What is arcanam?

Arcanam basically means worshipping the form of the Supreme, like it is done in a temple. Everyone can also do this at home. All you need is an image of the Lord or, even better, a small statue, which is referred to as deity in bhakti-yoga.

Now how can this be a genuine practice? Is it not all just imagination??

Remember (from Absolute Nature) that bhakti is working with the personal aspect of the Absolute. Personal means that He is a sentient being, is active, has relationships (as the Supreme He even has relationships with everyone and everything), and He has name and form.

His name is spiritual and non-different from Him (that’s how mantra meditation works: the mantra is non-different from its substance), and His form is also spiritual and non-different from Him.

Absolute has unlimited names (as expressed in mantras) and unlimited forms (as they appear in His incarnations).

Arcanam requires proper understanding, otherwise it won’t work. The understanding is that the Lord is not different from the form of the deity. 

Of course, the actual form of the Lord is fully transcendental, it is not comprised of material elements. Thus it cannot be perceived with our material senses. Only an advanced devotee is able to see the transcendental form of the Lord with his purified senses.

Therefore, to facilitate the service of His beginner devotee, the Lord accepts the form of the deity, which is made after His image. As everything is His energy, the Supreme Lord can be present in material forms also. Because of the devotion of His devotee, the Lord choses to be personally present in the form of His deity. Thus the deity is another true form of the Supreme.

Everyone has the experience of some kind of presence of person in his or her picture, especially if you have a relationship with that person. In the case of the transcendental presence of the Lord in His deity form this is fully true.

A materialist, or someone without faith in the Lord, will see the form of the deity as made of material elements. But a devotee will perceive the transcendental presence of the Lord in His image or statue.

You can also perceive the Lord’s presence in the deity as soon as you sincerely wish to serve Him with devotion.

This may sound quite mystical, but actually the whole process of bhakti is mystical. The Lord is omnipotent and omnipresent. He makes Himself approachable to you when you are ready for it.

Without personal contact between you and the Lord, bhakti simply doesn’t exist. It would all just be sentimental.

Arcanam gives us the opportunity to engage all our active senses in the service of the Lord. It is therefore a unique opportunity to absorb ourselves completely in bhakti.

How to begin arcanam?

The deity form of the Lord can be made of stone, wood, metal, or even clay or sand or other materials. It can also be picture. However, not all types of worship of the deity are possible with the two-dimensional picture.

The form needs to resemble the transcendental form of the Lord. So, if you want to model that form yourself, you first need to see how that form looks like. It doesn’t need to be a perfect piece of art, the most important thing is your devotion.

Otherwise you may obtain a deity figure or an image on the market. Of course, first you need to decide, which form or incarnation of the Lord you would like to worship. Make yourself familiar with the different incarnations of the Lord, by hearing about and meditating on them, before making any decision. Take your time. 

Once you have started worshipping the deity, you should never give it up. Alternatively, you could start worshipping a picture and later switch to a deity form.

Now, there a many ways to serve the form of the deity. We have divided them into the more basic ones (to begin with) and the more advanced ones.

Basic arcanam:

  1. Keeping a special place for your deity or image
  2. Offering incense, lamp and flowers
  3. Offering water and food
  4. Offering dress and ornaments

Advanced arcanam:

  1. Full aratik
  2. Bathing