FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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 light at dawn, in some, twice a day - at dawn and dusk - and in a few it is maintained continuously (akhanda deepa). All auspicious functions and moments like daily worship, rituals and festivals and even many social occasions like inaugurations commence with the lighting of the lamp, which is often maintained right through the occasion.

Light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness ignorance. The Lord is the "Knowledge Principle" (chaitanya) who is the source, the enlivener and the illuminator of all knowledge. Hence light is worshipped as the Lord Himself.

Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness. Also knowledge is a lasting inner wealth by which all outer achievement can be accomplished. Hence we light the lamp to bow down to knowledge as the greatest of all forms of wealth. Knowledge backs all our actions whether good or bad. We therefore keep a lamp lit during all auspicious occasions as a witness to our thoughts and actions.

Why not light a bulb or tube light? 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, 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 as to take us towards higher ideals.

A single lamp can light hundreds more just as a man of knowledge can give it to many more. The brilliance of the light does not diminish despite its repeated use to light many more lamps. So too knowledge does not lessen when shared with or imparted to others. On the contrary it increases in clarity and conviction on giving. It benefits both the receiver and the giver.

Why do we prostrate before parents and elders?

Indians prostrate to their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls by touching their feet. The elder in turn blesses us by placing his or her hand on or over our heads. Prostration is done daily, when we meet elders and particularly on important occasions like the beginning of a new task, birthdays, festivals, etc. In certain traditional circles, prostration is accompanied by abhivaadana which serves to introduce oneself, announce one's family and social stature.

Why do we regard trees and plants as sacred?

From ancient times, Indians have worshipped plants and trees and regarded all flora and fauna as sacred. This is not an old fashioned or uncivilised practice. It reveals the sensitivity, foresight and refinement of Indian culture. While modern man often works to "conquer" Mother Nature, ancient Indians "worshipped" her.

The Lord, the life in us, pervades all living beings, be hey plants or animals. Hence, they are all regarded as sacred. Human life on earth depends on plants and trees. They give us the vital factors that makes life possible on earth: food, oxygen, clothing, shelter, medicines, etc. They lend beauty to our surroundings. They serve man without expectation and sacrifice themselves to sustain us. They epitomise sacrifice. If a stone is thrown on a fruit-laden tree, the tree in turn gives fruit!

Why do we blow the conch?

In temples or at homes, the conch is blown once or several times before ritualistic worship (pooja). It is sometimes blown whilst doing aarati or to mark an auspicious occasion. It is blown before a battle starts or to announce the victory of an army. It is also placed in the altar and worshipped.

When the conch is blown, the primordial sound on Om emanates. Om is an auspicious sound that was chanted by the Lord before creating the world. It represents the world and the Truth behind it.