This weekend Boyfriend Yogi and I transformed a cabinet designed to hide a TV (which we lack) into a beautiful traditional altar. Previously we had an altar in our bedroom on a table by the window. On this altar we had many pictures and small murtis but also other little symbols and reminders of Sacred moments in the form of crystals, stones, cards with quotes and images, copper yantras and shells, in addition to incense and sage. It was a sweet little altar that I loved to sit in front of smiling at these profound and simple images. I often offered a little incense and chanted mantras to honor the representations of the Divine present. But the time had come to step it up a bit, especially for Boyfriend Yogi who is very devoted and comes from a Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, honoring Lord Krsna. So our new altar is pretty legit with Jaganath, Balaram and Subhadra presiding over it. We also have installed images of Shiva as well as two small murtis of Hanuman and Saraswati. We are performing daily mini-aarati pujas as well as offering food and flowers. I’m using this new addition to our home as an impetus to improve my harmonium playing skills so I can play more sweetly for the Deities!
All this said, I believe that there are many ways to have an altar in your home, whether or not you follow the Hindu practices of puja etc.,.
In fact I have another altar of sorts in our home. This altar is a tribute to beauty, to femininity, to my history, my culture and to the sweetness of my childhood self. This table is like a condensed version of what my adolescent bedroom contained. That room was a piece of art – the walls were plastered with images, every surface was delicately arranged with treasures and interspersed between the psychedelic were refined antique keepsakes from my grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond. This current table was inspired by a beautiful silver and mirrored tray I found at a local antique shop. Upon this I’ve placed my engraved silver baby brush and comb, an antique piano-shaped music box I found years ago at a vintage store in San Francisco, a 1930s cigarette holder I treasured in my teen age years, a monogrammed silver blush brush, a silver engraved cup I had in my bedroom as a child and a small gold-embossed leather box from my grandmother for small earrings and trinkets etc.,. A mirrored cabinet makes this table seem like an old-fashioned vanity and I use it as such since I store most of my favorite jewelry in the antique boxes and shell cases upon the table. I’ve placed a small stool in front of the table so I can sit and enjoy the beauty in front of me when I am getting dressed and picking out that day’s adornments. To honor the Divine Feminine I’ve placed images I love on this altar such as Botticelli’s Venus, the Virgin Mary, Laksmi and Haidakhandeshwari Ma. There are also 2 pictures of myself as a blonde-ringleted 3 year old child which always make me smile. I often place a beautiful flower in a small vase on my table. There is nothing practical about this table. I could easily put all my jewelry in a box rather than display it with these other trinkets. But it’s frivolity is part of it’s beauty and it’s purpose! It brings me joy and it lends an air of refinement and glamor to my otherwise simple life. It means something to me and that’s why it is an altar and not just a surface with stuff on it!
Creating and maintaining a space in which to honor the Divine and to honor oneself is very important. Whether it’s merely a windowsill or a small table, creating a personal altar is a joy-bringing and love-affirming experience. By having this in your home, you are provided with a daily opportunity to stop and remind yourself of the beauty abounding. Keeping small symbols and images of the Divine in the home helps bring a more ever-present awareness of the Sacred nature that resides within and without. An altar can be a very personal expression of yourself, your individuality and your unique relationship with the world and with the Divine. It will change with time but the essence of an altar reminds the same – it is built with Love, it is a reminder of a Love and it is a place to honor that Love.
Blessings to all.