Friday, June 15, 2012

Oneness Bhakti Yoga, Sri Murthi Archana


This information is for blessing givers who have completed certain Oneness coursework, to continue the practice at home.  Please keep it private. I only post it here as general guide to give context to those unfamiliar with the terms and materials, to understand what is going on at Oneness Bhakti Yoga.  The different flower offering mantras have been intentionally left out, so only those who have actually attended the corresponding course may complete the ceremony in full.

The research and translations are my own and I have noted where they deviate from the brief instructions given in the Oneness packet.

Since mantras are considered sacred speech, texts that contain them are traditionally handled with respect: they are not set down directly on the floor, not stepped over it, nor everyday materials set on top of them, etc.

What is a puja?

During a puja, God is invited into a representation like a statue and treated as a guest: given water to drink, a place to freshen up, and food. Many religious traditions believe the divine can manifest in material objects during ceremony, often as a charge of spiritual energy. Since God does not get thirsty, dirty, or hungry, the things offered are instead conduits for divine energy. Puja may also be performed to honor a distinguished guest, elder, or spiritual teacher.

Sometimes the word pooja/puja (Sanskrit, pūjā, “worship”) and archana (Sanskrit, arcana, “worship”) are used as equivalents. Both are used in Oneness. Archana may also refer to a shorter puja, focused around saying the names or mantra of a spiritual being.

Symbolically the offerings represent both the five elements and five senses, the historic building blocks of the material world and our perception of it. They also have associations with the five lower chakras. When we include our thoughts, consciousness, and ego identity, the elements associated with the Third Eye, we create a bridge to the Crown Chakra, the seat of divine connection. Puja turns our physical, mental, and spiritual aspects all towards God.

Traditional Chakra Elemental Associations:

Divine Union = Crown Chakra
Intellect/Thought = Third Eye

Aether = Hearing = Throat Chakra
Air = Touch = Heart Chakra
Fire = Sight = Third Chakra
Water = Taste = Second Chakra
Earth = Smell = Root Chakra

Although this style of offering originated in the religious traditions of India, it is used in the Oneness community to honor all representation of the divine.

What is a Murthi, Sri Murthi?

Murthi/Murti, with or without a Sri/Shree/Shri, generally refers to a physical representation of God, like a statue or painting. (Sanskrit, śrī, “blessed, auspicious, holy”, often formally placed before a title or name to show respect. Sanskrit, mūrti, “representation, form, image”.) Murthi is similar to the Christian term icon (Greek, eikon, “image”): art that supports God’s presence manifesting in the material world but is not confused with the divine itself. In the Oneness community, Sri Murthi specifically refers to an image of the teachers Sri Amma Bhagavan, believed to have attained an elevated state. Besides a representation of God, other things like padukas (Sanskrit, pādukā, “sandals”) may be used instead during a puja, to temporarily house the divine presence.

What are the steps of a puja?

The different steps of a puja are called upachara, (Sanskrit, upacāra, “offering, act of respect, service”). They derive from Indian hospitality. Specific numbers are common, like five, ten, and sixteen, but the actual steps vary in different instructions. This version has shodashopachara, meaning “sixteen articles of homage”. Pujas vary widely.

Why are there so many different ways to write the same word?

Several spellings for puja related words are included, since there is not a standard way to translate them into English. I've tried to use the form most commonly encountered. Vowels are often left off the end of words in contemporary India; Ganesha becomes Ganesh, Shiva becomes Shiv. Finally there are several ways in Sanskrit grammar to write a noun when it is not part of a sentence. They may be left as a stem, like mantra, or used in their accusative declination (representing an object), like mantram.


How do I set up the temporary altar?

Before the puja, the Oneness instructions say to clean the physical environment, cover a table with a white cloth for the Sri Murthi, padukas, and other representations of God. Light incense, oil lamps, and/or candles to create a meditative environment. Although flowers plucked from their stems are used during the puja itself, vases of whole flowers are commonly placed on an altar.

What are some lesser known altar customs?

Because the English word altar has historic associations with animal sacrifice, many Hindus and Buddhists prefer shrine instead. For example, altar is still used in Christian contexts because the bread and wine symbolize the sacrifice of Christ.

