Why are trifoliate bel leaves offered to Lord Shiva with their stalks facing oneself?



1. Where should one sit during ritualistic worship?

Generally worshippers and seekers in a Shankar’s temple do not sit such that the deity’s frequencies directly fall on their bodies because this can be distressing. There is generally a tortoise built in the front of the temple. No one sits in between the deity’s idol and the tortoise, thus automatically no one sits exactly opposite the deity. In the same way, worshippers instead of sitting exactly opposite the flow from the shalunka (base of the linga), sit on its sides.

Sitting position for ritualistic worship

1 to 7 – Seekers should sit here during ritualistic worship
8 – One should not sit here.

2. Ritualistic worship of the pindi

Only cold water and bel is offered to Lord Shankar’s pindi. Neither is it bathed with milk and the five nectars (panchamrut), nor offered turmeric, vermilion (kumkum) or white consecrated rice (akshata). Milk and clarified butter (ghee) symbolise sustenance while turmeric is an underground stem and represents fertility of the soil, that is creation. Vermilion is prepared from turmeric. Since Lord Shankar is the deity of dissolution substances such as milk, vermilion and turmeric are not used in His worship. Holy ash (bhasma) on the contrary symbolises dissolution and is thus used. However in the fourteenth century the Shaivites too incorporated the usage of the five nectars, bathing with milk, etc. as was done by the Vaishnavites. Here, milk is believed to symbolise energy.

2.1 Holy ash (bhasma)

After removing the dried bel leaves (nirmalya) and bathing, either only three horizontal stripes are drawn on the visible side of the pindi (divine phallus) or a circle is drawn in the middle of the stripes. This is referred to as Shiva’s eye (Shivaksha).

2.2 Bel

A pindi contains two types of pure particles (pavitrakas) from both – the ahat sound (that produced by the falling of water onto its surface) and the anahat (subtle) sound. To absorb the three pure particles, that is the two pure particles as well as those in the bel leaves which are offered upon the pindi, trifoliate bel is offered to Lord Shiva. Tender bel leaves can unite ahat (language of sound) and anahat (language of light) sounds. The leaves should be offered with their stalks facing oneself and the leaf should be placed upside down on the pindi. The motive behind this is to attract the combined energy of the three leaves towards oneself. The combined energy of these three pure particles facilitates the reduction of the three components (trigunas). Bel is not offered upon the shalunka, but to the eye of Shiva on it. The kayakalpa from the Ayurveda discusses the importance of partaking juice of three leaves. Ayurveda refers to the fruit of the bel as the fruit of nectar (amrutphal). There is no disease which cannot be cured with bel. If some medicine is not available then bel should be used. However it is contraindicated in pregnancy as it can lead to fetal death.

2.3 The stream of water

Since Shiva and Shakti (Divine Energy) are combined together in the pindi a tremendous amount of radiance is generated. To prevent radiance from having adverse effects on the particles of the pindi and also on its worshippers, a continuous stream of water is made to fall upon the pindi. This stream of water generates the sound of Om (a symbol of the unmanifest Brahman) of a low note. Similarly when a continuous stream of mantras falls upon an embodied soul it opens the kalpinda [the body (pinda) which has crossed the limits of time (kal) is called kalpinda] of the embodied soul. This indicates that one can go upto the unmanifest Brahman.

Stream of water

3. Worship of the shalunka (base of the linga)

3.1 Holy ash

Seekers draw three horizontal stripes on the shalunka at the seven sites, indicated for worship as given in the figure under point ‘Where should one sit during ritualistic worship?’. A circle is drawn over these stripes and white flowers are offered. The circle represents the divine birth passage. It is called Shiva’s eye (Shivaksha) or the third eye of Shiva (yogi).

3.2 White flowers and food grains

An offering of rice (white in colour), rarely wheat and white flowers is made to Shiva’s eye. White represents purity. Then bel leaves with their stalks facing towards oneself should be offered. (In the usual ritualistic worship leaves are offered before the flowers. As described above, the bel leaves facilitate the attraction of combined energy towards the seeker). Foodgrains soaked in water are also offered to Shiva’s eye. They represent fertility. The energies emitted by the soaked foodgrains, holy ash and bel leaves revolve around the form of the shalunka.

