According to Hinduism Puja, also spelled Pooja or Poojah,is a religious ritual which most Hindus perform every morning after bathing and dressing but prior to taking any food or drink. It is also known as the act of showing reverence to god, a spirit or another aspect of the divine through invocations, prayers, songs and rituals. The word puja is derived from the Dravidian pu (‘flower’). Simply, puja consists of making an offering of flowers or fruit to an image of god. Puja is seen as a way of relating humans to the domain and actions of the divine, and can be performed for anything considered divine, from Vishnu to a holy tree. An essential part of puja for the Hindu devotee is making a spiritual connection with the divine. Most often that contact is facilitated through an object: an element of nature, a sculpture, a vessel, a painting, or a print.
Puja takes many forms, the simplest of which is darsan, gazing upon an image. The image is not believe to be divine itself; rather, it embodies the divine energy of the deity and provides a connection to the god or goddess. Puja also usually includes providing an offering to the object of puja, such as flowers or food, and possibly lighting a candle or incense.During puja an image or other symbol of the god serves as a means of gaining access to the divine. This icon is not the deity itself; rather, it is believed to be filled with the deity’s cosmic energy. It is a focal point for honoring and communicating with the god.
A puja may also include a circumambulation (pradakshina) of the image or shrine and, in an elaborate ritual, a sacrifice (bali) and oblation to the sacred fire (homa). Special ceremonies according to the festival calendar may also be observed, such as swinging the god or playing games according to the season. Wherever puja is performed it includes three important components: the seeing of the deity; puja, or worship, which includes offering flowers, fruits, and foods; and retrieving the blessed food and consuming it. By performing these sacred acts the worshiper creates a relationship with the divine through his or her emotions and senses. Puja may be performed by an individual worshipper or in gatherings. Sometimes a puja is done for the benefit of certain people, for whom priests or relatives ask blessings.
One important type of puja in Hindu temple and private worship is arati, the waving of lighted lamps before an image of a deity or a person to be honoured. In performing the rite, the worshipper circles the lamp three or more times in a clockwise direction while chanting a prayer or singing a hymn. In Nepalese households,arati is a commonly observed ritual element accorded specially honoured guests. It is also a part of many domestic ceremonies.Hindus commonly conduct pujas in shrines in three different environments: in temples, in the home, and in outdoor public spaces. It is equally common for any of the deities to be worshiped in any of these three types of shrines.
Hindus believe that if proper care is not taken of a temple’s images, the deity will abandon the temple. Hence priests reside at the temple and take care of the gods’ needs. Priests perform puja at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight. For a layperson, however, visiting a temple every day or even regularly is not mandatory, and many devout Hindus worship at home. The essential aspect of puja is not congregational worship but an individual’s offering to a deity. Worship in the home usually takes place daily.
A Hindu temple is believed to be the earthly seat of a deity and the place where the deity waits for its devotees. As such, temple structures are sacred spaces where gods partake of human offerings and in which the people can be with the gods. Many temples resemble palace architecture; this is not surprising, as deities are often considered kings.
Temples are normally dedicated to one primary god. Often they are elaborately decorated on the outside with stone or plaster carvings depicting religious stories, and their decoration is specific to the deity being worshiped. Mythological scenes are juxtaposed with scenes of everyday life and important political events, such as royal coronations, conquests, and celebrations, or with portraits of royal and secular patrons. These divine images and mythological scenes on the outer walls of the temple help worshipers recall the sacred stories they have heard or read.
One should remove one’s shoes before entering a Hindu temple in order to pay appropriate respect to the deity within the temple.
The innermost sanctuary of the temple contains the principal image of the deity. The character of each shrine is determined by the deity being worshiped.
The heart of every Hindu home is its shrine: the sacred space set apart for honoring and worshiping the gods. While a particularly devout Hindu may visit a temple every day, others go there only to request a favor of the deity, to fulfill specific vows, or on festival days. The pujas that take place in the household shrine are the foundation of all family actions and decisions. Temple worship requires the intervention of a priest, but in the home the contact between devotee and deity is direct.
The size and decoration of a household shrine do not matter. The shrine may be large and impressive, an entire room or a beautifully designed edifice, or it may be simply a tiny niche, or even just a row of religious prints pasted on a wall.
Although children grow up following family beliefs, they are encouraged as young adults to make their own choices of which gods or goddesses they find personally inspiring. Consequently, household shrines contain images of deities that pertain to the belief systems of all a home’s inhabitants, and it is not uncommon to find several small individual shrines in one household.
Puja is usually performed by at least one member of the household every day. Puja is a means of honoring the gods or goddesses, whose presence in the home is believed to protect the family and to engender good fortune. The paraphernalia used include an incense burner and a tray with flowers, fruits, and food.