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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======


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Flowers   Incense     Lamps     Vali 
Prostrations and bows

From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva, Section XCVIII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Addressing Yudhishthira, Bhishma refers to an old narrative of the discourse between Manu, that lord of creatures and an ascetic by the name of Suvarna.

Suvarna, addressing the Self-born Manu, said these words: It behoveth thee to answer one question of mine for the benefit of all creatures. O lord of all creatures, the deities are seen to be worshipped with presents of flowers and other good scents. What is this? How has this practice been originated? What also are the merits that attach to it? Do thou discourse to me on this topic.

Manu said: In days of old, the high-souled (Daitya) Vali spoke to Sukra about this very topic relating to the merits attaching to the gift of flowers and incense and lamps.

Sukra said: Penance (indicative of the duties of the four orders of life),first sprang into life. Afterwards came Dharma (or compassion and other virtues). In the interval between started into life many creepers and herbs. Innumerable were the species of those. All of them have the deity Soma for their lord. Some of these creepers and herbs came to be regarded as Amrita and some came to be regarded as Poison. Others that were neither this nor that formed one class. That is Amrita which gives immediate gratification and joy to the mind. That is poison which tortures the mind exceedingly by its odour.

Know again that Amrita is highly auspicious and that Poison is highly inauspicious. All the deciduous herbs are Amrita. Poison is born of the energy of fire. Flowers gladden the mind and confer prosperity. Hence, men of righteous deeds bestowed the name Sumanas on them. That man who is in a state of purity offers flowers unto the deities finds that the deities become gratified with him, and as the consequence of such gratification bestow prosperity upon him. O ruler of Daityas, those deities unto whom worshippers offer flowers, uttering their names the while, become gratified with the offers in consequence of their devotion.

The deciduous herbs are of diverse kinds and possess diverse kinds of energy. They should be classed as fierce, mild, and powerful. Listen to me as I tell thee which trees are useful for purposes of sacrifice and which are not so. Hear also what garlands are acceptable to Asuras, and what are beneficial when offered to the deities. I shall also set forth in their due order what garlands are agreeable to the Rakshasa, what to the Uragas, what to the yakshas, what to human beings, and what to the Pitris, in proper order.


Flowers are of diverse kinds. Some are wild, some are from trees that grow in the midst of human habitations; some belong to trees that never grow unless planted on well-tilled soil; some are from trees growing on mountains; some are from trees that are not prickly; and some from trees that are prickly. Fragrance, beauty of form, and taste also may offer grounds of classification. The scent that flowers yield is of two kinds, agreeable and disagreeable. Those flowers that emit agreeable scent should be offered to the deities. The flowers of trees that are destitute of thorns are generally white in hue. Such flowers are always acceptable to the deities. One possessed of wisdom should offer garlands of aquatic flowers, such as the lotus and the like, unto the Gandharvas and Nagas and Yakshas. Such plants and herbs as produce red flowers, as are possessed of keen scent, and as are prickly, have been laid down in the Atharvana as fit for all acts of incantation for injuring foes. Such flowers as are possessed of keen energy, as are painful to the touch, as grow on trees and plants having thorns, and as are either blood-red or black, should be offered to (evil) spirits and unearthly beings. Such flowers as gladden the mind and heart, as are very agreeable when pressed, and as are of beautiful form, have been said to be worthy of being offered to human beings. Such flowers as grow on cemeteries and crematoria, or in places dedicated to the deities, should not be brought and used for marriage and other rites having growth and prosperity for their object, or acts of dalliance and pleasure in secrecy. Such flowers as are born on mountains and in vales, and as are agreeable in scent and aspect, should be offered unto the deities. Sprinkling them with sandal paste, such agreeable flowers should be duly offered according to the ordinances of the scriptures.

The deities become gratified with the scent of flowers; the yakshas and Rakshasas with their sight, the Nagas with their touch; and Human beings with all three, viz., scent, sight and touch. Flowers, when offered to the deities gratify them immediately. They are capable of accomplishing every object by merely wishing its accomplishment. As such, when gratified with devotees offering them flowers, they cause all the objects cherished by their worshippers to be immediately accomplished. Gratified, they gratify their worshippers. Honoured, they cause their worshippers to enjoy all honours. Disregarded and insulted, they cause those vilest of men to be ruined and consumed.

