As followers of a bhakti sampraday, devotees of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha express their faith in Bhagwan Swaminarayan through devotional rituals and practices. Devotees follow a set of daily and weekly practices.
These practices reinforce Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings to live a spiritually charged and morally pure life:
• Daily Puja
• Tilak Chandlo
• Panchang Pranam
• Dandvat Pranam
• Daily Satsang Reading
• Ghar Sabha
• Weekly Satsang Sabha
These practices stabilize the mind and purify its thoughts. They are the answer to maintaining one’s focus on God admidst one’s daily routine.
Mansi puja is the mental worship of God. Mansi puja is not limited to a particular time of day and does not require a specific place or accommodation. While engaging in mansi puja, devotees typically offer their devotion to God by mentally singing His praises, serving Him, feeding Him, putting Him to sleep, and bathing and adorning Him with garments and ornaments. Some devotees also introspect on their day’s work and actions, which enables them to improve their productivity and spiritual output for the following day.
The word ‘puja’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘puj,’ meaning to worship or to adore. Nitya Puja, or daily puja, is a prayer ritual performed every morning by Hindu devotees. A devotee can communicate with God during daily puja and convey one’s concerns and feelings directly to God. Puja helps an individual concentrate on the divine murti of God and His gunatit sadhu. It helps to calm the mind and quiet its many thoughts. Each morning, after having brushed and bathed but prior to eating or drinking, devotees put on freshly washed clothes and sit facing in a northern or eastern direction on a clean piece of cloth, or asana. The northern direction symbolizes the path for spiritual progress, and the sun rises in the eastern direction, symbolizing enlightenment.
Devotees then lay out before them the murti of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the guru parampara on another asana while reciting a Sanskrit verse inviting them to grace their puja. Thereafter, a male devotee places a tilak-chandlo made from chandan and kumkum on his forehead, while female devotees apply a kumkum chandlo. During puja, followers of Bhagwan Swaminarayan meditate on His divine form and their atma, acknowledging that their existence is separate from the body.
They then engage in dhyan, yoga/pranayam, mansi, mala, dandavat, pradakshina, and prarthana. Devotees recite another shloka signaling the end of the puja and then read 5 shlokas from the Shikshapatri.
After finishing puja, devotees say “Jai Swaminarayan” to those present and bow down, or perform panchang pranam, to their parents. Beginning each day in this manner spiritually prepares one’s mind for the stress associated with daily tasks.
The tilak-chandlo has been a Hindu tradition, especially in the Vaishnav Sampraday, for thousands of years as a symbol of victory, auspiciousness, and belonging to a particular faith. Tilak, a mark of Hindu Sanatan Dharma, comes from the Sanskrit word ‘til’ which means sesame seed. The sesame seed has great importance in yagnas and charity. A tilak is imprinted on a person’s forehead because it is the location through which one can channel Divinity, thus enhancing the spiritual character of an individual. Male devotees of the Swaminarayan Sampraday apply a tilak and chandlo on their foreheads during their puja. The tilak is made of chandan, or yellow sandalwood paste, and the chandlo is made of kumkum, or red saffron powder. Female devotees only apply a chandlo, commonly known as bindi, on their foreheads. The tilak is representative of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s feet, and the chandlo is representative of the devotee.
In this way, the meaning of the tilak-chandlo is two-fold. First, it represents a devotee remaining at the service of God’s feet. Secondly, it represents the dual devotion to God and the gunatit guru. In the Swaminarayan Sampraday, Bhagwan Swaminarayan introduced the tilak-chandlo to His paramhansas by applying a sample on Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami’s forehead. Today, millions of devotees wear the tilak-chandlo on their forehead proudly symbolizing their affinity to Hindu dharma and their faith in Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
Dhyan, or meditation, is fundamental to stabilizing one’s mind. Devotees focus on the murti or divine form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and rid their minds of all other thoughts and disturbances. This ancient practice improves concentration, thereby increasing efficiency.
A mala is a string of wooden beads, similar to a rosary, which devotees pass through their middle finger and thumb. One mala contains 108 beads. The Swaminarayan mantra is chanted as each bead is turned. Devotees perform anywhere from 5 to 51 malas during their daily pujas. Many devotees also complete additional malas when their schedules permit, such as during their commute to work and prior to retiring to bed at night. Chanting the Swaminarayan mantra while turning the mala is an extremely effective method to pacify one’s mind and silence its many fleeting thoughts.
