Ceremony is held in the Sha'can tradition and lead by Rashani (ordained clergy) with help from community. Our puja infuses methods and practices from East and West in order to create a sacred space for worship, deepening, and opening on the path of the bhakta, or devotee of the Divine. An R.S.V.P. is requested if you would like to participate.
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One of the questions people often ask when they are exploring or encountering SHARANYA for the first time is, “Why can’t I wear black to puja?”. For some it…
Devi, as She is called in Sanskrit, is the supreme Goddess of Indian Hindu tradition. She is multifaceted and universal in appeal; however, understanding Devi, particularly from a western…
Tonight’s puja was such a powerful reminder to me of why I become involved in SHARANYA, why I walked through the threshold of initiation, and why I am so passionate about the work we do in the world in Her name. The devotion, the mantras, the songs, the ceremonies allow us to see Her, touch Her, and experience Her within our own hearts. She is a part of us. We are a part of Her. The entire Universe, the cycles of Nature, and the yearning of our soul is Her wondrous dance, loving weaving all things into being.
This past Sunday’s ritual was pure delight. I am so grateful for this community. I am delighted and excited by the ritual I was part of…the power, the energy and the openness of everyone there was just the juice I needed to energize my soul. I look forward to circling with you all again in the future!
We first invoke Agni, Lord of the sacrificial fire, the dancing flame of all beings. Agni helps open a channel for us to commune with the Divine. Agni is also one of the most ancient deities of the Vedic tradition, honored with the first nine verses of the Rig Veda, the oldest religious text still used today. Our ceremony continues to open to the Divine by next calling Ganesha, the elephant-headed Lord of Obstacles who opens our minds and hearts to touch the Great Mystery. Through His worship, we are resolved of all that hinders our path and keeps us from fully experiencing the Divine.
Moving into deeper awareness of God and Self, we invoke Lord Shiva, the destroyer of life, sensuous yogi, Father of the Three Worlds, and Cosmic Consciousness alive in all things. His is the dance that turns the cycles of the seasons, the stars in orbit, and the ebb and flow the Universe. We welcome Him with our voices, chanting sacred verses that have lived in the hearts of humanity for thousands of years. Together we offer flowers and praise Shiva, singing "Shiva Shambo Mahadeva Shambo", honoring Shiva as the Great God and the bringer of peace. Opening to His love and compassion, we see the beauty and divinity of the world.
Fully in the flow of Divine awareness, we then call forth Maa Kali to join our circle. With deep yearning in our beingness, we welcome Goddess with mantras that have been sung to Her for millennia. We bow to Her divine presence and perform aarti, offering incense, water, food, fan, and light before Her living image. Maa can be felt through her sacred image on the altar, and you are invited to take darshan with her. Darshan comes from the Sanskrit verb meaning "to see" and one can think of this practice as both seeing and being seen by the Divine. It also refers to sitting in the presence of the Divine and connecting by staring into the eyes of Kali Maa in the central image, the one that has been enlivened through prana shakti or life force energy. This practice will encourage peacefulness, insight, blessings and perhaps visions to come to you.
Together we then sing "Jai Maa", Victory to the Mother, as we open fully and allow Her to touch our hearts. We breathe Her in, reaching ecstatic states through which we can more deeply experience Her beauty and grace. With the use of sacred substances and tools, we further deepen our awareness and allow Her messages to come forth.
Through puja (worship) offered to Maa Kali, we allow Goddess to heal us and renew our souls. When we set time aside, as a community or alone, to perform puja to the Divine Mother, we connect to the original whim of God to know Herself. As we attune to the elemental powers and offer devotion to the gods, we transform ourselves and give birth to new worlds of being. Puja becomes part of the cosmic creation, allowing us to journey beyond time space reality and aid in the continuation of life on this planet. It grants us the ability to move from individual heart space into places of unlimited possibility. We awaken to Goddess in every facet of our being and transform our reality, coming to see Maa Kali as the Holy Mother in whom we live, move, and have our selves made whole.
- As you are entering the sacred space of our mandir (temple), touch the ground with your right hand, and then touch your forehead. This is a symbolic gesture of humility. Taking the dust from the feet of Maa, our Divine Mother, to our brow, we contemplate and bring mindfulness to the surrender of our egos and the openness of our hearts to Her. Then join your hands together in prayer position at your heart and gently bow toward the altar as a sign of respect.
- Do not turn your back to the altar; please back away for a few paces and then turn.
- Do not to block the altar from other people's view, and allow others to join you as you prostrate before Her.
- Please do not face the bottoms of your feet toward the altar as this is disrespectful. Do cover your feet with a shawl if you are able to do so in order to sit more comfortably (you may wish to bring your own and the temple has some on hand for community).
- As you move in the space, always try to go in a clockwise direction. This helps draw on the power of natural cycles and brings us into greater alignment with the mirroring of our individual selves and the turning of the universe.
- You are invited to wear red. Please abstain from wearing black during puja.
- Be mindful.
When entering sacred space, our sanctuary, or a dedicated temple, it is customary to touch the floor with one's right hand and then touch one's forehead. This is an act signifying one's intention to surrender to the divine (our deepest awareness of the divine will and our highest self) for the duration of the time one spends along with the deity being worshiped within the physical space occupied for worship. With this motion we are taking the dust from the floor in God/dess' home and putting it to our head to ritualize our deeper understanding of and work toward ego surrender. We allow this intention to be witnessed and acknowledged in community.
All who enter then pranam, paying respect to the lineage of teachers and the presiding teacher to honor the kaula, or spiritual family, of the temple and tradition.
What is darshan? Are there certain or more appropriate ways to approach Maa when receiving darshan?
