Have you ever wondered how to invite the Divine by making an altar in your own home? By maintaining a home or community temple for regular worship, you invite the Divine into your sacred space.
This series of articles will outline the basics of how to make an altar, how to organize for puja, how to maintain an altar, and how to establish the Divine – all in the tradition of the sadhus in our lineage.
Regardless of whether you already have an altar at home or not, this article contains wisdom for everyone as we elaborate on some of the important ways to increase the energy in your home temple.
Remember, the most important ingredient to establishing and maintaining a temple is bhakti—inspiration and devotion. Let’s get Started!
Step One: Identify the Best Location
It is suggested to choose a place for your altar where it is generally kept clean and “sattvic” (pure and hygenic), where it is separate from pets, and where food is not consumed.
You may also wish to have a place to worship which has some privacy, without a heavy amount of foot traffic, especially if you are sharing living space with others.
The direction of the altar should be placed along the north or east wall with the deities placed along the altar with their faces pointed toward the West or South. The pujari faces North or East, toward the deities. Here is a helpful illustration:
If the deity is placed on the east wall, facing West, the worshiper faces East and the deity faces the worshiper. Similarly, and especially in the worship of Shiva and Shakti, the temple can be organized so that the deity is on the north wall, facing South. The worshiper faces North and the deity faces South, toward the worshiper.
Step Two: Clean the Space
As you begin to clean, sanctify this sacred space by repeating a mantra, such as the Gayatri Mantra, your Guru Mantra, or another chosen mantra. Continue to chant your mantra throughout this process.
Make sure to sweep the floor, and remove any dust from the floor and surrounding walls. Prepare the space with great love for your cherished Ishta-devata (chosen deity of worship).
Step Three: Prepare a Solid Foundation
Bricks are ideal as a foundation because they are four to five inches in height.
Alternately, a wooden or marble base could be constructed if you have the materials at hand.
Step Four: Make a Table
For example, a four-foot wide piece of flat wood can be purchased at Home Depot for about $20.
Instead of wood, you may also consider a marble slab, or any of the countertop choices, such as laminate or granite. While countertop choices are more expensive, they are easier to clean than wood.
The altar here is made of wood which is four feet in length and two feet in width. It is a good size for puja because all of the offerings are within arm’s reach.
For those of you with larger altars, Swamiji says that all of the articles can be offered to a yantra which is located in the center, within arms reach.
Place the wood or countertop slab on top of the bricks and clean the table, making it a seat for the Divine.
Step Five: Add Cloth
Cover your altar with a cloth that inspires you:
Generally it is suggested that the cloth be new, unworn, and free from any damage. Depending on the size of your altar, this could be as small as a scarf, or a large piece of cloth purchased from a fabric store. Some devotees use unworn saris. Others use new sheets, or even table cloths, folded to size. If possible, use a cloth from a holy person (such as your guru) or from a holy place.
If your altar is on a marble or granite slab, or other washable countertop surface, you may elect not to use the cloth so that the surface can easily be wiped down. Here is an example of an altar on granite:
Step Six: Place Deities and Murtis
We have made a lot of progress — we have cleaned, we have laid a solid foundation, and we have built the table. Now it is time for the sacred step of placing the murtis onto the altar! But, before we take this step, it is recommended that we shower and put on fresh, clean clothes prior to handling the murtis.
Ready? Next, while chanting our mantra, and with great love and attention, we place our beloved deities onto the altar.
If possible, place a yantra under each murti. If not, a mantra can be used to invite the murti to their seat.
Step Six: Decorate!
Lights can be used on the walls or around the murtis.
Plants and flowers can be placed around the altar to enhance the beauty.
Cloth can be placed on the wall behind the altar for extra decoration.
Once the decorations are complete, place your asana (seat) in front of the altar.
Congratulations! You now have a beautiful temple in which to worship the Divine!
(Note: For inspirational ideas on altar design and decoration, visit our Personal Worship Board on Pinterest).
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, Invite the Divine Part 2: How to Organize for Puja.
Pranam! Jai Maa and Jai Swamiji!