How To Pray, How To Build Temples And Deities
The Agni purana next has several chapters on how to pray and on how to build temples and idols. The Techniques of praying to Vishnu, Shiva, Surya and the other gods and goddesses are described, including the special mantras (incantations)that must be used so as to please specific gods and there are prescribed forms for such bathing as well.
A Person who builds temples is blessed. Even if one merely thinks of building temples, the sins of a hundred lives are forgiven. A builder of a single temple goes to heaven (svarga). A builder of five to shivaloka, a builder of eight vishnuloka and a builder of sixteen temples is freed from the shackles of being born again and again. What is the point of earning money if one does not build temples? Money is also meant to be donated as alms to brahmanas, but the punya or merit earned from building a temple is greater than the punya earned from donating alms. The merit earned by builder of temples is greatest for a golden temple, lesser for a stone temple, still lesser for a wooden temple and least from earthen Temple.
More punya is acquired from building an idol than from building a temple. Idols of gods and goddesses should always be set up so that they face the city; they should not face away from the city. The easy is for Brahma’s. Vishnu idol can be setup anywhere at all.
Different idols of Vishnu must have different forms. Consider, for example, idols or images of the ten incarnations of Vishnu. The matsya (fish) avatara must naturally look like a fish and the kurma (turtle) avatara must look like a turtle. But the varaha (boar) avatara will four arms like a man and will hold a gada (mace), a padma (lotus flower), a shankha (conch shell) and a chakra (bladed discuss) in these four arms. The narasimha avatara should have two arms holding a chakra and a gada and should wear a garland. The vamana (dwarf) avatara should hold an umbrella and a stick in his two hands. Parashurama will have four hands with a bow. arrows, a sword and an axe in these hands. Rama’s image can have either two arms or four. If there are four arms, the four hands will hold a bow, arrows, a conch shell and a chakra. Balarama’s image may also have either four arms or two. If there are two arms, the four arms the hands will hold a plough, a conch shell, a club and a chakra. Buddha’s image should have a calm appearance. It should be seated on a lotus. The ears should be elongated Kalka’s image is that of a brahmana, seated on a horse and holding a bow and arrows, a conch shell, a sword and a chakra.
Krishna’s image may be either two-armed or four-armed. Three of the four arms will hold a gada, a chakra and a shankha. The fourth palm will be opened out in the act of granting a boon. On either side of Krishna’s image, there will be images of Brahma and Shiva. Brahma has four faces and four arms and the image should have a pronounced rides a swan . On either side of Brahma’s image, there will be images of Sarasvati and Savitri.
Vishnu’s image has eight arms. Seven of the arms hold a sword, a mace, arrow, a bow, a shield, a chakra and a conch shell. The eighth palm is spread out as if Vishnu is granting a boon. Vishnu should be shown riding on Garuda. Garuda will also have eight arms. To the right of Vishnu’s image, there should be images of Lakshmi and Sarasvati, Lakshmi holding a lotus and Sarasvati holding a veena (a musical instrument). There has also got to be and image of Vishnu exhibiting his universal form (vishvarupa). The Vishavrupa image has four heads and twenty arms.
Chandi’s image has twenty arms. The ten arms on the right hold a spear, a sword, a shakti (a small spear), a chakra, a pasha (noose), a shield, a drum and any two other weapons. The ten arms on the left hold snakes a rod, an axe, an amkusha (used for driving elephants), a bow, a bell, a flag, a mace a mirror and a cub. In front of Chandi’s image there will be the image of a buffalo with its head cut off. The image of an asura will be shown emerging from the body of the buffalo. The demon’s hair, eyes and garland will be red in colour. It will be shown to be vomiting blood and it will hold weapons in its hand, The demon’s neck will be on the lion and her left leg will be on the demon’s back Images of Chandi may sometimes also have ten sixteen or eighteen arms.
Shiva’s image (linga) may be made out of earth, wood, iron, jewels, gold, silver, copper, bronze or mercury.
Places of Pilgrimage
A visit to a place of pilgrimage (tirtha) brings the same punya that is obtained from performing a yajna. It is because people had not gone on pilgrimages or donated gold and cows in their earlier lives that they were born poor in their next lives.
The best place of pilgrimage is Pushkara, Brahma, other gods and sages who wish to go to heaven live there. The best time to go to Pushkara is in the month of Kartika. In Pushkara itself there are two other places of pilgrimage known as Jambumarga and Tandulikashrama.
It is difficult to go to Pushkara. But there are several other tirthas as well. One such is Kurukshetra, where Vishnu and the other gods keep on coming. The river Sarasvati flows near Kurukshetra. If one bathes in the Sarasvati, one attains brahmaloka.
Any region through which the river Ganga flows also becomes a tirtha. Even if one sees the Ganga, the punya of per forming yajnas is attained. A person who bears earth from the bed of the Ganga on his head is freed of all sins.
