What is the meaning & purpose of rituals in temples?
Sadgurudev Anandmurti Gurumaa answers the question about the meaning and purpose of rituals like ringing the bell, bathing shivalingam with water and milk, lighting the diya etc. Q. Why do we ring bell in the mandir? Why do we shower Shivalingam with water and milk? Why do we light diya in the mandir? Gurumaa: We ring bell in the mandir basically to wake up our sleepy and unconscious mind to become attentive and concentrated, as we are going to go into the zone where we need to have the optimum level of concentration. Regarding why we shower the Shivalingam with water and milk - Well, the Shivalingam is symbolically considered to be a sign of Shiva. Shiva is the infinitum abstract macrocosmic consciousness. So, as such your water is not going on Shiva literally, but it is just a symbol which is being offered with water and milk. Water is in a way connected to human mind. Now it may sound very intriguing, but that is how it is. When the moon is waxing and waning, it changes the quality of water. As it happens that when the moon is waxing on its full moon night, there are huge waves seen on the ocean. Psychologists have found that this is the time when people who have mind problems go through a very rough time. And if moon has such an effect upon water, then what to say about the human body which is 60% of water? So, when we shower the Shivalingam with water and milk, then symbolically we are trying to co-relate water, mind, and the symbol of Shivalingam into one. In this ritual, the feeling is "Let my mind be washed away of all dirt and pollutants". Milk is considered to be the nourishing ingredient, pure and satvik. So, in this ritual, if it is done in a proper way with eyes concentrated (doing trataka) on the Shivalingam when it is being bathed in the water, actually a prayer is being done, "Let my mind be washed of all impurities". And when we shower it with milk the feelings are, "Let my mind be nourished and washed of all impurities with noble thoughts, purity, compassion, satvik, goodness, friendship, etc." Thirdly, the logic is that one is not lighting the diya for the God or Goddess inside, but it is a way of meditation wherein one needs to light the diya and concentrate on the flame. One is praying & hoping that the light of wisdom be lighted up to dispel the darkness of mind. These are all external activities but have positive and clear internal objectives. But most of the people who go to temples and do these rituals do not understand their meaning. They think that the Shivalingam is Shiva in itself. So, they bathe Shivaji Maharaj and think that Shivaji will be happy and give them boons - they are looking for contentment via fulfilment of their desires, whereas Shiva is considered to be the destructor of all desires! This is something so uniquely present only in India that we use the outer symbols to achieve the internal great heights, but ignorance is so huge that people can only see the external activities and they totally forget about the internal usages and the benefits of doing such things.