge) for their consumption ( removal). The flame burns upward and is carried away.

    Hence, this flame (tejas - fire) is light and heat. Light is knowledge and dark is ignorance. We light the lamp to bring the light, knowledge, that removes the darkness, ignorance. A reminder of who we are.

    pranams

    words and references
    • prakāśa प्रकाश - visible , shining , bright ; clearness , brightness , splendour , lustre
    • Svāmi Cinmayānānda
    • vāsana वासन- causing to abide or dwell ; recepticle - i.e. past imressions. WE thinbk of them as you probably know vasana by another name, samskara, which is an approximation. for more on this see HDF post http://www.hindudharmaforums.com/showthread.php?t=627&highlight=vasana
    Last edited by yajvan; 19 December 2008 at 05:19 PM.
    यतस्त्वं शिवसमोऽसि
    yatastvaṁ śivasamo'si
    because you are identical with śiva

    _

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    Re: Customs and Traditions

    hariḥ oṁ
    ~~~~~

    Namaste EM,

    you mention

    Why prostrate across instead of directly toward?
    Why while prostrating turn and alternate putting ears to the ground?
    I do not have the answer to this, but offer an opinion on this matter. I look for others to correct me or add insight as they see fit.

    Prostration is praṇipāta प्रणिपात - prostration , humble submission, salutation , falling at a person's feet.
    This comes under the notion of prapatti प्रपत्ति - pra is forward or in front + patti or going , moving; some call this 'throwing oneself down'. Prapatti then is defined as pious resignation or devotion.
    A more familiar term is praṇāma प्रणाम bending , bowing , a bow , respectful salutation , prostration , obeisance.

    For men it is called aśtāṅga praṇāma, and for woman it's pañcānga praṇāma.

    • Aśtāṅga praṇāma means eight parts or 'limbs' are in prostration i.e. 2 hands + 2 knees + 2 feet + 1 chest + 1 forehead = 8.
    • Pañcānga praṇāma means 5 parts or 'limbs' are in prostration i.e. 2 hands + 2 legs ( with ankles crossed right over left) + 1 forehead = 5.
    Now we have the terms out of the way, here is my conjecture on why praṇāma occurs across vs. straight ahead.

    I know, as mentioned in the Aitareya Upaniṣad¹, that the devatā-s are fond of the 'indirect' way, not straight on i.e. staying to left-or-right is the application of this. Hence when Aśtāṅga or Pañcānga praṇāma occurs, we're respecting this approach and doing the wishes of the devatā.

    Now the 2nd question regarding
    Why while prostrating turn and alternate putting ears to the ground?
    Here is my thoughts with no authority behind my POV.
    When prapatti प्रपत्ति is offered, one is submitting completely. When one's head is down and forehead on the ground, turning
    from ear-to-ear is again offering in full, giving completely all parts.

    Now for men this now becomes the 8 points, that is aśtāṅga. By adding ear-to-ear, 2 more points are added equaling 10. Ten is 1 + 0 or another symbol of fullness.

    Now what of woman ? There are 5 points + 2 more points. Giving completely still applies. But what of this 5 + 2 = 7. How can 7 apply? On one level it is all 7 cakra ( some prefer to write chakra ) that are offered in submission. Women are the embodiment of śakti and these cakra applies nicely.

    We can also look at this 10 and 7 from a Jyotish perspective, but will leave that for another time.

    pranams

    references
    Aitareya Upaniṣad 3.14
    Last edited by yajvan; 20 December 2008 at 09:30 PM.
    यतस्त्वं शिवसमोऽसि
    yatastvaṁ śivasamo'si
    because you are identical with śiva

    _

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    Re: Customs and Traditions

    Dear Yajavan: Can you please find any thing there written about the temple custom of coconut breaking or breaking pumpkin and putting some red colored thing? I suspect these are vegetarian versions of older animal sacrifice rituals. It is interesting Jewish religion was and is very much into animal sacrifice for the simple reason to appease God. Do any Hindu scripture talk something like that? I just recently visited Israel and I was fascinated with their customs and rituals which have some resemblance to Hindu rituals.

