So, we went out for lunch last week to this place, which is fairly new. If you want to try it out this weekend, it’s located in this building called Connexion @ Nexus, on the Ground floor between Souled Out and Starbucks, Bangsar South.
I sulked a little after we chose our table and sat down, and I had a good look at what the other diners were having. It sucked even more once the food arrived. Why? Because this place makes me want to have a boyfriend, especially like this one bodybuilder ex I had.
You see, I absolutely loved the Coke Float, but the Fuel Shack serves it in only one size: freaking GIGANTIC. It was so much more convenient and fun to share large helpings of food when I was dating someone. Plus, when your date has the appetite of a water buffalo, you never have to worry about how you’d look pigging out, nor fret that any food would go to waste. Especially as a chick. So date me someone.
Nah, I’m playing. I’d rather down my body weight’s worth of sugary carbonated float and welcome diabetes with open arms than risk yet another mess of a relationship, just so I can share a float. Which, by the way, I totally ended up wasting.
But seriously, Fuel Shack people, if any of you guys are reading this – wtf? PLEASE offer realistic sizes for floats. Pretty please. The stuff is delicious, but we’re not whales.
The food in general is above average. We were a team of 10, so there was a variety of stuff I managed to get a taste of. I asked around and everyone seemed to agree with one thing more or less: the fare was a tad bit lacking in flavor and salt. It was pretty good stuff otherwise, reminiscent of TGI Friday’s and Chilli’s, just a little lacklustre overall.
To their credit, all ingredients used in the dishes were incredibly fresh, and that’s something I really appreciate when it comes to eating out. The Chilli Chicken Fries (above – RM13) and Nachos (below – RM29) were amazingly good – couldn’t get enough of those. Fried Tempura Calamari, so-so (RM21).
My Crispy-Skinned Grilled Salmon (below – RM38) had great texture, but the accompanying sauce (which was served separately) had an odd vinegary taste. I eagerly dumped the whole sauceboat over my salmon before I even had a taste, so don’t be the idiot that I was. I chose mac and cheese, sauteed vegetables and mushrooms for the three accompanying sides. Overall, my meal was alright, though slightly on the bland side. Pretty small helping of fish.
Would I return? I would, since I work so near the place. But considering Bangsar South’s horrendous traffic situation, I’d probably not bother if I had to make a long journey to get here, or eat close to rush hour.
The staff are lovely people too, good service. Be warned: if it’s your birthday, they’re going to make you stand on a chair and sing into a salt shaker.
Food (General): 7/10
Food (Crispy-Skinned Grilled Salmon): 6/10
Food (Chilli Chicken Fries): 8/10
Food (Nachos): 8/10
Food (Fried Tempura Calamari): 6/10
Food (BBQ Chicken Wings, according to my buddy Esmund): 7/10
Note: All images below were taken at my various ashram visits and stays from 2013 to 2017. The following pictures were taken at Yoga Niketan Ashram (Rishikesh), Dhanwanthari Ashram (Kerala), Meenakshi Ashram (Madurai), Parmarth Niketan Ashram (Rishikesh) and ISKCON Delhi (East of Kailash, Delhi).
Is stress killing you? Do you experience inexplicable aches and pains, depression, migraines, digestion issues and fatigue on a regular basis? If your regular vacations aren’t cutting it anymore, an ashram vacation may be just the thing you need. It can be a hardcore experience for the uninitiated, but I can assure you it’ll be well worth the effort.
First Things First: What’s an Ashram?
I’m just going to quote Wikipedia’s description here, because it’s so complete:
“Traditionally, an ashram (sometimes also ashrama or ashramam) is a spiritual hermitage or a monastery in Indian religions. The word ashram comes from the Sanskrit root śram which means “to toil”. An ashram would traditionally, but not necessarily in contemporary times, be located far from human habitation, in forests or mountainous regions, amidst refreshing natural surroundings conducive to spiritual instruction and meditation. The residents of an ashram regularly performed spiritual and physical exercises, such as the various forms of yoga.
Sometimes, the goal of a pilgrimage to the ashram was not tranquility, but instruction in some art, especially warfare. In the Ramayana, the protagonist princes of ancient Ayodhya, Rama and Lakshmana, go to Vishvamitra’s ashram to protect his yajnas from being defiled by emissary-demons of Ravana. After they prove their mettle, the princes receive martial instruction from the sage, especially in the use of divine weapons. In the Mahabharata, Krishna, in his youth, goes to the ashram of Sandipani to gain knowledge of both intellectual and spiritual matters.”
To me, there’s nothing quite as magical as the ashram experience. Meditating in the Himalayas as the starless, obsidian sky bursts into the blazing pink ribbons of dawn. The chanting of mantras in the dark, amidst clouds of rose-sandalwood frankincense. Exotic birds in the mist. Sun-ripened fruits. Losing yourself in the transcendental bliss of meditation.
I’m the kind of person who burns out easily with the demands of modern-day city living, so I need my ashram breaks. Every ashram is like a temporary second home to me. Over the last 5 years, I’ve stayed at various ashrams across India (the longest stays were in Sivananda ashrams, to complete my yoga certification).
I’m so used to ashram life that I tend to incorporate parts of it into day-to-day modern living, often without realising it. No hot water in the mornings? Improvise with a bucket of cold water. Too tired for proper dinner after work? I make do with plain rice, yoghurt and fresh curry leaves. It’s a 360 degree turn-around for a woman like me who was raised with the comforts of big-city living for most of my life.
What’s Ashram Life Like?
It’s austere. Very basic, ascetic-style living. No luxuries or city comforts to speak of – no air-conditioning, hot water, comfy spring mattresses, washing machines, hair dryers. Ashrams in India serve only vegetarian food, often without onions and garlic (depending on the ashram, salt and spices may be omitted completely). Some ashrams provide more comfort at extra charge, but that’s usually limited to air-conditioning and hot water.
Despite the obvious challenges of ashram life, thousands continue to throng ashrams across India for various reasons – personal spiritual retreats, study of Vedic scriptures, structured yoga vacations and more. Why are regular people who are used to a cushy life willing to rough it out? Simple – the benefits, despite the hardship, are immense.
A temporary ashram stay isn’t a vacation the way you know it. It gives your material-life overloaded, burnt-out systems a break (mind, body, soul) so you can begin self-healing on all levels.
Generally, ashram dwellers:
1) Wake up during the auspicious brahma muhurta timing (between 4.30am and 5.00am)
2) Sleep on woven mats or thin, natural-fibre mattresses in same-sex dormitories
3) Eat sattvic food (vegetarian fare minus onions and garlic)
4) Hand-wash and line-dry their own laundry
5) Follow a daily ashram schedule, which includes satsang (singing spiritual hymns), yoga classes, spiritual talks or discourses, Bhagavadgita classes, meditation sessions and so on
6) Wear simple, modest clothing on ashram grounds
7) Perform karma yoga (selfless service) daily, usually cleaning duties within the ashram
What’s the Reason for such Basic, Austere Conditions?
