Meaning of Archanam
Archanam is one of the Nava Vidha forms of Bhakti where the bhakta worships the Almighty in a certain form. To the bhakta, the idol, picture of the Lord is not merely an idol or a picture, but a form in which the Lord lives. All actions are done with the awareness that God is present in the idol. Archanam in Sanskrit means offering flowers or leaves during worship of God.
Archanam is not limited to the worship of the Lord in form, but can even be mental, i.e without an image or an idol. Archanam is part of the Shodashopachara Puja which includes Dhyanam, Avahanam, Aasanam, Paadyam, Arghyam, Achamanam, Madhuparkam, Snanam, Upavetham, Vastram, Gandha, Pushpa, doopam, deepam, Naivedhyam, Tamboolam, Aarti, Mantrapushpa and Pradakshina. Archanam includes all the rituals associated with worship of God such as Havan or Homa and Puja.
Archanam as a form of worship can be done either in a temple or at one’s house.
Meaning of Worship
Worship is an action where all the human faculties like the body or the sense organs, mind and intellect is directed towards God. Here God should not be limited to the image or the idol alone. A bhakta should develop the attitude of Narayana Bhava or Ishwara Bhava towards all creatures as God alone is the manifestation in various forms both being and non being. Serving the needy is also one form of worship.
Worship through Forms or symbols, names and saints
Worship can be done through forms or symbols, names and saints.
Forms or Symbols: In the initial stages, a bhakta uses an idol or a symbol of God or Ishta Devta to worship. Though this Universe is a manifestation of God in various forms and shapes, it would be difficult for an ordinary man to consider material or abstract forms such as a desert or an ocean or a mountain as God. It would also be difficult for an individual to consider himself as a spirit or soul which is infinite, formless i.e abstract to worship. Only a realised soul can see these abstract forms as God. The forms or symbols and rituals associated with them become necessary to aid the mind to concentrate on a single object and thus grow spiritually.
Archanam is a means to progress spiritually, but is not an end in itself. In the initial stages, a bhakta needs an idol or an image to focus his mind upon a certain object. But as the bhakta makes spiritual advancement, then Archanam can be done mentally.
Names: Names of the God is another prominent feature in Archanam. Worship is done by repeating the name of the God or Guru. The whole universe being a manifestation of God and His name, every form is given a name. Name and form are like the waves of an ocean, inseparable.
Saints: Worship of saints is another form of worship which has been practiced since times immemorial. Though God is Omnipresent, for a human being, he can see, recognise God only in the form of a man. Man has been worshipping God through men all the time. Thus for an individual, to realise God, it is imperative to think of God as a man. Saints like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Sri Ramana Maharishi, Sri Sankaracharya, etc are worshipped even to this day.
Goal of worship
An individual may worship the Lord through forms, names and Saints, but the ultimate goal should be to reach God. When a bhakta constantly worships God with complete devotion, then his ego will slowly start decimating. An attitude of total surrender and faith will develop in him. When such is the attitude of a bhakta then, all his actions, speech and thoughts will become an offering to the Lord.
Offerings to the Lord
The offering made to the Lord, or the Bhog offered to the Almighty should be with complete devotion or Bhakti. There are instances when devotees who have offered Bhog with Bhakti have been partaken by the Lord. The Bhog offered to the Lord need not be always rich or costly things. It is the quality of the offering that is important to the Lord and not the quantity. As Lord Krishna says in B.Gita Ch. 9.26, “Whoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, flower, fruit water that I accept, offered by the pure minded with devotion.” Bhog offered is taken as Prasad. Draupadi offered a leaf to Sri Krishna, Shabari offered fruits to Sri Rama and Sudama offered puffed rice to Sri Krishna. All of them did not offer costly things, but whatever was offered was offered with complete devotion which pleased the Lord and the lord answered their prayers.
Essence of offerings to the Lord
Offerings to the God need not be rich and materialistic in nature. All that God seeks is pure devotion. It should be offered with a sense that whatever belongs to God (as the entire Universe is His creation) is being given back to Him. Here pure minded devotion is insisted upon by the Lord. In B.Gita Ch 9.27, reads “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you give, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you practice as austerity, O Kaunteya, do it all as an offering Unto Me.” Thus all that is required while making an offering to the Lord is a pure hearted mind, an attitude of sacrifice and complete devotion. All the activities, be it physical, mental or intellectual must be performed as an offering to Him. When acts are performed with such an attitude, not only the devotion for Lord increases, life also gets transformed with a nobler purpose and a diviner aim. The entire life should be a constant offering to Him.
Work as an offering to the Lord
Even work when performed with dedication becomes worship. For any work to be performed, skill and devotion are two pre requisites. In other words, skill and devotion are two sides of the same coin. Any skill can be acquired easily as long as an individual has a longing or devotion for it. Once a skill is acquired, it must be applied to work with devotion.