Traditionally you bathe before a puja and put on clean clothes, or at least wash your hands and face, and brush your teeth. A preliminary step in many pujas is to pour water over the hands to clean them. Water is sprinkled around the head and used to wash the mouth out too. The directions may also say to scatter it across the offerings, to spiritually cleanse them.

The offerings are put in individual dishes or in smaller bowls together on one tray, known as a puja thali (Sanskrit, thāli, “plate, tray, dish”). Water is put in a kalasha/kalasham, (Sanskrit, kalaśa, “water pot, jug, pitcher”), a wide bodied, small mouthed pot without handles. If you can not find one, a pitcher is fine. A dish to collect offered water and a spoon are also needed. Offering is primarily done with the right hand, since the left hand is used for personal hygiene in India. If something is heavy like a tray, both hands are used. Traditionally the left hand may be used for specific tasks, like ringing a bell.

Move a statue like you would pick up a child, from below or around its arms, not by the head. The custom is to not intentionally breathe on images or offerings. The exception being when breath is used to move energy, like blowing to transfer the spiritual charge produced by a mantra.


1. Chant the Oneness Moola Mantra three times, while performing arati. (Light an oil lamp, candle, or camphor. Offer it three times in clockwise circles, with the right hand or both if heavy. For more context, read the arati section below.)

2. Sashtanga Namaskaram = Show respect to God by bringing your hands together at your heart in the prayer position (“namaskaram/namaskara”).

Traditionally prostrations may be offered instead during this step. Sashtanga/Ashtanga Namaskaram/Namaskara is usually translated as “eight point (prostration)”, meaning eight body parts touch the ground; the list varies between sources but typically two feet, two knees, the chest, two hands, and the forehead. Woman traditionally perform Panchanga Namaskaram instead, “five point (prostration)”; once again, the list varies but two feet, two hands, and the forehead is common. The two terms are paired together because after the prostration (Sashatanga or Panchanga), the person then puts their hands together in the prayer position (Namaskaram). If space is tight, simply do the hand gesture instead.

The main mantra used during the puja is familiar, it is the last third of the Oneness Moola Mantra:

Sri: Sri is formally placed before a name or title to show respect.
Bhagavathi: The feminine aspect of God.
Sametha: Together with.
Sri: Sri is formally placed before a name or title to show respect.
Bhagavathe: The masculine aspect of God.
Namaha: A traditional mantra ending, translated many ways: “Salutations, I offer obeisance (a gesture of homage, like bowing), I respectfully call upon the name”.

This part of the puja has three steps, the first and third use this truncated version of the Oneness Moola Mantra above but add a word to the end:

3. Shorter Version + Dhyayami = “I meditate”.

4. Chant the complete Oneness Moola Mantra once.

5. Shorter Version + Avahayami = “I invite (God into my home and heart).”

These two steps usually begin pujas, often combined with a third, sankalpa (Sanskrit, sańkalpa, “intention, desire, objective”), declaring your intentions for the ceremony. Traditionally the sankalpa step includes a listing of the date, location, your name, etc.

During the first step, you meditate on God to prepare mentally for the puja. The Oneness instructions say to close your eyes and visualize your divine in your heart and/or Sri Amma Bhagavan.  During the second step, you invite the divine presence into the representations on the altar. Although God is both omnipresent and ultimately formless, we ask for its energy to manifest within the images for our benefit, that we may interact more closely. The different steps of the puja transform the image into a conduit for divine energy. Clearing it with water, charging it with powders, incense, and flowers, and then transferring that energy to us.


Most of the remaining mantras follow the formula: Sri Bhagavati Sameta Sri Bhagavate Namaha + (different word) + Samarpayami. Samarpayami means “I offer”. The different words simply describe the things being offered.

1. Shorter Version + Padhyam Samarpayami = “I offer water to wash your feet”. (Offer water in a spoon with your right hand, then pour it into a dish. Visualize washing the feet.)

2. Shorter Version + Argyam Samarpayami = “I offer water to wash your hands”. (Offer water in a spoon with your right hand, then pour it into a dish. Visualize washing the hands.)

3. Shorter Version + Achamaneeyam Samarpayami = “I offer water to drink”. (Offer water in a spoon with your right hand, then pour it into a dish. Visualize giving water to drink.)

4. Shorter Version + Snanam Samarpayami = “I offer water for bathing”. (Offer water in a spoon with your right hand, then pour it into a dish. Traditionally water may instead be poured over a statue in a dish, or sprinkled over it with a whole flower three times. Visualize giving water to bathe.)

