Deity worship at home

Please read the section “Setting up your home altar” before reading this section.

Some Preliminary Considerations Before Beginning Deity Worship at Home:

Srila Sanatana Goswami points out in his Dig-darcini-tika (11.63):If you cannot visit a public temple at least once a day, you have a valid reason to establish the Deity at home. But even in such a case, you should make every effort to visit a public temple as frequently as possible to see the Deities, associate with the devotees, and render some service in the temple.

Minimum Standards for Home Deity Worship:

In a letter Srila Prabhupada gives simple instructions for the worship of Gaura-Nitai, Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityanada: “He can worship Gaura-Nitai in his home. The most important element for their worship is the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra. They can have at least one arati, and whatever foodstuffs are prepared can be offered" (letter from Srila Prabhupada 15 February 1975).

In another letter Srila Prabhupada writes: "So far as taking care of the Deities and your family simultaneously, you have to do both mutually, but the main importance is Deity worship. Just like a busy housewife is always busy in household affairs, yet still she is engaged in dressing herself nicely, combing her hair, etc. So both things go together. Yes, at least once daily the Deity's clothes must be changed, in the morning. If the Deities are small, as they appear to be from the photograph, then they can be layed down in a bed at night. And they can be given nightgowns to wear before taking rest. That is nice. If there is time and facility then these things can be implemented. So far as bathing is concerned, it requires two hands and one tongue. In your left hand be ringing a bell and simultaneously with your right hand pour water. Chant Hare Krishna, Cintamani, Govinda Jaya Jaya, etc., like that. . . . (letter from Srila Prabhupada 1 May 1971).

Householders who find it difficult to dress their Deities daily may bathe and dress Them once a week.

Simple Home Worship Procedure:

The following is a simple procedure for Deity worship at home, using the worship of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai as an example. With minor adjustments, one could also follow this procedure for worshiping other Deities, or for worshiping the Panca-Tattva in a picture.

Waking the Deities:

1. After bathing, dressing, applying tilaka, and performing achaman, offer obeisances to the spiritual master.

2. While ringing a bell, call out jaya Sri-Sri- Gaura-Nitai! and turn on the altar lights.

3. Ringing a bell, touch the spiritual master's lotus feet (in the picture) and ask him to rise from bed; then touch the lotus feet of Gaura-Nitai and ask Them to rise from bed. (If the Deities are not put physically in beds, visualize that They have rested in bed and are now rising from it.)

4. Offer, or meditate on offering, water for Their Lordships to sip (achaman). Fill a small achaman cup with water, presenting three spoonfuls of water to each Deity, and then discard the water into a throw-out pot.

Bathing and dressing the Deities:

1. Gather all the required paraphernalia and arrange it neatly and conveniently for performing the worship. Make sure you have everything you need so that you will not have to interrupt the worship to get something. (Bathing receptacle, receptacle of warm water*, conch shell, cotton wool and cotton buds, ground tilak and fresh lemons **, Tulasi leaves, flower petals, small cotton towels***, toothpick or small twig, change of clothes and ornaments for the Lord).

2. Sit on an asan and perform achaman; then sprinkle yourself, the area, and the paraphernalia with water, chanting the Hare Krsna mantra.

3. Offer worship to the spiritual master as follows:

Ringing a bell with your left hand, offer flowers at his lotus feet. Beg for his blessings to perform the worship of Gaura-Nitai. Then chant the guru-given Gayatri mantras silently.

