After pāda-sevanam comes the process of arcanam, worship of the Deity. If one is interested in the process of arcanam, one must positively take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master and learn the process from him. There are many books for arcana, especially Nārada-pañcarātra. In this age, the pañcarātra system is particularly recommended for arcana, Deity worship. There are two systems of arcana—the bhāgavata system and pāñcarātrikī system. In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam there is no recommendation of pāñcarātrikī worship because in this Kali-yuga, even without Deity worship, everything can be perfectly performed simply through hearing, chanting, remembering and worship of the lotus feet of the Lord. Rūpa Gosvāmī states:
śrī-viṣṇoḥ śravaṇe parīkṣid abhavad vaiyāsakiḥ kīrtane
prahlādaḥ smaraṇe tad-aṅghri-bhajane lakṣmīḥ pṛthuḥ pūjane
akrūras tv abhivandane kapi-patir dāsye ‘tha sakhye ‘rjunaḥ
sarvasvātma-nivedane balir abhūt kṛṣṇāptir eṣāṁ param
“Parīkṣit Mahārāja attained salvation simply by hearing, and Śukadeva Gosvāmī attained salvation simply by chanting. Prahlāda Mahārāja attained salvation by remembering the Lord. The goddess of fortune, Lakṣmīdevī, attained perfection by worshiping the Lord’s lotus feet. Pṛthu Mahārāja attained salvation by worshiping the Deity of the Lord. Akrūra attained salvation by offering prayers, Hanumān by rendering service, Arjuna by establishing friendship with the Lord, and Bali Mahārāja by offering everything to the service of the Lord.” All these great devotees served the Lord according to a particular process, but every one of them attained salvation and became eligible to return home, back to Godhead. This is explained in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
It is therefore recommended that initiated devotees follow the principles of Nārada-pañcarātra by worshiping the Deity in the temple. Especially for householder devotees who are opulent in material possessions, the path of Deity worship is strongly recommended. An opulent householder devotee who does not engage his hard-earned money in the service of the Lord is called a miser. One should not engage paid brāhmaṇas to worship the Deity. If one does not personally worship the Deity but engages paid servants instead, he is considered lazy, and his worship of the Deity is called artificial. An opulent householder can collect luxurious paraphernalia for Deity worship, and consequently for householder devotees the worship of the Deity is compulsory. In our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement there are brahmacārīs, gṛhasthas, vānaprasthas and sannyāsīs, but the Deity worship in the temple should be performed especially by the householders. The brahmacārīs can go with the sannyāsīs to preach, and the vānaprasthas should prepare themselves for the next status of renounced life, sannyāsa. Gṛhastha devotees, however, are generally engaged in material activities, and therefore if they do not take to Deity worship, their falling down is positively assured. Deity worship means following the rules and regulations precisely. That will keep one steady in devotional service. Generally householders have children, and then the wives of the householders should be engaged in caring for the children, just as women acting as teachers care for the children in a nursery school.
Gṛhastha devotees must adopt the arcana-vidhi, or Deity worship according to the suitable arrangements and directions given by the spiritual master. Regarding those unable to take to the Deity worship in the temple, there is the following statement in the Agni Purāṇa. Any householder devotee circumstantially unable to worship the Deity must at least see the Deity worship, and in this way he may achieve success also. The special purpose of Deity worship is to keep oneself always pure and clean. Gṛhastha devotees should be actual examples of cleanliness.
Deity worship should be continued along with hearing and chanting. Therefore every mantra is preceded by the word namaḥ. In all the mantras there are specific potencies, of which the gṛhastha devotees must take advantage. There are many mantras preceded by the word namaḥ, but if one chants the holy name of the Lord, he receives the result of chanting namaḥ many times. By chanting the holy name of the Lord, one can reach the platform of love of Godhead. One might ask, then what is the necessity of being initiated? The answer is that even though the chanting of the holy name is sufficient to enable one to progress in spiritual life to the standard of love of Godhead, one is nonetheless susceptible to contamination because of possessing a material body. Consequently, special stress is given to the arcana-vidhi. One should therefore regularly take advantage of both the bhāgavata process and pāñcarātrikī process.
Deity worship has two divisions, namely pure and mixed with fruitive activities. For one who is steady, Deity worship is compulsory. Observing the various types of festivals, such as Śrī Janmāṣṭamī, Rāma-navamī and Nṛsiṁha-caturdaśī, is also included in the process of Deity worship. In other words, it is compulsory for householder devotees to observe these festivals.
Now let us discuss the offenses in Deity worship. The following are offenses: (a) to enter the temple with shoes or being carried on a palanquin, (b) not to observe the prescribed festivals, (c) to avoid offering obeisances in front of the Deity, (d) to offer prayers in an unclean state, not having washed one’s hands after eating, (e) to offer obeisances with one hand, (f) to circumambulate directly in front of the Deity, (g) to spread one’s legs before the Deity, (h) to sit before the Deity while holding one’s ankles with one’s hands, (i) to lie down before the Deity, (j) to eat before the Deity, (k) to speak lies before the Deity, (l) to address someone loudly before the Deity, (m) to talk nonsense before the Deity, (n) to cry before the Deity, (o) to argue before the Deity, (p) to chastise someone before the Deity, (q) to show someone favor before the Deity, (r) to use harsh words before the Deity, (s) to wear a woolen blanket before the Deity, (t) to blaspheme someone before the Deity, (u) to worship someone else before the Deity, (v) to use vulgar language before the Deity, (w) to pass air before the Deity, (x) to avoid very opulent worship of the Deity, even though one is able to perform it, (y) to eat something not offered to the Deity, (z) to avoid offering fresh fruits to the Deity according to the season, (aa) to offer food to the Deity which has already been used or from which has first been given to others (in other words, food should not be distributed to anyone else until it has been offered to the Deity), (bb) to sit with one’s back toward the Deity, (cc) to offer obeisances to someone else in front of the Deity, (dd) not to chant proper prayers when offering obeisances to the spiritual master, (ee) to praise oneself before the Deity, and (ff) to blaspheme the demigods. In the worship of the Deity, these thirty-two offenses should be avoided.
