Symbolism of Sri Satyanarayana Puja

Lord Satya Narayana

by Jayaram V

Sri Satyanarayana Swami Vratam (Sri Satyanarayana Puja) is a popular, and traditional ritual of Hinduism, which is performed in many Hindu households on important occasions. The ritual seemed to have gained popularity in modern times because it is considered to have a beneficial effect upon those who perform it with reverence and sincerity. According to the legends associated with the ritual, several kings and merchants used to perform it in the past to overcome adversity and earn the grace of Satyanarayana Swami, a benevolent form of Lord Vishnu.

People in various parts of India perform the ritual to overcome adversity and resolve problems and difficulties in their lives. It is especially popular in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and adjoining areas. The famous and ancient temple of Sri Satyanarayana Swami, located at Annavaram in the East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh, is a famous pilgrim center. The stories (Satyanarayana Katha) associated with the ritual are found in the Skanda Purana. Some believe that the stories may have been later day inclusions and do not form part of the original Purana.

Sri Satyanarayana Swami Puja is an elaborate domestic form of ceremony (puja) performed both in the households and temples on auspicious days such as the full moon day, 11th day after full moon day (ekadasi), or the day of solar eclipse. It is also performed to celebrate certain events in a devotee's life, such as the purchase of a house, entering a new house, buying some property, starting of a new venture, getting a job, marriage in the house, or the birth of a child. It is usually performed to neutralize adversity and overcome difficulties with divine intervention.

During the ritual devotees offer prayers to Lord Ganesha and the nine planetary deities (Navagrahas) before they worship Sri Satyanarayana in a traditional manner by chanting his numerous names, making offerings of flowers, fruits, clothes, water, coconut, incense, flame, and prayers. The puja is performed with or without an officiating priest. The whole procedure is available in print and one can read it and chant the mantras to worship the god, even with little knowledge of Sanskrit.

Offerings are made to a photograph of the deity with a Kalasa placed in front of him. Before the worship begins, both are placed on a clean ground in the house or in the prayer room and decked with flowers, turmeric, beetle leaves, rice, kumkuma (red powder), etc. The ritual is concluded invariably by narrating a few stories, which highlight the significance of the ritual and beneficent nature of the chief deity. Once the stories are narrated, the remains of the ritual are distributed in the form prasadam (wheat flour mixed with ghee and sugar) among the devotees, which concludes the ritual. Guests are then served with food.

Symbolism of Sri Satyanarayana Puja

Satyanarayana Puja has a hidden symbolism, which many people do not know. Even I got this message intuitively when I was contemplating upon the god, Satyanarayana, and the significance of his worship. Every ritual in Hinduism has two aspects: an outer, visible, ritual aspect and an inner, hidden, spiritual aspect. The ritual performed with gross organs of the body externally is less significant than the ritual performed with the sublte mind and intelligence. The ritual performed with the heart is even more significant than the ritual performed with the body and the mind. This is affirmed in the Vedas itself. Internal rituals performed with devotion purify us and prepare us for liberation, while external rituals may serve us to remember our duties and obligations in the world and earn good karma. They do not liberate, but secure us a place temporarily in the ancestral heaven.

Satyanarayana means Lord of Truth, or Narayana in truth form. Sat means both truth and existence, in contrast to asat (untruth and non-existence). Lord Narayana (literally meaning lord of nara, the pranic energy or the life sustaining astral water) is Brahman, the highest Supreme Self. As Brahman, He is both existence (sat) and non-existence (asat), also called Being and Non-Being. His purest and the highest manifestation in creation is Isvara, the Primal Being, or the Lord of the Universe, who is His reflection in the purest form of sattva (suddha sattva).

Lord Satyanarayana is the personification of Brahman as the Truth Being. He represents truth and personifies truth in action (dharma). The true worship of Sri Satyanarayana involves the truthful performance of obligatory duties, practice of truth in daily conduct, and commitment to truth in all aspects of life. The ritual is a promise (or vow) to God that one lives truthfully and honestly in the service of God (Narayana) and works for one's salvation. Truthfulness is one of the highest virtues in Hinduism. Without it one cannot achieve liberation. Truth has to be worshipped not only ritually but also spiritually. The mental and spiritual worship of the Lord of Truth is more important than the physical and superficial worship. The Satyanarayana Puja serves as a reminder that one should practice truth and embody it in oneself through righteous and truthful conduct.

If you analyze the stories associated with the Satyanarayana Puja, the symbolism becomes self-evident. In them you will notice that people suffer when they fail to honor truth, but overcome their difficulties when they observe it. Truth and falsehood lead to different consequences (karma) in life. Truth leads to light, wisdom and liberation. Falsehood leads to adversity, darkness and suffering. People suffer from adversity and misfortune when they indulge in falsehood and deception, fail to keep their promises or live dishonestly. Such negative consequences can be overcome only when they renounce their sinful ways and worship truth in thought and deed. You may worship Lord Satyanarayana occasionally through rituals, but practicing truth and honesty in your daily life is true worship.

You can find this symbolism in the stories associated with the ritual. For example in the first story, sage Narada observes that the people upon earth are suffering from numerous difficulties. He goes to Vishnu and requests him for a solution. Vishnu suggests that they should worship the Lord of Truth (Satyanarayana Swami) to overcome their suffering. The idea presented here is observance of truth will help the people on earth to overcome their negative karma, fulfill their desires, and achieve freedom from the cycle of births and deaths.

In the second story, a poor Brahmana is suffering from hunger thirst, as he is unable to practice his livelihood and obtain the support of patrons. God appears to him as an old Brahmana and advises him to worship the Lord of Truth. The Brahmana then begins to worship Truth and becomes rich in the process. He uses all his money in the worship of truth. After sometime, when a poor a woodcutter comes to him for help, he gives him similar advice and helps him to overcome adversity.

In the third story, a wealthy merchant, who is childless, worships the Lord of Truth for progeny. When a daughter is born to him, he forgets his promise to God and fails to worship Him, whereby he faces numerous difficulties. His problems disappear when he repents for his wrong ways and agrees to worship the Lord of Truth. In the second part of the same story you will notice that the merchant suffers from another calamity when he lies again. While returning home in a boat laden with wealth, he lies to the Lord of Truth, who comes to him as an old man, that he has nothing to offer since his boat contains only hay and leaves. As a result, all the things in the boat turn into hay and leaves and the boat becomes lighter. When the merchant notices this, his son-in-law tells him that it happened because he lied to the old man who came to him for help. When the merchant realizes his mistake and repents for it, The Lord of Truth fills his boat again with plenty of wealth.

Thus, Satyanarayana Swami Puja is not about an empty ritual we need to perform to overcome adversity. The real Satyanarayana Puja involves the practice of truthfulness, which is considered a chief virtue, upon which rests the entire Dharma. Peace and happiness flow from truthfulness, and adversity and misfortune arise when people indulge in falsehood and deception and incur negative karma. Truth is a purifier. By speaking truth, and worshipping truth one can neutralize the consequences of past actions and overcome adversity. The ritual by itself does not solve our problems, unless we develop respect for truth. Since it is very difficult to remain truthful in the present age, the internal worship of Lord Satyanarayana becomes relevant and important in our daily lives.

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