Abhishekam is a ceremony that is conducted to a deity in the form of a statue (murti). This ceremony takes its current form from ancient India. Guests in that time were welcomed with high regard and would immediately be given a place to sit and the feet washed after walking to their destination. The guest was given food and drink and offered chandan to cool the body. Nowadays the abhishekam ritual based on this welcoming of the Divine has changed although the same intention of the prayer remains. Guests were considered to be equal to the Divine entering one’s house. The deity in this instance would be akin to the guest in ancient times.
The deity is invocated by meditating upon and chanting Sanskrit mantras. Once present in the murti, the deity is then given a foot bath and its hands washed before being worshiped. Various substances are then poured over the deity. Five of these substances – milk, yoghurt, ghee, honey and sugar represent the five elements respectively – water, earth, fire, air and ether.
A mixture containing all of these five (called panchamrit) is also poured over the deity after the initial five have been offered. Whilst each of these substances are being offered, various Sanskrit mantras are chanted asking the deity to accept these items. By offering to the deity these five substances, we are also asking for the purification of the five elements – not just in the space where the ceremony is taking place but also within ourselves. The elements also correspond to the five senses: water – vision, earth – taste, fire – hearing, ether – smell and air – touch. In this way, when we offer these five elements, we also are asking for the purification of the five senses.
After the pouring of the substances we offer a bath of Ganges water. Ganges water comes from the holy river Ganges and is thought to wash and purify one’s being of karma. We therefore are asking the deity that it is accepted as an offering. We then dress the deity and offer chandan, kumkum, flowers, perfume, incense, fruits (cooked Prasad) and water to drink.
Once all the items have been offered with Love and devotion to the deity, we then offer arati (a ghee or camphor lamp). Whilst the arati is offered we sing the praises of the deity and ring bells and blow the conch to show our Love and gratitude for the deity coming into our presence and accepting our prayers.