In Bhakti-Marga (the path of Devotion), a number of rituals are adopted by the devotee to remember and worship God or the deity (personal god) of choice. An important ritual or medium of worship is to offer prayer in the form of devotional songs describing godly attributes, singing praise, and invoke the deity's grace and benediction. Such devotional songs are called Bhajans. Often Bhajans are sung collectively and with accompaniment of music, with repetitive rendering of lines.

Vocal repetition of Mantras is helpful towards mental concentration and Bhajanas can be regarded to have a similar effect. A variation of Bhajan is called Kirtan, where just one or two lines are repeated indefinitely over a period of time. Bhajan-Kirtan can be heard in temples and homes in the course of doing puja (worship) of deities. Often these Bhajans are popular songs and poems composed by celebrated saints and devotees, such as Tulsidasa, Suradasa, Meerabai, Tukarama, and Kabira.



This is a Sanskrit term meaning AGod=s mercy.@ This is often in reference to sacred food after it has been offered to the Deity in the temple, or when food is handed out by the pure or great saintly devotee or holy person. Such sacred food, which is considered to become spiritually surcharged, is honored by carefully accepting it when received.





The traditional Vedic/Hindu greeting is 'Namaskara' or 'Namaste', which is said along with joining the two palms in front and bowing the head. This greeting acknowledges the presence of divinity in all human beings. The person saying Namaskaara implies, ?with all my physical strength (represented by both folded hands) and my intellect (represented by bowed head), I pay respect to the Atma (soul) within you?.



In Vedic tradition, Tilak is a mark of red powder or sandalwood paste that is applied on the forehead of a person mostly before prayers. In the Vaishnava tradition, the sandalwood paste or gopichand clay is applied over the forehead showing a ?V? mark extending from the bridge of the nose to the hairline. This represents the name of Vishnu and that the body is a temple, the original temple of God. In some cases there are three vertical lines, a center line within the ?V?. This is often done by devotees of Lord Rama. When three vertical lines are shown, this can represent the tripurti (threesome) nature of God, namely, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesha, which represents creation, preservation and destruction, respectively.

In the Shiva tradition, the lines marked with ash in a horizontal way. The forehead is considered a seat of memory and the 'spiritual eye or the third eye'. The applying of tilak thus symbolizes the retention of the memory of God.

This tilak also has other functions: It is a mark of respect to the higher centers in the brain where thoughts are generated and it has a psychological effect of keeping away evil thoughts. Sandalwood is used as it has cooling properties and a very pleasant aroma. This signifies that one's head should remain calm and should generate pleasant thoughts. Tilak is also the reminder of vows. The most popular is the red teeka (Bindee) and Sindoora worn by married Hindu women to symbolize their marriage and the wedding vows. The Sindoora (vermillion) is applied on the married woman's head where hair is parted, making a red line from the forehead going back. This also symbolizes that the woman is happily married. Tilak is also applied at the forehead for good luck or good wishes at occasions like loved ones going away from home for extended period of time.

According to Hindu religious texts, applying tilak or tika is necessary at all religious ceremonies, without which no Hindu ceremony is complete. From birth till death tilak is a part of life. All gods, goddesses, yogis, saints, sages and mahatmas apply tilak on their forehead. Some householders also apply tilak daily, although generally it is customary to apply tilak at the beginning of the religious ceremony.

According to tradition, applying tilak is a symbol of honor being extended to the person. Guests are welcomed or seen off with tilak. Even when householders leave on long travel or pilgrimage, they are seen off with a tilak and good wishes.

In the Brahma Vaivarta Purana  (Brahma Parva, 26) it is said: If tilak is not adorned on the forehead at the time of a holy bath, yajna, prayer or religious ceremony, the effort bears no fruit. The Brahmin priest must have a tilak when performing prayers, tarpan and other ceremonies.

The Skanda Purana also explains with what fingers tilak must be applied for best results: When tilak is applied with the ring finger it brings peace, with the middle finger it prolongs age, with the thumb it promotes health, and with the forefinger one attains salvation.

Devotees of Vishnu use a tilak of two thin upward lines, devotees of Shakti (Shakti and Shiva) use two dots, and devotees of Shiva use three horizontal lines. Some religious texts suggest that those using a tilak of three horizontal lines during shraddha, yajna ceremonies, meditation, or prayers overcome death.