Prayaga is another famous place of pilgrimage. Brahma, Vishnu, Indra and the other gods, gandharvas, apsaras and the sages are always there in Prayaga. This is because the two holy rivers, Ganga and Yamuna, come together in Prayaga. There are many tirthas inside Prayaga itself. The sages have said that, in the month of Magha, if one bathes for three days in Prayaga, that is better than donating crores and crores of cows. If one donates alms in Prayaga, one goes to svarga and is born as a king in one’s next life. If one dies in Prayaga, one goes straight to vishnuloka.
Shiva himself had told Parvati that Varanasi was a very holy tirtha and that Shiva never left the city. Varanasi is so named because it is located at the junction of two rivers, Varana and Asi. Varanasi is also known as Kashi.
The river Narmada is also sacred.
There may be several holy tirthas, but Gaya is the holiest of them all. A demon named Gayasura once started to perform and such were the powers of his tapasya that the gods began to suffer. They went to Vishnu and asked him to save them Vishnu agreed and appeared before Gayasura. “Accept a boon,” said Vishnu.
“Grant me the boon that I may become the most sacred of all tirthas,” replied the daitya.
The boon was granted and Gayasura disappeared. The gods returned to svarga, but felt that the earth seemed to be deserted now that Gayasura had disappeared. Vishnu then instructed Brahma and the other gods to perform a sacrifice. He also asked them to go to Gayasura and ask for his body so that the sacrifice might be performed on it. Gayasura readily agreed, and as soon as he agreed, his head fell off from the body, Brahma then proceeded to perform the sacrifice on Gayasura’s headless body. But as soon as the sacrifice started, the body began to shake. This meant that the sacrifice could not be properly performed and a solution had to be found. The solution was that the gods should all enter a stone which would be placed on Gayasura’s body so that the body would not shake. The sacrifice could then be performed. Vishnu himself also entered the stone. It is because the gods and Vishnu are always there in Gaya that Gaya is sacred.
In fact, there is a story behind this stones as well.
The sage Marichi was Brahma’s son and had married Dharmavrata. One day, Marichi went to the forest to collect wood and flowers and returned extremely tired. He called Dharmavrata and said, “I am very tired. Today you must wash my feet for me.”
Dharmavrata began to wash Marichi’s feet when Brahma suddenly arrived. Dharmavrata did not know what to do. Should she finish washing her husband’s feet? Or should she first attend to Brahma, since Brahma-was Marichi’s father? She decided to attend to Brahma first. At this Marichi became very angry and cursed Dharmavrata that she would turn into a stone. Dharmavrata was greatly distressed at being cursed for what she thought had not been a fault at all. So she performed tapasya for many years. When Vishnu and the other gods were pleased at Dharmavrata’s meditation, they appeared and offered to grant her a boon.
Dharmavrata wished that the curse imposed on her by Marichi might be waived. The gods explained that this was impossible, since Marichi was a very powerful sage. What they would however, do was to make Dharmavrata a very holy stone desired even by the gods. The gods promised to be always inside this stone. It was this stone that was placed on Gayasura’s body.
Once the sacrifice was over, Gayasura himself desired a boon from the gods and the gods granted him that Gaya would become the most sacred of all tirthas. It was in Gaya that the Pandavas had prayed to Vishnu.
The world is divided into seven regions (dvipas). Their names are Jambu, Plaksha, Shalmali, Kusha, Krouncha, Shaka, and Pushkara. The seven dvipas are surrounded by seven oceans and the names of these oceans are Lavana, Ikshu, Sura, Sarpih, Dadhi, Dugdha and Jala.
Right in the centre of Jambudvipa is Mount Meru. Mountains named Himavana, Hemakuta and Nishada are to the south of Meru and mountains named Nila, shveta and Shringi are to the north of Meru. Jambudvipa is known by that name as there are a large number of jambu (jamun) trees in this area. On the top Mount Meru is Brahma’s famous city.
Under the earth is the underworld. This too, consists of seven regions and their names are Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatsala and Patala. The daityas and the danavas live in the underworld. Vishnu is also there in the underworld, in his form of the great snake Shesha. The snake Shesha holds up the earth on its hood.
That part of the sky which is lit up by sun-rays is known as Nabha. Above the earth is the sun, above the sun the moon, above the moon the stars, above the stars Mercury, above Mercury Venus, above Venus Jupiter and above Jupiter the constellation of the Great Bear (saptarshimandala). Beyond this constellation is the world of Dhruva.
The Agni Purana next gives a lot of information on astrology. It states when marriages should take place and when they should not. For example, marriages are never to be held in the months of Chaitra and Pousha or under the signs of Libra or Gemini. If one is going on a trip, then Friday is the best day to start on. Medicine should not be taken if one of the nakshatras (stars) Pushya, Hasta, Jyeshtha, Shravana or Ashvini is not in the sky. If one wishes to have a bath after recovering from an illness, then Saturday is the best day for such a bath.
The first time a child’s head is shaved should never be on Tuesday or a Saturday. Ears should be pierced on Wednesday or Thursday. New clothes should not first be worn on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. A new house should not be entered into the months of Chaitra, Jyeshtha, Bhadra, Ashvina, Pousha or Magha. It is best to reap grain on a Wednesday.