We are looking at the general meaning of the mantra
Om catuḥ ṣaṣtyupacārāḍhyāyai namaḥ
(who is adored in Sixty four ceremonies.)
To serve her with love and externalize that love as worship, is what this mantra stands for.
As an example of this, we quote the example of the great devotee, Poonthaanam. One day Poonthanam stood before Guruvayoorappan, singing his praises. He sang पद्मनाभो मरप्रभू. We don’t know whether Narayana Bhattathiri heard this himself or was told of this. However, the News reached his ears that Poonthanam had recited the name wrongly.
He said “devas and gods have no death. They are without beginning and end”. Thus Bhattathiri criticized Poonthanam. The next day when Bhattathiri went to Guruvayoorappan, he heard a celestial voice, “Poonthanam’s bhakti (devotion) is dearer to me than Bhattathiri’s vibhakti (rhyme & grammar).
पद्मनाभो मरप्रभू, means all ‘Ashwatha tree and all others are me, I am this entire world’. This verse of Poonthanam, sung with love, is very dear to me. With honey, milk, water, sandal paste fragrance, and flowers, we propitiate God. But the attitude with which we pray to him is more important.
Amma tells us a story of Vidhura’s wife. Shri Krishna visited Vidhura’s house one day. He went there unannounced and without any notice. Everyone thought he would stay in Duryodhana’s house. Vidhura was not prepared for this visit. Lord Krishna thus entered the house where he was not expected. Everyone stood there, astounded. Vidhura was at a loss as to how to receive him.
Vidhura’s wife was having a bath at this time. She came running in her bathing clothes and placed an asana for the lord to sit on. It is our custom to feed the guest. So she took some bananas that were there. She peeled it and throwing away the fruit, gave him the peel eagerly. The lord smilingly accepted the offering and ate it graciously. Only when Vidhura stopped her, she realized what she was doing.
Shabari, in a similar way, bit the fruit to test its sweetness, before offering it to Lord Rama. While this angered Lakshmana, Lord Rama accepted the offering. It is the love of the devotee for him, that the lord relishes and so these ceremonies are not merely outward rituals, they depict the love for the lord and that is the most important aspect.
The mere placement of words on the seven notes does not make a song. It is the emotions that enliven it. Without bhakti or devotion, the song is lifeless. This is true for any art. Great musicians like Sri Thyagaraja have said “Saṅgīta jñānamu bhakti vinā” – Bereft of devotion, knowledge of music cannot be gained.
We must constantly remember God for all 24 hours. More beautiful than this is the method of Manasa pooja, advocated by Amma. We must install the deity in our hearts. Convert our hearts into a temple. Inside the temple of our heart, perform all the ceremonies to Devi. Live in the constant remembrance of Devi. Pray to her constantly.
It is said that the ritual ceremonies are five, six, sixteen, sixty-four, and seventy-two in number. Bhaskararaya in his book has added eight more rituals to sixty-four. They are obeisance to the guru, chanting mantras, worshipping mantras-drishtas or seers, focusing on the meaning of the mantras, and so on.
Sri Sankaracharya has beautifully encompassed all these into the single hymn. “Chathushashtyupachara Puja”. Apart from describing the sixty-four rituals, he has added eight other rituals in that hymn. This is in essence, what Amma has so beautifully condensed into the Manasa puja.
Ritualistic pooja involves the ceremonial adornment of the deity in silken garments, drawing of the sacred kalam, (geometrical patterns), fragrant unguents. That is good. However, the important part is our bhakti or devotion. We must perform this pooja in our hearts.
Amma says while on a long journey, instead of being idle we must imagine our personal deity in the sky. Keep chanting your mantra constantly. Remembrance of God is the chief task of our lives. Whatever we do in our lives, we must do it while constantly remembering God. That is the meaning of this mantra