The tilak, tika or bindiya (for women) is applied in the centre of the forehead because the entire body is controlled from this point. Maharishi Yagyavalka said that this position is appropriate because Shiva's third eye is located here. After the application of tilak pure thoughts are said to emerge.



One should always wear conservative clothes that keep the body comfortable but covered as well. In the West, clothes styles are often quite free and relaxed, but if it is too revealing it can be taken as disrespectful or even offensive to the deities or even the people who are there. So one should always try to dress in a most suitable and modest manner.



A sari is the style of outfit that is worn by many women from India. It can be a beautiful and colorful cloth that wraps around and covers the body completely. But it can be most beautiful as well. It may take a person a little practice putting it on after being shown how to wear one.



This is for men, which is a single piece of cloth that is wrapped around the legs, tied and pleated at the waist that becomes a loose and comfortable piece of apparel, especially for the hot climate of South Asia. It is a traditional type of clothing that is still regularly worn in India.



In some yoga groups or ashramas many people wear white clothes. This is because it is a symbol for cleanliness, purity and peace. It is not a color that will agitate the mind. It is also a simple reminder of one=s spiritual goal.



Saffron is often worn by those who have become spiritually advanced and materially renounced. Saffron is the sign of renunciation from many of the common comforts of the world. It represents a determined focus on one=s spiritual goal of life. The color also gives peace and tranquility to the mind, which helps one on their spiritual journey and development. 

            The flags on Hindu temples, as well as the robes worn by our religious preachers, mostly Swamis and Sannyasis (religious and spiritually advanced individuals), are of saffron (orange) color. The persons wearing the saffron robes are those who have renounced married life. The color denotes the sun's light giving glow. The sun has a very prominent place in the Vedic literature as the source of energy that sustains life on earth. It acts as a reminder of the power of God, the act of selfless service and renunciation.



Why do we see some priests and monks have a shaved head with a tuft of hair in the back? First of all, this tuft of hair is called a shikha. When long enough, it tied in a knot at the crown-point (right above the suture) on the central top of the head. This point is given distinctive importance in the science of yoga and spirituality as the point of contact with the brain-centre of intellectual and emotional sensitivity. It also indicates the body as a temple.

The Shikha symbolizes the presence of discerning intellect, farsightedness, and the deity of knowledge upon our head. It is a flag of human culture. It reminds us of the religious principles of morality, righteousness, responsibility, and dutiful awareness.

This body is the fort of the individual self upon which the flag of the shikha is hoisted as the mark of the dignified values and virtues of humanity. The foreign invaders, the crusaders against the Vedic (Indian) culture had attempted to eliminate the roots of this divine culture by first cutting the shikha and removing the sutra (sacred thread) from the bodies of the followers of the Vedic religion. Thousands of innocent heads were cut off just for protesting against this attack. It was for protecting the glory of these universal emblems of human religion that Maharana Pratap, Vir Shivaji, Guru Govind Sigh, and other great martyrs of India had dedicated their noble lives. Today, we have forgotten their sacrifices and done what even the foreign invaders of the medieval times could not do.

The commencement of wearing of the sutra and tightening of the sikha at the time of initiation (diksha) into Gayatri sadhana is referred in the shastras as dwijatva - the second birth, and the one who wears the sacred thread (sutra) and keeps the shikha is called a dwija, or twice-born as a brahmana. That means that regardless of whatever family line one has been born into, he has now attained his second birth as a brahmana.

            The shikha also represents the sirsa (top) of the Gayatri Mantra. It reminds the devotee of the subtle presence of the pure divine intelligence in the human mind. Tightening the hair knot right above the suture induces marvelous psychological benefits. It helps in harmonious blood circulation in the brain in normal conditions and augments alertness. As described in the yoga-scriptures, it also lends support in increasing mental concentration and meditation. In terms of its sublime spiritual effects, the shikha works like an antenna in the outer domain of the sahasrara chakra (topmost extrasensory centre) to link the individual consciousness with the cosmic consciousness in the elevated state of Gayatri sadhana.