'Darshan' comes from the Sanskrit verb meaning, 'to see.' Darshan literally means to 'see' the divine; it is a term used to express the act of physically looking into the eyes of the image or statue into which the presence of the divine has been invoked and activated during ritual. By so doing, the worshiper is brought more closely into connection with the divine presence, allowing our soul--the spark of the divine within us--to recognize the original state of our beingness. Through darshan we reactivate our connection to Spirit, both internally and externally. When approaching the Divine Mother, it is important to breathe and remain open in one's heart. Physical acts in addition to maintaining eye contact may include: prostration, bowing of the head, holding the hands in anjali mudra (the namaste or prayer position at the heart center), touching of the forehead to the feet of the deity, and other similar gestures of surrender, honoring and respect.
Why do we cover our feet in front of Maa’s altar?
We cover our feet and refrain from pointing them toward the altar out of respect for the spiritual process. The feet signify the mundane, the place of contact with our earthly selves. By being aware of the mundane in worship, we can set an intention to utilize that awareness to bring ourselves closer to our spiritual goals. Also, in traditional Hindu culture (as in many other cultures), pointing the feet at one's elders or others is considered disrespectful; and we honor the idea and practice of maintaining humility and respect in all relationships.
What does the word prema mean?
It means 'love.'
Why do we call directions thrice at community pujas? Is this a hard and fast rule?
Three is both a sacred number for goddess worship and a spiritual seal, a way of fully inviting in and holding the guides and energies called to be present in puja. Calling in the directions three times also encourages more participation in the circle. We welcome invocations from all traditions during this part of the ceremony. During our annual Kali Puja Festival, the directional invocations are more elaborate and are supplemented with special elemental altars at each quarter. Therefore, during this time invocations are only done once.
Why do we ring the bell before we approach Maa?
The bell is rung to let Maa know that we are coming to worship Her. It also awakens us to the power of vibrational energy made manifest.
Why are there so many skulls associated with Kali and the Sha'can path?
In many of the world's spiritual traditions, skulls, as repositories of the brain, are symbols of the power of the mind and of wisdom, as well as of the integrative forces that allow principles of mind, body and spirit to reveal the divine nature of beingness. Our cranium, therefore, is considered to be a symbol of the human potential for enlightenment, or oneness with God/dess.
When acting in the mundane realm, human beings often forget about or stray from this original connection to Spirit. To do so leaves the more shallow ego-identified state that is agenda-laden and task-oriented. Kali's skulls therefore are a reminder of our divine nature and our deeper call to the Great Mystery. They hold the potential for the unification of matter and spirit, heart and head, mind and body through love--which rectifies and embraces all opposites, bringing us through our yearning to a place of sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss). Additionally, the skulls around Kali's neck form a mala, or rosary, each symbolizing the 51 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet from which all sounds are created. Hence, all mantras, or conglomorates of words used to address a deity (or words used for an effect which lasts beyond the utterance of the words), are worn by Her.
What does ishtadevi mean?
This Sanskrit word means 'chosen Goddess.' It is akin to the similar 'ishtadeva,' meaning 'chosen God.' In some traditions, this deity is chosen by virtue of family line; i.e., the god or goddess who is considered the family 'patron saint.' At SHARANYA, we promote deepening personal spiritual practice while learning about the Sha'can tradition in order to facilitate the personal revelation of this deity, who resides in one's heart. The ishtadeva or ishtadevi is also understood to be a reflection of the undifferentiated cosmic consciousness.
What's the difference between Devi and Deva?
The Sanskrit word Devi means Goddess, and the word Deva means God.
What is sadhana?
The Sanskrit word 'sadhana' means spiritual practice or discipline. In this, it can mean a particular practice or method--a spiritual technology--one undertakes or employs to deepen a connection with the divine or spirit; e.g., meditation, japa, or prayer. It also refers to the spiritual journey overall and in this sense relates to one's way of walking in the world or 'doing' life.
What is dakshina?
This is an offering made, monetary or otherwise, to one's teacher out of respect and gratitude for the teaching or work done on one's behalf, such as during puja, homa (fire ceremony) or other ceremony. It is given from the heart and is never asked for directly.
What does Jai Maa mean?
This is a call to the Divine Mother, 'Maa,' a singing of Her glory. Literally, 'jai' means 'victory,' although we often translate it as 'hallelujah' or 'praises.' Speaking 'Jai Maa' in puja (worship ceremony) is an affirmation of the Divine Mother's blessings, a chant of gratitude for all Her gifts and the challenges She provides that help us grow spiritually.
Why do we chant to Agni first during Puja?
In Hinduism, Agni is the god of fire, the one who presides over all rites and rituals. He is 'purohit,' the one who presides over the fire ceremony and is the first deity honored in the Rig Veda, the oldest written religious text of record from among all surviving world's spiritual traditions. Simply, fire is what enabled humanity to first survive and then thrive. We open our ceremonies with a chant to Agni to honor the role of fire both as literal element and as metaphor for the transformational spiritual journey.
How do you "ground"?
The concept of grounding refers to any method of reconnecting to one's body (i.e., physicality) after engaging in any endeavor, spiritual, emotional, or intellectual that facilitates or actively directs focus away from the fact of one's embodied presence in the moment. We can be readily reminded of our bodies through bringing attention to our breathing or by touching of the ground on which we stand, invoking the power of पृथ्वी (pṛthvī), or Earth. Doing so reincorporates us, allowing for an integration of our experience with the fullness of mind, body and spirit.
What are the most important Sanskrit texts for Shaktas?
Traditionally, the two most important Sanskrit texts for Shaktas are the Devi Mahatmya (or Chandi Path, as it is also called), and the Srimad Devi Bhagavatam. Other important texts for left-hand Tantric practitioners and devotees of the Dark Goddess Kali and all her manifestations are the Yogini Tantra and the Kalika Purana.