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Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.27 – Lord Krsna’s Instructions on the Process of Deity Worship


Sri Uddhava said: My dear Lord, O master of
the devotees, please explain to me the prescribed method of worshiping You in Your Deity form.
What are the qualifications of those devotees who worship the Deity, on what basis is such
worship established, and what is the specific method of worship?
All the great sages repeatedly declare that such worship brings the greatest benefit possible
in human life. This is the opinion of Narada Muni, the great Vyasadeva and my own spiritual
master, Brhaspati. O most magnanimous Lord, the instructions
on this process of Deity worship first emanated from Your lotus mouth. Then they were spoken
by the great Lord Brahma to his sons, headed by Bhrgu, and by Lord Siva to his wife, Parvati.
This process is accepted by and appropriate for all the occupational and spiritual orders
of society. Therefore I consider worship of You in Your Deity form to be the most beneficial
of all spiritual practices, even for women and sudras.
O lotus-eyed one, O Supreme Lord of all lords of the universe, please explain to Your devoted
servant this means of liberation from the bondage of work.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Uddhava, there is no end to the innumerable
Vedic prescriptions for executing Deity worship; so I shall explain this topic to you briefly,
one step at a time. One should carefully worship Me by selecting
one of the three methods by which I receive sacrifice: Vedic, tantric or mixed.
Now please listen faithfully as I explain exactly how a person who has achieved twice-born
status through the relevant Vedic prescriptions should worship Me with devotion.
A twice-born person should worship Me, his worshipable Lord, without duplicity, offering
appropriate paraphernalia in loving devotion to My Deity form or to a form of Me appearing
upon the ground, in fire, in the sun, in water or within the worshiper’s own heart.
One should first purify his body by cleansing his teeth and bathing. Then one should perform
a second cleansing by smearing the body with earth and chanting both Vedic and tantric
mantras. Fixing the mind on Me, one should worship
Me by his various prescribed duties, such as chanting the Gayatri mantra at the three
junctures of the day. Such performances are enjoined by the Vedas and purify the worshiper
of reactions to fruitive activities. The Deity form of the Lord is said to appear
in eight varieties—stone, wood, metal, earth, paint, sand, the mind or jewels.
The Deity form of the Lord, who is the shelter of all living entities, can be established
in two ways: temporarily or permanently. But a permanent Deity, having been called, can
never be sent away, My dear Uddhava. The Deity that is temporarily established
can optionally be called forth and sent away, but these two rituals should always be performed
when the Deity is traced upon the ground. Bathing should be done with water except if
the Deity is made of clay, paint or wood, in which cases a thorough cleansing without
water is enjoined. One should worship Me in My Deity forms by
offering the most excellent paraphernalia. But a devotee completely freed from material
desire may worship Me with whatever he is able to obtain, and may even worship Me within
his heart with mental paraphernalia. In worshiping the temple Deity, my dear Uddhava,
bathing and decoration are the most pleasing offerings. For the Deity traced on sacred
ground, the process of tattva-vinyasa is most dear. Oblations of sesame and barley soaked
in ghee are the preferred offering to the sacrificial fire, whereas worship consisting
of upasthana and arghya is preferred for the sun. One should worship Me in the form of
water by offering water itself. Actually, whatever is offered to Me with faith by My
devotee—even if only a little water—is most dear to Me.
Even very opulent presentations do not satisfy Me if they are offered by nondevotees. But
I am pleased by any insignificant offering made by My loving devotees, and I am certainly
most pleased when nice presentations of fragrant oil, incense, flowers and palatable foods
are offered with love. After cleansing himself and collecting all
the paraphernalia, the worshiper should arrange his own seat with blades of kusa grass whose
tips point eastward. He should then sit facing either east or north, or else, if the Deity
is fixed in one place, he should sit directly facing the Deity.
The devotee should sanctify the various parts of his body by touching them and chanting
mantras. He should do the same for My Deity forms and then with his hands he should clean
the Deity of old flowers and the remnants of previous offerings. He should properly
prepare the sacred pot and the vessel containing water for sprinkling.