5. Shorter Version + Snanaan Antaram Achamaneeyam Samarpayami = “I offer another drink of water, after bathing”. (Offer water in a spoon with your right hand, then pour it into a dish. Visualize giving water to drink again.)

When water is combined with other ingredients and offered to a representation of God, it is called theertha/theertham (Sanskrit, tīrtha). Especially if it was poured over something like a statue. The term also refers to the source of water for a temple or a place of pilgrimage associated with water. This double meaning symbolizes that contact with the divine has transformed it, making it like water from a sacred place. The recipe for theertham in the Oneness instructions is: good drinking water, three cardamom/cardamon seed pods (Elettaria cardamomum), and tulsai/tulsi leaves, also known as holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), not to be confused with regular basil (Ocimum basilicum). Be sure to draw water from a spiritually pure place like your kitchen, rather than a bathroom, if possible. Or use bottled water.

6. Shorter Version + Vastram Samarpayami = “I offer clothing”. (Offer some cloth or rice. Visualize giving clothing and ornaments like jewelry.)

Traditionally in a puja, if you can not find, afford, or directly use a material, like offering water over a photograph, it can be substituted with something else like rice, flowers, or water. But you visualize giving the actual thing. The next two steps are commonly replaced in pujas. The instructions say to offer cloth or rice for the vastram (“clothing”) step and rice for upaveetam (“sacred thread”).

Only “unbroken rice” is traditionally offered during pujas, known as akshata (Sanskrit, aksata, “not broken”). A percentage of all rice gets damaged when being milled. This “broken rice” is much less expensive but releases its starch when cooking, so is reserved for desserts and brewing. Most rice in grocery stores is unbroken but both varieties are found in Asian markets. The akshata is offered uncooked but colored yellow by turmeric in the Oneness instructions. Turmeric easily dyes fabric and skin yellow, so handle it with care. Directions for other pujas may suggest different coloring agents, like kumkum. For more context, see the kumkum section below.

7. Shorter Version + Upaveetam Samarpayami = “I offer a sacred thread”. (Offer rice. Visualize giving a sacred thread.)

Upaveetam/upavitam, also known as yajnopavitam, is a sacred circular thread traditionally worn by male Brahmins. It loops around the left shoulder and under the right arm. It represents purity, knowledge, and adulthood. Often made with three loops with three knots, it symbolizes many Hindu trinities: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer, sat chit ananda (“existence, consciousness, and bliss”), and respect for our parents, spiritual teachers, and God, etc. The three strands can also represent the main channels of the chakra system, kundalini's path up the spine to produce mystical union.

8. Shorter Version + Chandanam Samarpayami = “I offer sandalwood powder”. (Apply sandalwood powder to the forehead and/or feet using the ring finger of the right hand. Or mix sandalwood powder with water to make a paste, then apply. Visualize giving a ritual powder mark.)

Chandan is an off white to yellowish brown powder produced from sandalwood (Santalum album). The same name is used for the tree. Sandalwood is associated with mental clarity, meditation, and coolness.

The dot on the forehead is called a tilak/tilaka/tika (Sanskrit, tilaka, “freckle, spot, religious mark”). Also known as a bindi (from the Sanskrit, bindu “drop, point, spot”.) The terms are often used interchangeably. However tilak can specifically refer to:

-a mark worn by either sex for spiritual reasons.
-produced from ritual powders.
-placed primarily on the forehead but also other body parts.
-may have many shapes.

While a bindi is:

-worn by women on the forehead.
-may only be decorative.
-made from a wider range of materials, including stick on ones.
-usually tear or dot shaped.

The main chakras are located along the spine but have corresponding spots on the front of the body where they are visualized, called kshetra/kshetram (Sanskrit, kṣetra, “place, field, location of a sacred site, like a temple”). The middle of the forehead is the kshetra of the Third Eye, the chakra associated with our thoughts, consciousness, and ego identity. Placing a smear of blessed powder here is believed to deepen meditation, calm the mind, and bring us closer to God. Like acupuncture needles, tilak may be placed at other points across the body, to call spiritual energy into the physical. Specific shapes are associated with different spiritual beings. For example, three horizontal lines on the forehead for Shiva, two or more vertical lines in the shape of a “u” for Vishnu. So they can also show membership within a spiritual community.

