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Meaning of Aarthi or Arati done by waving camphor at the Lord

Updated on March 6, 2018
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Aravind Balasubramanya has spent more than 2 decades with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He has studied under Baba and been his personal photographer.

A rare opportunity to do Arati to Him in Trayee Brindavan,
A rare opportunity to do Arati to Him in Trayee Brindavan, | Source

Every ritual has some meaning.

Often times I have questioned the rationale and logic behind many of the rituals we do as part of our worship or prayers. I must confess though, that I have received satisfactory answers in all such researches of mine. For instance, I wondered as to why people make a ‘circle’ or border of water on the floor around the plates from which they eat food while sitting cross-legged on the floor. It seemed so meaningless and ‘ritualistic’.

The history of that practice traces its origins to the times when in India, people ate out from leaves, sitting on the floor. There was a chance that ants and other insects would walk into the leaf during the course of the meal. Sprinkling water all around the leaf ensured that the insects kept away! Lovely logic right?

In this way, I have always tried to go into the history and meaning of all the rituals. And my conclusion has been the same on all occasions - the ritual and the spiritual are closely related. One ritual that has always fascinated me is that of the Mangala Aarthi. The term may seem foreign for some. The Mangala Aarthi or Aarthi is done by waving a piece of lighted camphor in circles around an idol of God. It is done at the end, as a grand finale, of all worship. Then, it is taken around and all the devotees warm their palms over the flame, the act which completes the worship.

Delving into history gave a beautiful explanation as to why the Aarthi is done. By the way, the word Mangala means auspiciousness. However, as always, the explanation and meaning that I ‘received’ from Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) took my breath away and inspired me.

The flame lights up the the beautifully bedecked idol for all the devotees to see and experience joy.
The flame lights up the the beautifully bedecked idol for all the devotees to see and experience joy.

The history and origin of the Mangala Aarthi

If you have ever visited a Hindu temple, you will observe that the sanctum sanctorum, the residence of God, is buried deep within the building. And these temples have existed from centuries, nay millenia - from times when electricity was not present. The temples had to be lit from within by lamps, even during the day. When the devotees gathered to sing and do worship, they would not be able to see idol of the Lord. Even today, in spite of the electric bulbs and lights, some temples do not have a well-lit sanctum sanctorum and so the devotees are still not able to see their Lord.

The idol of the Lord is decked in wonderful clothes and fabulous jewelry. This is done to arouse joy in the devotee viewing the Lord. Just as one feels happy when he sees his mother, wife or daughter dressed beautifully and decked with ornaments, one feels the same when he/she sees God in form. But all these decorations along with the beautiful face of the idol are not seen by the devotees as it is dark in the sanctum.

So, at the end of the worship, the priest lights a piece of camphor and slowly moves it in circles around the idol. In the light of the camphor flame, the idol gets lit. And to ensure that the devotee can enjoy seeing the idol in all its beauty, the priest moves the camphor flame from the top to toe of the idol. And since the flame has been waved around the Lord, its warmth is considered synonymous to the warmth of the Lord’s love. Every devotee then warms his/her palms over the flame as a completion of blessings sought.

I was pretty happy with this logic and reasoning. When I came to know of Swami’s explanation for the Aarthi, I was touched - so beautiful, so profound and so inspiring it was.

Swami’s explanation for the Mangala Aarthi

Swami says that the act of doing Aarthi is symbolic of what the devotee prays of the Lord. It inspires the devotee to become like the piece of camphor - be fragrant and spend one’s life burning away energetically to ‘show’ other devotees the face and form of the Lord! Every moment of one’s life - every thought, word and deed - should be ‘spent’ so that humanity is en’light’ened and is able to visualize the Lord! And at the end of the whole thing, nobody’s attention is on the camphor; it is on the Lord alone because the camphor burns away leaving behind no trace of its existence. But before that happens, it also provides warmth to all the people who have gathered to see the Lord!

Such should be our lives - we should ‘burn’ away so that our life helps others to see God. In the process we should also spread the fragrance of goodness along with the warmth of love. And all this is done without a trace of ego because nothing of the camphor is left behind in the end. People do not remember camphor - they remember and focus on the Lord. There is a black residue that is left behind after the Aarthi flame burns out only if the camphor is not pure. If the camphor is pure, it will be white and leave behind absolutely no residue. That inspires the devotee to be pure.

The exact words are these:

"While it is being waved pray : O Lord! Make the allotted span of my life as pure, as fragrant, and as transparent as camphor; let it consume itself in the fire, scattering light and the warmth of love to all around me, and, at the end of it all, let there be nothing left of me (as the camphor leaves no ashes or residue) to render me liable to another sojourn amidst pleasure and pain."

