Why do Hindus "wave lamps" in front Gods, Gurus and honoured guests ?
Arti - "waving" of lamps - is done for two reasons.
1) to ward off the evil eye.
2) to allow us to see the God / Guru / honoured Guest.
Arti is usually a lamp, placed in a decorative dish along with some vermilion, (un-cooked) rice and flowers.
The lamp / dish is than moved in a clockwise direction in front of the God / Guru / honoured Guest.
After completing a few circles - usually as long as it takes to complete a prayer - the vermilion and rice are applied to the forehead of the venerated person and the person is showered with flowers as a gesture of welcome and joy.
1) Warding off the evil eye - As God / Guru / honoured Guest are so great and so charming, the evil eye may inadvertently fall from even those who love them - viz the devotes. The arti takes away the evil - eye (nazar) and it also keeps any malicious spirits that may be in the vacinity at bay. Light being the oppressor of darkness, it represents conquest of good over evil.
2) Get a better look - Less than 50 years ago, temples usually did not have electric lights in the inner sanctum. As God's icon would be in the inner sanctum, and the inner sanctum were rather dark, arti was used as a way to get a better glimpse of the divine icon. Arti was often the only opportunity for a devotees to get a good look at the svarup of the Lord - hence the importance of getting there for the arti part of the darshan.
With Guests and Guru, it was an ideal way to get up and closer to them and doing the arti was a way to express your respect and deep feeling of veneration to the person.
It is also for this treason that we usually "take arti" at the end of the darshan. It is an expression of our gratitude to the "arti" for allowing us to have a darshan of the God / Guru / honoured Guest. As we now have bright / electric lights in most temples, there is no need to rush for the arti (please read the article on how best to do darshans in a Pushti Marg's haveli).
Pushti Marg as a slightly different take on why the ritual of arti is done -
Please read the following to 2 articles to get a better idea on this - Arti - by Shri Bharat Kumarji and Shastri Shri Jay Vallabhji
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