Puraścaraṇa means preparatory rites, which is associated with mantra japas. Puras means first of all and ācaraṇa means undertaking, practising and performing. Therefore puraścaraṇa means first preparatory rites. There are two types of puraścaraṇa rites. One is to make saṅkalpa to certain prescribed number of recitations followed by homa, tarpaṇa, mārjana and bhojana on a regular basis. The second one is to do mantra japa and after completing certain rounds as prescribed mantra śāstra-s. Puraścaraṇa should be done only after obtaining specific permission from the Guru, who initiated the mantra. Guru should be worshiped before and after puraścaraṇa. It is important that Guru should be offered dakṣiṇa. If Guru is not available, dakṣiṇa should be offered to his wife or son.

A mantra japa consists of five parts beginning with repetition of mantra japa followed by homa, tarpaṇa, mārjana and bhojana. First of all, a place is to be selected for performing puraścaraṇa. Certain places are prescribed for doing puraścaraṇa such as top of mountains, river banks, forests, temples, shores of ocean and one’s own house. The place should be chosen in such a way that homa can be done without any difficulties. A small shed is to be erected for performing these rituals and these rituals should not be done in an open place.  However this does not apply to temples and one’s own house. Pūjā is prescribed as part of puraścaraṇa ritual. It is said that without pūjā, japa should not be done.

While doing puraścaraṇa, food restrictions are prescribed. Sweet, astringent (tamarind, etc.), oil and spicy food should be avoided. According to Kulārṇava Tantra, one should not eat food cooked by others. Those who are doing puraścaraṇa should avoid nap. Gossiping should be avoided. One should sleep on the floor, should take bath three times a day, silence should be observed and celibacy should be strictly practiced. One should never be angry during puraścaraṇa ritual. While doing homa, one should sleep very close to homa kuṇḍa. Many times, homa could last for several days at a stretch. Homa can be performed continuously except noon time. It is better to avoid homa four hours around noon (for example 11.30 to 15.30 hrs). In case, one is not able to perform homa, then 40% of the prescribed number of repetitions for puraścaraṇa should be additionally chanted as mantra japa. In the case of Mahāṣoḍaṣī, 40% of prescribed repetitions for doing puraścaraṇa is 100,000 and one has to do additional repetition of 40,000 mantra japas.

There is a general concept for number of repetitions, which says that every akṣara, 100,000 repetitions are to be done. But this is a only broad guideline. Mantra śāstra-s have prescribed fixed number of repetitions. For example, Caṇḍi Navākṣarī has nine akṣara-s and the prescribed number of repetitions is only 400,000. Similarly, Mahāṣoḍaṣī mantra has 28 akṣara-s (ॐ is excluded), but total number of repetitions prescribed is only 900,000 and for the purpose of puraścaraṇa, it is only 100,000 repetitions. This means after completing puraścaraṇa for 100,000 repetitions, balance 800,000 repetitions are to be continued.

The basic principle of puraścaraṇa is 10% of each of the previous rite, which is known as daśāaṁśa. In other words, 10% of mantra repetitions should be performed as homa, 10% of homa should be performed as tarpaṇa, 10% of tarpaṇa should be performed as mārjana (prokṣaṇa or sprinkling of water on the self) and finally 10% of mārjana as bhojana. There are two conditions for offering bhojana. Those who are invited for bhojana should be the knowers of Vedas or those who are practicing the same mantra for which puraścaraṇa is being done. If mantra belongs to any Devi, then suvāsini pūjā should be done after completing all other rites. Let us take Mahāṣoḍaṣī as example.

Total number of prescribed repetitions       900,000

Repetitions for puraścaraṇa                         100,000
Homa                                                             10,000
Tarpaṇa                                                            1,000
Mārjana                                                              100
Bhojana                                                                10
After completing puraścaraṇa, balance 800,000 to be continued.

Brief procedure:

1. One should reach the place chosen for puraścaraṇa three days in advance and should make a saṁkalpa for accepting this place for performing puraścaraṇa.