While it is easy to understand offering water to a guest, there are multiple ways to contextualize powder offerings:

As a cosmetic: Since a bindi can simply be decorative, the powders are understood as cosmetics. After bathing, there is personal grooming, including make up. Powders like turmeric may also be worn medicinally in India.

As a religious mark: Both devout men and women wear a tilak to symbolize turning their consciousness towards God. The blessed powders are infused with energy which enters the subtle body through the Third Eye.

To support divine presence: During a puja, a representation of God like a statue becomes a conduit for spiritual energy. The water offerings cleanse it, the remaining steps build up the spiritual charge. Just as tilak may be used at specific spots across our spiritual anatomy, the marks help the spiritual ground into the material.

While offered on the forehead or feet in the Oneness instructions, ritual powders may be sprinkled in other pujas or used to completely cover a statue. Traditionally if using them directly would be damaging, like on a photograph, a flower can be set in front of the representation and the powders applied to it.

9. Shorter Version + Kumkumam Samarpayami = “I offer kumkum powder.” (Apply kumkum powder to the forehead and/or feet, using the ring finger of the right hand. Visualize giving a ritual powder mark.)

Kumkum is a reddish powder, traditionally made from the spice turmeric (Curcuma longa). The color is altered from yellow to red by the addition of slaked lime (Calcium hydroxide). Most kumkum today is produced with synthetic color instead. Because blood is red, the color symbolizes life. Kumkum represents abundance, fertility, and good luck. Wearing it may also represents a woman's marital status in India. Confusingly it may also be called sindoor/sindur, the name for another red powder colored by vermillion, a pigment derived from the mineral cinnabar (Mercuric sulfide). Sindoor/sindur may also refer to orange colored powders, while kumkum is used for red.  Kumkum easily dyes fabrics and skin red, so handle it with care.

For the next few mantras, the ending changes. Each is a different offering verb, related to the thing being given.

10. Shorter Version + Pushpaihi Poojayami = “I worship God with an offering of flowers.” (While saying one of the mantras used during the course, offer flowers with the right hand, at the end of each repetition. Visualize giving flowers, garlands, ornaments for the hair, etc.)

Usually flowers are plucked from their stems or petals alone are used. The custom is to not intentionally smell flowers before using them during a puja, since the fragrance itself is part of the offering. If gathering your own flowers, those that have fallen to the ground already are not offered traditionally.

11. Shorter Version + Doopam Agrapayami = “I display an offering of incense.” (Light incense sticks, usually an odd number. Offer them three times in clockwise circles, with the right hand. Visualize giving incense.)

To ensure a complete circle, a looping pattern may be used instead. Visualize a clock face. Begin at the 6. Make a clockwise circle but stop around the 8. Move counter clockwise briefly, stopping around the 4. Then move clockwise around the circle again. Repeat as needed.

The custom is to not intentionally smell incense before using it during a puja, since the fragrance itself is part of the offering.

12. Shorter Version + Deepam Darshayami = “I present to you an offering of light.” (Light an oil lamp or candle. Offer it three times in clockwise circles, with the right hand or both if heavy. Visualize giving light.)

To ensure a complete circle, a looping pattern may be used instead. Visualize a clock face. Begin at the 6. Make a clockwise circle but stop around the 8. Move counter clockwise briefly, stopping around the 4. Then move clockwise around the circle again. Repeat as needed.

Now we return to the Samarpayami ending.

13. Shorter Version + Naivedyam Samarpayami = “I offer food.” (Place some food in front of the representation of God or present a tray three times in clockwise circles, with the right hand or both if heavy. Visualize giving food.)

To ensure a complete circle, a looping pattern may be used instead. Visualize a clock face. Begin at the 6. Make a clockwise circle but stop around the 8. Move counter clockwise briefly, stopping around the 4. Then move clockwise around the circle again. Repeat as needed.

Usually fruits and sweets are used, alcohol and meat are generally avoided. The custom is to not intentionally smell or eat the food before offering it.

14. Shorter Version + Mangala Arati Samarpayami = “I offer the blessed arati”. (Light an oil lamp, candle, or camphor. Offer it three times in clockwise circles, with the right hand or both if heavy. Often a bell is rung in the left hand at the same time, but the Oneness directions do not mention one. Visualize giving light.)

