Bhakti is first developed via rituals because they help one to relate personally to God. However, rituals are like floatation aids that people learning to swim first use; once they know how toswim, they throw away the aids. In the same way once the spirit of devotion is established firmly in the heart of the devotee, he or she should move to the higher realm of relating to God directly on a Heart to Heart basis.
Bhakti or the intense worship of the personal God, even if it were via rituals, enables the devotee to have an intense, personal and mystical relationship with God and offer Love to God easily. That is why in the Gita, Krishna recommends the worship of the personal God, that is, God with Form, as compared to the worship of the Formless God.
The three basic rituals are
- chants accompanied by Abhishekam done to a Lingam
- the stand-alone chants of the Rudram
- chants accompanied by offerings to the sacred fire, that is, Homam.
For example, one of the hymns in the Namakam goes in part like this:
Prostrations to the Lord of all bodies, the destroyer who protects with His stringed bow.
Prostrations to the charioteer, the indestructible one, the Lord of the Forests,
Prostrations to the crimson one, the Lord of trees who, existing in all, protects.
May I be provided material comforts in abundance in my life’s journey and the capacity to put them to the best use.
May I be granted movable and immovable property and plentiful gold and silver.
But there are also hymns that seek higher knowledge, the ability to sacrifice, the realisation of the ultimate purpose of life and so on. If we take all this together, we see an interesting progression. First, the devotee adores the Lord as the Supreme Creator and seeks from the Lord the blessings of material prosperity etc., all of which are related to Creation. But slowly the devotee’s focus shifts to things more spiritual, that is, to things that go beyond the mere material.