The goal of ashram living is to increase one’s self-awareness and enhance spirituality. Sensual pleasures including rich food, entertainment, sexual activity and indulgence in modern luxuries cause distraction within the human mind and subsequently, a lack of focus.
By intentionally withdrawing worldly pleasures and sense gratification, ashram life effectively tunes one ‘inwards’ and enables one to focus and channel their mental energy effectively. Additional ashram activities such as pranayama (breath control), yoga asanas (physical exercise) condition and meditation prepare the body and mind for transcendental experiences.
Ashram life is good practise for those wanting to pursue the path of self-realisation on a deeper, more serious level. Consider it a physical, mental and spiritual ‘detox’ from the filth and imbalances of modern living.
What are the Benefits of Ashram Living? What Changes Will I See?
I recommend that you stay in an ashram for a minimum of 2 weeks to see significant improvement. For best results, a 4-to-6 week stay will do wonders – it’ll literally transform you. However, if you can only manage a few days, it’s still better than nothing.
The first few days will be difficult as your body adjusts to the discipline and unfamiliar routine, but you’ll notice major changes on all levels (physically, mentally and spiritually) within the first 1 to 2 weeks. Most people feel lighter and more energetic. Your energy levels will increase, and you may be as surprised as I was to realize you only need 4 to 5 hours of sleep to wake up fully refreshed.
The yoga asanas and healthy, meat-free sattvic diet will kick-start healing and rejuvenation processes within your body. Ailments, old injuries, digestive disorders, aches and pains will progressively improve. Stress melts away completely within the first few days.
Some people may experience certain ‘negative’ reactions including skin breakouts, temper flares, digestion issues and headaches in the first few days of ashram living. This is normal as the body is purging itself of various toxins and bad energies accumulated over the years. Skin will begin to take on a healthy glow within a few days, and bodily systems will usually harmonize once your energies sync with the routine and activities.
I’d Like to Try an Ashram Vacation. Where Do I Start?
Most modern ashrams have an online presence these days. I suggest that you pick an ashram based on your needs. Are you interested in the teachings of a particular spiritual master? Do you want to visit a certain place and couple it with a short ashram stay? Do some searching online to see which one appeals to you the most. You’ll be spoilt for choice.
Remember that most ashrams are located in rural areas with limited internet access and phone facilities. Travel can be a challenge, and transportation is not as straightforward in lesser-developed areas such as the Himalayas. As such, plan ahead and give sufficient time (ideally between 4 to 8 weeks in advance) for ashram stay booking and confirmation.
The short answer is, no – they don’t. The health experts were right. A healthy, balanced diet will do more to help you lose weight in the long term, but starving yourself is always a bad idea.
What happens with most ‘starve-yourself-skinny’ diets is this: while you may lose weight temporarily by depriving yourself of food, you’ll also mess up your normal metabolism and shock your body into ‘starvation mode’. When this happens, your body will start preparing to conserve more energy instead of burning it.
The old saying ‘you are what you eat’ couldn’t be more true. Think about this; the food you consume is constantly transforming into bits and pieces of your body – it gets digested and broken down, then replaces old, worn and dead cells. The better the quality of your food, the better the ‘quality’ of the body built from it. Now, what kind of results can one expect from a diet consisting of mainly factory-processed, synthetic-additive-laden or stale food?
So guess what happens when you start eating normally again, or lose control and go on a food binge? Bingo. Your body stores more calories than usual. This is why on-and-off dieting (and extreme dieting) is bad for you in the long term.
So what’s a better solution? Eating better and ‘eating cleaner’ consistently. Practise moderation and make educated choices when it comes to your food. Think long term, because it takes time for diet changes to reflect in your body.
What you should aim for is healthy weight and a fit, strong body. Also, be realistic about your expectations. If you have a naturally bigger frame, you may never be skinny, even at your healthiest point.
On the other hand, if you’re lean no matter what you eat, it’s unwise to push your body too hard to artificially ‘bulk up’. This will put unnecessary strain on your system. Respect your body and how it naturally works. If you know you’re exercising adequately, eating clean and nourishing food, getting the rest you need and generally living a fairly healthy lifestyle, that’s good enough. Keep your fitness and health goals realistic and don’t harm your body.
Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates, oils and fats are not bad for you. You actually need them in your diet so your body functions at an optimum level. For instance, you do need healthy fats and quality oils in your diet to keep your skin supple and your systems well-lubricated – you can get these from extra-virgin olive oil, ahimsa dairy products, unprocessed nuts and grains and ripe avocados (monounsaturated fat).
The real culprits are overly-processed foodstuff with cheap, synthetic ingredients (preservatives, artificial color, etc). These are hard for your body to break down, digest and absorb effectively. These foods also leave all kinds of unhealthy residue in your system (known as ama in Ayurveda) and can cause various health issues like gas, bloating and allergies.
And that’s not all. Hardcore dieting can leech your body of important nutrients, causing lethargy, weakness, fainting, weak immunity, dry skin, acne, cracked heels and worse. Always aim for fresh, vitamin and mineral-rich foods.
Here are a few quick lists (with examples) to help improve your diet as a long-term solution to weight management.
Shiva is a civil engineer by profession. Like me, he’s an artist, passion-wise. We often speak about collaborating on art projects but are always too busy with our day jobs. However, it finally happened. This is the first art project we did together. And what can I say? It was an amazing experience. We had lots of fun and learned a lot in the process.
As a fine art photographer, Shiva loves to explore unconventional ideas. I am no less eccentric, which is probably why we make a good team (when we’re not fighting, at least).
This shoot was pretty much a regular fashion shoot, but since it was the first time we were working together on a personal art project, we didn’t get too crazy with things. He gave me some basic guidelines on the mood and emotions he wanted to capture in the model, but he left the fashion styling and wardrobe choices entirely to me. I didn’t really know what to expect either, so I formed some mental concepts and decided to go with the flow.
As an ex-fashion editor of CLEO and wardrobe stylist on film sets, I’d worked with a lot of models before. From directing photo shoots and costuming to doubling up as a makeup artist, I’ve done a bunch of these things and thoroughly enjoyed myself along the way, before I ditched it all for the drab stability of financial-services cubicle life. These projects are my escape routes from my self-inflicted, modern-day slavery.
