Puja: Origin, Meaning, and Vedic Significance
India’s multifarious age-old culture is adorned by various pujas such as Shiva puja, Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Vastu Puja and other various Hindu ceremonies. All the Vedic literatures right from the Four Vedas, Puranas, Itihasa, Upanishands to the great epic Mahabharata and the Ramayana mention the performance of Puja/Pooja (prayer rituals) for appeasing the deities. Additionally, the concept of Puja/Pooja is also used in the context of revering the presence of a special guest or the memories of the departed.
In their broader sense, pujas can be performed for a number of ceremonies, occasions and festivals such birthdays, marriages or new professional ventures. They are held at homes, temples or at the inaugural ceremonies of events. Pujas are however not obligatory rituals. One can perform on a daily basis or simply offer prayers to the deities on special occasions.
The idea or concept of Puja differs from the various schools of thoughts in Hinduism. Primarily it splits into Nigama rituals and Agama rituals; the former contains Agni (fire) without a deity image or idol and the latter includes the deity idol or image.
A worshipper lights up a diya (oil or ghee lamp), chants mantras, sings Vedic hymns in praise of the Divine. Then eatables (fruits and sweets) are offered to the deity. These eatables after prayers become purified and become prasadam (blessed or holy food) shared by all.
What is the significance of Puja?
Vedic rituals mostly revolve around asking the gods for their favor for material gains and fulfillments and success in court cases, against adversaries and for enhancement in personal and professional life. There are rituals for realizing one’s eternal unions (oneness) with the Supreme with a spiritual spirit. The overall Vedic philosophy behind a ritual is to attain Dharma (religion), Kama (sensual pleasures), Artha (Economic prosperity) and Moksha (liberation).
Pujas in temples and homes:
Every Hindu (followers of Vedic customs) family has a temple or a temple room in their home dedicated to the deity worship. They also visit temples in order to offer obeisance to the idols which are installed after ‘pran prathistha’. Praying at home although faithful is not as effective as praying in temples. However, it does not mean worships at home are of lesser importance. Vedas mention that the Divine can be remembered anywhere irrespective of places provided the worshiper worships selflessly and humbly. Worshipping at temples doubles your prayers on its own as the temples are ‘vigrahas’ (idols) that are installed with Praan Prathistha mantra and infused with vedic mantras, cosmic sounds of bells, bhajans, bhakti, devotional songs and rituals.
Ritual Pujas are best conducted under able Brahmins or priests who know Vedic rituals in detail and mantras dedicated to the same.
A full home or temple puja can include several steps. The deity is invited as a guest, the devotee hosts and takes care of the deity as an honored guest, Vedic hymns are sung and food are offered to the deity. Generally there are sixteen steps involved in honoring a deity.
- Avahana (“invocation”): In the first step, the deity is invoked and invited into the house.
- Asana: A seat ‘Raaj Gaadi’ is offered to the deityt.
- Padya: Next is the holy washing of the deity’s feet.
- Arghya: Holy water is given so that the deity may wash his/her mouth.
- Abhisekha: Bathing the entire deity with holy water.
- Vastra: A pure and sanctified piece of clothes are put on the deity.
- Upaveeda or Mangalsutra: This step involves the sacred thread to be put around its neck.
- Anulepana or gandha: It involves scents such as ittars, floral waters are applied to the deity along with sandalwood paste or kumkum.
- Pushpa: This step is important as it includes offering fresh flowers to the deity. No only flowers but also the garland of flowers.
- Dhupa: Once floral veneration is done, next is to light up the incense sticks.
- Dipa or Aarti: After the sticks, diyas (oil/ghee lamps) are burned and waved in front of the deity.
- Naivedya: This step involves the exchange of devotional affections. Food items such as cooked rice, fruits, clarified butter, sugar, betel leaf and the like are offered.
- Namaskara or pranama: Now the devotee bows down and offers homage chanting the mantras dedicated to the deity.
- Pradakshina: Then moving around or circumambulating (Pradakshina) the deity and offering the prayers followed by bowing down and leaving.