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General Questions about Hinduism

What is Sri Ganapathi  Homa/Havan?
Lord Ganapathi or Ganesha is the deity who is worshipped by every Hindu before starting any new venture. Lord Ganesha is also known as Vighneshwara ( vighna + Eswara ) meaning the Lord (Eswara) who removes all obstacles (Vighna). By doing this homa or homam, the devotee gets blessings from Lord Ganesha that will enable devote to improve family relationships, overcome diseases, attain goals without any hindrances, overcome the enemies and overcome all problems in life.

What is Sri Satyanarayan Pooja  Katha?
This pooja is very important to get all types of prosperity. It is dedicated to Lord Maha Vishnu to get good children, good education, and peace of mind and to get success in every stage of life. Most importantly, this pooja can be performed on any date, at any time and anywhere.

What is Sri Maha Lakshmi Homa Or Lakshmi  Kuber  Homa?
Sri Maha Lakshmi Homam is performed for the purpose of gaining legitimate wealth. Those who are involved in business or are facing financial problems may perform this Homam to receive the blessings and grace of Goddess Maha Lakshmi. One must perform this Homam when one is facing financial difficulties and wish to earn wealth in abundance. It is said that different benefits are bestowed to the performer of this Homam such as improvement in finances and recovery of dues. Even the mere recitation of the mantras of this Homan bestows different categories of prosperity: Financial prosperity, Domestic animals, Food grains, Ownership of land, Royal influence, Mental strength and Mystical powers.

Why do we chant Om?
Om is one of the most chanted sounds/symbols in the world. It has a profound effect on the body and mind of the one who chants and also on the surroundings. Most Mantras and Vedic prayers start with Om. All auspicious actions begin with Om. It is even used as a greeting OmHari Om! etc. It is repeated as a mantra or meditated upon. Oms form is worshipped, contemplated upon or used as an auspicious sign. Om is the universal name of the Lord. The vocalization of Om is made up of three letters/sounds A, U and M - A (phonetically as in "Around"), U (phonetically as in "Put") and M (phonetically as in "Mum"). The sound emerging from the vocal chords starts from the base of the throat as "A". With the coming together of the lips, "U" is formed and when the lips are closed, all sounds end in "M". The three letters symbolize the three physiological states (Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep), the three deities (the trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), the three Vedas (Rig, Yajur and Sama), the three worlds (Bhuh, Bhuvah, Suvah) etc. The Lord is all these and beyond. 

The formless, attributeless Lord (Brahman) is represented by the silence between two Om chantings. Om is also called Pranava that means "that (symbol or sound) by which the Lord is praised". The entire essence of the Vedas is enshrined in the word Om. It is said that the Lord started creating the world after chanting Om and Atha. Hence its sound is considered to create an auspicious beginning for any task that we undertake. The Om chant should have the resounding sound of a bell (aaooommm).

Om is written in different ways in different places. The most common form symbolizes Lord Ganesha. The upper curve is the head; the lower large one, the stomach; the side one, the trunk; and the semi-circular mark with the dot, the sweet-meat ball (Modaka) in Lord Ganesha's hand. Thus Om symbolizes everything - the means and the goal of life, the world and the Truth behind it, the material and the Sacred, all form and the Formless.

Why do we have a Prayer Room?

Most Indian homes have a prayer room or altar. A lamp is lit and the Lord is worshipped each day. Other spiritual practices like Japa (repetition of the Lord's name), Meditation, Paaraayana (reading of the scriptures), Prayers, devotional singing etc. is also done here. Special worship is done on auspicious occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, festivals and the like. Each member of the family, young or old, communes with and worships the Divine here. 

The Lord is the entire creation. He is therefore the true owner of the house we live in too. The prayer room is the Master room of the house. We are the earthly occupants of His property. This notion rids us of false pride and possessiveness. The ideal attitude to take is to regard the Lord as the true owner of our homes and ourselves as caretakers of His home. But if that is rather difficult, we could at least think of Him as a very welcome and most important guest. Just as we would house an important guest in the best comfort, so too we felicitate the Lord's presence in our homes by having a prayer room or altar, which is, at all times, kept clean and well-decorated.

Also the Lord is all-pervading. To remind us that He resides in our homes with us, we have prayer rooms. Without the grace of the Lord, no task can be successfully or easily accomplished. We invoke His grace by communing with Him in the prayer room each day and on special occasions. 