I’ve also been a die-hard fan of Vogue and haute couture since I could read, so you can say fashion is in my blood. My mum is a seamstress; a very good one too. I had all my dresses tailor-made for me right up to my teens. Sometimes, I helped my mum sew, especially during Diwali when there was too much to do. I literally grew up steeped in fashion.
My Fashion Styling for the Model
Our model expressed her wishes to be shot in street-style denim and muted colors, with some implied nudity thrown in. In fact, she’d contacted Shiva after seeing his fine art photography with a nude model, so we knew she was comfortable with that kind of art.
I asked if she was okay to try a saree, and she was game. I was excited; I loved draping sarees on non-Indian women. With an Indian woman you kind of know what it’s going to look like, but with a woman of a different ethnicity, it’s always a wonderful surprise.
I requested for a few pictures of her, full-length and without makeup, to get some ideas and inspiration on how to dress her. Then, I began the process of picking the outfits.
She is from Sudan, and had the exotic, ethnic features of people from that region. I decided to use outfits that contrasted with the idea of fashion that’s generally associated with people of African roots (bright colors, turbans, bold prints, etc.). I asked her to keep the makeup neutral and natural so it would blend with a variety of looks.
Her major plus points were her lovely figure and long legs, so I decided to play those features up with the clothes I chose for her. I picked a raincloud-grey jersey dress, an acid-wash denim miniskirt and jacket combo, a white and blue Bohemian-inspired ensemble, a sheer beige chiffon top and finally, a black saree with champagne and frosted copper detailing. With the modern clothes, I was aiming for a breezy, natural look – the kind you’d see on a city girl who’d gotten dressed to stroll the streets on a beautiful summer’s day.
I loved the way the pictures turned out, they were perfect to me. The ones of her in the saree stunned me though. I don’t know how or why, but she suddenly transformed into a goddess the minute I finished draping the material over her. She just immediately became more elegant and graceful. She glowed. A demure, dark radiance. A saree does that to women, I’ve noticed. It brings out that sacred feminine beauty in ways that other outfits simply can’t.
I chose the saree based on her name, which means ‘Night Journey’ in Arabic. Here she is, the dark moon draped in a galaxy of stars. And Shiva captured her resplendence perfectly, in that precise moment when our energies of creation aligned. I created the look, she created the magic and he created the art with a click.
As a photographer, it would be a crime to say the role of a photographer is only limited to identifying special moments. I can be vilified for such a claim by the photographers’ community. I don’t really care. With the advent of technology, endless auto-modes and presets, anyone can capture a good quality photograph, even with a mobile phone.
So what separates a photographer from a camera owner? It’s the eye for tasteful details that touch the artist in everyone. It’s just like good music. Everyone likes it but no one knows why and the composer would have most certainly not composed it academically.
I’ve always been on the receiving end of questions like what is it that I intend to convey through a particular photograph. My answer is always the same; none. Art is just a reflection of our inner being manifesting in completely purposeless action; purposeless as far as satiating our rudimentary survival needs is concerned.
Art is self-expression, something as simple as a wink or showing your middle finger in anger. It should not be academic. Do you calculate how high you have to raise your hand and the moment force to be applied to express the right amount of anger when you show your middle finger? That’s my type of photography. I don’t overthink the outcome. I don’t plan my shots. I don’t think about the rule of thirds, shadows behind the nasal bridge and the grains in the highlights. The details are always there for us to see, everywhere and anywhere, in the darkness and in bright sunshine. You don’t see the stars during the full moon and when you get to see the stars during new moon, you don’t get to see the moon. The moments are just beautifully unfolding perpetually. We fail to see them more often than not.
I am an impulsive photographer. I click each time I see a good moment from my perspective. I don’t give out too many instructions, let alone clear ones. I told Jana a few things. “I am a fine art photographer. Whoever I shoot and whatever the theme, I want my pictures to be a double edged sword. Seductive without being obscene, raw yet aesthetic, gracefully minimalistic. Strictly no manipulation of body parts. Capture human beauty in its natural state”.
She suggested a little bit of makeup, some clothes, and maybe heels. I would rather take a lot of stick than to receive a diplomatic compliment. Diplomacy and normalcy are like flaccid dick. Not much use. A hard on is debatable. Men think a hard on makes them superhuman. Women feel it’s equally boring because men don’t last. But there it is; a double edged sword and hoopla. Anyway, I was just kidding.
All three of us showed up on the day of the photo shoot. I set up some basic lighting. The stylist decided on the outfit, the model posed with the input from the stylist and I clicked. Both of them created the moments and the details for me. They were brilliant. I just needed to click at the right time. I think the outcome of their work was quite impressive.
I’ll admit it upfront; reality shows annoy me. The negativity, drama, gossiping and backstabbing are just not for me and I can’t seem to get entertained by these things. I followed America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway and Gene Simmons Family Jewels a few years back, but I lost interest in them pretty fast. When I first heard about Bigg Boss, I was like ‘no way in hell I’m watching that’. A bunch of South Indian celebrities locked in a house and made to pit themselves against one another? I could already predict how that was going to turn out.
Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I caved in. Looks like I’m not as ‘detached’ as I thought I was. My Facebook newsfeed was simply exploding with commentaries and dramatic references to Bigg Boss, especially about inmates Oviya and Aarav. I wanted to know what the Bigg Deal was, so I randomly watched a few episodes over the last few days.
Disclaimer: This article may offend hardcore fans of Bigg Boss, Oviya and Aarav. If you’re the sensitive or easily-offended type, the views expressed below (mine) may be unsuitable for you, and this is your cue to cease reading.
How ‘Real’ are Reality Shows?
I don’t believe reality shows have anything genuine in them at all. I believe this show in particular is scripted, as in all the participants are briefed beforehand on how their ‘character’ should behave while the show is ongoing.
Here’s why I think that:
1. Common sense and logic. Just imagine yourself and a bunch of people being put in a situation where everything is under tight control (like the specially-constructed Bigg Boss house), and you’re constantly being filmed. You already know that thousands of viewers will be watching your every move and hearing your every word, including your relatives, friends, family and possible future employers.
How would you behave? Would you gossip, backstab others, shamelessly beg some idiot to love you, act like a complete asshole? Or would you be on your best behaviour? I don’t know about you, but I would be very careful about what I say and do.
Guess what? Good behaviour is BORING. And boring behaviour doesn’t get the viewer numbers when it comes to show business. It’s all about marketing. Therefore, I strongly believe participants are told how to behave beforehand. A good mix of characters with some drama thrown in gets viewers interested. For example, a sweet girl-next-door type, a clowny character, a serious one, a jock-type jerk, a bitchy female, etc.
