You have noted that one of the tricks of writing poetry is to find similes and metaphors. Why is that? It is not so obvious as you may think. The fact is, you see, the whole universe is symbolic. According to our own disposition, we have read meanings into things. You may say, Oh, we don’t read meanings; we just see things.’ That is what you think! When you have become accustomed to one meaning, it seems natural, and you are not aware that in the beginning you read that meaning into the object. The whole universe, everything in it, is unnamable, immeasurable, inexpressable. Its significance is indeterminate, but we, according to our state of being, read significance into it. When we are earthbound, or sense bound, we read a concrete meaning, but even then everything reminds us of something else, because the fact is that any one thing here is related to every other thing. In other words, everything is symbolic. When you have risen above your senses, you do not have to be told that everything should be studied symbolically; you will feel it. You look at the sun, at once you will be reminded of the infinite God who is all light, from whom all things have come. You look at the ocean, you are reminded of something; at a flower, of something else.
Well, to make this story short, Hindus have found that the things we offer to God in our human approach flowers, water, food, incense, light are the five cosmic or basic manifestations of God and can be offered as such. These principles, according to the cosmology of Indian systems of philosophy, are earth, water, fire, air, and ether; each has its distinguishing quality and is represented by a symbolic offering. A flower represents earth, together with the quality of odour, because the earth principle alone has smell. If you say water or air sometimes smells, they will say no, that is because some earthly particles are in the water or air. Well, you will find what stands for what in the ritualistic books of the Hindus.
But what I should add here is that if your mind has learned to dwell above the realm of the body so that you are not much conscious of it (I do not say absolutely unconscious of it, but that it no longer has any hold upon you), then when you offer a flower, thinking this is the earth principle, you will actually feel as if all that is of the earth, earthy, is given back to God. Similarly, when you offer the other principles you will feel they have been returned to God. And at the end of the worship, you will feel that all the elements of which the universe is made have become absorbed in God, and God and you are alone together. You will feel a sense of deep at-onement with God in the silence of your soul, deep at-onement.
This particular worship, called Aratrika, is done in the evening. The worshipper generally offers the five elements while standing and ringing a bell. The bell produces the continuous sound of Om, which is a nice accompaniment because your mind becomes concentrated and taken up by it. First, while ringing the bell with one hand, he waves a flower before the Deity with the other, offering it as the earth principle. Then he will offer water as the water principle. Next he lights a piece of camphor or a candle and waves it, offering the fire principle. He waves a fan to represent the air principle. Finally, he offers a piece of cloth, which stands for ether, the space principle, because, like space, cloth covers everything. If he has worshipped in the right way, this symbolic worship rings true, and as a result he finds all these manifestations have been accepted by God and absorbed into Him. One after the other, the barriers of creation have gone away; only God and the soul remain. The worshipper has lost outward consciousness, just as in deep meditation. That is the deeper and truer ceremonial worship.