    Love..VC

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    Re: Customs and Traditions

    hariḥ oṁ
    ~~~~~

    Namaste VC,


    Quote Originally Posted by vcindiana View Post
    Dear Yajavan: Can you please find any thing there written about the temple custom of coconut breaking or breaking pumpkin and putting some red colored thing?
    I will be happy to offer what I know. The coconut has much to do with its hardness on the outside and the purity and white coconut 'meat' on the inside. This is more symbolic of life yes? The outside of life we deal with, then the purity of inner life of the pure spirit.

    This is my understanding of nārīkelakhaṇḍaṁ ( the offering of the broken coconut)

    pranams
    यतस्त्वं शिवसमोऽसि
    yatastvaṁ śivasamo'si
    because you are identical with śiva

    _

  9. #9
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    Re: Customs and Traditions

    Namaste again,

    Again, I find it interesting..the different views on the same things... The coconut breaking, from my understanding, is 'breaking the ego' . the breaker, or smasher sometimes (I've seen it done both ways, with a cleaver, and with a strong throw to a hard surface) supposedly prays for a weakening of his ego each time the coconut is broken, and mystically God hears the sound, smells the coconut (rotten coconuts are tossed immediately) etc, comes along, and helps out with the prayer.

    The red die (kumkum) put on pumpkins is a different story. I've had it expalined something as follows. The temple has a psychic wall around it. There is an 'inside, outside'. When the temple was established at the kumbabhishekam, these boundaries were defined, and usually at four corners, making a rectangle twice as long as is wide, and not necessarily jiving with the physical walls, but perhaps extending out along sidewalks etc. The 'negative' or lower forces (asuras) are not allowed on the inside, but are free to roam the boundaries. Originally, they were given blood as an offering to stay away. Somewhere along the way a mystic discovered that these forces could be 'duped' into thinking a cut pumpkin smothered in a red dye was indeed blood. Hence as VC said we have the vegan version of a blood sacrifice.

    Of course many believers may not believe all this in the mystical sense, and offer up other alternatives, or do certain rituals 'incorrectly', or rather not in line with the mystical sense, partly just because of 'changing knowledge over time, or not having a mystic present to guide in the process. To illustrate this further, I recall a story of how a temple in the west got its yantras mixed up. The yantra, or copper plate bonds or seeks out the electricity or energy for the temple, and the energy for Lord Pillaiyar, for example, is different than the energy for Lord Venkateshwara. So then if you have the Pillaiyar yantra in front of the Venkateshwara Murthi, and the Venkateshwara yantra in front of the Pillaiyar murthi, the energy is going to be messed up. That is why temples hire qualified stapathis to design and supervise construction. Of course, it one did not believe in all this mystical side, then it wouldn't matter a lot to them would it?

    Aum Namasivaya

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    Re: Customs and Traditions

    hariḥ oṁ
    ~~~~~

    Namaste EM

    you write,

    The coconut breaking, from my understanding, is 'breaking the ego' . the breaker, or smasher sometimes (I've seen it done both ways, with a cleaver, and with a strong throw to a hard surface) supposedly prays for a weakening of his ego each time the coconut is broken, and mystically God hears the sound, smells the coconut (rotten coconuts are tossed immediately) etc, comes along, and helps out with the prayer.
    Yes, I understand the same. The ego deals with the outside of life. To break it and go in, to where there is purity, we 'break' the ego (khaṇḍa) or cleaver it or cut it (lava) which suggest the destruction of the lower self. Yet the benefit is what is found inside, yes?

    As for the pumpkin info you offer - this is interesting. I am not familiar with this and perhaps I can learn more.


    thank you again ....

    pranams
    यतस्त्वं शिवसमोऽसि
    yatastvaṁ śivasamo'si
    because you are identical with śiva

    _

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