അറുപത്തിനാല് ഉപചാരങ്ങൾ – Sixty four ceremonies

When we go to the temple, we can see the lit lamps and inhale the fragrant incense. Often we do not consider the spiritual principle behind various ceremonies.

The next mantra is
Om catuḥ ṣaṣtyupacārāḍhyāyai namaḥ
(who is adored in sixty-four ceremonies.)

The word “Upacharam” is Sanskrit. “Upa” the meaning of near. When we go to the temple, we can see the lit lamps and inhale the fragrant incense. Often we do not consider the spiritual principle behind various ceremonies. We perform royal ceremonies that are done for an emperor for Devi also.

Let me narrate an incident from the life of Swami Vivekananda. Once he stayed in the palace of Khetri Maharaj. They discussed many topics. The discussion was on the topic of devotion.

Khetri Maharaj said, “Even though worship of God and Sanyas (renunciation) is commendable I have no affinity for worshipping Idols. We worship miniature idols made of copper and gold, we offer flowers and delicious food to the idols. They do not eat the food, I can find no logic or reason behind such ceremonies.”

Swami Vivekananda remained silent for the time being. The next day, Swami Vivekananda came to the palace assembly and requested the minister to bring him the picture of the king’s father. He asked the minister to spit at the picture.

The minister hesitated, Vivekananda turned to Khetri Maharaj and said, “Why does your minister hesitate to spit at the picture of your father, the former king? Isn’t this as you say, just a drawing on a piece of paper?”

The Diwan answered, “This is the father of the king. How can I insult and demean the father of the king who feeds me? I do not consider this a piece of paper; I see the face of my king’s father. He clothes me and gives a home to me and all his subjects?”

Swami Vivekananda said “In the same manner we do not see an idol as a statue made of copper or silver or gold. The idol symbolizes and is infused with the all-pervading divine consciousness.” Khetri Maharaj had said that the worship of idols was mere blind belief.

After this incident, Vivekananda said to Khetri Maharaj, “In a manner of speaking, all beliefs are blind. We get into a vehicle believing that we will reach our destination. Sometimes accidents do happen but it is our belief that leads us to actual experience.”

He said, “विश्वास अन्धा है, अनुभव ही सत्य है; Faith is blind. Experience is the truth.” Khetri Maharaj appreciated his words.

We must travel to experience through the path of faith. In the same manner, the worship of the Lord leads us to a great experience. When we ceremoniously bathe the tiny idol with milk, ghee, and tender coconut water, and offer with great devotion, delicious food to the idol, it is not for the sake of the idol, it is for the purity of our mind, to cleanse the impurities from our own mind.

The attitude with which we worship God is crucial. In temples, God is worshipped through five ceremonies, with water, incense, flower, camphor, and lit lamps. When we offer deity pure and fresh food prepared in the temple itself, it becomes the sixth ceremony of worship.

When we worship the deity by holding an umbrella and handheld fans over the idol and carrying the deity in circumambulation along the sacred pathway, it is called nine ceremonial methods of worship. We talk about the sixteen ceremonial methods of worship. It can be transformed into sixty-four ceremonial methods of worship.

Devi is woken up in the morning, by chanting the Suprabhataam by the help of auspicious instrumental music. It is followed by the ceremonial ablution of the Devi in the temple bathing the ghats, (pond) or bathing her with sacred waters, and sandalwood paste, adorning her with precious ornaments and silk garments.

Thus attired, Devi is entertained with song and dance and propitiated with sacred hymns. The four Vedas are chanted in her presence. At night, Devi goes to sleep with a lullaby. The Chathushashti(64) upacharam consists of all the ceremonies from morning tonight. Devi is accorded the customary royal honor with gifts and ceremonies usually reserved for Kings.

In addition to these customs, the attitude with which these offerings are made is most important. Normally we perform only five of these ceremonies. It is due to one’s intense devotions, that more rituals are performed, up to 16 in number. Those who spend extensive time in the ritualistic worship of Devi, extend the ceremony to their heart’s desire. They perform all 64 rituals.

They recite stories to Devi, fan her with the Chamaram and hold the royal umbrella to shield her to treat a mother as a mother, one need not learn the procedure specifically. There is no need to learn scriptures for that. Love in our hearts for Her is all we need to do what is necessary to propitiate her.

In essence, these external ceremonies and rituals only serve to strengthen and nourish the love we have for her in our hearts. Many people say they don’t have the time for ritualistic prayer or Aradhana or they don’t know how to meditate. This mantra helps make up for this lack. With whatever time we have, we may perform five, sixteen, or all sixty-four rituals. Amma is always with us. These mantras help us reminiscence about the various activities of Devi.