4. Some special features of ritualistic worship (puja) of Lord Shiva

(Based on pages 61 and 62 of the book ‘Shastra Ase Sangate’. A critical review by the compilers.)

  • A. ‘In the ritualistic worship of Lord Shiva neither is the conch worshipped nor is its water used to bathe Lord Shiva. If a banalinga is a part of the five fold family of deities (panchayatan) then one may sprinkle the banalinga with water from the conch. However a banalinga with a pindi (divine phallus) of Lord Mahadev should not be bathed with this water. Since the feminine principle in the form of the shalunka (base of the linga) is present in the pindi, there is no need to sprinkle water from the conch which also has a feminine principle. A banalinga however does not possess a shalunka; hence it is bathed with water from a conch. During ritualistic worship of Mahadev in a temple, worship of the conch (shankhapuja) is not performed. Blowing of the conch before the ritual of waving lit lamps (arti) is allowed and is normally done during the arti. The sound of a conch not only brings about pranayam but also alleviates distress caused by spirits, black magic, etc. in the vicinity where it is heard.
  • B. Tulsi (basil) leaves are not offered to Lord Shiva. However tulsi leaves offered to a shaligram or an idol of Lord Vishnu may be offered as Shiva is a devotee of Vishnu and He loves tulsi offered to Lord Vishnu.
  • C. It is said that on the eighth day (ashtami) of the dark fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Jyeshtha, Lord Shankar and on the fourteenth day (chaturdashi), Revati is ritualistically worshipped with blue flowers. On that day blue colour has the ability to absorb the Shiva principle as much as the green bel leaves. Based on the same principle kevada (a type of fragrant flower) is offered to Shiva during the ritual of conclusion (udyapan) of the vowed religious observance of Mahashivaratri.
  • D. Bel leaves, white flowers and holy sacrament of food (naivedya) offered to a pindi of Lord Shiva are not accepted as they can induce detachment which an average individual does not desire.
  • E. People belonging to various sects such as Shaiva, Kapalik, Gosavi, Virashaiva, etc. use various lingas – earthen (parthivlinga), lingas in a silver box donned around the neck (kanthasthalinga), lingas of crystal glass (sphatiklinga), banalingas, a five stringed linga (panchasutri), stone lingas (pashanlinga), etc.

5. Circumambulations

Circumambulations of Shiva are like the half-moon. The channel which runs northwards towards the moon (som) from the shalunka (base of the linga) till the boundary of the temple is called the somsutra. When circumambulating one should begin on the left hand side and continue till the channel of the shalunka from where the water offered during the ritualistic bathing (abhishek) flows. Without crossing it one should complete a circumambulation by moving in the reverse direction upto the other side of the channel (srot). This rule applies only if the Shivalinga is installed or created by man; it does not apply to a svayambhu or a chala linga (kept in the house). The flow of a shalunka is not crossed as it is the flow of energy. When crossing it the legs are pulled apart. As a result formation of semen and the five internal vital energies (vayu) are adversely affected. There is an obstruction in the devadatta and dhananjay vital energies. However these ill effects do not occur if while crossing it the body is contracted, that is the channels (nadis) are contracted. Rationalists feel that the channel of the linga is not crossed because while doing so the dirt on one’s feet contaminates the water there. If this water is consumed by devotees as holy water (tirtha) it could result in illness !

6. Ritualistic worship with liquids (abhishek)

Lord Shiva loves being worshipped with liquids. The linga is constantly kept wet by sprinkling liquids as the divine birth passage of the Primal mother is always wet and consequently is the linga. Shiva is offerred abhishek by reciting a hymn from the Yajurveda called Rudra. It is of two types namakar (namak) and chamakar (chamak). In namakar the word ‘namaha’ while in chamakar the word ‘chamaha’ appears more frequently. This abhishek is performed reciting the Rudradhyay eleven times. Eleven rounds (avartans) of the Rudradhyay constitute one ekadashani. Eleven ekadashanis make up one laghurudra and eleven laghurudras make up one maharudra. Finally eleven maharudras constitute one atirudra.

