By Martin Louis March 2004 Most of us have our own altars, enshrined in a small room, if we can afford it, or we make do with a makeshift alcove in a wardrobe or kitchen shelf. Most of us have our own altars, enshrined in a small room, if we can afford it, or we make do with a makeshift alcove in a wardrobe or kitchen shelf. The altar could be made of wood, marble, or glass. Mine is ensconced in the corner of my drawing room. It may be a small altar, but it is special to me because it makes it easier for my mind, body and spirit to reach out in love every morning when I light the incense and say: “Hello, God”.In most homes in India it is a morning ritual to spend a moment in front of the deity or the photograph of the guru, or the combinations thereof, light the candle or Jyot (lamp), burn the incense, and pray. A tradition in ancient cultures, the home altar has survived in our time too. Many people have one in their shops and factories, even offices. Many altars are designed and maintained in accordance with formal religious guidelines, but many others are eclectic, highly individualised collections of sacred images and objects.In India and some parts of Mexico people often include photographs of departed relatives and an idol of the family’s patron saint (Kul Devta). Buddhists believe that meditation and the placement offerings at home altars are important in bringing the religion’s compassionate teachings into one’s daily life. In Islam, of course, you won’t find any images of Muhammad or the prophets, instead you may find beautiful Tugra, Quranic inscription (Ayat), kind of sacred geometry, which brings good fortune. Wiccans even change their altars according to the season—Celtic wheel of the year. K. Rajendran, HR official with TCS Delhi, worships at his altar (left) every morning by lighting a diya. “My altar creates an intimate atmosphere and connects me to God directly.” He maintains the same decorum before starting work every day. For Anand Tendolkar, Mumbai personal growth trainer, his altar charges him with positive energy. “I feel renewed each time I close my eyes and meditate before the many idols and images that hold meaning for me.” Gautam Sachdeva, MD of Mumbai-based Yogi Impressions publisher, wanted an altar to house his gods (both Krishna and Mother Mary) and gurus. “This was the perfect one, an antique Christian piece that reflects my eclectic tastes.” By creating an altar, Saina Bedi, Executive Trustee of India Vision Foundation, Delhi, says “you are creating holy ground. Praying there is like saying good morning to your Mom.” She believes that our body is like a shrine and it’s our duty to keep our heart, body and soul clean. Sometimes she starts weeping while praying. This Krishna idol enjoys velvet comfort in a swing in the Arpana Ashram in Karnal. Infant Jesus, Mother Mary and Father Joseph as worshipped in a Catholic home. This devout Muslim woman has created a setting to pray in a dargah she is visiting. Gurpreet Singh, working for a publishing house in Delhi, does his early morning ardaas in front of a small altar, in the kitchen, draped in colourful fabric. Besides Sikh gurus his altar enshrines other masters too.
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