Mangala,“blessed, auspicious, good fortune” and arati/arathi/aarti, “an offering of light, often accompanied by music”. (Sanskrit, mańgala-ārati.) During an arati, an oil lamp or an arati tray (an oil lamp accompanied by other offerings like incense, flowers, and food) is presented in clockwise circles before a representation of God. The light becomes blessed by the contact, allowing us to receive energy from the flame afterwards. Cup both your hands, as if gathering up the blessing from the light, and draw your hands back to your eyes or the top of your head. The fuel for the lamp is typically ghee, a type of clarified butter.

Camphor may be burned instead. A fragrant white powder derived either from the essential oil of the camphor laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) or produced synthetically. It burns with an intense flame, black smoke, and medicinal scent but goes out quickly. Camphor slowly evaporates when exposed to air, so it should be stored in an air tight container.

To ensure a complete circle, a looping pattern may be used. Visualize a clock face. Begin at the 6. Make a clockwise circle but stop around the 8. Move counter clockwise briefly, stopping around the 4. Then move clockwise around the circle again. Repeat as needed.

15. Shorter Version + Prartanam Samarpayami = “I offer my prayers”.

16. Shorter Version + Atma Pradakshina Namaskaram Samarpayami = “With hands together in prayer, I offer clockwise motion to honor the aspect of God that dwells within me”. (Join your hands together in the prayer position above your head, spin in place clockwise [turning to your right] seven times, and then prostrate to God at the altar.)

Namaskaram is familiar from the beginning of the puja, putting the hands together at the heart in a position of prayer. Atma (Sanskrit, ātma, “soul, self, living being”) is the aspect of the divine believed to exist in all living beings. Pradakshina (Sanskrit, pradakṣiṇa, “circulambulation”) is moving around something in a clockwise motion, to show respect. Many religions circle sacred sites, objects, and people, to help us find a still center. In this version of pradakshina, we spin around in place, to honor the divine energy now building up within ourselves. In other pujas, the motion is around the altar itself.


When the puja is complete, the theertham (“holy water”) is distributed to those who attended the puja, along with the prasadam/prasad (Sanskrit, prasāda), anything edible that was offered, now believed to be infused with divine energy. Traditionally the sandalwood powder or kumkum is also shared, to make a tilak on our own foreheads, with the ring finger of the right hand.

Before moving a charged representation of God, visarjana is traditionally performed (Sanskrit, visarjana, “departure, release, the sending back of a deity”), the opposite of the avahana (Sanskrit, āvāhana, “invitation, invocation, calling”) that began the ceremony. Thank God. Set a flower on the altar at the feet of the divine, then bring it to your heart, while visualizing the energy still in it entering your Heart Chakra. While being physically transported, images should be respectfully wrapped up in cloth like a scarf.

Water, food, and flowers can be brought home to share the blessing. Later these remnants of the puja, like dying flowers, are still handled with respect, since they had contact with the divine. They are traditionally scattered into a local body of water like a stream, river, or lake. Of course, that’s littering today! So any clean place in nature is also acceptable, like your yard, especially near the roots of a tree.


Puja Samagri (Sanskrit, sāmagrī, “materials, items, ingredients [for a Puja]”):

Tray (“thali”) with small bowls or individual dishes for offerings.
Water pot (“kalasha/kalasham”), spoon, dish to collect water.
Drinking water to produce holy water (“theertha/theertham”).
Three cardamom/cardamon seed pods (“elaichai”)
Holy basil (“tulsi/tulsai leaves”)
Unbroken rice.
Turmeric powder.
Kumkum powder.
Sandalwood powder (“chandan”).
Flowers removed from their stems or flower petals.  Whole flowers in vases for the altar.
Incense holder.
Oil lamp or candle.
Camphor and/or ghee.

ऊँ सत् चित् आनन्द परब्रह्मा
पुरुषोत्तम परमात्मा
श्री भगवती समेत श्री भगवते नम:।
(Oneness Moola Mantra in Sanskrit)

“Om Sat Chit Ananda Parabrahma
Purushothama Paramatma
Sri Bhagavathi Sametha Sri Bhagavathe Namaha”

© 2012, C. L. Matthews, Version 5.0

For a glossary of Oneness/Deeksha terms, see:

Oneness/Deeksha Glossary 

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