Then, with the water of that proksaniya vessel he should sprinkle the area where the Deity
is being worshiped, the offerings that are going to be presented, and his own body. Next
he should decorate with various auspicious substances three vessels filled with water.
The worshiper should then purify those three vessels. He should sanctify the vessel holding
water for washing the Lord’s feet by chanting hrdayaya namah, the vessel containing water
for arghya by chanting sirase svaha, and the vessel containing water for washing the Lord’s
mouth by chanting sikhayai vasat. Also, the Gayatri mantra should be chanted for all three
vessels. The worshiper should meditate upon My subtle
form—which is situated within the worshiper’s own body, now purified by air and fire—as
the source of all living entities. This form of the Lord is experienced by self-realized
sages in the last part of the vibration of the sacred syllable om.
The devotee conceives of the Supersoul, whose presence surcharges the devotee’s body,
in the form corresponding to his realization. Thus the devotee worships the Lord to his
full capacity and becomes fully absorbed in Him. By touching the various limbs of the
Deity and chanting appropriate mantras, the devotee should invite the Supersoul to join
the Deity’s form, and then the devotee should worship Me.
The worshiper should first imagine My seat as decorated with the personified deities
of religion, knowledge, renunciation and opulence and with My nine spiritual energies. He should
think of the Lord’s sitting place as an eight-petaled lotus, effulgent on account
of the saffron filaments within its whorl. Then, following the regulations of both the
Vedas and the tantras, he should offer Me water for washing the feet, water for washing
the mouth, arghya and other items of worship. By this process he achieves both material
enjoyment and liberation. One should worship, in order, the Lord’s
Sudarsana disc, His Pancajanya conchshell, His club, sword, bow, arrows and plow, His
musala weapon, His Kaustubha gem, His flower garland and the Srivatsa curl of hair on His
chest. One should worship the Lord’s associates
Nanda and Sunanda, Garuda, Pracanda and Canda, Mahabala and Bala, and Kumuda and Kumudeksana.
With offerings such as proksana one should worship Durga, Vinayaka, Vyasa, Visvaksena,
the spiritual masters and the various demigods. All these personalities should be in their
proper places facing the Deity of the Lord. The worshiper should bathe the Deity every
day, as opulently as his assets permit, using waters scented with sandalwood, usira root,
camphor, kunkuma and aguru. He should also chant various Vedic hymns, such as the anuvaka
known as Svarna-gharma, the Mahapurusa-vidya, the Purusa-sukta and various songs of the
Sama Veda, such as the Rajana and the Rohinya. My devotee should then lovingly decorate Me
with clothing, a brahmana thread, various ornaments, marks of tilaka and garlands, and
he should anoint My body with fragrant oils, all in the prescribed manner.
The worshiper should faithfully present Me with water for washing My feet and mouth,
fragrant oils, flowers and unbroken grains, along with incense, lamps and other offerings.
Within his means, the devotee should arrange to offer Me sugar candy, sweet rice, ghee,
saskuli [rice-flour cakes], apupa [various sweet cakes], modaka [steamed rice-flour dumplings
filled with sweet coconut and sugar], samyava [wheat cakes made with ghee and milk and covered
with sugar and spices], yogurt, vegetable soups and other palatable foods.
On special occasions, and daily if possible, the Deity should be massaged with ointment,
shown a mirror, offered a eucalyptus stick for brushing His teeth, bathed with the five
kinds of nectar, offered all kinds of opulent foods, and entertained with singing and dancing.
