Murti pratishtha is a ritual invoking God in a murti by performing Vedic rites and chanting mantras as prescribed by the Panchratra Agam Shastras. Murti pratishtha is performed on the day of the inauguration of a new mandir. Murti pratishtha is a celebration often coupled with a Nagar Yatra, or cultural procession, and Vishwashanti Maha Yagna, or prayer for world peace. During the Nagar Yatra, the murtis are placed on beautifully decorated floats that are carried throughout the city in which the mandir is being built. Hindus believe that after a murti pratishtha, divinity enters murti. The murti is not simply an image but rather a living form of God. Pramukh Swami Maharaj has performed murti pratishthas in hundreds of mandirs in the last 50 years and instilled faith in God and murti-puja in Hindus around the world. The murti pratishta ritual is a beautiful celebration of spirituality and faith.
The ceremony of the murti pratishtha has several parts. They are described in further detail below.
After a murti is sculpted, it must be purified in the artisan’s workplace where the murti was made; this first step is known as Karmakutir. The artisan touches the entire murti with darbha grass. Darbha grass is a long, stalky species of grass that is considered to have purifying properties by Hindus. This first step removes any evil influences from the murti. The artisan then closes the murti’s eyes by smearing a thin layer of ghee and honey over the eyes, after which the artisan or a brahmin pundit perform 200 ahutis (oblations) or homas (any ritual in which making offerings into a consecrated fire is the primary action) while chanting mantras. A nada-chhadi is tied to the right wrist of the murti before it leaves the artisan’s workshop.
The murti is then transported to the yagna mandap where the yagna is to be performed. Here, the murti is submerged in jal (water). The purpose of submerging the murti in water is to check whether the murti is totally whole and not khandit (damaged in any way). A small amount of panchamrut is added into the vessel containing the murti along with other puja dravyas (auspicious substances used to perform puja). The vessel is then covered with a cloth, and the mantras of Agni are chanted for further purification. The cloth is then removed, and the murti is awakened by sounding a ghantadi (bell). The murti is removed from the vessel and wiped dry.
A layer of dhãnya (grains or pulses) is spread on the floor, and the murti is laid supine on the layer of dhãnya. The murti is then completely covered with more dhãnya, usually rice or wheat grain. This is done to further purify the murti.
Next, the murti is submerged in cow’s ghee (ghrut), as cow’s ghee is considered to be pure. However, this step is altered on many occasions because a stone or marble murti covered with ghee is highly prone to slipping, resulting in possible damage to the murti. Instead, a piece of cotton wool soaked in ghee is placed on the big toe of the foot of the murti. The murti is again awakened and then placed on a wooden stand.
Snapan, or abhishek, is the ritual of bathing a murti with a liquid such as milk or water. This rite is the principal form of purification involving 108 different types of materials, such as panchamrut, water containing the essence of various fragrant flowers and leaves, water which has been poured over the horns of a cow, and sugar cane juice. One dravya is placed in each pot. 108 pots are placed in front of the murti in three vedhis (groups): the dakshin (south) group has eleven pots; the madhya (middle) group has eleven pots; and the remaining pots are in the uttar (north) group.
Abhishek of the murti is then performed with the contents of each pot. Each dravya has its own special mantra that is recited as abhishek is being performed with that particular pot. Such an extensive assortment of pure substances renders the murti’s immense shakti (power) and purity.
The artisan who sculpted the murti stands behind the murti and holds a mirror in front of the murti’s face. By looking at the murti’s eyes indirectly, reflected through the mirror, he removes the layer of ghee and honey (from the previous Karmakutir stage of purification) with a gold shalãkã (needle); this is known as the Netra-anãvaran rite. The reason for using the mirror is because once the murti’s eyes are opened, it’s first immensely powerful drashti (vision) should not fall on a human being. Instead, the murti is offered food already arranged in front of it prior to the Netra-anãvaran ritual.
7. Shodshopchar Puja
After wiping the murti dry, it is laid on a new mattress with food and a pot of water for one night’s rest. For sleep, the Nidrã Devi, Goddess of Sleep, is invoked with ãhawãn mantras. All through the night, ten brahmin pundits continually perform 200 homas in the yagna, away from the sleeping murti. While the pundits offer ãhuti of ghee in the eight directions (ashtãdikshu), one drop of ghee is placed in a pot of water. In the morning, water from this pot is sprinkled on the sleeping murti to awaken it while chanting uttishtha mantras.
The murti is then taken from the yagna mandap to the garbha gruh (inner sanctum) of the mandir where it is placed on the pindika (pedestal). While chanting mangalashtak (mantras of auspiciousness), a mason cements the murti to the pindika. After the cement has dried, brahmin pundits (or the Satpurush) enter the garbha gruh to perform the actual murti prãna pratishtha.
8. Prãna Pratishtha Rites
Now that the murti has been purified, it is ready to become the home of the Divine. It should be noted that the prãna pratishtha cannot be performed by just anyone. The Vaihãyasi Samhita (9/28-84, 90) of the Panchratra Agam Shastras states that, “One in whose every organ Paramatma resides fully, that pure Mahapurush is eligible to perform prãna pratishtha, because it is only he who can invoke Paramatma within his heart into the murti.” Today in the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, Pramukh Swami Maharaj is such a Mahapurush (Satpurush).
Nyãsvidhi is the first step in the prãna pratishtha. ‘Nyãs’ means touching. Nyãsvidhi invokes various deities, such as Brahmã, Indra, Surya, and others, in different parts of the murti. Chanting Paramatma’s bij mantra, and with the wave of the darbha grass and shalãkã (golden needle), the rite begins from the head of the murti down to its feet. The Satpurush places his hands a few inches from the murti while pundits chant bij mantras invoking Paramatma. The divine shakti (power) of Paramatma emanates from the Satpurush and enters the murti. First the prãna (life breath) enters the murti, followed by the jiva (soul). Lastly, the ten indriyas (senses) are infused into the murti. In the BAPS Swaminarayan tradition, the Satpurush performs the netra-anãvaran rite, ‘opening’ the murti’s eyes, by removing the coating of ghee and honey with a golden shalãkã. This final rite completes the prãna pratishtha. Now Paramatma fully resides within the murti; the murti is no longer termed murti but instead the deity invoked within the murti.
In the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, a mahapuja is performed in the assembly hall while abhishek is performed of the murti in the garbha gruh. Shangar (clothes) are offered to the murti after abhishek. Pramukh Swami Maharaj then performs the prãna pratishtha. An annakut is placed in front of Bhagwan after the prãna pratishtha, and Pramukh Swami Maharaj then performs the first ãarti.