Each room in a house is dedicated to a specific function like the Bedroom for resting, the Drawing room to receive guests, the Kitchen for cooking etc. The furniture, decor and the atmosphere of each room are made conducive to the purpose it serves. So too for the purpose of Meditation, Worship and Prayer, we should have a conducive atmosphere - hence the need for a prayer room. Sacred thoughts and sound vibrations pervade the place and influence the minds of those who spend time there. Spiritual thoughts and vibrations accumulated through regular meditation, worship and chanting done there pervade the prayer room. Even when we are tired or agitated, by just sitting in the prayer room for a while, we feel calm, rejuvenated and spiritually uplifted.

Why do we light a Lamp?
In almost every Indian home a lamp is lit daily before the altar of the Lord. In some houses it is lit at dawn, in some, twice a day - at dawn and dusk - and in a few it is maintained continuously (Akhanda Deepa). All auspicious functions commence with the lighting of the lamp, which is often maintained right through the occasion. 

Light symbolizes knowledge and darkness symbolizes ignorance. The Lord is the "Knowledge Principle" (Chaitanya) who is the source, the enlivener and the illuminator of all knowledge. Hence light is worshiped as the Lord himself. Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness. Also knowledge is a lasting inner wealth by which all outer achievements can be accomplished. Hence we light the lamp to bow down to knowledge as the greatest of all forms of wealth. Why not light a bulb or tube light instead of a lamp? That too would remove darkness. But the traditional oil lamp has a further spiritual significance. The Oil or Ghee in the lamp symbolizes our Vaasanas or negative tendencies and the wick symbolizes the ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge, the Vaasanas get slowly exhausted and the ego too finally perishes. The flame of a lamp always burns upwards. Similarly we should acquire such knowledge that would take us towards higher ideals. Whilst lighting the lamp we thus pray: 

Deepajyoti Parabrahma
Deepa sarva Tamopahaha
Deepena saadhyate Saram
Sandhyaa deepo Namostute

Why do we do Namaste?
Indians greet each other with namaste. The two palms are placed together in front of the chest and the head bows whilst saying the word namaste. This greeting is for all - people younger than us, of our own age, those older than us, friends and even strangers.

There are five forms of formal traditional greeting described in the shastras of which namaskaram or namaste is one. This is understood as prostration but it actually refers to paying homage as we do today when we greet each other with a namaste. Namaste could be just a casual or formal greeting, a cultural convention or an act of worship. However there is much more to it than simple salutation. In Sanskrit, namaste is formed by two roots, namah + te = namaste. It means I bow to you - my greetings, salutations or prostration to you. Namaha can also be literally interpreted as "na ma" (not mine). It has a spiritual significance of negating or reducing one's ego in the presence of another. The real meeting between people is the meeting of their minds. When we greet another, we do so with namaste, which means, "may our minds meet," indicated by the folded palms placed before the chest. The bowing down of the head is a gracious form of extending friendship in love and humility. The spiritual meaning is even deeper. The life force, the divinity, the Self or the Lord in me is the same in all. Recognizing this oneness with the meeting of the palms, we salute with head bowed to the Divinity in the person we meet. That is why sometimes, we close our eyes as we do namaste to a revered person or the Lord - as if to look within. The gesture is often accompanied by words like "Ram Ram", "Jai Shri Krishna", "Namo Narayana", "Jai Siya Ram", "Om Shanti" etc., - indicating the recognition of this divinity. When we know this significance, our greeting does not remain just a superficial gesture or word but paves the way for a deeper communion with another in an atmosphere of love and respect.

Why do we wear marks (Tilak or Tika) on the forehead?
The tilak invokes a feeling of sanctity in the wearer and others. It is recognized as a religious mark. Its form and color vary according to one's caste, religious sect or the form of the Lord worshipped. In earlier times, the four castes (based on varna or color) - Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra - applied marks differently. The brahmin applied a white chandan mark signifying purity, as his profession was of a priestly or academic nature. The kshatriya applied a red kumkum mark signifying valor as he belonged to warrior race. The vaishya wore a yellow kesar or turmeric mark signifying prosperity as he was a businessman or trader devoted to creation of wealth. The sudra applied a black bhasma, kasturi or charcoal mark signifying service as he supported the work of the other three divisions. Also Vishnu worshippers apply a chandan tilak of the shape of "U", Shiva worshippers a tripundra (a mark of three horizontal lines on the forehead) of bhasma, Devi worshippers a red dot of kumkum and so on. The three lines of 'tripundra' have symbolism too! These three lines are supposed to represent: the three vedas (Rig, Yajur and Sama); the three syllables (A, U, and M) of om; the three gunas (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas); the three shaktis or powers (Kriyashakti, Icchashakti and Jnanashakti) of Devi or divine mother; the three pressings of soma juice in somayaga (Pratassavana, Madhyandinasavana and Tritiyasavana) and so on.