Bigg Boss seems to have a mix of characters that works. Now everyone is getting worked up. Everyone is on Oviya’s side. People hate Aarav and Julie. Raiza is the vain one, constantly plastering her face with makeup. They got the audience to do exactly what they wanted – get agitated, create conversation and follow the series.
2. Abnormal situations. Take for instance the Oviya-Aarav drama. In the normal world, generally speaking, even a regular girl has a pretty high level of self-respect and dignity. Rarely would a woman tolerate such poor treatment from a man, even if she liked him a lot. Even simple, girl-next-door types get tons of messages, FB likes and friend requests from men on social media.
So why would Oviya, an established model and actress, knowingly humiliate herself in front of thousands of viewers, chasing after and begging some mediocre guy for attention? Do people honestly think Oviya doesn’t know her real self-worth? Do viewers think Oviya doesn’t get flooded with attention from tons of admirers? I mean, come on. It doesn’t make sense no matter how you look at it. It’s part of her script to act pathetic around Aarav, so the audience gets emotional about the nice girl making a fool out of herself.
In addition, let’s consider Aarav. Most guys would be flattered with female attention, especially from a girl like Oviya. However, his unnecessarily mean attitude at times makes me question if his behaviour is genuine at all. His attitude is just too bizarre, too over-the-top to be believable. Granted, Aarav is fairly good-looking, but not enough to warrant that kind of arrogance.
3. Viewership and numbers. A show that doesn’t get enough viewers is going to fail. Everything is about money. Why on earth would producers risk such a big investment in the show, throw a ton of money at Kamal and get him to host, THEN leave things to chance and ‘see what happens’? Smart business people don’t do that. Everything is carefully crafted to ensure a profitable return.
What if the participants are all nice to each other, help one another and just be sweet and kind throughout? Nobody’s going to watch that dull shit. They need some blood-pumping action, some drama. They need the sweet girl to lose her dignity and beg an arrogant jerk to love her back. THAT gets the viewers riled up. THAT makes the show a success. That brings in the moolah. It’s all about money at the end of the day.
Having said all that, here are a few things I learned from watching just a few episodes of the show.
LESSON 1: A woman should never, EVER lose her dignity over a man. I think it’s better to be single. It’s better to remain unmarried or even get divorced, than to be with a man who shows so little respect to his woman. That’s not how relationships work.
And to women who cling to their menfolk despite abuse or mistreatment, come on. Of the 7 billion-odd people in the world, you really couldn’t find someone else? Don’t wait for a bone to be thrown your way like a starving stray dog. Leave. Get a job, ask for help and support from NGOs, get counselling, just do something. There’s so many options available to you if you’re only willing to try. Sure, it’s not always easy to leave, but there must be something you can try at least.
I guess the same thing applies to a man as well – if your woman is mistreating you (and you can’t discuss your issues like adults and solve them), be a real man and leave. There is ALWAYS someone better out there. I don’t know what they paid Oviya to degrade herself that way with Aarav, but I hope it was worth it.
LESSON 2: Be really careful about the people you choose to trust. I mean people you share your deepest thoughts and secrets with. There’s one fact that is simply amplified in the show (whether real or scripted) – humans are unpredictable. They can be friends with you one minute and enemies the next. Just be careful who you trust your confidential information with.
LESSON 3: Be yourself and act like it. Get clear about who you really are, what your beliefs and principles are in life, then act like YOURSELF. The problem with some people is that they’re constantly trying to be something they’re not. That means following an inner script that isn’t natural. In other words, if you act in a way that’s not true to yourself, sooner or later that façade is going to fall apart. A fake image or charade usually crumbles under emotional pressure or stress. People will then find out the truth, and that’s never going to be pretty.
I think stuff like this serves only one purpose, which is entertainment. Nothing wrong with a little good fun, so why not? Watch it. Talk about it with friends. But if you find yourself getting overly involved in the drama, you may want to consider taking a step back.
India is an amazing country. I’ve traveled extensively through it and I absolutely love it. I don’t know of any other place with such contrasts and extremes that blend so seamlessly, forming a pandemonium of sights, sounds and flavors that assail the senses in ways you don’t expect. The vermillion and gold, spices and incense, poverty and palaces. The Himalayas. Ashrams. The glitz of Bollywood. Really, there isn’t any place quite like it.
Unfortunately, India has earned a reputation of being unsafe for solo female travelers. That’s a pity, because some of the most amazing people I know are from India. My male Indian friends are real gentlemen, with great charm and impeccable manners.
My Experience as a Solo Female Traveler in India
I’ve traveled around India quite a bit on my own and faced no major issues. With some precautions, you can too. I’m all for women’s rights, empowering women and everything along those lines. However, it’s just wiser to take precautions as a lone female. Some of my tips may irk hardcore feminists out there, but the way I look at it, better safe than sorry.
Here are some tips for staying safe as a solo female traveler in India.
1: Plan all your transportation and transits seamlessly. This applies to all modes of transportation you intend to use in India, including flights, trains, busses and hired vehicles. Ensure that you won’t be waiting alone in places that could be dangerous. Take extra precautions to ensure you won’t be waiting ANYWHERE alone after sundown. It’s a lot safer to book hotel pick-up services instead of attempting to flag down local rickshaws and taxis after evening hours, although these cost a little more.
When booking flights that require transit, bear in mind that many Indian airports will not allow you into the airport premises until 2 or 3 hours before your actual flight. I have spent long hours waiting outside airports because they just wouldn’t let me in. They’re especially strict at the Delhi and Chennai international airports. Thankfully, I travel with a yoga mat, so I just roll that out on the floor and read a book until it’s time to go in.
2. Book transportation and accommodation in advance. This applies to the major stuff in your plans, such as flights and hotels. You really don’t want to risk ending up somewhere and finding out that all the ‘decent’ hotels are fully booked and you have nowhere to stay for the night. There are just too many dodgy characters waiting around to take advantage of desperate, clueless foreigners.
The same applies to transportation; it’s just much safer and better for your peace of mind when you know you have a driver waiting to pick you up. As with most third-world countries, there are touts everywhere who will harass and try to rip you off, especially if it’s obvious that you’re not local. Most reputable travel agencies have websites and are very responsive to online enquiries. Do some research and see which one has the best reviews – TripAdvisor is a great place to start. I have always booked everything online, from transportation to hotels and even ashram stays, even for less-touristy places like Rishikesh.
3. Carry credit cards and make sure they work. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere in India these days, which is wonderful. Often, they’re lifesavers during an emergency.
Before you travel, inform your credit card company so that your card doesn’t get blocked (they may assume it was stolen if you try to use it at a new location). Check that your cards aren’t maxed out, and settle your minimal monthly payments before you travel.