2. Then various bali-s are to be offered for kṣetrapāla (the one who protects that particular place), aṣṭadikpālaka-s etc.

3. Saṁkalpa for doing puraścaraṇa should be taken.

4. Mantra japa followed by other rites should be commenced.

5. While doing homa, the concerned Devata should be invoked in the middle of homa fire. Each mantra has different types oblations. For example, for Mahāṣoḍaṣī, trimadhuram is prescribed. Trimadhuram consists of ghee, honey and milk. Few drops of honey and milk should be added to ghee and oblations should be offered with this. Always ghee remains as the main ingredient for oblations.

6. While doing tarpaṇa, water should be taken in a copper vessel (kalaśa) and fragrant condiments should be mixed with water. The concerned Devata should be invoked in the kalaśa. By holding uttaraṇi (spoon) in the left hand, tarpaṇa should be done by offering water in the right palm. Two flowers should be held in right palm between ring and index fingers.

Purascarana

Water from uttaraṇi should be poured into right palm and the water should fall on another vessel through the flowers. At the end of recitation of mantra, name of the Devata and तर्पयामि नमः tarpayāmi namaḥ should be added. For example, let us takef Mahāṣoḍaṣī mantra with ātmabīja ईं īṁ. Then the tarpaṇa should be done like this.

om śrīṁ hrīṁ klīṁ aiṁ sauḥ -- ॐ श्रीं ह्रीं क्लीं ऐं सौः

īṁ hrīṁ śrīṁ -- ईं ह्रीं श्रीं

ka e ī la hrīṁ -- क ए ई ल ह्रीं

ha sa ka ha la hrīṁ -- ह स क ह ल ह्रीं

sa ka la hrīṁ -- स क ल ह्रीं

sauḥ aiṁ klīṁ hrīṁ śrīṁ  Śrī Lalitāmahātripurasundari Parābhaṭṭārikā tarpayāmi namaḥ --

सौः ऐं क्लीं ह्रीं श्रीं श्री ललितामहात्रिपुरसुन्दरि पराभट्टारिका तर्पयामि नमः

7. While performing mārjana, again the concerned Devata should be invoked in the kalaśa. If number of tarpaṇa-s are less, then the same kalaśa water can be used for mārjana also. Here also we have to use uttaraṇi to take water from the kalaśa and should be poured on the right palm. The right palm should be folded in such a way to hold water. We have to sprinkle this water on our head by chanting the mantra, which should end with the name of the Devata and मार्जयामि नमः mārjayāmi namaḥ. Example

om śrīṁ hrīṁ klīṁ aiṁ sauḥ -- ॐ श्रीं ह्रीं क्लीं ऐं सौः

īṁ hrīṁ śrīṁ -- ईं ह्रीं श्रीं

ka e ī la hrīṁ -- क ए ई ल ह्रीं

ha sa ka ha la hrīṁ -- ह स क ह ल ह्रीं

sa ka la hrīṁ -- स क ल ह्रीं

sauḥ aiṁ klīṁ hrīṁ śrīṁ  Śrī Lalitāmahātripurasundari Parābhaṭṭārikā mārjayāmi namaḥ --

सौः ऐं क्लीं ह्रीं श्रीं श्री ललितामहात्रिपुरसुन्दरि पराभट्टारिका मार्जयामि नमः

8. Finally, Vedic Pandits or the sādhaka-s who practice this mantra japa should be invited for bhojana. The concerned Devata should be invoked in all of them and then feast should be offered to them. Dakṣiṇa should also be offered to them according to one’s capacity.

9. If the concerned Devata is a female Deity, then suvāsini pūjā should be performed.

Conclusion:

The purpose of puraścaraṇa is to get the mantra fructified. This is known as mantra siddhi. The signs of fructification of mantra normally is through dreams. If one has auspicious dreams during puraścaraṇa period, then it means that the mantra has fructified. Sometimes, mantra may not fructify. In that case the entire process is to be repeated. If puraścaraṇa is done with full attention and devotion, mantra will fructify.

One’s Guru is the final authority on the procedures to be adopted for puraścaraṇa.