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I shall, after this, speak to thee of the merits that attach to the ordinances about the gift of incense. Know O prince of Asuras, that incenses are of diverse kinds. Some of them are auspicious and some inauspicious. Some incense consist of exudations. Some are made of fragrant wood set on fire. And some are artificial, being made by the hand, of diverse articles mixed together. Their scent is of two kinds, viz., agreeable and disagreeable. Listen to me as I discourse on the subject in detail.

[Note: Dhupas are incenses offered to the deities. Being of inflammable substances, they are so made that they may burn slowly or smoulder silently. They are the inseparable accompaniments of a worship of the deities.]

All exudations except that of the Boswellia serrata are agreeable to the deities. It is, however, certain that the best of all exudations is that of the Balsamodendron Mukul. Of all Dhupas of the Sari class, the Aquilaria Agallocha is the best. It is very agreeable to the Yakshas, the Rakshasas, and Nagas. The exudation of the Boswellia serrata, and others of the same class, are much desired by the Daityas. Dhupas made of the exudation of the Shorea robusta and the Pinus deodara, mixed with various spirits of strong scent, are, O king, ordained for human beings. Such Dhupas are said to immediately gratify the deities, the Danavas, and spirits. Besides these, there are many other kinds of Dhupas used by men of purposes of pleasure or enjoyment. All the merits that have been spoken of as attaching to the offer of flowers should be known equally to attach to the gift of such Dhupas as are productive of gratification.

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I shall now speak of the merits that attach to the gift of lights, and who may give them at what time and in what manner, and what should be the kind of lights that should be offered. Light is said to be energy and fame and has an upward motion. Hence the gift of light, which is energy, enhances the energy of men. There is a hell of the name of Andhatamas. The period also of the sun’s southward course is regarded as dark. For escaping that hell and the darkness of this period, one should give lights during the period when the sun is in his northward course. Such an act is applauded by the good.

Note: The sense seems to be that if a man dies during that period when the sun is in his southward course, he is dragged through a thick darkness. For escaping that darkness, one should give lights at the period mentioned.]

Since, again, light has an upward course and is regarded as a remedy for darkness, therefore, one should be a giver of light. Even this is the conclusion of the scriptures. It is owing to the lights offered that the deities have become endued with beauty, energy, and resplendence. By abstention from such an act, the Rakshasas have become endued with the opposite attributes. Hence, one should always give lights.

By giving lights a man becomes endued with keen vision and resplendence. One that gives lights should be an object of jealousy with others. Lights, again, should not be stolen, nor extinguished when given by others. One that steals a light becomes blind. Such a man has to grope through darkness (in the next world) and becomes destitute of resplendence. One that gives lights shines in beauty in the celestial regions like a row of lights.

Among lights, the best are those in which ghee (clarified butter) is burnt. Next in order are those in which the juice of the fruits yielded by deciduous herbs is burnt. [Note: The juice of deciduous herbs is oil of mustard seeds, castor seeds etc.]

One desirous of advancement and growth should never burn (for light) fat or marrow or the juice that flows from the bones of creatures.

The man who desires his own advancement and prosperity should always give lights at descents from mountains, in roads through forests and inaccessible regions, under sacred trees standing in the midst of human habitations, and in crossings of streets. The man who gives lights always illumines his race, attains to purity of soul and effulgence of form. Verily, such a man, after death, attains to the companionship of the luminous bodies in the firmament.

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I shall now discourse to thee upon the merits, with the fruits they bring about, that attach to Vali offerings made to the deities, the Yakshas, the Uragas, human beings, spirits, and Rakshasas.

When food is cooked, the first portion thereof should be offered to a Brahmana. The particular offerings called Vali should also be presented to the household deities. The deities become gratified with such gifts. It is well-known that the measure of gratification which the deities derive from such offerings is a hundred times as great as that which the householder himself derives from making them.