The tilak covers the spot between the eyebrows, which is the seat of memory and thinking. It is known as the Aajna Chakra in the language of Yoga. The tilak is applied with the prayer - "May I remember the Lord. May this pious feeling pervade all my activities. May I be righteous in my deeds". Even when we temporarily forget this prayerful attitude the mark on another reminds us of our resolve. The tilak is thus a blessing of the Lord and a protection against wrong tendencies and forces.

The entire body emanates energy in the form of electromagnetic waves - the forehead and the subtle spot between the eyebrows especially so. That is why worry generates heat and causes a headache. The tilak or pottu (or Bottu) cools the forehead, protects us and prevents energy loss. Sometimes the entire forehead is covered with chandan or bhasma. Use of plastic reusable adhesive "bindis" is not very beneficial, even though it serves the purpose of beautification or decoration.

Why do we Fast?
Most devout Indians fast regularly or on special occasions like festivals. On such days they do not eat at all, eat once or just consume fruits or a special diet of simple food.

Fasting in Sanskrit is called upavaasa. Upa means "near" + vaasa means "to stay". Upavaasa therefore means staying near (the Lord), meaning the attainment of close mental proximity with the Lord. Then what has upavaasa to do with food? A lot of our time and energy in life is spent in procuring food items, preparing, cooking, eating and digesting food. Certain food types make our minds dull and agitated. Hence on certain days man decides to save time and conserve his energy by eating either simple, light food or totally abstaining from eating so that his mind becomes alert and pure. The mind, otherwise pre-occupied by the thought of food, now entertains noble thoughts and stays with the Lord. Since it is a self-imposed form of discipline it is usually adhered to with joy. Also every system needs a break and an overhaul to work at its best. Rest and a change of diet during fasting are very good for the digestive system and the entire body. The more you indulge the senses, the more they make their demands. Fasting helps us to cultivate control over our senses, sublimate our desires and guide our minds to be poised and at peace.

Fasting should not make us weak, irritable or create an urge to overindulge later. This happens when there is no noble goal behind fasting. The Bhagavad Gita urges us to eat appropriately - yukta-aahaara - meaning neither too less nor too much  and to eat simple, pure and healthy food (a saatvik diet) even when not fasting.

Why do we offer food to the Lord before eating it?
Indians make an offering of food to the Lord and later partake of it as prasaada - a holy gift from the Lord. In our daily ritualistic worship (pooja) too we offer naivedyam (food) to the Lord. The Lord is omnipotent and omniscient. Man is a part, while the Lord is the totality. All that we do is by His strength and knowledge alone. Hence what we receive in life as a result of our actions is really His alone. We acknowledge this through the act of offering food to Him. This is exemplified by the Hindi words "tera tujhko arpan"- I offer what is Yours to You. Thereafter it is akin to His gift to us, graced by His divine touch. A realization of this changes our entire attitude to food and the act of eating. The food offered will naturally be pure and the best. We share what we get with others before consuming it. We do not demand, complain or criticize the quality of the prasaada (food) we get. We eat it with cheerful acceptance (prasaada buddhi).

Before we partake of our daily meals we first sprinkle water around the plate as an act of purification. Five morsels of food are placed on the side of the plate acknowledging the debt owed by us to the Divine forces (devta runa) for their benign grace and protection; our ancestors (pitru runa) for giving us their lineage and a family culture; the sages (rishi runa) as our religion and culture have been "realized", maintained and handed down to us by them; our fellow beings (manushya runa) who constitute society without the support of which we could not live as we do and other living beings (bhuta runa) for serving us selflessly. Thereafter the Lord, the life force, who is also within us as the five life-giving physiological functions, is offered the food. This is done with the following chant:

praanaaya swaahaa,
apaanaaya swaahaa,
vyaanaaya swaahaa,
udaanaaya swaahaa,
samaanaaya swaahaa,
brahmane swaahaa

After offering the food like this, it is then eaten as prasaada  the blessed food.

Why do we offer a Coconut?
In India one of the most common offerings in a temple is a coconut. It is also offered on occasions like weddings, festivals, the use of a new vehicle, bridge, house etc. It is offered in the sacrificial fire whilst performing homam. The coconut is broken and placed before the Lord. It is later distributed as prasaada.

The fiber covering of the dried coconut is removed except for a tuft on the top. The marks on the coconut make it look like the head of a human being. The coconut is broken, symbolizing the breaking of the ego. The juice within, representing the inner tendencies (vaasanas) is offered along with the white kernel - the mind, to the Lord.