4. Dress modestly. Many modern Indian men are well-educated, decent and have a global mindset when it comes female attire. However, as with anywhere in the world, people have differing mentalities. I would suggest that you carry a few large, lightweight cotton shawls that you can use to cover your chest and shoulders when you need to (for example, if you’re taking a public bus – this will prevent perverts staring down your cleavage).
Dressing like a local Indian woman will also get you much respect and appreciation everywhere. I noticed that I received exceptionally good treatment when I was dressed in a saree or other ethnic Indian attire – Indians love it when you embrace their culture, and will be more inclined to help you and treat you well.
5. Carry adequate medication and sort out your vaccinations before traveling. Imagine getting a bad case of food poisoning when you’re travelling alone, in a country known for bad toilets and overcrowded hospitals. Absolutely not worth it, especially if you pass out somewhere and end up at the mercy of strangers. Ask your doctor for emergency medication for diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, flu and allergies. Get your vaccinations in advance to ensure they’ll be effective by the time you travel.
6. Have addresses and contact numbers handy. It really helps to carry full addresses and phone numbers with you in India, especially those of friends, relatives, hotels, ashrams, your country’s embassy and places you want to visit on your own.
Note down landmarks and nearby streets when possible, as this can help the local drivers locate your address easier. Many street names are similar in India, and this will save you time. Don’t rely solely on your phone – even the best technology can fail. I strongly recommend that you print these out.
7. Don’t underestimate the heat. This is especially true if you’re pale-skinned and not used to scorching sun, especially the burning South Indian heat. Stay hydrated, pack enough sunscreen, carry protective eyewear and something to cover your head.
8. Carry ‘special needs’ items with you. Some things are notoriously hard to find in India, especially in more remote areas. This includes tampons, tweezers, contact lens solution, specific types of skin care and certain OTC medication.
9. Don’t take unnecessary risks. I definitely believe one shouldn’t be too careful when traveling. However, if you ask me, India is not the place to be reckless, especially not when you’re a woman traveling alone. Your safety is priority at all times. Eat at clean places. Drink only boiled water or hygienically-packaged drinks. When you go out alone, tell your hotel where you’re going and what time to expect you back. Don’t accept rides, food or drinks from strangers (you can decline politely with a made-up excuse if you don’t want to hurt their feelings).
10. Notify your country’s embassy before you travel. This may seem like an extreme measure, but I do this if I’m travelling to remote places alone. I email copies of my passport, travel documentation and a brief travel itinerary to my country’s embassy. In case of an emergency such as a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, it’ll make things a lot easier for the authorities to locate you and send help.
The modelling industry is an extremely competitive one, especially runway (catwalk) modelling. The more elite the agency, the more rigid the requirements for models. Malaysia’s modelling industry is more modest in terms of selection criteria and competitiveness, but still certain rules are non-negotiable.
What Do Top Models Earn?
According to Forbes, 36-year-old Brazillian supermodel Gisele Bunchen made $30.5 million in 2016 alone. She’s currently the highest paid model in the world. In the same year, Adriana Lima and Kendall Jenner earned over $10 million each, while Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevigne raked in approximately $9 million and $7 million respectively.
My Experience with Modelling
I was never a professional model. At 5 feet 5 inches barefoot, I’d fall short of most local and international catwalk height requirements. However, I’ve done some runway work in my late teens and early 20s, though I don’t consider that phase of my life anything more than interesting snippets of experience. I am also a woman of color, and if I am to be brutally honest, that fact wouldn’t have done me any major favors in showbiz, even if I fulfilled all other criteria to make it in modelling.
This is how I ended up modelling: Back in college, I often accompanied my bombshell-gorgeous friends to casting sessions and auditions. That’s how I got offers for local runway modelling shows. The pay was rubbish, but it was a lot of fun.
It also gave me quite a bit of insight into the world of modelling. I LOVE fashion. I grew up on Vogue, adored haute couture and worshipped Karl Lagerfeld, so it was nothing short of an amazing experience for me.
The early years of my ‘real’ career started in fashion and lifestyle magazines, and I helped out close friends on film sets. I also had my own column in CLEO, where I worked as a fashion editor. This gave me the opportunity to work with local and international models. It was hectic but I loved it more than modelling; directing photoshoots, doubling-up as a makeup artist, working with props, helping out in editing and post-production. Working with models and actors afforded me more opportunities to use my creative talents as an artist (which I preferred to being plastered in makeup and standing around in uncomfortable clothes for long hours). I’m just too restless, not to mention easily bored.
What are the Requirements for a Runway Model?
Quite a bit, especially if you’re looking at the big names in high fashion like Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Armani and Alexander McQueen. Local Malaysian standards are a little more lax, unless it’s an elite, famous agency.
International catwalk modelling standards are generally:
Defined facial bone structure (high cheekbones, angular jawline)
A very slim build (US dress size 4 – 8)
Aged between 16-24
Striking facial features
A confident strut
A clear complexion and healthy hair
A significant number of followers on social media
Besides that, a model also needs to:
Have a high level of self-discipline (schedule and timing)
Stand and walk for long hours in high heels (females)
Tolerate extended wear of thick makeup
Be disciplined enough to exercise and eat wisely
Work long and / or odd hours
Have a lot of patience (lots of waiting, especially in full makeup and clothes)
Accept criticism about their physical flaws
Ignore backstabbing and catty comments from other models
Travel at short notice
Have a flexible personal schedule
Have an understanding family / partner
In a Nutshell
Modelling can be great fun and often comes with a lot of perks. The all-expenses-paid flights, meals, makeup, clothes and other freebies, the beautiful runway setups, the famous people you get to meet and of course, all that glamor. However, it’s a short-lived career for most, as the industry is always ready to drop older models for the next young thing that comes along.
If you’re at that stage in life where you can consider modelling, I say go for it. If you’re fresh out of school, it would be wise to think of a long-term career plan while you try these experiences out. After all, you’re only young once. Just remember to have fun doing it and don’t take things way too seriously.
What Happens Backstage During a Modelling Show?
It goes something like this. Models generally have to be there about 2 to 3 hours earlier to have their hair and makeup done. If it’s a big show with many models, that could mean up to 4 or 5 hours earlier. You’ll be told to come in bare-faced and with freshly-washed hair.
The makeup artist will generally start with a makeup primer (something like a moisturizer), then a coat of foundation (pretty much skin-colored paint) to even out skin tone. Corrective makeup like concealer is used under eyes to hide dark circles, cover up redness from acne and so on. Then the rest of it goes on: eyeshadow, blush, contouring and highlight powders, eyeliner, eyebrow definer, mascara, lipstick, lip gloss, false eyelashes, setting powder and more, all applied with various types of makeup brushes and sponges. If special-effect makeup or face-painting is required, this whole process takes even longer.
