(Originally published on May 12, 2010)

GOD is formless (nirguna) but is given forms (saguna) for the sake of our convenience. Each Deity represents a typical form of the One and Only GOD. There are specific characteristics or attributes (visesha gunas) personified in each Deity.

In other words, a Deity is the personification of certain specific characteristics of GOD. The human form attributed to GOD helps one visualize and meditate upon easily, aiding in his/her quest for Self Realization. Deities aid the devotee attain Self Realization through intense devotion or Bhakti Yoga (leading to Jnana Yoga).

Having given the Deity’s form, the process of prana pratishta (implanting life or spiritual vibration by a divine and self-realized person) through specific rituals brings the Deity to Life. Once brought to life, a Deity would need regular rituals meant for that Deity to maintain as well as enhance the spiritual vibrations (also called the chaitanya, spiritual energy or vibrancy) initiated there upon.

Temple Rituals

Rituals can be broadly classified as Nithya (daily) and Naimithika (on special occasions).

While daily (nithya) rituals help maintain and enhance the Deity’s chaitanya and spectrum of presence, rituals on special occasions (naimithika) are booster doses to achieve the same purpose as well as to negate the ill-effects, if any, accumulated through occasional and intentional or unintentional flaws in daily rituals. Naimithika rituals can be very powerful due to their auspicious timing (muhurta). The significance of muhurta is detailed in scriptures related to Vedic Astrology (Muhurta Padavi, Muhurta Sara Sangraham, Kaala Vidhanam, Krishneeyam and Madhaveeyam are some of the prominent scriptures).

The Aagama Sastra (originating philosophy or set of principles) of each Deity has laid down rules for rituals which will compliment those specific attributes of the Deity. Rituals must be performed to a Deity as per the Deity’s Aagama Sastra.

Aagama Sastras mostly share a common structure or framework. What usually vary are the mantras, stothras and specific procedures for each Deity. Aagama Sastras go hand in hand with the Dharma Sastras (Rules of Discipline) applicable to places of worship and rituals.

Daily (nithya) Rituals

These must be performed every day. These are done during the three Sandhyas – Sunrise, Noon and Sunset. “samyak dyayethi sandhyaa” – translates to “the time ideally suited for meditation” as well as daily rituals. There are three sandhyas – Sunrise (pratah), Noon (madhyahnah) and Sunset (sayahnah).

Given the human form, each Deity must be given a bath during Sunrise, everyday. A simple abhishekam (holy bath) with water and mantras is mandatory during or within 48 minutes (2 nadis) of Sunrise. If not done, this is the biggest violation one can do to a Deity. Following the holy bath, the Deity must be worn a set of new (washed) clothes. Archana and Nivedyam (food) then follow. The main Nivedyam is to be offered during noon. In the evening, abhishekam can be done but this is optional. Archana, chanting of veda mantra and sthothra should be followed by Nivedyam and Deeparadhana (aarathi).

Typical Temple Hours

These timings are the minimum mandatory requirements for temples in USA and other Western countries:

  • Open the Temple at 6:00 am (or just before Sunrise).
  • Close at 11:30 am (or by noon)
  • Open again at 6:00 pm (or just before Sunset)
  • Close at 8:00 pm.
  • It is worth mentioning here that temples in India, especially in Kerala, open between 3:00 am and 4:00 am (braahma muhurta), close at 11:30 am or 12:00 noon, open again at 4:30 pm and close at 8:00 pm.

Special (naimithika) Rituals

These rituals are performed on specific occasions based on specific muhurta, as applicable to the Deity. These include weekly, monthly and annual rituals.

The following are a few common examples of auspicious days to perform Naimithika rituals:

Lord Ganesa: Fridays, Chathurthi (4th day after Full Moon)
Lord Subrahmanya: Tuesdays, Sukla Shashti (6th day after New Moon)
Lord Ayyappa: Saturdays
Lord Vishnu: Wednesdays / Saturdays, Sukla Ekadasi (11th day after New Moon)
Lord Siva: Mondays, Pradosham (thrayodasi, 13th day after Full Moon as well as New Moon)
Goddess Mahalakshmi or Lalitha: Fridays, Pournami (Full Moon day)
The above are a mere indication of auspicious days in general. Muhurta scriptures detail various muhurtas suitable for Deities throughout the year.

Naimithika rituals can equally cause a greater negative impact if conducted out of their muhurta; this is the practice in most of the modern temples today, for such rituals are postponed to holidays or weekends for people’s convenience. This practice not only makes a mockery of the Deity’s Aagama Sastra but also causes a negative impact on the Deity’s Chaitanya. The repercussions will be cast on members of the temple management and the devotees.

Naimithika rituals performed for specific purposes for a person or family should be based on a muhurta that compliments that person’s horoscope as well as current planetary influence on him/her.

10 Essential Requisites

  1. Open the temple just before Sunrise as well as before Sunset. Do not change timings to suit personal / management preferences and convenience. Doing so is a great insult to our Vedic system of Sanatana Dharma.
  2. Perform a simple abhishekam with water (holy bath) to each Deity in the morning, every day, followed by adorning the Deity with a new (washed) cloth (vastram).
  3. Offer Nivedyam made with rice (annam) at least in the noon. Do not offer nivedyam already offered to one Deity to other Deities. Though it can be cooked in a single pot, the nivedyam must be offered in separate pots to each deity.
  4. Perform the ritual to each Deity as per the Deity’s Aagama Sastra.
  5. Carefully choose the Priest(s) who has the knowledge, devotion, dedication, discipline and divinity. His knowledge should span across the Aagama Sastras, various rituals meant for each Deity in the temple, fundamentals of Vedic Astrology (muhurta), the Dharma Sastras and Sanskrit.
  6. In a temple built on the smarta dharma devised by Adi Sankara (where there is no discrimination among Saiva, Vaishnava and Saktheya Deities), do not appoint a priest who is not educated nor qualified to practise the smarta dharma. Priests who draw lines between Deities are dangerous and extremely harmful to Vedic principles.
  7. Let rituals not become “mere rituals for the sake of it”. Ensure that they are carried out with utmost devotion and punctuality.
  8. Let no effort be made to please the devotees to change or modify a ritual from the stipulated Vedic standards just because they are sponsoring the ritual.
  9. While chanting mantras either individually or in groups, do not make it like a car race. Each mantra has its own pace and rhythm; if you cannot obey them, please do not chant. Respect what you chant; it you’re in a hurry, just do not do it.
  10. Enforce strict discipline among devotees to maintain utmost silence when the ritual is in progress.