When both skill and devotion are not applied to a work, then the quality (of the work) suffers. As Swamy Chinmayananda rightly says, “Devotion without skill is like intention without extension. Work with devotion and skill is an excellent and exemplary offering. Such work is an offering. Any skill that is offered without devotion is no offering”.
Thus any work done, irrespective of the nature and the size, with complete devotion, the results of that work will not only be exemplary, but will be considered as an offering to the Lord who will accept it whole heartedly. Intentions are important and not just the consequences. Any work done in the spirit as an offering to the Lord leads to liberation- the Ultimate Goal.
Example of true devotion
There once lived a strong and brave young man, Tinnanar in a village Uduppur in South India. He was trained in hunting and archery at a very young age. One morning, he went out for a hunt into a jungle along with his friends. While wandering in the jungle, they came across a pig, escaping from a net. Tinnanar along with his friends chased the animal for quite a distance and finally killed the animal. After having killed the animal, Tinnanar and his friends decided to feast on the animal. They removed the animal to a nearby hill. While walking towards the hill, one of his friends suggested to Tinnanar, that he visit Kudumi Thevar, the presiding deity of the hills. While climbing up the hills, Tinnanar had a strange feeling within him. He decided to have darshan of the Lord and then have meals. On reaching the temple, he saw a Shiva Lingam, which filled his heart with divine ecstasy. He began to weep and shed tears of joy and love towards the Lord. He forgot about his meals, his friends and his own body. He began to feel for the loneliness for the Lord. He decided to guard the Lingam the whole night against any danger from animals or other evil doers.
He felt that Lord might be hungry. He decided to get food to the Lord. He went to his friends and carried the hog that was cooked in his hands. He then decided to fetch water to the Lord. As he had meat in his hands, he filled his mouth with water. He felt, he had to do Abhisheka to the Lord, so he plucked some flowers on his way to the temple. Since his hands and mouth were already occupied, he kept the flowers in his lock of hair. On reaching the temple, he removed the flowers (which were already kept) on the Lingam with his shoes, poured water from his mouth, decorated the Lingam with the flowers and then offered the meat as Prasad to the Lord. He decided to be with the Lord. Thus he stayed at the temple guarding the Lingam the whole night with a bow and arrow in his hand. At dawn break, he went out for hunt to offer it to the Lord. As Tinnanar left for the hunt, the temple priest arrived at the temple to perform the morning rituals at the temple. He was shocked to see meat in the Sanctum Santorum. He cleaned everything and performed puja in a religious manner. As the priest left the temple, Tinnanar came with the meat in his hand, water in his mouth and flowers in his hair. He cleaned the Lingam, decorated with flowers and then offered the meat. He decided to give company to the Lord and kept guard of the temple the whole night. At dawn break, he left for hunting again. The temple priest came and was shocked to see meat again at the sanctum Santorum. He cleaned the temple and gave the ceremonial bath to the Lingam, offered bhog and left the temple. Tinnanar came to the temple, offered meat to the Lingam and guarded the temple the whole night. Both the priest and Tinnanar followed their schedule without each meeting the other and this continued for five days. Devi Parvati who was observing all this asked Lord Shiva as to, who was His favourite devotee, to which Lord Shiva asks Parvati to “wait and watch”.
The following day when the priest was cleaning the Lingam, he noticed two eyes appear on the Lingam. The priest thought that Lord was pleased with his services and thus must have opened His eyes. His joy knew no bounds. In a little while one of the eyes’ started to bleed. The priest could not believe what he was seeing. He thought that this is an indication of some impending disaster and so let the temple immediately. No sooner the priest had left, Tinnanar arrived. When he saw the eyes’ bleed, he immediately ran to the forest and got some herbs to be applied to the eye to stop the bleeding. But the bleeding did not stop. He then thought for a while and gouged one of his eyes’ out and kept it on the eye of the Lord which was bleeding. To his utter amazement, the bleeding stopped. Tinnanar danced with joy to see the bleeding had stopped. But his ecstasy was short lived, as the other eye started to bleed. He immediately took his arrow and was about to gouge out his other eye, when Lord Shiva who was pleased with Tinnanar’s devotion appeared before him and restored his sight. Lord Shiva renamed Tinnanar as Kanappa. Lord Shiva took Kanappa to Kailasa along with Him.
Kanappa’s devotion to Lingam was pure and selfless. He saw Lord Shiva residing in the Lingam. It was not a mere stone image for him. Though his methods of worship were crude, he was a true devotee. He felt the God would feel hungry, lonely just like a human being. He treated God as himself. His sacrifice of his eyes was one of the true selflessness. Two pre requisites of worship is the right understanding and intention. Intention should be bhakti or love, and then other things do not matter to the Lord.