22. Why do we do aarati?

Towards the end of every ritualistic worship (pooja or bhajan) of the Lord or to
welcome an honored guest or saint, we perform the aarati. 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 aarati we place our
hands over the flame and then gently touch our eyes and the top of the head.
We have seen and participated in this ritual from our childhood. Let us find out
why we do the aarati?

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 the lamp lights it up. 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 accompanies the vision of the Lord.
Aarati 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 illumines
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 all we have, to spread the "perfume"
of love to all. We often wait a long while to see the illumined Lord but when the aarati 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.

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Just as the priest reveals the form of the Lord clearly with the aarati 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 aarati, 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 aarati extends further. The sun, moon, stars,
lightning and fire are the natural sources of light. The Lord is the source of this
wonderous phenomenon of the universe. It is due to Him alone that all else exist and
shine. As we light up the Lord with the flame of the aarati, 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, nor can the mind feel nor the tongue speaks. The
Lord is beyond the mind, intellect and speech. How can this finite equipment illuminate
the Lord? Therefore, as we perform the aarati 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 are we all illumined.




THE END- OM THATH SATH