Devotees bow down to their parents every day after doing their daily puja. This gesture is a symbol of reverence and gratitude to their parents.
Faith and intense attachment to the divine form of God are necessary to understand the role darshan plays in a Hindu’s life. Darshan in Sanskrit means ‘seeing, to see, or be seen by God or His gunatit sadhu.’ However, the true import of darshan is much more than its literal meaning. Darshan is the zeal for even a glimpse of God and His gunatit sadhu. Millions of Hindus travel to mandirs that are not only difficult to reach but contain dense crowds of thousands of people trying to catch a glimpse of the murtis. The expression of satisfaction, serenity, and joy on the face of a devotee who has just completed darshan truly captures the essence of darshan. Devotees perform darshan of the murtis upon arriving at the mandir. However, darshan does not have to be performed at a mandir. Devotees can do darshan of different murtis during the course of the day at home, in their office, before driving in their cars, and even before a major exam of a murti in their wallet. The faithful gather in thousands to perform the darshan of Pramukh Swami Maharaj for his morning puja ritual.
Dandvat Pranam is a ritual during which devotees offer their respects and surrender themselves to God and His gunatit sadhu by bowing down. ‘Danda-vat,’ a Sanskrit word, literally means lying on the floor like a stick. Devotees perform dandvat pranam by lying fully prostrate on the floor with their arms stretched out towards the murtis. It is a symbol of complete submission that reminds devotees to respect God and cultivate humility. All of mankind’s karmas are performed through mind, body, or speech, and every karma in life should be offered to Bhagwan. Eight specific parts of the body should touch the floor:
• Jãnubhyãm – thighs
• Padabhyãm – feet
• Karãbhyãm – hands
• Urasã – chest
• Manasã – mind
• Shirasã – head
• Vachasã – speech
• Drushtyã – eyes
In addition to the religious aspects, dandvat pranam, a combination of three yogic postures, tones the muscles of the neck, shoulders, chest, and lower back, relieves backaches, increases flexibility of the spinal column, increases the efficiency of the pancreas and adrenals, and helps prevent diabetes. At BAPS Swaminarayan mandirs around the world, devotees perform dandavat pranam after having darshan of the murtis and as part of the aarti ceremony.
Arti is the ancient practice of waving a lighted wick in a clockwise motion around a murti while singing a prayer. It symbolizes the removal of darkness by true spiritual enlightenment. Devotees typically perform arti twice in their ghar mandir, once in the morning and again at night. In traditional Hindu mandirs, arti is performed 5 times a day. Learn how to perfrom the aarti by watching this instructional video and downloading the arti.
Devotees read a variety of scriptures daily. Devotees read 5 shlokas from the Shikshapatri in their daily puja. Also during their daily puja or throughout the course of their day, devotees read one passage from the Vachanamrut and five Swamini Vato and spend an additional ten to fifteen minutes studying other texts, such as biographies of the guru parampara, various scriptures by the paramhansas, and contemporary publications on spiritual living.
Ghar Sabha is an effective way to build and maintain a healthy relationship within a household. During ghar sabha (literally translated to home assembly), members of the family jointly perform prayers, such as aarti, and participate in spiritually-oriented discussions, whether related directly to God or having to do with their day at school or work. Many times, families address obstacles encountered on their spiritual and worldly quests. This exercise vastly improves communication within the home and also provides a platform for sharing and seeking advice from family members.
Every night before going to bed, devotees sing the cheshta, or a collection of prose lyrics describing the divine murti and actions of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. The lyrics describe in great detail the many divine mannerisms of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, such as His eating habits, how He sat in a spiritual assembly, and how He fell asleep. Recalling these lila charitras has been prescribed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan as the only means to eternal happiness and peace of mind. You can listen to the cheshta online and incorporate it into your nightly routine.
Every Sunday, men, women, and children gather at BAPS mandirs and cultural complexes around the world to attend weekly satsang sabhas. This tradition was started by Yogiji Maharaj and continues to be the focal point of the BAPS community. It provides the idyllic retreat and dose of spirituality needed after a week’s worth of work in a fast-paced, materialistic environment. During sabha, the congregation participates in dhoon, bhajan, mansi, video presentations, cultural programs, and spiritual discourses by sadhus or learned devotees. Look for the nearest BAPS mandir in your neighborhood or get your dose of weekly spirituality online with the Online Satsang Sabha.