(Here is the lyrics and meaning of the Sri Sathya Sai Mangala Arati)

Swami used to 'light' the camphor for quite some time after which He expected the devotee to do the 'lighting' on his own!
Swami used to 'light' the camphor for quite some time after which He expected the devotee to do the 'lighting' on his own! | Source

But the significance does not end there as far as Swami’s explanation goes. He has always stated,
“My life is my message.”

He has also stated that we should move to a level where our lives become His message. Symbolic of this transition, Swami used to Himself light the camphor for the Aarthi till about 2006 I think. After 2006, He began to tell the person doing the Aarthi to light the camphor himself/herself. Beautiful, isn’t it? After all, has He not stated that true Padasevanam or worship of the master’s feet is to follow in His footsteps?

With this in mind, every time I witness the Mangala Aarthi I pray to the Lord that I become like that little piece of camphor. Speak through the language of fragrance, be pure white and burn away without ego to light up the way to God for everyone. And after that, 'warm' the people to the 'lightof God'.

Is it any wonder that irrespective of the occasion or festival, not a day passes in Prasanthi Nilayam without the Aarthi being done!

Enjoy a beautiful Mangala Arati to Bhagawan Baba

Do you know the meaning of any 'special' or 'unique' rituals that you perform?

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    • aravindb1982 profile imageAUTHOR

      Aravind Balasubramanya 

      3 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      @Mr.Happy - Yes. I am aware of that. But that option shows the hubs to only those people that visit my profile page on HubPages. The unfeatured hubs are hidden from any search - google, MSN, Yahoo etc.

      So, nobody else will be allowed to "discover" these via searches.

      Thank you for taking time to think up a possible solution... :)

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Greetings again Mr. Aravind,

      I just found an option (a few days ago) in the settings tab which allows for all articles to show, even if Hub-pages doesn't put them under the "featured list". Maybe this helps.

      All the best! : )

    • aravindb1982 profile imageAUTHOR

      Aravind Balasubramanya 

      3 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      @SaiSarannaga

      The constant policy changes in Hubpages in the name of "quality control" make it very difficult for me to post these kind of articles here which get "unfeatured"!

      So I have started writing regularly on a blog now. It has more articles than here...

      You can check out the blog at

      http://aravindb1982.blogspot.in

    • profile image

      saisarannaga 

      3 years ago from Chennai in Tamilnadu, India.

      A nice explanation for waving Aarathi! You were not seen for a long time here and many admire your contribution which go a long way for admirers of Swami!

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Lovely article and I thoroughly enjoyed the video as well. Thank You for the explanation - it was needed lol And thank You to Mr. Venu for adding his knowledge to this article in the comments.

      If/when I get to do the Mangala Aarathi again, I will be able to use the Intent necessary for it, knowing the meaning behind it now.

      Thanks again and all the best!

      May Wakan Tanka guide your path.

    • profile image

      prabha 

      3 years ago

      Thank you brother for posting significance of Mangala aarati.

      wonderful message on what to pray during aarati.

    • profile image

      B. Shiv Kumar 

      3 years ago

      Now i got the answer...thanks arvind

    • profile image

      Nishant Varshney 

      3 years ago

      Swami ke Charan Kamal mein Shat Shat Naman...

      Sairam Dear Brother Aravind,

      Thank You for posting this...

      I have read that, while performing Arathi, we move the Auspicious Flame in 'circular motions perpendicular to ground'... This signifies that 'We should Concentrate in the center of Circular Motion of Auspicious Flame i.e. God and Burn everything outside that very circle of Pure Flame" :-)

    • profile image

      Lalit Advani 

      3 years ago

      Agni is the divine messenger. Agni carries the words & feelings of the devotee to higher realms & carries blessing back. That is why we touch that Aarti & our forehead at the end of the Aarti.

    • profile image

      Avantika mishra 

      3 years ago

      Thanks bro. Aravind....really enjoyed watching Swami's aarti. It took me back to my seva dal days...we would eagerly wait for aarti and Swami's blessing with His both hands after that. And thanks for explaining the meaning and significance of aarti.

    • profile image

      krishnamurthy narayan 

      3 years ago

      thank you for sharing these explanations which I may have read but it was a good reminder.

    • profile image

      Anonymous 

      4 years ago

      What is the significance of breaking coconuts especially in front of Lord Ganesh?