The sutra is the name for the sacred thread, also called yagyopavit, which is worn on the shoulder, usually hanging over the left shoulder and down across the chest around the right hip. This is given to an individual after the sacrament or initiation of upnayana or thread-ceremony.

The moral and social duties of human life are worn on our shoulders and kept attached to our hearts in symbolic form as the sacred thread of yagyopavita (Sutra). It also hangs on our back. It has tied us from all sides, as a reminder of the moral disciplines and ethical duties as human beings.

In different sampradayas or schools of thought, spiritual lineages, the yagyopavit (sutra) will have different numbers of threads, such as six threads and two knots, each joining three threads together, or nine threads and three knots. The knots are symbols of the three granthis (extrasensory roots of ultimate realizations) - the Brahma-granthi, the Vishnu-granthi, and the Shiva-granthi; these also represent the three segments of the Gayatri Mantra that encode the sublime streams of manifestation of the omnipresent eternal sound of " Om". The nine threads symbolize the nine planets and the nine divine-powers (manifestations of shakti, called the nav-durgas) implied in the nine words (after the sirsa) of the Gayatri Mantra. The yagyopavit is like an image of the deity Gayatri. You enshrine the deity in the temple of your body by wearing it.

Wearing this sacred sutra on the shoulders, keeping it near the chest, should remind you of the nine duties, nine virtues, nine principles that are taught and inspired through the nine words of the Gayatri Mantra, which are industriousness, humility, austerity, orderliness, cooperation, wisdom, integrity of character, sense of responsibility and courage.

These nine qualities open the door to a bright, happy and successful life. Inculcation of these qualities induces eminent transformation of personality. These are also the most desired virtues for social and global welfare and progress. The first five of these deal with behavior and deeds. Industriousness means constructive utilization of time and potentials with diligence and enthusiasm for the work in hand. Humility implies modesty, etiquette, and balanced and humble behavior with due respect for the self as well as for others. Austerity includes piety of mind and body. It also means adopting the principle of "simple living & high thinking" in daily life. You must note that foresighted, constructive and altruist use of the resources becomes possible by observing austerity in personal life.



The Bhagwa Dhwaja (Saffron Flag) is the symbol of Sanatana Dharma or Hindu culture from times immemorial. The word 'Bhagwa' connotes that it comes from 'Bhagavan' meaning God. It stands for wealth, dharma, advancement, glory, knowledge, and detachment. The combination of these six is 'Bhagwa'. The flag also embodies the glorious orange hue of the rising sun that dispels darkness and sheds light all around.

The saffron (orange) color of the flag is the color of the fire and its flames. The fire is the great purifier and all sacrifices are offered to the fire. It stands for the principle of sacrifice. The color of the flag is the same as the color at sunrise and sunset. When the day dawns the sun rises and reminds everyone to shake off ones lethargy and do one's duty. The sun burns throughout the day giving life to one and all and without demanding anything in return. The time of sunset teaches us to give everything for the society without any expectation.

The shape of the Dhwaja consists of two triangles, the upper triangle being shorter than the lower one. The triangles represent the rising flames of burning fire. The flames rise in the upward direction, only-those rising from the bottom being the longest. They teach us to rise above and become better always.

The Bhagwa flag has existed and guided the Vedic society right from its origin. It has inspired and has been honored by the Vedic Saints and heroes. In ancient times, the warriors used to put on saffron robes and go to the battlefield. If they are victorious, they will rule and if vanquished, they might die on the battlefield and thus go to heaven--such was the motivating force for the heroes.

The people in he ancient times worshipped the Sun because it was the source of energy, light and heat without which life can't exist. The Bhagwa flag inspires us to live the life full of sublime virtues based on sacrifice, renunciation and service. 



When entering a temple, coming before the Deity, or when seeing a great saint or devotee, many people will bow and touch their heads to the floor. This is called offering obeisances. Humility is an important quality in spiritual life, and bowing down in such a way is an outward expression of the desire to go beyond the ego. Lowering the head to the floor represents the surrender of self-importance and pride.

Sometimes you will also see a person stretch the whole body out on the floor. In Sanskrit this is called dandavat, falling like a danda or rod. This is considered the most humble way of showing respect for another.


 Stephen Knapp


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