Towards the end of each ritual service (pooja or bhajan) of the Lord or to welcome an honored guest or saint, we perform the aarti. This is always accompanied by the sound of the bell and, sometimes, the singing, the touch of the musical instruments and the clapping.
This is one of the sixteen steps (shodasha upachaara) of the pooja ritual. It is known as the lit lamp in the right hand, which we shake in a clockwise circular motion to illuminate the entire form of the Lord.
Each part is revealed individually and also the complete form of the Lord. As the light trembles, we mentally or loudly chant prayers or simply contemplate the beautiful form of the Lord, lit by the lamp. At the end of the aarti, we place our hands on the flame, then gently touch the eyes and the top of the head.
We have seen and participated in this ritual since our childhood. Let’s see why we do aarti?
After worshiping the Lord of love, accomplished abhisheka, decorated the image and offered fruits and treats, we see the beauty of the Lord in all his glory. Our thoughts are focused on each member of the Lord as the lamp illuminates him. It is similar to the silent meditation of the open eyes on its beauty. The singing, the applause, the ringing of the bell, etc. They denote the joy and auspiciousness that accompany the vision of the Lord.
Aarti is often made with camphor. This has a revealing spiritual meaning. Camphor when lit, it burns completely without a trace. It represents our inherent tendencies (vaasanas). When they are enlightened by the fire of knowledge that enlightens the Lord (the Truth), our vaasanas are completely exhausted, leaving no trace of an ego that creates in us a sense of individuality that keeps us separate from the Lord.
Also, while camphor burns to reveal the glory of the Lord, it emits a pleasant fragrance even while making sacrifices. In our spiritual progress, even when we serve the guru and society, we must voluntarily sacrifice ourselves and all we have to extend the “fragrance” of love to all. We often wait a long time to see the Lord illuminated, but when the aarti is truly accomplished, our eyes automatically close as if we are looking inward. It is to signify that each of us is a temple of the Lord.
Just as the priest clearly reveals the form of the Lord with the aarti flame, so the guru reveals the divinity in each of us with the help of the “flame” of knowledge (or the light of spiritual knowledge). At the end of the aarti, we place our hands on the flame, then we touch the eyes and the top of the head. It means that the light that illuminated the Lord illuminates my vision; May my vision be divine and my thoughts noble and beautiful.
The philosophical meaning of Aarati extends even further. The sun, the moon, the stars, the ray and the fire are the natural sources of light. The Lord is the source of this wonderful phenomenon of the universe. It is only because of Him that everything else exists and shines. When we enlighten the Lord with the flame of the aarti, we direct our attention to the very source of all light, which symbolizes knowledge and life.
The sun is also the divinity that presides over the intellect, the moon, the spirit and the fire, the word. The Lord is the supreme consciousness that enlightens everyone. Without it, the intellect can not think, nor can the mind feel and the language can not speak. The Lord is beyond the mind, the intellect and the word. How can this finished team enlighten the Lord? Therefore, as we perform the aarti, we sing;
Na tatra suryo bhaati na chandra taarakam
Nemaa vidyuto bhaanti kutoyamagnib
Tameva bhaantam anubhaati sarvam
Tasya bhasa sarvam idam vibhaati
It is where the sun does not shine, the moon, the stars and the lightning. So, what about this little flame (in my hand)? Everything (in the universe) shines only after the Lord, and only by its light are we all enlightened.