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Why do we blow the conch? -Meaning of Sounds: the Reciting of OM, Chanting Shanti, Blowing a Conch and Ringing Bells

blow the conch

In temples or at homes, the conch is blown once or several times before ritualistic worship (pooja). It is sometimes blown whilst during aarti or to mark an auspicious occasion. It is blown before a battle starts or to announce the victory of an army. It is also placed in the altar and worshipped

When the conch is blown, the primordial sound of Om eminates. Om is an auspicious sound that was chanted by the Lord before creating the world. It represents the world and the truth behind it.

As the story goes, the demon shankhaasura defeated the devas, stole the vedas and went to the bottom of the ocean. The devas appealed to Lord Vishnu for help. He incarnated as matsya avataar - the "fish incarnation", and killed shankhaasura. The Lord blew the conch - shaped bone of his ear and head. the Om sound emanated, from which emerged the vedas. All knowledge enshrined in the vedas is an ellobration of Om. The conch therefore is known as shankh after shankhaasura. The conch blown by the Lord is called paanchajany. He carries it all times, in one of his four hands. It represents dharma or righteousness that is one of the four goals (purushaarthas) of life. The sound of the conch is thus also the vistory call of good over evil. If we place a conch close to our ears, we hear the sound of the waves of the ocean.

Another wel known purpose of blowing the conch and other instruments, known traditionally to produce auspicious sounds is to drown or mask the negative comments or noises that may disturb or upset the atmosphere or the minds of the worshippers.

Ancient India lived in her villages. Each village was presided over by a primary temple and several smaller ones. During the aarti performed after all important poojas and on sacred occasions, the conch used to be blown. Since, villages were generally small, the sound of the conch would be heard all over the village. People who could not make it to the temple, were reminded to stop whatever they were doing, atleast for a few seconds, and mentally bow to the Lord. The conch sound served to briefly elevate people's minds to a prayerful attitude even in the middle of their busy daily routine.

The conch is placed at the altar in temples and homes next to the Lord as a symbol of naada brahma (truth), the vedasOmdharma, victory and auspiciousness. It is often used to offer devotees tirth (sanctified water) to raise their minds to the highest truth.

Why do we ring bells in a temple?
It is common to ring bells in temples during puja and arati. A priest, for example, will ring a bell as he performs puja. This is to signal people that a puja is taking place and they should pay attention. Bells are rung during arati for similar reasons and to create a pleasing musical effect on the mind. Sometimes a bell is positioned at the entrance to a temple so that devotees can ring the bell as they enter the temple. The temple is the house of God and  so it is only polite to make a sound before one enters. Don’t we always knock before entering someone’s home? Besides, ringing bells is fun.

Why do we say Shaanti at the end of havans?
The word shanti means peace and it is recited not just at the end of havans but also at other times during most pujas. There is a well known Vedic prayer called Shanti Patha that asks for peace throughout creation that is commonly recited at the end of havans. Here is a translation:

May we find peace in the sky above us and in the highest reaches of heaven. May we find peace on land and in the waters. May all herbs and the food that sustains us bring us physical and spiritual peace. May we find peace in every region of this divine creation. Let us seek ultimate peace in that Supreme God. Let peace reign throughout the world!

Why do we chant Om?

At its most basic level the word “om” is a solemn affirmation and respectful assent somewhat on par with Amen in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Om is uttered at the beginning and end of sacred prayers. The word first appears in the Upanishads as a mystical sound and the object of deep meditation. There are, of course, many works written on the significance and meaning of this sound. Most commonly it is divided into three parts a, u, m, and meaning is been given to each part. In the Mandukya Upanishad the letter “a” represents waking consciousness, the letter “u” represents dream consciousness, and the letter “m” represents the consciousness of deep sleep, and finally the whole word is said to represent a 4th state of consciousness which is unknowable, unspeakable and “into which the whole world passes.” Another interpretation equates “a” with Vishnu, “u” with Shiva and “m” with Brahma. Yet another interpretation equates Om with the Greek, “logos,” “the word”, found at the beginning of St John’s gospel. I suggest that the syllable Om should not be analyzed or interpreted at all. It just is. But if you must interpret it, take it as the sound of God.

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