In the Varāha Purāṇa the following offenses are mentioned: (a) to eat in the house of a rich man, (b) to enter the Deity’s room in the dark, (c) to worship the Deity without following the regulative principles, (d) to enter the temple without vibrating any sound, (e) to collect food that has been seen by a dog, (f) to break silence while offering worship to the Deity, (g) to go to the toilet during the time of worshiping the Deity, (h) to offer incense without offering flowers, (i) to worship the Deity with forbidden flowers, (j) to begin worship without having washed one’s teeth, (k) to begin worship after sex, (l) to touch a lamp, dead body or a woman during her menstrual period, or to put on red or bluish clothing, unwashed clothing, the clothing of others or soiled clothing. Other offenses are to worship the Deity after seeing a dead body, to pass air before the Deity, to show anger before the Deity, and to worship the Deity just after returning from a crematorium. After eating, one should not worship the Deity until one has digested his food, nor should one touch the Deity or engage in any Deity worship after eating safflower oil or hing. These are also offenses.
In other places, the following offenses are listed: (a) to be against the scriptural injunctions of the Vedic literature or to disrespect within one’s heart the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam while externally falsely accepting its principles, (b) to introduce differing śāstras, (c) to chew pan and betel before the Deity, (d) to keep flowers for worship on the leaf of a castor oil plant, (e) to worship the Deity in the afternoon, (f) to sit on the altar or to sit on the floor to worship the Deity (without a seat), (g) to touch the Deity with the left hand while bathing the Deity, (h) to worship the Deity with a stale or used flower, (i) to spit while worshiping the Deity, (j) to advertise one’s glory while worshiping the Deity, (k) to apply tilaka to one’s forehead in a curved way, (l) to enter the temple without having washed one’s feet, (m) to offer the Deity food cooked by an uninitiated person, (n) to worship the Deity and offer bhoga to the Deity within the vision of an uninitiated person or non-Vaiṣṇava, (o) to offer worship to the Deity without worshiping Vaikuṇṭha deities like Gaṇeśa, (p) to worship the Deity while perspiring, (q) to refuse flowers offered to the Deity, (r) to take a vow or oath in the holy name of the Lord.
If one commits any of the above offenses, one must read at least one chapter of Bhagavad-gītā. This is confirmed in the Skanda-Purāṇa, Avantī-khaṇḍa. Similarly, there is another injunction, stating that one who reads the thousand names of Viṣṇu can be released from all offenses. In the same Skanda-Purāṇa, Revā-khaṇḍa, it is said that one who recites prayers to tulasī or sows a tulasī seed is also freed from all offenses. Similarly, one who worships the śālagrāma-śilā can also be relieved of offenses. In the Brahmaṇḍa Purāṇa it is said that one who worships Lord Viṣṇu, whose four hands bear a conchshell, disc, lotus flower and club, can be relieved from the above offenses. In the Ādi-varāha Purāṇa it is said that a worshiper who has committed offenses may fast for one day at the holy place known as Śaukarava and then bathe in the Ganges.
In the process of worshiping the Deity it is sometimes enjoined that one worship the Deity within the mind. In the Padma Purāṇa, Uttara-khaṇḍa, it is said, “All persons can generally worship within the mind.” The Gautamīya Tantra states, “For a sannyāsī who has no home, worship of the Deity within the mind is recommended.” In the Nārada-pañcarātra it is stated by Lord Nārāyaṇa that worship of the Deity within the mind is called mānasa-pūjā, One can become free from the four miseries by this method. Sometimes worship from the mind can be independently executed. According to the instruction of Avirhotra Muni, one of the nava-yogendras, as mentioned in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, one may worship the Deity by chanting all the mantras. Eight kinds of Deities are mentioned in the śāstra, and the mental Deity is one of them. In this regard, the following description is given in the Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa.
In the city of Pratiṣṭhāna-pura, long ago, there resided a brāhmaṇa who was poverty-stricken but innocent and not dissatisfied. One day he heard a discourse in an assembly of brāhmaṇas concerning how to worship the Deity in the temple. In that meeting, he also heard that the Deity may be worshiped within the mind. After this incident, the brāhmaṇa, having bathed in the Godāvarī River, began mentally worshiping the Deity. He would wash the temple within his mind, and then in his imagination he would bring water from all the sacred rivers in golden and silver waterpots. He collected all kinds of valuable paraphernalia for worship, and he worshiped the Deity very gorgeously, beginning from bathing the Deity and ending with offering ārati. Thus he felt great happiness. After many years had passed in this way, one day within his mind he cooked nice sweet rice with ghee to worship the Deity. He placed the sweet rice on a golden dish and offered it to Lord Kṛṣṇa, but he felt that the sweet rice was very hot, and therefore he touched it with his finger. He immediately felt that his finger had been burned by the hot sweet rice, and thus he began to lament. While the brāhmaṇa was in pain, Lord Viṣṇu in Vaikuṇṭha began smiling, and the goddess of fortune inquired from the Lord why He was smiling. Lord Viṣṇu then ordered His associates to bring the brāhmaṇa to Vaikuṇṭha. Thus the brāhmaṇa attained the liberation of sāmīpya, the facility of living near the Supreme Personality of Godhead.