    • profile image

      jayashri amarnath 

      5 years ago

      enjoy every article that you write ...feel so connected to our dear Swami...Sairam

    • profile image

      Madhusudanvithal 

      5 years ago

      Sairam and thanks. I have started understanding the inner meanings of rituals, better late than never.

    • profile image

      Priya S. Tandon 

      5 years ago

      Aravind, I am in Parthi today. My son Satyam is in the Sri Sathya Sai Higher secondary school. It's his birthday today and so he got the chance to do Mangala Aarti of Swami in the mandir today. I was overwhelmed to see him offering Aarti to Bhagwan. Now that I read your article, Iam totally in bliss that this message has come to me today. Thank you.

    • profile image

      Kokila Vaidyanathan 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for re-posting this brother. I have so much catch from your blogs..I enjoy reading them before I retire for the day. This is an interesting topic. Till about 2-3 years ago waving of Arathi was a big discussion in the west among Swami's followers/devotees. Without going into much detail, I would like to say that at times it was controversial. Most of the time I have just left the place as I had nothing to add to at that time. Swami's explanation through your blog is fantastic. Wish every reader gets an opportunity to read and ponder and understand the inner meaning. And the circling of water around the plate is amazing. I always wondered why they did that. Now I know the interesting logic. Thank you once again for a beautiful sharing. Loving Sairam

    • aravindb1982 profile imageAUTHOR

      Aravind Balasubramanya 

      5 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      @ Venu - Thank you for adding another dimension of insight to this beautiful ritual. :)

    • profile image

      Ashok Mehta 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for the wonderful explanation about the significance of Aarati. One thing, if I may add, in our bhajans, we keep a chair for Swamy. So, as soon as the Aarati is lit, it should first be shown to the chair circling it three times, to denote Swamy's presence, and then to the other idols or photographs.

    • profile image

      Venu 

      5 years ago

      Hey Barru....there are a couple more things Swami has said about giving Harathi. Its about energies. Apparently fire has the property to burn away negative energies which are subtler than gross matter. That is the reason why fire was used for yagnas, marriages, upanayanams and so on. Also, the palms are energy receiving and radiating points. That is the reason why Swami and even sadhus or saints for that matter bless with their palms. Reiki healers use palms to radiate healing energy. So, when fire is waved around the deity, and then shown to all, there is an exchange in which we submit our negative energies into the fire and accept positive energy which the fire has received from the deity. The ritual of then putting the palms to your eyes is symbolic of saying - let my eyes receive Your grace to be able to see You.

    • profile image

      Sudha Ram 

      5 years ago

      Sai Ram Bro.

      Swami had given you chances to pass HIS warmth of love from HIM to all devotees by getting you to do aarthi then. And Now, you continue to pass cosmic Swami's warnth thru' your blog. Keep goung... Jai Sai Ram

    • aravindb1982 profile imageAUTHOR

      Aravind Balasubramanya 

      5 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      @Aarthi - Nice that you have such a meaningful name and good that you have introspected so much. It was an interesting read. :)

    • aravindb1982 profile imageAUTHOR

      Aravind Balasubramanya 

      5 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      @ Maria and Madhavi Alapaty - Thank you. Swami has always stressed on the spirit behind any action. He says that God is BHAVAPRIYA and not BAHYAPRIYA. This means that He loves feelings and not external show. So the ritual without the spiritual is useless. :) Thus I keep exploring and searching for the meaning of these rituals.

    • profile image

      Madhavi Alapaty 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for imparting your knowledge on such items where our present kids ask us on number of occasions. I forward this article to my kids so they will understand the significance from another angle as the first one from your article which i was known for too. But as always ... SWAMI's teaches us these things in very simple and understanding manner. please keep sharing your kowledge with us on rituals.

    • profile image

      sitaraman s iyer 

      5 years ago

      sairam. The entire explanations are thought provoking sir. My head salute to you sir.

    • profile image

      raman s Iyer 

      5 years ago

      good one.aum sai ram

    • profile image

      priti 

      5 years ago

      Thank you sir. Very useful indeed with amazing write up...now I have something more to add to my daily prayers!

    • profile image

      Aarthi 

      5 years ago

      Nice one! And here's something to add to this -- from my blog.

      http://voyagetowardstheself.blogspot.in/2012/01/wh...

    • profile image

      Maria 

      5 years ago

      Thank you Aravind for explaining this to us. I never understood before, there is so very much a Westerner without having extensively stayed or visited there or taken classes on practices in India can possibly comprehend. A marvellous service to get instructions from Swami like this via your sharings

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