"After pada-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 Narada-pancaratra. In this age, the pancaratra system is particularly recommended for arcana, Deity worship. There are two systems of arcana--the bhagavata system and pancaratriki system. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam there is no recommendation of pancaratriki 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. Rupa Gosvami states:
sri-visnoh sravane pariksid abhavad vaiyasakih kirtane
prahladah smarane tad-anghri-bhajane laksmih prthuh pujane
akruras tv abhivandane kapi-patir dasye 'tha sakhye 'rjunah
sarvasvatma-nivedane balir abhut krsnaptir esam param
"Pariksit Maharaja attained salvation simply by hearing, and Sukadeva Gosvami attained salvation simply by chanting. Prahlada Maharaja attained salvation by remembering the Lord. The goddess of fortune, Laksmidevi, attained perfection by worshiping the Lord's lotus feet. Prthu Maharaja attained salvation by worshiping the Deity of the Lord. Akrura attained salvation by offering prayers, Hanuman by rendering service, Arjuna by establishing friendship with the Lord, and Bali Maharaja 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 Srimad-Bhagavatam.
It is therefore recommended that initiated devotees follow the principles of Narada-pancaratra 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 brahmanas 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 Krsna consciousness movement there are brahmacaris, grhasthas, vanaprasthas and sannyasis, but the Deity worship in the temple should be performed especially by the householders. The brahmacaris can go with the sannyasis to preach, and the vanaprasthas should prepare themselves for the next status of renounced life, sannyasa. Grhastha 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.
Grhastha 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 Purana. 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. Grhastha 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 namah. In all the mantras there are specific potencies, of which the grhastha devotees must take advantage. There are many mantras preceded by the word namah, but if one chants the holy name of the Lord, he receives the result of chanting namah 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 bhagavata process and pancaratriki 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 Sri Janmastami, Rama-navami and Nrsimha-caturdasi, is also included in the process of Deity worship. In other words, it is compulsory for householder devotees to observe these festivals.
.....In the process of worshiping the Deity it is sometimes enjoined that one worship the Deity within the mind. In the padma purana, Uttara-khanda, it is said, "All persons can generally worship within the mind." The Gautamiya Tantra states, "For a sannyasi who has no home, worship of the Deity within the mind is recommended." In the Narada-pancaratra it is stated by Lord Narayana that worship of the Deity within the mind is called manasa-puja, 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 Srimad-Bhagavatam, one may worship the Deity by chanting all the mantras. Eight kinds of Deities are mentioned in the sastra, and the mental Deity is one of them. In this regard, the following description is given in the Brahma-vaivarta Purana.
In the city of Pratisthana-pura, long ago, there resided a brahmana who was poverty-stricken but innocent and not dissatisfied. One day he heard a discourse in an assembly of brahmanas 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 brahmana, having bathed in the Godavari 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 arati. 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 Krsna, 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 brahmana was in pain, Lord Visnu in Vaikuntha began smiling, and the goddess of fortune inquired from the Lord why He was smiling. Lord Visnu then ordered His associates to bring the brahmana to Vaikuntha. Thus the brahmana attained the liberation of samipya, the facility of living near the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
"The next process of devotional service is arcanam, worship of the Deity, the form of Krsna in the temple.
It is not that one should worship Krsna once a week or once a month. Rather, one should worship Krsna twenty-four hours a day (nitya). The Deity should have a new dress every day or twice or four times a day--as many times as possible. This is called srngara. Krsna is the most opulent enjoyer, and we should supply Him things by which He can enjoy. For instance, if someone gives me new clothing, I say, "Oh, this new clothing is very nice," and this is my enjoyment. Similarly, we should try to satisfy Krsna every day with gorgeous clothing. The dress for the Deity should be first class, the food offered to Him must be first class, and the place where He is situated in the temple must be first class or even more than first class. Furthermore, the temple should always be as clean as glass. Everyone remarks that the temples of the Krsna consciousness movement are very clean, and they must be very clean. The more one cleanses the temple, the more one's heart becomes cleansed. This is the process of devotional service. The more we dress Krsna, the more satisfied we become. At the present moment we are accustomed to seeing and appreciating our own clothing. I think, "What costly clothing I have," and in this way I become satisfied. But when we dress Krsna we shall feel spiritual satisfaction.
yuktasya bhaktams ca niyunjato 'pi
vande guroh sri-caranaravindam
It is the duty of the spiritual master to engage his disciples always in worshiping the Deity in this way, and it is to such a guru, or spiritual master, that we offer our obeisances."
Teachings of Queen Kunti, Chapter 19
"So because these activities, devotional activities, are on the spiritual platform, all of them are Absolute. It is not that if you are hearing but you are not chanting, then your result will be little less than the other who is hearing and chanting. No. It is Absolute Truth. Just like if you taste a sugar candy, lump of sugar candy, from any side you taste, the sweetness is there. There is no difference, that if you taste this side, then it is more sweet than the other side. Krsna is complete Absolute Truth. So any side. If you become expert in hearing, that is as good as one is engaged in other eight processes or nine processes. That is stated in the sastra. Just like Pariksit Maharaja. He simply listened. He did not do any other process. Sri-visnu-sravane pariksit. They got liberation simply by executing one of the nine different processes. So sri-visnoh sravane pariksid abhavad vaiyasakih kirtane. Pariksit Maharaja got liberation simply by hearing. And Sukadeva Gosvami, he got liberation simply by chanting. And similarly, Prahlada Maharaja, he got liberation simply by memorizing, smarane; Laksmiji, simply by serving the lotus feet of Narayana. So Krsna consciousness is in the absolute platform. There is no relativity. In the temple worship, as there are so many different duties--one is worshiping directly the Deity, decorating the Deity, and the other is washing the temple--it does not mean that the one who is cleansing the Deity, he is less important than the person who is in the temple room, Deity room. No. Because it is absolute. The Deity... As the Deity is important, similarly, the floor of the temple is also important, same importance, because absolute. So in executing our devotional service we are engaged in different duties. Somebody is cooking. Somebody is decorating the Deity. Somebody is cleansing the floor. Somebody is going to sell books. Somebody is doing something. Everything--nirbandhe krsna sambandhe, in relationship with Krsna. Because the relationship is there with Krsna, then every activity which you are doing, that is complete. There is no such material distinction. Just like here in the material world somebody is sitting in the office chair and somebody is cleansing the office, so the cleaner is supposed to be lower than the officer, but in the spiritual world there is no such distinction. The officer and the cleaner, they are of the same importance. That is even Krsna, with Krsna. That is spiritual world. In Vrndavana the cowherds boys, they are playing with Krsna on equal terms. They do not know Krsna is God. They simply know how to love Krsna, that's all. There is no need of thinking that "Krsna is greater than the other cowherds boy. They are living entities." There is no such sense. Krsna wants that. That is Goloka Vrndavana worship. Simply the center is Krsna, and all the inhabitants of Vrndavana, they love Krsna, and they do not know anything except Krsna. This is Vrndavana life. Everyone knows that "Krsna is my very intimate friend." Somebody knows, "Krsna is my son," somebody knows that "Krsna is my master," and somebody is thinking, "Krsna is my lover." But center is Krsna. The cows, the calves, the friends, the gopis, and the cowherds boy, Krsna's father, Nanda Maharaja, Krsna's mother, Yasomati, and... Everyone's center is Krsna, "How Krsna will be happy?" This is Vrndavana life. If we try to follow the footsteps of the residents of Vrndavana, how to love Krsna, then our life is successful."
Srila Prabhupada Departure Lecture, 03-12-75, London
Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.