A mind thus purified by the touch of the Lord is used as prasaada (a holy gift). In the traditional abhishekha ritual done in all temples and many homes, several materials are poured over the deity like milk, curd, honey, tender coconut water, sandal paste, holy ash etc. Each material has a specific significance of bestowing certain benefits on worshippers. Tender coconut water is used in abhisheka rituals since it is believed to bestow spiritual growth on the seeker. The coconut also symbolizes selfless service. Every part of the coconut tree -the trunk, leaves, fruit, coir etc. is used in innumerable ways like thatches, mats, tasty dishes, oil, soap etc. The coconut tree even takes in salty water from the earth and converts it into sweet nutritive water that is especially beneficial to sick people. It is used in the preparation of many ayurvedic medicines and in other alternative medicinal systems.

The marks on the coconut are even thought to represent the three-eyed Lord Shiva and therefore it is considered to be a means to fulfill our desires.

Why do we do Aarathi (or Aarthi)?
Towards the end of every ritualistic worship (pooja or bhajan) of the Lord or to welcome an honored guest or saint, we perform the aarathi. This is always accompanied by the ringing of the bell and sometimes by singing, playing of musical instruments and clapping. It is one of the sixteen steps (shodasha upachaara) of the pooja ritual. It is referred to as the lighted lamp in the right hand, which we wave in a clockwise circling movement to light the entire form of the Lord. Each part is revealed individually and also the entire form of the Lord. As the light is waved we either do mental or loud chanting of prayers or simply behold the beautiful form of the Lord, illumined by the lamp. At the end of the aarathi we place our hands over the flame and then gently touch our eyes and the top of the head.

Having worshipped the Lord of love - performing abhisheka, decorating the image and offering fruits and delicacies, we see the beauty of the Lord in all His glory. Our minds are focused on each limb of the Lord as it is lit up by the lamp. It is akin to silent open-eyed meditation on His beauty. The singing, clapping, ringing of the bell etc. denote the joy and auspiciousness which accompany the vision of the Lord.

Aarathi is often performed with camphor. This holds a telling spiritual significance. Camphor, when lit, burns itself out completely without leaving a trace of it. It represents our inherent tendencies (vaasanas). When lit by the fire of knowledge which illuminates the Lord (Truth), our vaasanas thereafter burn themselves out completely, not leaving a trace of ego which creates in us a sense of individuality that keeps us separate from the Lord. Also, while camphor burns to reveal the glory of Lord, it emits a pleasant perfume even while it sacrifices itself. In our spiritual progress, even as we serve the guru and society, we should willingly sacrifice ourselves and spread the "perfume" of love to all. We often wait a long while to see the illuminated Lord but when the aarathi is actually performed, our eyes close automatically as if to look within. This is to signify that each of us is a temple of the Lord.

Just as the priest reveals the form of the Lord clearly with the aarathi flame, so too the guru reveals to us the divinity within each of us with the help of the "flame" of knowledge (or the light of spiritual knowledge). At the end of the aarathi, we place our hands over the flame and then touch our eyes and the top of the head. It means May the light that illuminated the Lord light up my vision; may my vision be divine and my thoughts noble and beautiful. The philosophical meaning of aarathi extends even further. The sun, moon, stars, lightning and fire are the natural sources of light. The Lord is the source of these wondrous phenomena of the universe. It is due to Him alone that all else exists and shines. As we light up the Lord with the flame of the aarathi, we turn our attention to the very source of all light which symbolizes knowledge and life. Also the sun is the presiding deity of the intellect, the moon, that of the mind, and fire, that of speech. The Lord is the supreme consciousness that illuminates all of them. Without Him, the intellect cannot think, the mind can not feel and the tongue can not speak. The Lord is beyond the mind, intellect and speech. How can this finite equipment illuminate the Lord? Therefore, as we perform the aarathi we chant;

Na tatra suryo bhaati na chandra taarakam
Nemaa vidyuto bhaanti kutoyamagnib
Tameva bhaantam anubhaati sarvam
Tasya bhasa sarvam idam vibhaati

He is there where the sun does not shine, nor the moon, stars and lightning. Then what to talk of this small flame (in my hand), everything (in the universe) shines only after the Lord, and by His light alone we are all illuminated.