The hairstylists will usually prime the hair with a serum or mousse, then blow-dry the hair section by section to the desired style. This can also be very time-consuming, especially for models with long hair. Hair spray is often used liberally on the finished look, and this is just for basic hairdos – more elaborate styles can require ribbons, feathers, pearls, rhinestones, lace and flowers.
Then, it’s time for the outfits. Models usually come in a few days before the show to have the clothing fitted for them (alterations done to ensure a perfect fit on the runway). Putting on the clothes is the easiest part unless the costumes are elaborate, such as in bridal shows. Once the models are dressed, it’s usually a long waiting process before they get to go on stage and model the outfit.
The waiting-in-costume part really sucks, because you can’t really eat or drink anything for fear of ruining the lip makeup. If the outfit is delicate, long or elaborate, it means you may not be able to go to the bathroom for a few hours (after the LONG process of waiting through the hair and makeup sessions, can you imagine holding your pee even longer?) You end up cursing the organisers, cursing the guys setting up the stage, cursing your fellow models with ‘easier’ outfits.
There’s usually a rehearsal or two before the actual show, so that models know their cue to go up on stage. The rehearsals also help models get the ‘feel’ of catwalk strut timing to the music chosen for the show. This part is really important so models are walking on and off the stage in sync and you don’t get some girls walking faster, some slower, or too many models on the stage at once. There are invisible ‘lines’ and ‘markers’ on the runway: places to stand and strike poses, the lines to walk along without colliding into the other models, etc.
Also, models need to be able to handle unexpected wardrobe malfunctions on stage (yes, it happens more often than you think). I remember modelling a saree at one show, and when I stopped at the end of the runway to do that momentary pose, I realized that the threads at the hem of my saree were caught tightly in my stiletto buckle. I panicked, standing there longer than I should, unsure of what to do next. I was afraid to rip the saree or pull it undone in front of the audience. So I did the best thing I could think of at that moment – I pretended to strike a few more poses, all the while twisting my ankle in various directions hoping to free the threads. Thank goodness it worked, and nobody noticed anything unusual. It was a good lesson I learned that day too: keep your cool even if you’ve messed up, and chances are most people won’t notice a thing.
Want to Get Started in Modelling?
First, you’ll need to decide what type of modelling work you’re interested in. If you don’t have the height for runway modelling, don’t despair. You can try petite modelling (height requirements are between 5’2 to 5’6) or just do print and media work like advertisements. There’s also plus-size modelling, body parts modelling and more.
Once you’ve decided on the type of modelling work you want to do, you can either sign up with an agency or do the rest yourself. This essentially means putting together a portfolio of professional photographs of yourself in various modelling poses. An agency may also teach you some basics to begin with, such as catwalk strutting techniques, how to style yourself and how to do your own professional makeup. If you ask me, however, you don’t really need an agency for these things. See if you can collaborate on a TFP (time for print) basis with photographers, fashion stylists and makeup artists – this means you don’t have to pay them, but they get to use your photographs for their own portfolios in exchange for their services. TFP is a good way for all parties involved to get more exposure and credibility in their own industries, especially if everyone’s just starting out.
Last but not least, develop thick skin. Be prepared for rejection and lots of it. Some clients can be downright mean and brutal. The thing to bear in mind is that rejection doesn’t mean you’re flawed or not good enough; the client probably just had a different idea in mind to begin with. Be resilient and keep trying. You may need to work without pay for the first few jobs until you have something to show for yourself (references, photos).
I will leave newbies and young aspirants with one word of caution, especially girls: be wary of who you work with in modelling. The industry is not short of its share of perverts, creeps and shady characters who are willing to exploit naive newcomers. Be very cautious and think carefully before you agree to work with someone, especially if they require you to pay money upfront, insist on nude or obscene shots and so on. Be VERY clear on what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not willing to do, and stand by your decisions. Respect your body. Tell a trustworthy person where you’re going when you start attending auditions or casting sessions – your safety is priority at all costs.
Part 3: The Reasons Behind Everything We Do in Puja
How to Benefit from the Sacred Energy Exchange
Remember that every offering used in puja will become energized in two ways:
1) The energy you send out into the universe and to the deities, in the form of love and devotion; and
2) The energy that returns to you in the form of blessings and positive vibrations.
Hence, it’s important to use items of good quality, such as fresh flowers, fresh milk and an edible, cooking-grade puja oil. A transfer of energy takes place with each item you offer, so be aware of this when you purchase things for puja use.
Stale food, synthetic and processed items are energetically inferior and considered tamasic (possessing dark and negative qualities). For example, it’s spiritually more beneficial to offer whole dried turmeric than the factory-produced powdered version, and fresh milk instead of UHT recombined milk.
Here are some explanations for the items, utensils and offerings used in puja:
Pictures and Statues
Some think it’s ridiculous to ‘pray’ to pictures and statues. Contrary to popular belief, followers of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) are not blindly worshipping idols and paintings of fantasy humanoid beings in fancy clothes and tons of jewellery.
It’s rather pointless to get agitated over the ramblings of people like Zakir Naik – the best defence is to get educated over why we do the things we do, and leave the simpletons to their own delusions. If we consider the sheer volume of Vedic spiritual scripture available to us, we really don’t have the time to entertain such mundane things.
You can help educate others on the ways of Sanatana Dharma and the reasons we do the things we do:
1) The pictures and deities are representations of the various types of higher spiritual energies in the universe;
2) The pictures and deities are more for our benefit as mortals, so it’s simply an easier way to focus the mind on worship and communion – the gods, demigods, deities, elevated beings and spiritual masters who have attained Mahasamadhi are beyond this mundane material existence and are not confined to a material body like we humans are.
Time and time again, we are confronted with ‘scientific evidence’ that we’re not the only living beings in this universe. The Vedic scriptures have confirmed this thousands of years ago, especially the first Canto of the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatham), which essentially is the Sanatana Dharma version of the book of Genesis. Mantras and prayer rituals help us connect with highly-elevated beings and request their help, in the form of spiritual guidance and blessings.
If you really think about it, it’s not such a shocking thing to accept. In such a vast, endless universe, why would we assume that we’re the only existing forms of life?
Pure cow’s ghee is the best oil for puja. Remember, the oil you use is what fuels the sacred fire of your puja (agni), and the quality of energy you receive in return will be affected by the oil you use. I strongly recommend against using factory-manufactured puja oils due to the chemical additives and inferior quality.
Puja is a very sacred spiritual act of summoning and merging with powerful universal energies, so it’s wise to use quality ingredients accordingly. If you can’t afford ghee, it’s perfectly fine to use any pure, edible vegetable oil.
