Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Prayer time in a Hindu household

I was born in a family, that considers Krishna as its Kuldevta or the family deity. That makes me a Vaishnava by birth. And my mother, because of her own religious beliefs, made it a point to raise me as a Shaiva -- to me, Shiva is, and always will be, the supreme lord of everything that exists. My wife, is from a family of those, who worship Shakti, or, the powerful feminine form of divinity. So, between us, we have all the major sects of Hinduism covered.

All my life, I have toyed with philosophies that either out rightly reject the idea of God, or, are skeptical of it. First came communism, when I was in high school, with Marx and his famous "opiate of the masses" bit. Then came Buddhism, which didn't exactly acknowledge the existence of God, but didn't reject it either. And then, things came a full circle for me, when I discovered that the core of Shaivite philosophy was not really very far from what I had started believing in. That God was not very different from man, and man, could search for God inside him, instead of making countless trips to places, that didn't really matter.

Me and my wife both believe in a supreme being who forgives us our daily trespasses, and we think of Him or Her, when we pray. Many years ago, we started praying together as a family, when we were living outside the country, and wanted the kids to get exposed to the menagerie of spiritual practices that we too had to follow, as kids. In a way, we were trying to pass on centuries of collected religious baggage to them, so that they could take their own decisions on what to retain, when they grew up. Although, what we preached, was not necessarily what we practiced.

It has often made me feel that we are somewhat of an archive -- of various mantras and yantras that our families gave to us. And in case our children lose the archive, what better way to preserve it than the internet. So, here is how your average Hindu household, headed by a confused couple that is borderline agnostic, prays. If you have a flight to catch, we can guarantee that you will be done in about ten minutes.


We have a small shrine for the gods and goddesses at home, and my wife makes a delightful display of fragrant flowers around it, right before we sit down to pray. First, we blow a conch shell to the ringing sound of a ceremonial bell. Then, we light an oil lamp or two and a few sticks of incense. This has the effect of purifying the environment, and making the mind attentive of what lies ahead.

We always start with a verse dedicated to Ganesha. Shiva himself had recommended that all worship start with a prayer to the lord, who removes all obstacles.

vakra-tunndda maha-kaaya surya-koti samaprabha
nirvighnam kuru me deva sarva-kaaryessu sarvadaa

Oh the one with the curved trunk, large body, and the brilliance of ten million suns,
Please make all our work free of obstacles, always.

Next, we pour water on a Shiva-lingam, as we typically pray once a week -- on Mondays, which is a day auspicious to Shiva.  While pouring the water, we chant the Maha Mrityunjay Mantra, one of the oldest chants known to Shaivites. 

aum tryambakam yajāmahe sugandhim pushti-vardhanam
urvārukam iva bandhanān mrtyor mukshīya māmrtāt
We hail the fragrant three-eyed One who nourishes and increases the fullness of life.
As the cucumber is liberated from the captivity of its stem, may we be liberated from the circle of birth and death.

This is followed by the what is possibly the simplest Mantra in Hinduism, one that offers salutations to Shiva, three times in a row.

        Om Namah Shivaya.  Om Namah Shivaya.  Om Namah Shivaya.  

And then, we chant the Gayatri Mantra, again a very popular verse amongst all sects of Hinduism. Many people believe that this verse from the Rigveda, the oldest religious text of the Hindus, worships a goddess, Gayatri. In fact, the mantra pays its respects to one of the least known deities, Savitra, and has been used in religious ceremonies for more than three thousand years.
Om bhur bhuvah suvah tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yó naḥ prachodayāt
May we attain that excellent glory of Savitra, So may he stimulate our prayers.

At this point, our mantras are over, and it is time to sing. We sing a bhajan, which is more than a hundred years old, and is probably sung in millions of households  and temples in India everyday.

 Om jai Jagdish hare Swami jai Jagdish hare
Bhakt jano ke sankat Das jano ke sankat kshan men door kare
Om jai Jagdish hare

Jo dhyave phal pave dukh binse man ka Swami dukh binse man ka
Sukh sampati ghar ave Sukh sampati ghar ave Kasht mite tan ka

Mat pita tum mere sharan padoon main kiski Swami sharan padoon main kiski
Tum bin aur na dooja Prabhu bin aur na dooja aas karoon main jiski

Tum pooran Paramatam tum Antaryami Swami tum Antaryãmi
Pãr Brahm Parameshwar Pãr Brahm Parameshwar Tum sabke swãmi

Tum karuñã ke sãgar tum pãlan kartã Swãmi tum pãlan kartã
Main moorakh khalakhãmi Main sevak tum swãmi Kripã karo Bhartã

Tum ho ek agochar Sab ke prãñ pati Swãmi sab ke prãñ pati
Kis vidhi miloon Gosãi Kis vidhi miloon Dayãlu Tum ko main kumati

Deen bandhu dukh harta Thãkur tum mere Swãmi Thãkur tum mere
Apne hãth uthao Apni sharañi lagão Dwãr pada hoon tere

Vishay vikãr mitãvo Pãp haro Devã Swãmi pãp haro Devã
Shradhã bhakti baðhão Shradhã bhakti baðhão Santan ki sevã

Tan man dhan saab hai tera, Swami saab kuch hai tera
Tera tujhko arpan, tera tujhko arpan, kya laage mera

Om jai Jagdish hare Swami jai Jagdish hare
Bhakt jano ke sankat Das jano ke sankat kshan men door kare
Om jai Jagdish hare

Oh mighty lord of the universe, you banish the sorrows of all your devotees in a moment
He who's immersed in devotion, reaps the fruits of thy love Lord.
You free us from all the worldly problems and provide the material comforts of life to us
Lord, thou art mother and father, at thy feet I seek eternal truth
There's none other than Thee, Lord, you are the guardian of all our hopes
Thou art perfection, oh omnipotent master of all
My destiny's in Thy hands, supreme soul of all creation
Thou art an ocean of mercy, gracious protector of all
I am thy humble devotee, grant me thy divine grace
Thou art beyond all perception formless and yet multiform Lord,
Grant me a glimpse of thyself, guide me along the path to Thee
Friend of the helpless and feeble, benevolent saviour of all, Lord,
Offer me thy hand of compassion,  I seek refuge at thy feet
Free me from the earthly desires, and the sins of this life
Grant me undivided faith and devotion, in eternal service unto Thee
My body, my soul and all my possessions, all belong to Thee,
What is yours, I offer to thee, since nothing is mine.


We conclude our prayers with a moment of reflection. Sometimes, there are a few sugar cubes to go around as prasad, an offering, that was made to the Lord. They sweeten the tongue, and leave a good feeling in the soul -- right after our promise to the Lord, to rid ourselves of all the worldly pleasures that exist. 

My wife usually takes a copper plate, with an oil lamp and an incense stick on it, and walks around the house. The idea is to spread the light and the fragrance of the divine, whose presence blessed us during the prayer. Some superstitious people believe that doing this rids the house of all evil spirits, who lurk in the corners. We just like the fragrance to linger on, as it reminds us of the few moments of joy that we had, praying together as a family. 


  1. A beautiful post! Simply loved it.

  2. 'Tum ho ek agochar'....made me a Granth sahib devotee.

    Kis vidhi milahoon ...tumko mai kumati'the answer is given in the shlok.."

    akhand mandala karam vyaptam yen characharam tad padam darshitem yen tasmeyi shri gourvé namah.
    (char -achar main vyapt ishwar ko jo dikha de vohi guru hai.)


  3. ThankYou So Much! You're article meant a lot! Hope to see more of them on the same topic!
    God Bless.

    Kartik Gupta