Why do we say Shanti thrice?
Shanti, meaning "peace", is a natural (default) state of being. Disturbances are created either by us or others. For example, peace already exists in a place until someone makes noise. Therefore, peace underlies all our agitations. When agitations end, peace is naturally experienced since it was already there. Where there is peace, there is happiness. Therefore, every one without exception desires peace in his/her life. However, peace within or outside seems very hard to attain because it is covered by our own agitations. A rare few manage to remain peaceful within even in the midst of external agitation and troubles. To invoke peace, we chant prayers. By chanting prayers, troubles end and peace is experienced internally, irrespective of the external disturbances. All such prayers end by chanting shanti thrice.

It is believed that trivaram satyam - that which is said thrice comes true. For emphasizing a point we repeat a thing thrice. For example, in the court of law also, one who takes the witness stands says, "I shall speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth". We chant shanti thrice to emphasize our intense desire for peace. All obstacles, problems and sorrows originate from three sources - Aadhidaivika: The unseen divine forces over which we have little or no control like earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions etc.; Aadhibhautika: The known factors around us like accidents, human contacts, pollution, crime etc.,; Aadhyaatmika:
Problems of our bodies and minds like diseases, anger, frustrations etc. We sincerely pray to the Lord that at least while we undertake special tasks or even in our daily lives, there are no problems or that, problems are minimized from these three sources. May peace alone prevail! Hence shanti is chanted thrice. It is chanted aloud the first time, addressing the unseen forces. It is chanted softer the second time, directed to our immediate surroundings and those around, and softest the last time as it is addressed to oneself.

Vedic Astrology

What is Vedic Astrology?
Vedic Astrology, called Jyotish Shastra, the "Science of Light" has flourished in India for several thousand years. As one of the true ancient systems of astrology, Vedic or Hindu astrology is renowned for its spiritual depth and accuracy in predicting future events. Based on the sidereal zodiac, it reflects an astrologer's perception of the placement of the planets in the constellations. Through its practical application in daily life, Vedic Astrology has made tremendous inroads into the Western astrological community in recent years. These predictions span different areas: Life Prediction, Health, Finance, Marriage / Relationships, Career and Business.

Astrology is the study of the relationship between the stars and planets and our lives on earth. Vedic Astrology involves the interpretation of the horoscope or birth chart and it is essentially based on the idea of cycles and patterns in life which correspond on the cycles of the planets. Through the analysis of these cycles in the past and present it is possible to interpret the possible future.

Astrology is a noble science which is as old as the ages of the Vedas. It depends on the position of the planets ascertained astronomically. It explains the celestial phenomenon and the corresponding terrestrial events. The true meaning of astrology is the "Message of Stars". By using salient principles of Astrology depending on the position of the planets ascertained astronomically one can forecast events for the benefit of all and as such it is a useful science for interpreting nature as it explains the cause and effects of events.

he astrologer's main tool is the birth chart. This is the map of heavens drawn up for the time, place and date of birth of the individual to whom it will refer. It shows the positions of all the planets in the signs of zodiac at the time of birth.

The skill of the astrologer is to interpret the birth chart, which is said to set the pattern for the growth of the person throughout their life. In other words, what will happen is described by the positions of the planets and the signs of the zodiac at birth. Astrology is based on a system of correspondences which means that each planet will correspond with different ways of behaving resulting in different personality patterns.
Karma is the sum total of one's physical, mental and spiritual efforts and in fact they manufacture destiny. Astrology is based on the relationship of cause and effects. If there is an effect, there must be a cause preceding it. If an event good or bad happens today then there must be a cause for it. Certain karmas produce immediate results wherein others fructify after a long time period and this concept of law of cause and effect takes one to the belief in birth and re-birth. Karmas done in one birth must manifest some time in a later birth.  

What is Sri Maha Mrityunjaya Homa/Havan?
Mrityunjaya Homam is dedicated to Lord Shiva to avoid untimely death. The Mrityunjaya Homam is performed to achieve Jaya (victory) over Mrityu (death). The object of worship of this Homa is Lord Shiva. One of the synonyms of Lord Shiva is Mrityu Mrityu which means death of the death or the destroyer of death. During this homam one chants 21 mantras. The prominent offerings in this homam are durva grass and a herb called amrita. The former is famous for purifying blood and the latter is a medicine for incurable diseases like arbuda or cancer. Since these are used as offerings in this homam, there is no doubt that it bestows longevity to the performer .The Mrityunyaja homam is said to remove the fear of death. The hymns are devoted to Mrityu, the God of death, praying for long life. These hymns are used in the purnahuti or the final offering in the famous Soma sacrifice. This homam also alleviates Mrityu dosha or untimely death. This homam is done to get the blessings of almighty God "Shri Shankara ". By doing this homam one gets the blessing of long life with good health and overcomes any untimely dangers.