Those unscrupulous and wicked men that eat without first serving Brahmanas and deities and guests and children, should be known as Rakshasas. Hence, one should first offer the food one has got ready unto the deities after having worshipped them duly with restrained senses and concentrated attention. One should offer the vali unto the deities, bending one head in reverence. The deities are always supported by food that householders offer. Verily, they bless such houses in which offerings are made to them. The Yakshas and Rakshasas and Pannagas, as also guests and all homeless persons, are supported by the food that are offered by persons leading the domestic mode of life. Indeed, the deities and the Pitris derive their sustenance from such offerings. Gratified with such offerings they gratify the offerer in return with longevity and fame and wealth. Clean food, of agreeable scent and appearance, mixed with milk and curds, should, along with flowers, be offered to the deities.

The valis that should be offered to Yakshas and Rakshasas should be rich with blood and meat, with wines and spirits accompanying, and adorned with coatings of fried paddy. Valis mixed with lotuses and Utpalas are very agreeable to the Nagas. Sesame seeds, boiled in raw sugar, should be offered to the spirits and other unearthly Beings. He who never takes any food without first serving therefrom the Brahmanas and deities and guests, becomes entitled to first portions of food. Such a ma becomes endued with strength and energy. Hence, one should never take any food without first offering a portion thereof to the deities after worshipping them with reverence.

One’s house always blazes forth with beauty in consequence of the household deities that live in it. Hence, he that desires his own advancement and prosperity should worship the household deities by offering them the first portion of every food.

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Prostrations and bows

Persons endued with piety and wisdom make offerings of incense and lights, accompanying them with prostrations and bows. Such acts as the offering of light, and all other rites of a similar kind, the due presentation of Valis, and all rites as are performed on especially sacred days, are always fraught with advancement and prosperity to those that do them.  Pious acts are always observed by those that are possessed of wisdom, in both the world of men and that of the deities. Verily, if such acts are observed, householders always succeed in acquiring prosperity and advancement. Even such is the effect of the gift of lamps and of incense, as also of bows and prostrations to the deities.

Those rites which the learned go through in course of their ablutions, and with the aid of waters, accompanied with bows unto the gods, always contribute to the gratification of the gods. When worshipped with proper rites, the highly blessed Pitris, Rishis possessed of wealth of asceticism, and the household deities, all become gratified.

In days of old, the royal sage Nahusha, possessed of wealth of penances, acquired the sovereignty of Heaven by his own good deeds.  The diverse rites with respect to the sacrificial fire, the collection of sacred fuel and Kusa grass, as also of flowers, and the presentation of Vali consisting of food adorned with fried paddy (reduced to powder), and the offer of incense and of light,- all these occurred daily in the abode of that high-souled king while he dwelt in heaven. Indeed, though dwelling in heaven, he performed the sacrifice of Japa (or silent recitation) and the sacrifice of meditation. Nahusha, although he had become the chief of the deities, yet worshipped all the deities, as he used to do in days of yore, with due rites and ceremonies.

Some time after, Nahusha realised his position as the chief of all the deities. This filled him with pride. From that time all his acts (of the kind spoken of) were suspended. Filled with arrogance in consequence of the boon he had received from the deities (whoever would come within the range of his vision would, deprived of all energy, come within his sway), Nahusha caused the very Rishis to bear him on their shoulders. In consequence, however, of his abstention from all religious acts, his energy began to sustain a diminution.

Sometime after the good fortune of Nahusha waned, and as the consequence thereof, he disregarded all these observances and began to act in defiance of all restraints in the manner already adverted to. The chief of the deities, in consequence of his abstention from observing the ordinances about the offers of incense and light, began to decline in energy. His sacrificial rites and presents were obstructed by Rakshasas.

Hence, when evening comes, persons leading the domestic mode of life should give lights. The giver of lights is sure to acquire celestial sight after death. Verily, givers of light become as resplendent as the full moon. The giver of lights becomes endued with beauty of form and strength for as many years as correspond with the number of twinkles for which the lights given by him burn or blaze.

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