Flowers for Offering
When choosing flowers to offer to your deities and spiritual masters, don’t just grab the nearest thing on a stalk and pay for it. Envision what your ishta deva would like and make it a devotional, loving process. Won’t your Shakti look fabulous in that red rose garland? Wouldn’t Krishna just love this dew-fresh tulsi?
Make it personal and pour your love into everything you do for puja. That’s how you earn the favour of the higher powers and get the best positive vibrations in return.
The best flowers for puja are all types of jasmine, roses, chrysanthemum and lotus. It’s highly beneficial to offer flowers that have natural fragrance and are white, yellow, orange, red or pink in color.
Certain flowers and leaves shouldn’t be offered to certain deities; for instance, tulsi should only be offered to Vishnu or Krishna, or placed in the hands of a Srimathi Radharani deity. Lord Shiva likes white flowers and bilva leaves, but shouldn’t be offered ketaki flowers (frangipani). Ganesha should be offered the sacred kusha (also known as darbha) grass. Durga, Lakshmi and avatars of goddesses in general may be offered fragrant, colored flowers (preferably yellow, orange, red and pink).
Why do we avoid offering certain flowers to specific deities? To make a very long story short, some items match the energies of the deities better, and some don’t. Even as human beings, we have our specfic likes and dislikes, favorites and things we hate, plus allergies to items that just don’t agree with our bodily energy. It’s a similar concept with deities, just on a deeper level.
Fruits for Offering
Most sweet and juicy fruits can be offered during puja, as long as they’re fresh. It’s best not to offer pungent-smelling fruits like durian. Durga and her avatars may be offered large green limes in specific numbers, usually 9 or 27 – please check with your local pujari for more information.
Preparing Food as Puja Offerings
Everything you offer to the deities and the universal energy during puja is a representation of your love and devotion in multiple material forms, such as various types of food.
To be able to cook foodstuff to be offered in puja is a great blessing indeed. Imagine being able to create an offering for the highest energies in the universe with your own two hands and skills, in your very own kitchen – you get to choose the ingredients with love and care, prepare them and blend them into exquisite flavors.
Cooking for the deities is therefore a highly personal and divine act, and one of the highest forms of love and devotion possible while one is in this temporary human form. If you decide to cook for puja, I assure you that it’ll be a very spiritually fulfilling and highly rewarding experience. Just remember to maintain cleanliness during food preparation; the saying that ‘cleanliness is godliness’ was not without reason. All food offered during puja must be sattvic (no meat, seafood, eggs, onions, garlic or mushrooms).
Also, food being prepared for puja shouldn’t be tasted before offering – it’s better to use less salt, sugar and spices when cooking, until experience enables you to decide on the correct measures.
Maintaining the Purity of Puja Utensils
All utensils used for puja (plates, cups, spoons, wiping cloths, ect.) should be kept solely for that purpose to maintain their purity, energy-wise. It’s best to use serving ware made of brass or stainless steel.
Porcelain and glass are energetically inferior, but still better than plastic. Avoid having any form of plastic on the altar.
Disposing Used Puja Offerings (Organic)
Don’t dispose items previously used for puja in the garbage, such as dried flowers or incense ash. These items still contain sacred energy from the puja and they’re considered to be prasada. Plants will benefit immensely from them, and they will thrive and grow beautifully when nourished by used puja offerings.
Disposing Used Puja Offerings (Food)
If food offered in puja (prasada) becomes spoiled for any reason, it should be buried or placed in running water. If the food is still edible but not fresh, it may be offered to animals. Please avoid food wastage at all costs.
Disposing Used Puja Offerings (Synthetic)
If flower garlands were tied with synthetic string, remove the string and dispose it in the trash as it’s not biodegradable. On our path of self-realization, we should strive to heighten our awareness in even the simplest daily tasks. Hence, we should take care to avoid damaging the environment.
I strongly advise you to avoid using anything synthetic for puja, as these materials are tamasic in nature and don’t absorb divine vibrations well. I also personally feel that disposing puja remnants as garbage is insulting to the deities – it’s like throwing a sacred gift away.
Final Note: Puja in the Vedas
A reader asked me where in the four Vedas puja is mentioned. The simple answer is this: puja was never a separate part of Sanatana Dharma as a form of Bhakti Yoga. Per scriptures, divine worship is an essential part of life and shouldn’t be neglected.
Each Veda is divided into 4 parts – the Samhitas (which outlines the use of mantras), the Aranyakas (detailed instructions on how to conduct worship rituals and divine ceremonies), the Brahmanas (commentaries and explanations of Vedic rituals and worship ceremonies) and finally, the Upanishads (also known as Vedanta, or the ‘end parts of the Vedas’, and these generally discuss philosophy and meditation). In summary, the entire Vedas is interwoven with various aspects of puja.
Most Indians are familiar with puja and would know how to perform a simple, basic puja at home (or anywhere, actually). If you’re new to this and would like to start, congratulations on taking this first step in Bhakti Yoga.
Puja can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. Remember, the most important aspects of puja are devotion and sincerity. Don’t worry about doing something wrong. As long as you perform puja with love and good intentions, your offerings will be accepted and you’ll receive the benefits of the ritual in the form of positive energy.
Basic things you’ll need for puja:
An incense holder
A clean cloth for the altar
New cotton wick
A brass puja bell
A brass oil lamp
Pictures or statues of your deities of choice
Pictures of your spiritual masters / gurus
A container for water (for offering)
Oil for the lamp (ghee or any pure, edible vegetable oil)
Fresh flowers, leaves or fruits (all three, if possible)
Additional items (optional):
A camphor holder
A frankincense holder
A container for water with a spoon (to purify your hands)
Plates for offering food (kept specifically for puja purposes)
1. Shower. Always be freshly showered before having anything to do with puja, even if you’re just cleaning or setting up the altar. Purity on all levels is best when it comes to puja.
2. Clean the altar. If you don’t have an altar, a table covered with a clean, new cloth will do. If the altar was used previously for puja, remove any dried flowers, dried garlands, leftover incense ash and previously offered water. Dispose all organic material under a tree or plants. Any previously offered water should be consumed or poured on plants. It’s not necessary to throw away leftover oil in the lamp – it can be reused and replenished as needed.
3. Arrange your pictures and puja utensils. Every altar should ideally have a picture or statue of Ganesha, as he is the deity in charge of removing obstacles. Place Ganesha on the left, followed by the other deities to the right. If you have a two-tiered altar, you can place the pictures of your spiritual masters below the pictures of the deities; otherwise, place these to the sides. Place the incense holder, water container and bell on your altar, in front of the pictures. Note: You can easily make additional tiers on your altar using bricks, wooden blocks or books, and covering these with a cloth.
