Aarathi is a ritual performed at Hindu religious ceremonies, in temples, and also in homes. In its most simple form, it involves waving a flame in front of a deity or person in a clockwise direction. The flame can be from a lighted oil lamp, or simply burning camphor. Items like flowers, sandalwood paste and incense sticks may also be placed on an Aarathi plate, made of copper, brass or even silver. It is often accompanied by chanting or singing of bhajans.
The word Aarathi is a combination of two Sanskrit words – ‘Aa’ meaning complete, and ‘rathi’ meaning love. So it means total love or dedication. In temples, Aarathi is performed by priests before the deity. It is a way of expressing total devotion to God and a reminder that everything we do should revolve around God. It is performed at set times during the day.
In homes, Aarathi is usually done for important visitors, people leaving on or returning from long journeys like pilgrimages, newly married couples and very young children. It is a form of welcome, showing respect and asking for God’s blessings.
Aarathi is also performed for inanimate objects like cars and gadgets. That’s a way of asking God to see that these objects perform well.
The Aarathi has some practical uses too. When a priest waves the plate with the lamp around the idol in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple – the holiest part, where ordinary people aren’t allowed to go, the flame lights up the idol, and the devotees waiting outside are able to see it better.
The heat from the flame, particularly from burning camphor, is also believed to destroy the germs in the air around the person for whom Aarathi is being performed, thus protecting him or her from illness.