Puja (pooja) in Sanskrit means worship or reverence to God. It is a form of worship involving physical as well as oral and mental activities. It is a way to express one's individual spirituality and gratitude to Isvara (God) and involves all five senses. Traditionally, the puja is performed with five offerings to symbolize the five elements, and the elements represented are space, air, fire, water and earth. The offerings are pushpa (flowers), dhupa (incense), deepa (light), naivedya (food) and gandha (sandalwood paste).
Puja is performed on many different occasions, but most practicing Hindus perform puja once or twice daily, and on special occasions. Except for special pujas, which are performed in temples and gatherings, pujas are performed at Hindu homes, at an altar. Before the puja ceremony, the puja performer is required to maintain perfect physical and mental purity.
The puja can be in honor of a particular deity and the choice of deity would depend on the individual performing the puja. During the puja, the performer is supposed to focus completely on God, by paying attention to the chosen deity. It is an active way of worshipping, a path of worship appropriate for the active person (karma yogi) as well as the contemplative person (jnana yogi).
Most of the puja concerns inviting the deity into the house as a guest. The following are commonly practiced steps of a puja:
|1||Dhyaanam||Meditation or Contemplation|
|2||Aawaahanam||Invitation of the deity into the worshipper's home|
|3||Aasanam||Offering the deity a seat|
|4||Paadyam||Offering of water to wash the feet|
|5||Arghyam||Offering of water to wash the hands|
|6||Aachamaniyam||Offering of drinking water|
|7||Snaanam||Offering of bath|
|8||Prathishta||Offering of a seat|
|9||Vasthram||Offering of clothes|
|10||Gandham||Offering of sandalwood|
|11||Akshatham||Offering of rice|
|12||Pushpam||Offering of flowers|
|13||Ashtothram||Chanting of names of the deity|
|14||Dhupam||Offering of incense|
|15||Deepam||Offering of light|
|16||Naivedyam||Offering of food|
A puja also always involves (and usually concludes with) arati, which is the circling of a lighted lamp in front of the deity's statue. This is customarily accompanied by chanting certain Vedic hymns.
Arati and deepam are a celebration of and prayer for light (symbolizing knowledge) over darkness (symbolizing ignorance).
Sound is an important aspect of a Hindu puja. A conch shell is usually blown at various intervals during the puja, because of the purity and clarity of its sound. The conch sound is believed to generate the clearest vibration. A bell is also rung for the same reason. These sounds are considered highly auspicious, and serve the purpose of shutting out external noise and concentrating the mind inwards
Water is also used in pujas and is held in a round, straight-necked vessel made of some kind of metal (preferably gold but often something less expensive). The water cleanses the statue of the deity and is sprinkled on the heads of those who are praying. The deity is also bathed with a mixture of milk, curds, ghee, honey and sugar.
Dhupam (incense) and gandham (sandalwood paste) both involve the sense of smell. Incense, when lit, spreads all over the room, reminding the devotees that Ishvara is all-pervasive. Sandalwood, which is very soft, releases a sweet smell when rubbed against a hard surface. This symbolizes the ideal way of dealing with life's difficulties: by maintaining one's equanimity and cheerfulness and wishing ill upon none, even one's enemies.
A performer of a puja will also burn camphor during the ritual. Camphor is used because it burns without leaving a residue, thus converting itself entirely into flame and light. This symbolizes total destruction of ignorance and total identification with Ishvara.
Yagna is also an active form of worship, similar to puja but performed by a Hindu priest. A ritual fire (agni) is the central element in a yagna, because it is vital to human civilization and because it is the easiest of the five traditionally-recognized elements (space, air, fire, water and earth) to be seen and perceived. As such, it is used as a representation and visualization of that which cannot be seen or perceived.
- Purna Vidya, Vedic heritage teaching programme, published by Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Coimbatore, India.
- Puja and Samskara, Musashi Tachikawa, Shoun Hino, Lalita Deodhar, published by Motilal Banarasidass publishers, Delhi, India