In an arena constructed according to scriptural injunctions, the devotee should perform a
fire sacrifice, utilizing the sacred belt, the sacrificial pit and the altar mound. When
igniting the sacrificial fire, the devotee should bring it to a blaze with wood piled
up by his own hands. After spreading kusa grass on the ground and
sprinkling it with water, one should perform the anvadhana ritual according to the prescribed
rules. Then one should arrange the items to be offered as oblations and should sanctify
them with water from the sprinkling vessel. The worshiper should next meditate upon Me
within the fire. The intelligent devotee should meditate upon
that form of the Lord whose color is like molten gold, whose four arms are resplendent
with the conchshell, disc, club and lotus flower, and who is always peaceful and dressed
in a garment colored like the filaments within a lotus flower. His helmet, bracelets, belt
and fine arm ornaments shine brilliantly. The symbol of Srivatsa is on His chest, along
with the glowing Kaustubha gem and a garland of forest flowers. The devotee should then
worship that Lord by taking pieces of firewood soaked in the sacrificial ghee and throwing
them into the fire. He should perform the ritual of aghara, presenting into the fire
the various items of oblation drenched in ghee. He should then offer to sixteen demigods,
beginning with Yamaraja, the oblation called svisti-krt, reciting the basic mantras of
each deity and the sixteen-line Purusa-sukta hymn. Pouring one oblation after each line
of the Purusa-sukta, he should utter the particular mantra naming each deity.
Having thus worshiped the Lord in the sacrificial fire, the devotee should offer his obeisances
to the Lord’s personal associates by bowing down and should then present offerings to
them. He should then chant quietly the mula-mantra of the Deity of the Lord, remembering the
Absolute Truth as the Supreme Personality, Narayana.
Once again he should offer the Deity water for washing His mouth, and he should give
the remnants of the Lord’s food to Visvaksena. Then he should present the Deity with fragrant
perfume for the mouth and prepared betel nut. Singing along with others, chanting loudly
and dancing, acting out My transcendental pastimes, and hearing and telling stories
about Me, the devotee should for some time absorb himself in such festivity.
The devotee should offer homage to the Lord with all kinds of hymns and prayers, both
from the Puranas and from other ancient scriptures, and also from ordinary traditions. Praying,
“O Lord, please be merciful to me! “he should fall down flat like a rod to offer
his obeisances. Placing his head at the feet of the Deity,
he should then stand with folded hands before the Lord and pray, “O my Lord, please protect
me, who am surrendered unto You. I am most fearful of this ocean of material existence,
standing as I am in the mouth of death.” Praying in this way, the devotee should respectfully
place upon his head the remnants I offer to him. And if the particular Deity is meant
to be sent away at the end of the worship, then this should be performed, the devotee
once again placing the light of the Deity’s presence inside the light of the lotus within
his own heart. Whenever one develops faith in Me—in My
form as the Deity or in other bona fide manifestations—one should worship Me in that form. I certainly
exist both within all created beings and also separately in My original form, since I am
the Supreme Soul of all. By worshiping Me through the various methods
prescribed in the Vedas and tantras, one will gain from Me his desired perfection in both
this life and the next. The devotee should more fully establish My
Deity by solidly constructing a temple, along with beautiful gardens. These gardens should
be set aside to provide flowers for the regular daily worship, special Deity processions and
holiday observances. One who offers the Deity gifts of land, markets,
cities and villages so that the regular daily worship and special festivals of the Deity
may go on continually will achieve opulence equal to My own.
By installing the Deity of the Lord one becomes king of the entire earth, by building a temple
for the Lord one becomes ruler of the three worlds, by worshiping and serving the Deity
one goes to the planet of Lord Brahma, and by performing all three of these activities
one achieves a transcendental form like My own.
But one who simply engages in devotional service with no consideration of fruitive results
attains Me. Thus whoever worships Me according to the process I have described will ultimately
attain pure devotional service unto Me. Anyone who steals the property of the demigods
or the brahmanas, whether originally given to them by himself or someone else, must live
as a worm in stool for one hundred million years.
Not only the performer of the theft but also anyone who assists him, instigates the crime,
or simply approves of it must also share the reaction in the next life. According to their
degree of participation, they each must suffer a proportionate consequence.

Otis Rodgers

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