4. Offer worship to Gaura-Nitai as follows:

a) Invite Their Lordships to the bathing receptacle with a gesture of the hands, remove Their clothing, cover Them with gamchas, and clean Them with a damp cloth. If the Deities are metal, polish Them at this time, using a cloth to apply powdered/grated gopi-candana (tilak) mixed with a little fresh lemon juice. So as to polish the Lord’s face while taking care to avoid the eyes and painted areas a cotton bud dipped in the tilak /lemon paste can be used. Clean off the paste with cotton wool dampened with fresh lemon juice.

b) Ringing a bell, pour water over Their Lordships from a conch held in your right hand. Fill the conch at least three times. Chant the Hare Krsna mantra or the Brahma-samhita prayers while bathing Their Lordships. You may need to additionally bathe the Deity with wet cotton wool paying special attention to fingers and toes.

c) Dry the Deities with towels while chanting the appropriate mantras and using a toothpick or twig mark The deities body with tilak markings. Dress Them. The deities should be dressed in clothing suitable to the season-warm clothing in the cold season, light in the hot season. Offer ornaments and fresh flowers and garlands if possible.

d) Ringing a bell, offer flowers and Tulasi leaves (if available) with chandan to Their Lordships lotus feet.

e) Show the Lord a mirror kept for this purpose.

f) Roll a little cotton wool onto the end of a toothpick or twig. Dip it into some natural perfume and offer to the Deity by rubbing the cotton on the Deities' hands.

f) Offer obeisances and beg forgiveness for any offenses you may have commited in the worship.

g) Finally, clear away the paraphernalia used in the worship. At this time you may offer a simple arati with incense, flowers, and chamara- or simply chamara-while playing a recording of the Govindam song.

h) Offer some fruits or sweets.

*The principal element of the bath is pure water, with certain restrictions. Do not collect the water at night, nor touch it with your fingernails. In descending order of quality, the best water for bathing the Deity is Ganga or Yamuna water, then water from any tirtha, water from a river that flows directly to the ocean, water from a tributary river, water from a natural spring, lake, pond, or man-made reservoir, water from a well, and finally water from a pot. Bring the water to a pleasant temperature for bathing. Soak flowers in the water and add Tulasi leaves when bathing Krishna or Gaura-Nitai.

**Brass deities require regular polishing. This is generally done with a paste made of tilak and fresh lemon juice. You may also polish the Deities with a paste made from tamarind pulp and a little water.
To make the paste, add fresh lemon juice to powdered tilak, after a few moments the mixture will bubble. Apply the tilak to the body of the Deity with cotton wool. Always check the paste before applying to see that there are no small stones that will scratch the Deity.

***The towels for drying the Lord should be pure, soft cotton. Cotton is better than silk because it is absorbent and can be washed repeatedly. Do not use synthetics
Always wash and dry new cloth before using for your Deities.

Services During the Day

In home worship the Lord is accepted as the most important guest. One does not have to follow strict temple worship rules of punctuality and minimum offerings. However one should cook and offer whatever the family will eat to the Lord first.

If the Deities reside in your living room, amid various family activities, you may need to close the Deity curtains when the family is eating and at other times of the day. When the Deities are visible, make sure They are offered proper respect.

Putting the Deities to Rest at Night

1. Offer obeisances to your spiritual master and perform achaman.

2. Remove The Lord's flute and garlands and crowns if possible.

3. Arrange the Deities' beds and invite Their Lordships to take rest. Lay Them down in Their beds and visualize that you are massaging Their legs. If you cannot do this meditate on doing so. In winter wrap a woolen shawl around the Deities.

4. Finally, offer obeisances and turn off the lights.

General Guidelines for Deity Dressing (from Raman Reti Pujaris):

