Dawn on the Yamuna
Out of His causeless mercy, the Lord appears in His arca-vigraha form so the conditioned souls can see Him and worship Him. By worshiping the arca-vigraha, the conditioned souls can engage all of their senses in devotional service. By enthusiastically performing sadhana-bhakti and observing all the regulations of arcana, devotees cultivate the understanding that Krsna is directly present in His Deity form.
"Worship of the arca-vigraha is not idol worship. The arca-vigraha is an incarnation of the Lord in a form appreciable by a devotee. Therefore devotees engage in the temple in the service of the Lord as arca-vigraha, a form made of sthula (material) objects such as stone, metal, wood, jewels or paint. All of these are called sthula, or physical representations. Since the devotees follow the regulative principles of worship, even though the Lord is there in His physical form, He is nondifferent from His original, spiritual form. Thus the devotee gets the benefit of achieving the ultimate goal of life, that is to say, becoming always absorbed in thought of the Lord. This incessant thought of the Lord, as prescribed in the Bhagavad-gita, makes one the topmost yogi."
Srimad-Bhagavatam 4:12:17 Purport
The regulated worship of the arca-vigraha is one of the nine processes of devotional service Prahlada Maharaja lists in Srimad Bhagavatam.. Srila Rupa Gosvami defines arcana in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu:
"Arcana is defined as offering of articles of worship (upacaras) with mantra after having performed preliminary purificatory activities (purvanga-karmas) such as bhuta-suddhi and nyasas."
According to Srila Rupa Gosvami's definition of arcana, Deity worship includes a variety of activities, some of which may appear rather technical or even "ritualistic". But if one keeps the goal of Deity worship clearly in mind, then the different aspects of arcana, with its various technical rules and regulations, will be found to serve their purpose, which is to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we understand the meaning of arcana - namely formal and regulated offering of respect and service to the Lord - then we may undertake the process of arcana with full faith, enthusiastically performing the prescribed procedures of purification, establishing different articles of worship, and offering worship. Then we will attain the goal of worship -- love of Godhead.
The daily sadhana program begins early in the morning. The hours before dawn, beginning one and a half hours before sunrise, is called the brahma-muhurta. This period of the day is a particularly potent time for spiritual activities.
"In the early morning hours (known as brahma-muhurta) one should get up and immediately chant the Hare Krsna mantra, or, at least, "Krsna, Krsna, Krsna." In this way, one should remember Krsna. Some slokas or prayers should also be chanted. By chanting, one immediately becomes auspicious and transcendental to the infection of material qualities."
Caitanya-caritamrta, Madyam lila 24:331
According to Arcana Padati, "Every twenty-four minutes is equal to one danda. Two dandas, or forty-eight minutes, is equal to one muhurta. In the day and the night together, there are a total of thirty muhurtas. In the last portion of the night, the time beginning two muhurtas before the rise of the sun up to the rise of the sun, or one hour and thirty-six minutes before the rise of the sun, is called arunodaya. Of these two muhurtas, the first muhurta is called the brahma-muhurta. This brahma-muhurta is the most auspicious time for devotees seeking after success in spiritual realization."
Srila Prabhupada told his disciples a story about when he had lived in Vrndavana. A Bengali widow walked to the Yamuna River to take her bath every morning. And every morning without fail she would return with a pot of water for the Radha-Damodara pujaris to use in bathing the Deities. Prabhupada said he would sometimes open the gate for the woman, since he also rose very early, and she would enter and wake the pujari. "Although the Vrndavana nights are cold in the winter," Prabhupada said, "the woman never once failed to come with the water. For this activity she will return back to Godhead. One who cannot rise early in the morning is not very serious about spiritual life. One must rise before the brahma-muhurta hour-that is very auspicious. And one will take the trouble to do so if he is serious about spiritual life."
By arising at brahma-muhurta, one can properly attend to personal hygiene, bathing, washing and changing into fresh clothing, etc. This leaves ample time for chanting japa and Gayatri and arriving at the temple in time for Mangala-arati.
Srila Prabhupada instructed a full program for temple worship, comprised of four full aratis (mangala, bhoga, sandhya and sayana), as well as various dhupa (incense) aratis throughout the day as various offerings are made. The following pages provide a detailed description of the activities that take place in the morning program.