Abhishek (Bathing the Lord)

Dear readers,

It is a pleasure to be able to share with you all yet another interesting blog this week. I hope you all are faring well. A few days back we had a grand celebration of the Lord’s advent and there were many rites and activities during the course of the day. One of the ceremony is to bathe the Lord or to perform what is known as Abishek. For many this is a totally foreign concept and to even think that the Lord can have his bath is mind bugging. Not to worry, soon we shall look at this ancient tradition together and see what merits are there to it.

Abhishek has its root in the Sanskrit word abhiseka; the conceptual meaning related to cleansing or purification and it is symbolized by the actual rites in the process of puja or worship. It is also defined as a bathing ceremony. To understand the concept of engaging in worship of the Lord let us begin with a few basics. In gaudiya Vaishnavism, the Supreme Lord is worshipped on a much personal level and as such this mood reflects in our service, prayers and worship. Adoration of the Lord on a personal level is not something new to the Vedic scriptures, as we see the same been hinted in other scriptures like the Bible and Koran. For instance, in the Bible; Abraham was described as the Friend of God, Moses as his Servant and Solomon composed verses which were in the mood of a lover for God. In modern times, Priests such as Father Francis of assisi, Saint Josemaria and others were known to have had an inclination towards the worship of Jesus as a baby, thus imbibing the mood of a parent.

The Veda’s however have given more detailed exposition on these relations with the Lord and how to develop them. It is natural that when a new child is born we want to bathe and clean it up nicely and dress it in the best of clothes. This is also same with the Lord when he appears. The difference is that unlike an ordinary human being, the Supreme Lord doesn’t take birth, because he is Unborn. He appears or manifest himself, and when he does he is also welcomed with different rites and ceremonies, of which bathing him is one. The underlying principle is that of showing and expressing Love to the Lord, and He also reciprocates accordingly.  The Lord doesn’t require any of these things from us because he is self-sufficient and as such he is complete in himself. When we offer our service and Love to him in various ways, he reciprocates and we benefit and make spiritual advancement from his reciprocation.

Just as every spiritual practice has certain rites, gaudiya Vaishnavism also has its share of rites that are meant to create a personal relationship between the practitioner and the Lord and not merely for show or as routine activities. Understanding why we engage in these rites, is the first step and executing them with the right mindset is the key to getting the real benefit from them. When we have our bath, the general idea is to become clean, however when the Lord does, he does so to give pleasure to his devotees and to satisfy our desire to serve him in that capacity. At this point, some of you might begin to ask, “But how can God bathe?” The response is quite simple if we look at the question closely. If we think that there is something that God cannot do, then how is he God? If God the creator, maintainer and destroyer of the entire Universe is incapable of doing certain things then how is he God? The next understanding will be to see that we are made in the image of God or we are his replica and as such whatever tendency we have, he also has in a pure, spiritual and magnificent way.

He is not limited by time or space and as such he can do whatever he pleases. We as human can only eat with our mouth, but the Lord can decide to eat with his eye or his mind, because his body is not material like ours and it is above the laws of material nature. Similarly when the Lord bathes, it is not because he is dirty or sweaty, but because he wants to give pleasure to his devotees who want to serve him in this manner.  Furthermore, when the Lord bathes he does so in five kinds of liquid; Milk, Curd, Ghee (clarified butter), Honey and Rose water. These combination is described as Amrta or nectar. Bathing the Lord in these liquids is an expression of our love and service to Him, and he reciprocates by in turn giving us this nectar back for us to relish.  Partaking of this sweet nectar that has been used to bathe the Lord is said to have the power to deliver one from diseases and untimely death.

The principle behind this ancient tradition cannot be fully appreciated if one’s knowledge of the Supreme Lord is impersonal or formless. For those who think the Lord has no form, then it is difficult to fully understand the logic behind this. However those who worship the Lord in a personal approach can easily appreciate this practice. The Supreme Lord is sound, energy, Light etc., but he is also more than these. He is the source of the sound, the source of the light and the energetic from whom all energy emanates. In other scriptures such as the Bible we can see where God clearly says that Man should be made in his image and likeness. Moses was said to have seen the back of God, Jacob (Israel) was said to have wrestled with God. So God as a person with a form is not a new concept that is being promoted, however understanding how to relate with him in one or more ways is relatively new to many people.

I hope this brief dissertation sheds some light on this topic. Till next week; read share and follow for more.


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