Deities, therefore, are integral to the Hindu lifestyle. Our enlightened Gurus and Avatars, who continue to happen in India, energize deities through a process called prana pratishta. While priests can conduct only the ‘mantra pratishta’ – energizing deities through the chanting of mantras (sacred verses), only enlightened beings can perform the prana pratishta, which literally means ‘infusing life breath into the deity’. In the biggest temples, all over India, it was always only an enlightened being who installed the energy in that temple. Temples are monuments of spiritual liberation, and among the ultimate achievements, Hindus accomplished as a result of eons of journeying within.
The energies of an ordinary human being get exhausted whenever they are repeatedly expressed. For example, grief or joy exhausts itself when expressed through tears; pitta (the fire element in the body) exhausts itself through anger; lust exhausts itself through the sex act; the power of speech exhausts itself in the very saliva, the moment words are uttered. All these energies of expression become exhausted as soon as one uses them.
But an Avatar’s energy of expression cannot be exhausted through any of these means – or any means – because He is the inexhaustible Source of energy in human form. That is why He is the ultimate being fit to perform prana pratishta. Only a being who can function without the help of his body is capable of creating a true sanctum: one that will bless, heal and manifest miracles in exactly the way he does. Because Avatars do not need a body to execute their work, they can continue to do the things they do, even after they leave their physical body. The sanctums and deities created and energized by them radiate inexhaustible energy, which nurtures everybody who seeks it.
Once the prana pratishta has been performed, the deity is a living, independent intelligence; not stone, five-metal, or marble. The deities are living, like human beings; only more so! Therefore, when we offer puja, abhisheka (sacred bath) or conduct the marriages of deities, we are not worshipping mere stone: We are worshipping ‘through’ the stone – worshipping the Cosmic energy that exists beyond it. The deity is a beautiful way to connect to that energy, and create a sweet divine space inside us called bhava samadhi. Devotion is this sweet space that is alive and develops between you and the deity.
There are thousands of miracles which show that this process is not simply a sacred sentiment; it is scientific and real. Deities are living entities who talk, eat and respond just like we do. Ganesha drinks milk in temples all over the world. Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain accepts your offering of alcohol by drinking it when you keep it near his mouth. In Udupi, Krishna turns his entire body in order to give darshan to a sincere devotee. Devi reduces her height so that she will fit through the wooden door when the priests take her out of the garbha mandir (sanctum sanctorum). You can hear the anklets of Devi Meenakshi in Madurai and the anklets of Nataraja in Chidambaram!