4. Decorate the altar and prepare your offerings. If you have fresh flowers or garlands, decorate the altar with these, in any style you like. Light the incense. Fill the water container up with clean drinking water or fresh milk. If you have sattvic vegetarian food or fruits you’d like to offer, arrange these on the altar on plates specifically purchased for puja. If the oil lamp is empty, refill it with fresh ghee (or vegetable oil). Trim a cotton wick to about 1 ½ to 2 inches in length, then lightly dip the edge you’re going to light into the oil. Squeeze the wick’s tip to remove excess oil, then place the whole wick into the lamp, with the edge of the wick sitting on the pointed rim of the lamp.
5. Light the lamp to begin your puja. Ring the bell firmly for a few seconds; this is done to invite the devas to accept your offerings and dispel any negative energies within the space. If you feel comfortable enough, ring the bell using your left hand and perform aarathi with your right hand (with lit camphor placed in the camphor holder). Aarathi should be performed in large, circular motions three times, in a clockwise direction. Some people prefer to perform aarathi at the end of the puja, but I do mine at the beginning.
6. Recite mantras or pray silently. If you want to recite mantras, always start with a Ganesha mantra before anything else. After Ganesha, the mantras for the other deities should follow in this sequence, according to your chosen deities : Vishnu / Krishna, Shiva, Lakshmi, Durga, Muruga, and the rest. If you don’t know any mantras, it’s perfectly acceptable to pray silently, in your mind and heart, in any language. Offer your greetings and obeisances to the deities respectfully, and thank them for coming to grace your puja (never doubt this – once you ring the bell, they are energetically present at your altar). Mentally share any concerns you have and ask them for help or guidance. Once you have completed your prayers, thanks the deities for everything you’ve been given so far – always remember to have an attitude of gratitude.
7. Meditate. Make sure the flame is ‘safe’ so as not to accidentally cause a fire when you’re not watching it. You may place it on a large metal tray to prevent stray sparks from touching the altar cloth. Once you’re sure the lamp is burning in a safe manner, meditate with your eyes closed for about 10 to 20 minutes. It’s best to sit on a pillow or mat, with your hands in chin mudra or in your lap. You may also do japa chanting with the aid of a rosary.
8. Conclude the puja. Once you’ve completed your meditation, silently ask for permission to end the puja. Then, put out the lamp using a flower (or use a twig to drown the wick and flame in the oil). If you have offered milk, water, fruits or food, you may now remove the items and transfer them to your regular cups and plates for consumption.
Note: If you’d like to perform a more elaborate puja for a special reason, you may want to consider hiring a priest as they are trained extensively in complex Vedic rituals. It does not mean that a simple puja you do yourself is inferior – it’s just more practical due to the complexity of the rituals, especially those done for specific purposes.
Note: This article may be a little long for today’s readers. However, if you wish to understand and explore the deeper spiritual meaning behind the practice of puja, I request that you read this article to the very end. One of my biggest challenges in writing about Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim) is trying to summarize vast amounts of information from Vedic scriptures and make content easy to understand for readers. Thank you for your time and patience. I hope you’ll be inspired to include puja as a part of your daily life and your personal journey on the path of Self-Realization.
An Introduction to Puja
Puja is a ritual of prayer or worship generally practiced by followers of Sanatana Dharma (better known in modern times as Hinduism). It is a form of Bhakti Yoga (the yogic path of devotional service and love). Puja may be done to honor and worship demigods, deities or any chosen manifestation of the sacred universal energy. It may also be performed to commemorate auspicious days or events.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Sri Krishna says this about Bhakti Yoga:
patram puspam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchati tad aham bhakti upahrtam asnami prayatatmanah
Translation: If one offers Me, with love and devotion, a leaf, flower, fruit or water, I will accept it (Chapter 9, Verse 26).
What’s the meaning of this verse? Simple: it’s easy to serve God or the universal energy through puja, as all one requires is a leaf, flower, fruit or water offered with sincerity, love and devotion.
Puja is complex on every level, even when performed in a simple manner. It is especially resplendent with spiritual meaning. Every gesture, utensil, item and offering involved in puja has a purpose. The rituals, depending on the type of puja, may be lengthy and complex, and may include various types of offerings such as flowers, incense, fruits, food, clothing, frankincense, sacred powders and dried herbs. A daily home puja may involve nothing more than a small altar, a picture of a chosen deity (ishta deva) and some modest offerings.
What is Bhakti Yoga?
There are four paths of yoga, namely Raja Yoga(the yoga of mental and physical control), Jnana Yoga(the yoga of knowledge), Karma Yoga(the yoga of selfless action) and Bhakti Yoga(the yoga of devotional service). Each path represents a different approach to attain union with Brahman, a higher state of awareness or ultimate Self-Realization. Bhakti Yoga is the easiest of the four paths.
Is Puja Really Necessary?
Those who don’t understand the full spiritual significance of puja may question the practice or dismiss it altogether as unnecessary. It’s not uncommon to hear remarks along the lines of “If God is everywhere, why do we need to waste time with this ritual?” or “If God is the Almighty, why does He need these mortal offerings?”
These questions are valid. It’s always better to question something one does not understand – this is better than blind acceptance. One can only receive the right knowledge through questioning first, then subsequently seeking the answers.
Why Do We Perform Puja?
Puja is done for many reasons, including these:
• It’s a way of sharing your love, joy and gratitude with the universe. Puja, in other words, is communion with the sacred universal energy. When you radiate these energies and corresponding thoughts, you attract equally positive vibrations back to you.
• It’s a method to communicate with higher powers and elevated beings, such as your chosen deities (ishta devas).
• You’re re-energising yourself and the surrounding spaces each time you perform puja. Think of it as a ‘spiritual reset’, to get rid of the negative energies you have accumulated through daily material life.
• The act of performing the ritual trains the mind to focus on communion with the universal energy.
• The ritual develops mental discipline if you perform it regularly – it’s a manner of training the mind into a habit, so it becomes ready automatically when you merely think of performing puja.
• Puja helps ease the burden of the mind in times of stress, depression and sadness. Performing the ritual can be comforting to those facing mental distress.
• Puja helps you develop gratitude and appreciation. For instance, you may realize that you’re lucky to have food to offer during puja, and to be able to consume it later as prasada (blessed remnants). When you make offerings of flower garlands and leaves, you may realize how blessed you are to live in a place where plants are healthy and grow abundantly.
• According to Vedic scriptures, fire (agni) is purifying in all ways. By lighting the lamp for puja, you are purifying the puja space, your home and yourself.
• The bronze bell that is used for puja eliminates negative energies through sound vibrations when it is rung. Good quality incense and frankincense act as air purifiers, can eliminate bacteria and act as natural insect repellent.