1. Oils should NOT be placed on any painted areas of the deity, especially the face. Paint is adversely affected by oil.
2. Gaura Nitai dressers should coordinate with the pujari dressing Radhe Shyam, so that Gaura Nitai's colors and ornaments will coordinate the Radhe Shyam's.
3. The deity's eyebrows should always be visible. Don't cover them with turbans or crowns. His bow-like eyebrows are enchanting, and we don't want to deprive the devotees from this enchantment.
4. Artificial flowers were not approved of by Srila Prabhupada.
5. Coordinating fabric used should always have a finished edge (no raw edges). In addition, this extra cloth should not cover the beautiful decorations on the outfit. Keep the cloth to a minimum. The cloth should compliment, not overwhelm, the outfit.
6. Don't interchange jewelry between Radhe Shyam and Gaura Nitai or Nrisimhadeva, or even between the big deities and the small deities. Each set of deities has Their own paraphernalia.
7. When using pins, the pin points should always point AWAY from the deity. Be careful so that you don't poke the deity with the pin. Tip: Slip your finger underneath where you want the pin to go. That way you won't poke with the pin.
8. When making the turban, be sure that the pins don't protrude through the turban base underneath, and don't poke into the deity's head. Before you put the turban on His head, pick up the turban, and place your closed fist underneath and test to make sure that there are no pins sticking through. Important: Do this every time you are going to place the turban on the deity's head.
9. Unused strings should always be hidden or removed when you finish. You can use some blue-tac to put them to the side, and hide them. It is very distracting to see loose strings just dangling on the altar.
10. NEVER use strings to tie the small deities clothes, jewelry, or garlands together (so that the 2 deities are connected). NEVER use pins to connect the 2 small deities together. Because the small deities are moved (to be dressed, undressed, bathed, put in bed, etc.), tying or pinning Them together is very hazardous and can result in Them falling when one deity is moved.
11. Placement of earrings: Always place earrings on the lower portion (ear lobe) of the ear, not on the upper part.
12. Placement of rings: Rings should go on the fingers where rings are naturally worn. Don't put dangles (like earrings) on the fingers. Only use jewelry as you would a natural ring.
13. Evening dressing should be simple. No heavy jewelry. Crown, earrings, anklets (always, even at night!), a single strand of beads for necklace (and bracelets for Radha).
14. Tulasi leaves are offered to the lotus feet of the deity, in a garland (for Gaura Nitai and for Shyam), and in Radha's right (benediction) hand. Nowhere else.

For Radharani:
1. Radharani wear anklets all the time, even at night.
2. She wears bracelets at night.
3. Her feet never show, except on Radhastami.
4. No stick-on bindis to be used as gopi dots. They don't look nice, and the adhesive leaves a mark on Her face, and must be rubbed off. This rubbing can remove Her features, such as eyebrows.
5. Do not paint Radharani's face with gopi dots or sandalwood, except on festival days.
6. Her garland should not reach past Her knees. Down to Her waist is good.
7. Make sure She always has: a nose ring; a bindi; something to offer to Krishna in Her left hand.
8. Her benediction hand (right hand) can have a tulasi manjari, or a garland. No baskets in right hand. It's for benediction.
9. Her hands and fingers are VERY delicate and thin. Be very cautious when putting things in Her left hand, and make sure that you don't shove fat bouquets in Her hand.
10. Her veil should cover Her topknot.
11. Her hair should not be unnatural. Don't put large bundles of hair on top of Her head.
12. At least 50% of Her hair should be covered.
13. If She has a braid, the loose end should not be longer than 4 inches. It should not extend past Her left hand. She wears no more than 2 braids.
14. Her hair should not be loose past Her shoulders. (Tie Her hair in the back.)
15. Her chandrika always points toward Krishna.
16. Don't dress Her with a flying garland (tied with string) and dress swirling wildly.
17. Always cover up Her petticoat (slip). Even if it's pretty!
18. Her bangles at night shouldn't be big and heavy.

For Shyam:
1. His flute should be to the side of His face (not covering His mouth).
2. We should always be able to see His 3-fold bending form.
3. His bent leg should be visible.
4. He always has: flute, anklebells, and a peacock feather with an "eye."
5. Do NOT put jewelry in the space of his gold-painted tilak.. It is very delicate!
6. His turban should not be higher than the height of His face.
7. His hair should be even on both sides.
8. If He wears a nose ring, it should be on the right side (His right, not yours), or underneath the nose, but NOT both.
9. Do NOT paint gopi dots in the space between his eyelid and eyebrow! NEVER. To remove it also removes his painted eyelids.
10. His garland always hangs around His neck. Not from His waist, or somewhere else.
11. His garland comes between his chest and left arm. Don't put the garland (or necklaces) over top of his left arm. That style is not natural.
12. No navel jewelry.

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