FTV Blog by Pandit Jay Narayan Badal of Shivalaya Temple: Prarthana (Prayer) is considered to be an integral part of the Hindu Sanathana Dharma or religion. Every Hindu performs Prarthana for understanding God and for perceiving His existence through our body, mind and intellect. In Sanskrit, the word Prarthana means a prayer or seeking. In Hinduism, the word has a deep religious connotation but a secular and generic meaning is “to request, ask, or politely seek something with a feeling of reverence or submissiveness.” In Prarthana, a devotee makes a petition to God to resolve a problem or address a grievance. Etymologically the word Prarthana can be interpreted in different ways. One of the meanings of word Pra is to wish or request. Another meaning is adoration or respect. It can be parsed as either “prar + dhana” or “pra + ardha + na,” meaning to ask or seek wealth. Another meaning of Arthra means distress, suffering, pain or agony. It can also be parsed as ‘pra’ meaning ‘intensely’ and ‘artha’ meaning ‘to plead’. According to other parse, “Pra” means source, “dhan” or “ardha” means wealth.” The word “dhana” is closely associated with the word “dhaanya” meaning grains, which was the most notable form of wealth in the ancient world. Closely linked to these two words is the word “daan,” meaning charity that refers to the practice of giving food (grains) to the needy people. Interestingly, the corresponding word for “daan” is “donation” in English, “donat” in French and “donatio” in Latin, all of which along with Sanskrit belong to the Indo European group of languages. The underlying concept is that by praying one gains an entry into the source of all forms of wealth, which is God Himself.
Prarthana /Prayer is usually used as the means or the technique to overcome suffering or adversity. So, Prathanna can be a distress call made by a person in misery or suffering to seek piety or mercy (ardra) or an adoration or respect shown to another person or a deity or Guru. A prarthak is one who begs, solicits or makes wishes. Praying to God on regular intervals makes it easier to establish communion with God. A prayer includes respect, love, pleading and faith. With strong humility to God, a devotee pleads his yearning for a desired aspect to be fulfilled soon. A prayer expresses the helplessness of the devotee and his state of surrender. He also keeps offering his doership to God. ‘Prayers help to develop closeness with God and the Deities and thereby develop love and respect for them. Praying creates awareness that ‘Gods, Deities and Gurus are going to get everything done through me.’
It is believed that when a desired task is undertaken after praying to a Deity, the task is blessed by the Deity. In addition to this, prayers increase our Atma-shakti (Energy of the soul) and confidence. As a result, the task achieves excellence and success. It is said that we attain peace of mind after praying, and a task performed peacefully and with a steady mind always brings good results. In our demanding day-to-day life, only Prathanna/prayer to God helps us to attain peace of mind and gradually leads us towards God-realization. Most people perform daily ritualistic worships and other religious rituals and observances that are a part of our Karmakanda all through their life. According to Karmakanda, Worship is at a gross level or the physical level. However, God is subtle in nature. So, a prayer offered to God is at the mental level takes us from the ‘gross to the subtle.’
When Deities shower grace to our prayers, they bring us wonderful spiritual experiences. This helps to generate faith and bhav for the Deity. Collective prayers and hailing of God by children especially in schools generate a specific harmonious sound that is capable of generating positive waves in the environment. At that time, the mind concentrates on the sound and due to which the faculties of memory and hearing develop further has now been proved through scientific experiments. It is found that prayer prevents undesirable thoughts that result in misuse of energy of the mind and reduces anxiety and increases contemplation. Praying regularly creates positive impression and contemplation on the mind and attitude or ego of an individual or a seeker starts becoming introverted. Ego generates unhappiness in human life and activates one to do wrongs deeds. In such situations, one can perform Atmanivedan (conversation with God with an emotion of surrender and Sakam (with expectations) and Nishkam (Without expectations) prayers and chanting of God’s Name that helps in early reduction of his/her ego and relieves the stress. There are different types of prayers that offer both worldly and eternal spiritual benefits to an individual:
- Sakam prayers are offered for fulfillment of a desire or worldly happiness such as acquiring wealth, health, success etc and people get entrapped in Maya (illusion) or worldly life.
- Nishkam prayers are devoid of any worldly desires, intention, or expectation. This kind of prayers contain self-surrender unto God and in turn eliminate ego and wild desires. They lead us to spiritual progress by motivating us to perform Dharmakarya (service to God and humanity) move towards God-realization (Sadhana) and overcome Maya.
- Vyashti prayers are done for individual gain, removal of unhappiness, acquiring power, personal spiritual progress etc.
- Samashti prayer are performed for the wellbeing, economic and spiritual progress, prosperity, happiness, benefit of whole family, community, society, village, town, city, country, world, and universe.
The viewpoint of a seeker in the preliminary stage of Sadhana for God-realization is limited only to ‘Me and my Sadhana.’ However, when a person becomes enlightened he/she develops a bhav of ‘वसुधैव कुटुंबकम् ।’ (the entire universe is my home) for God-realization. Samashti prayers help to develop love towards all living creatures and think beyond self oneself. Our Pujaand all sixteen offerings to God become ineffective without prayers. Prayers are always offered to God at the end of the Puja to seek His blessings and obtain good luck and receive lots of benefits A Puja without prayer is like a body without a soul. The Power of a prayer is immense. Every event at a Hindu home begins with a prayer. Even public events start with a short prayer seeking the blessings of a God for the smooth running of events. Every religion has formulated its own practices for praying to God with or without worshiping idols