Lamps, the oil or ghee we pour in it, the wick we use, the bell, the conch,the idols or pictures, flowers, incense sticks- and many such items are not the essence or core of our worship ; those are only aids, tools or instruments to provide an ideal ambiance. So are the temples and the idols in them too.These are only symbols and not the substance . Our ancestors have suggested certain guidelines depending on various factors, such as the place, time and nature of worship, availability of the materials etc and those guidelines are flexible depending on the circumstances. For example, while in India, I conduct homams using sacks-full of cow dung cakes and wooden chips and samiths, and liters of ghee, the flame raising high and smoke spreading all over the house and outside. But when I am in my children’s houses in America or in other foreign lands, if I insist for such an arrangement, they will buy a ticket for my return trip, by the next available flight. So,I go with the vaadhyar and appreciate the way he develops the sacred fire in a small copper vessel , using coconut halves, camphor and smoke free cakes .
When we pray, we are eager to take our soul close to the God, to achieve absolute peace and happiness. Surroundings play an important role in this. Early morning, after a bath in the Kalpathy river facing the Viswanathaswamy kovil or in the Perinkulam or Pallavur ponds facing the raising sun, when I collect a clubbed-palm-full of water and offer arkyam to the visible divinity in the sky, my soul almost reaches that Heavenly bliss. The pleasure and satisfaction is beyond words. That expands manifold when I perform the same worship on the banks of the River Ganges. Despite tuning my mind to adjust to the circumstances, sometime, I do not get the same satisfaction when I perform my morning worship, in Baltimore or Florida, standing on the deck or garden surrounded by oaks or palm trees, facing at the sun and sometime facing the blank sky when sun is not available .Ideally, I should not feel the difference because the aim is the same. The same Sun God is in front of me high in the sky. But, I have not achieved that state of mind and maturity yet.
In my children’s houses, vegetable oil used for cooking is used for the lamps too. While sitting before them for my evening prayers, I used to imagine that I had before me a brilliantly polished, conventional brass lamps or kutthuvilakku, ignited with the help of cows-ghee or sesame oil, five set of wicks shining all around the lamp. Now I am used to the small silver lamp, with edible oil in it.
Aids or tools, surroundings or ambiance do play an important role in worship as in many other activities but over- emphasizing their importance is unnecessary.. I adore the intentionally ill-lit inner sanctum of the Anathapadmanabha ; some mystic power remains unrevealed in that garbgraham, inner sanctum.I do not derive the same feeling from the well lit abode of Sree Ranganathar. The powerful tube lights reveal too much. But that does not mean that one deity is superior to the other.
It is like saying that food served on the plantain leaf is tastier than the same food served in a plate, though the moment I enter a marriage hall, the first thing I normally do is enter the kitchen and look for plantain leaves stacked in a corner !
When your prayers are soaked in bakthi, it is immaterial whether you use gingerly oil or vegetable oil . Any oil will ignite it. The Shridi saint ignited lamps with water, they say.
Sept 27, 2011
This was in response to a query about the oil to be used in lamps lit during worship.
Oct 10, 2011
‘gingelly oil’ when you write ‘gingerly’ oil.