7. Chanting the Name of Shiva

Namaha Shivaya (नम: शिवाय)’ is Lord Shiva’s five lettered (panchakshari) mantra. In a subdivision of the Yajurveda the Rudradhyay begins with these words. The mantra is taken from here. When it is prefixed with the sacred syllable (pranav) Om, it becomes ‘Om namaha Shivaya (ॐ नम: शिवाय)’, the six lettered (shadakshari) mantra. The spiritual meaning of each letter of the five lettered mantra is as follows:

n (न)       = The foremost deity of all the regions (lokas)
m (म)      = The bestower of supreme spiritual knowledge
                   (dnyan) and destroyer of the greatest sins
Shi (शि) = Benevolent, serene and responsible for the
                   initiation by Lord Shiva
va (वा)  = The representation of a bull as the vehicle and
                   the Vasuki and Vamangi Energies (Shakti)
y (य)       = The auspicious abode of Supreme Bliss and
                   Lord Shiva.

Hence obeisance (namaskar) to these five letters.

The above five letters also have a co-relation with the tandav dance of Nataraj Shiva which is as follows:
n    = The hand beholding fire (agni)
m   = The foot pressing the demon Mulayak
Shi = The hand holding a small hour glass shaped drum
va  = The outstretched hand
y    = The hand bestowing protection

These five letters are also said to be indicative of God (Ishvar), Divine Energy (Shakti), the soul principle (atma), the unmanifest one (antardhan) and vanquishing of sins respectively.’

7.1 Usage of Om in the chanting of Shiva’s Name

For creation of the manifest (sagun), the Great Illusion from the unmanifest (nirgun) Brahman tremendous energy is required. Such energy is generated by Om. Hence, chanting of Om by one whose spiritual level is not adequate to do so can cause physical distress such as hyperacidity, a rise in the body temperature, etc. or psychological distress like restlessness.

The frequencies created from Om generate a lot of energy (heat) in the body. This does not affect the male reproductive organs as they lie outside the body cavity. However, in case of women this heat can affect the reproductive organs as they lie within the abdominal cavity. Thus women may experience distress. They may suffer from excessive menstrual flow, amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea, infertility, etc. Hence, it is advisable for women not to prefix Om to the Name unless otherwise recommended by the Guru; for example they may chant ‘namaha Shivaya’ instead of ‘Om namaha Shivaya’. Otherwise they should use Shri as a prefix.

8. Shiva Gayatri

तत्‍पुरुषाय विद्महे । महादेवाय धीमहि । तन्‍नो रुद्र: प्रचोदयात्‌ ।।

Meaning: We are quite familiar with that Supreme Being (Mahadev). We meditate on that Mahadev. May that Rudra inspire our intellect benevolently.

9. Shiva’s temple

Its characteristics are as given below.

  • A. It is said that ‘Shiva is the deity of married couples as He is accompanied by the Divine Energy (शक्‍त्‍यासहित: शंभु:)’. Shiva without Divine Energy (Shakti) becomes a corpse (shava). Since other deities are solitary there is less radiance generated in their idols. As a result, tranquility is experienced in their temples. However in Shiva’s temple since radiance is generated in greater proportions one experiences energy.
  • B. Other deities are absent only in Shiva’s temple. In temples of all other deities there are small temples of other deities; they are referred to as the deities of the family.
  • C. A non-Brahman priest (gurav): A Brahman is not supposed to remove the dried flowers, etc. used in worship (nirmalya) in a Shiva’s temple. Hence non-Brahman priests look after a Shiva’s temple and bhopes look after a temple of Parvati. Just as Brahmans who perform religious rites like ritualistic worship, marriage, etc. do not take a meal during an offering made to ancestors (pindadan), so also they do not remove the dried flowers, etc. on Shiva’s pindi.
  • D. Brahmans consecrate Shiva by ritualistic worship with liquids (abhishek) amidst chanting of Vedic mantras but do not partake of the food (naivedya) offered to Him. Brahmans who perform ritualistic worship also do not make an offering to ancestors.



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