Idol worship is an integral and simple way for Hindus to express their faith, love and devotion to God. This form of worship perhaps sowed its seeds during the Vedic age. In Ramayana, both Rama and Ravana worshipped the images and symbols of Shiva. In Mahabharata, Arjuna worshipped Shiva to obtain the mighty Pashupatastra weapon. Ekalavya worshipped the image of his guru Dronacharya. This form of worship continued to grow during the Mauryan period and gained further popularity in the Post Mauryan period when idols and temples began surfacing in various parts of India.
Meaning of Prana Pratistha. In the contemporary world, idols and concrete images continue as extremely useful forms for devotees to express their devoutness and connect to God at the spiritual and emotional realm. However, an idol by itself is believed to be a mere piece of art depicting a form of God. The idol is believed to transform into a figure of Godliness only after it successfully undergoes the process of “Prana Pratishta”.
“Prana” means “universal life force”. “Pratiṣṭha”, used in connection with an idol or “murti” means "the consecration of an idol or image". Thus “Prana Pratistha” refers to infusing life force into an idol. This process is accomplished by performing a sanctified ceremony in accordance with prescribed religious procedures. Intrinsically, it involves seeking the Almighty’s permission and blessings so that the idol has a piece of HIS spiritual energy or “amsha” in it. Once prana prathista is completed, the idol is transformed to an embodiment of a living GOD. Thus, the 330 million deities that make up the Hindu pantheon of Gods symbolize this very idea: that the Divine Energy lies hidden in every form of matter, awaiting only the touch of ethereal awakening. This process of rarefied awakening is known in Sanskrit as “Praana Pratishtha”, literally meaning, the establishing of life-breath.
The Process. For the consecration of the deity in the temple, a specific number of priests are invited to perform the rituals. The qualified Hindu priest meticulously executes the “Prana Pratishtha” process, by invoking the deific energy through sacred chants, puranic-based rituals and scripturally enriched rites, thereby inviting the Divine power to enter into the idol – a direct infusion of cosmic life-energy into mere matter.
The manifold process typically involves chanting of Sanskrit mantras as the idol is moved from the outside into the center hall of the temple, inviting the idol as the resident of the temple. Subsequently, the idol is bathed, cleansed, adorned and seated on the temple dais by the priests. This is followed by Nyasa (“placing and touching of the idol”) with hymns and spraying of scented water and flowers, on the idol. It ultimately culminates with the Chaksu͡ Unmilan (“opening of the divine eye”) ceremony, thus marking the pivotal point of the ritual. The idol is then considered as consecrated. These deeply mystical rituals are generally accomplished in a span of three to five days with fulfillment of several religious customs as typically prescribed in “Agama Sastra”.
Per the Vedic scriptures, the main components that are encompassed in this process can be broadly summarized as entailing:
- Mantra- sound, syllable or group of words that creates a spiritual transformation.
- Yantra- placing symbols and instruments before the deity and directing energies.
- Tantra- using a network of synergized energies in the form of Mantra and Yantra.
- Bhakti – engaging devotees’ inherent devotion to align the acquired spiritual energies into the Deity.
“Jivamandira”, meaning living temple of the Divinity.
Science Behind Prana Pratistha. After completion of the prana-prathistha process, the deities in temples become a bundle of spiritual energy and are exposed for public veneration. The consecrated idol is looked upon as a “live” Supreme Being and not as a mere statue. The priest who consecrated the deity becomes the guardian of the Murthi. The Deity is ritually worshiped with numerous norms and practices including symbolically being retired at sunset just like a guest retiring to bed, and then woken up at sunrise with pleasantries, washing, offering of fresh clothes, food and interaction with the devotees. Over a period of time, faith and surrender with which collective crowd of devotees visit the temple, makes the idol infused with celestial energy.
A pertinent question, however, that often summons the human mind is: “How can a mantra evoke the Divine energy into an idol?” Simplistically penned, we can say that when the priest invokes the Almighty in one of his forms and solicits Him to become present in the “murthi”; he ritualistically attunes himself on the exact energy wavelength of the Divinity, receives the Supreme vibrations and infuses them in the idol.
This process can also be scientifically understood by taking into consideration one of Einstein’s key contributions: the equation that underpins the fact that the fundamental element of the Universe is energy: E=mc2. Quoting Einstein’s words: ‘Concerning matter, we have been all wrong. What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.’ Even the solid rock is a form of pulsating energy and has as much energy as the roaring ocean. The waves that are arising in the solid rock cannot be seen because they are very subtle, but the rock is waving, pulsating, breathing; it is alive’.
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