It is believed that arti has been performed since the Vedic period. It is usually performed at the end of a puja (ritual) in South India and after bhajan (devotional song) in North India.
It is also believed that arti was performed in the past to illuminate a deity in a sanctum so that devotees could have a darshan (viewing) of their god. The priest in the temple would wave the arti plate in front of the deity to help devotees enjoy a full darshan. While doing so, mantras were usually recited or songs were sung.
According to Bhagavad Gita, the material world is made of five physical elements (earth, air, fire, water and ether) and three more mental elements (mind, intelligence and ego.) The offerings made during arti represent these elements as follows:
- Earth: flower
- Water: water
- Fire: ghee lamp
- Air: chamar or yak-tail fan
- Ether: chiming bell
- Mind: emotional involvement
- Intelligence: focus
- Ego: obeisance
Performing arti has spiritual significance. Just as the camphor burns itself out and illuminates the place, the devotee wills to sacrifice him/herself in the service of their god. Like the wick that dispels darkness, true knowledge of one's guru dispels ignorance.
Arti ritual and performing puja are part of Bhakti yoga, which is a spiritual path that leads to enlightenment though devotion to a god. Some yoga centers perform an arti ritual toward the end of a yoga session.