Puja or its alternative Pooja is a Sanskrit word, which literally means “reverence”, “honour”, “adoration” or “worship”. In colloquial Tamil, it is called “Poosai” with the same meaning.
The word has also been defined variously by other archaryas and pundits: one Tamil interpretation is, “puja” has two letters—“pa” and “ja”—“Pa” connotes “paaraayana” or ceremonial repetition of sacred texts; and “ja” stands for “japa” or recitation of His Names. In this sense, “puja” is continuous parayana and japa.
There is yet another explanation, “Pu” represents “pushpam” (=flower) and “ja” means “jaal” (=water). Hence, in “puja”, we use flowers and water in paying our respect to the Lord.
It has also been said that “puja” derives from “pu-chey”, which literally means “flower-action”, or “action performed with flowers”. This definition quite accurately describes what happens in the ceremonial act of showing reverence to God through invocation, prater, bhajan and ritual.
Sivacharyar Muthukumara Gurukkal says that the Tamil letter “Pu” in “puja” signifies “the pleasures, auspiciousness and good fortunes of Bhu loka”. The letter “jai” denotes an “instrument that easily brings something to us”. Hence, “puja” is an effective but spiritual tool that brings all that we rightly deserve for living in this world. (pg. 11, Home Puja).
Why Should One Perform Puja?
His Holiness Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh explains in his celebrated book “All About Hinduism” (pg. 108): “Puja is the common term for ritual worship, of which there are numerous synonyms such as Archana, Vandana, Bhajana, etc., though some of these stress certain aspects of it.
“The object of worship is the Ishta Devata or guiding Deity or the particular form of the Deity whom the devotee worships-Narayana or Vishnu as such, or His forms as Rama and Krishna in the case of Vaishnavas, Siva in His eight forms in the case of Saivas and Devi in the case of Saktas. The devotee selects sometimes his Kuladeva or Kuladevi, family Deva or Devi, for his worship. Sometimes, the Devata is chosen for him by his Guru or spiritual preceptor. Sometimes, he himself chooses that Devata which most appeals to him. This form is his Ishta Devata. An object is used in the outer Puja such as an image (Pratima), a picture, or an emblem such as Saligrama in the case of Vishnu worship or Linga in the case of worship of Siva.
“Whilst all things may be the objects of worship, choice is naturally made of those objects which, by reason of their effect on the mind, are more fitted for it. An image or one of the useful emblems is likely to raise in the mind of the worshipper the thought of a Devata.”
Is There a Need For an Image, Murthi, Vigraha When We Perform Puja?
“Puja”, some erudite Hindu scholars opine, is a post-Vedic Hindu practice. In Vedic times, it has been said, “Homa” or the offering of grains and sanctified liquids into sacrificial fire, was what that been in vogue.
As the texture of Man’s mind changed, archaryas had introduced a form of worship, which we today call “puja”: it differs from the Vedic sacrifice primarily in the fact, unlike the Homa, that image, vigraha (=murthi) or a representation of God is used in the worship. Such a ritualistic worship is highly symbolical with deep philosophical, esoteric and spiritual import.
Some Hindu pundits have said “vigraha” (a Sanskrit word) etymologically can be divided into “vi” (=removes) and “graham(m)” (planets): that which removes the ill effects of the “grahas” or planets.
Swami Sivananda explains further the reason for the use of vigraha (pg. 109, All About Hinduism): “Saligrama stone induces easily concentration of mind. Everybody has got predilection for a symbol, emblem or image. Idol or Murti (Vigraha), sun, fire, water, Ganga, Saligrama and Linga are all symbols or Pratikas of God which help the aspirants to attain one-pointedness of mind and purity of heart.
“These are all personal inclinations in the worshipper due to his belief in their special efficacy for him. Psychologically, all this means that a particular mind finds that it works best in the direction desired by means of particular instruments or emblems or images. The vast bulk of humanity are either of impure or of weak mind. Therefore, the object of worship must be pure for these people. The objects that are capable of exciting lust and dislike must be avoided. But, a higher, advanced Sadhaka who has a pure mind and who sees the divine presence everywhere and in everything, can worship any kind of object.”
“Puja” can be done in the home, temple, during ceremonies and at festivals. Every Hindu home must have a personal shrine at an appropriate place in the house. It is a imperative that every Hindu should do daily puja at home. A daily puja usually consists of a simple worship of offerings, such as an offering of light, water and incense, and/or fruit, followed by an aarti.
Home puja includes several agamic upacaras (=observances). The following is an example of what constitutes a Home puja done by aspirants in the Smartha or perhaps even in Saivite tradition:
- Dyana/ Avahana (“invocation”): The deity is invited to the ceremony.
- Asana: The deity is offered a seat.
- Paathyam: The deity’s feet are washed.
- Arghya: Water is offered so the deity may wash His face and hands.
- Acamanıya: Water is offered to Him.
- Madhuparka: The deity is offered water, honey, milk, etc.
- Snana or abhisekha: Water is offered for bathing.
- Vastra: Offering clothes to the Deity
- Upaneeyam: Adorning the deity with turmeric, etc.
- Aaparanam: Adorning Him with jewels.
- Kantham: Adorning Him with perfumes.
- Atchathai: Offering Tumeric-flavoured rice.
- Puspa: Flowers are offered to the Lord.
- Archana: Recitation of Mantras
- Dhupa: Incense is burned for the Deity.
- Dıpa: A burning lamp is waved in front of the image.
- Naivedya or prasada: Foods for the deity.
- Paaneeyam: Oblation.
- Thaampulam: Offering Vettrilai to the Deity.
- Mantra Pushpam: Offering flowers to the Deity.
- Namaskara: The worshiper and family prostrate to the Deity.
- Shanthi mantra
- Prayachittam: Mitigatory prayers
- Yathasth-thaanam: conclusion
The following article is from Swami Sivananda’s “All About Hinduism”
Worship is the expression of devotion, reverence and love to the Lord, of keen yearning to be united with Him and of spiritual thirsting to hold conscious communion with Him. The devotee prays to the Lord for granting him intense devotion and removing the veil of ignorance. He pines for His benign grace. He constantly remembers His Name. He repeats His Mantra. He sings His praise. He does Kirtana. He hears and recites His Lilas. He lives in His Dhama in the company of His devotees. He meditates on His form, His nature, His attributes and His Lilas. He visualises the form of the Lord with closed eyes and enjoys supreme peace and bliss.
Worship is the effort on the part of the Upasaka, i.e., he who does Upasana or worship, to reach the proximity or presence of God or the Supreme Self. Upasana literally means sitting near God. Upasana is approaching the chosen ideal or object of worship by meditating on it in accordance with the teachings of the Sastras and the Guru and dwelling steadily in the current of that one thought, like a thread of oil poured from one vessel to another (Tailadharavat). It consists of all those observances and practices, physical and mental, by which the aspirant or Jijnasu makes a steady progress in the realm of spirituality and eventually realises in himself—in his own heart—the presence of Godhead.
Benefits Of Worship
Worship of the Lord purifies the heart, generates harmonious vibrations, steadies the mind, purifies and ennobles the emotions, harmonises the five sheaths, and eventually leads to communion, fellowship or God-realisation.
Upasana helps the devotee to sit near the Lord or to commune with Him. It fills the mind with Suddha Bhava and Prema or pure love for the Lord. It gradually transmutes man into a divine being.
Upasana changes the mental substance, destroys Rajas and Tamas and fills the mind with Sattva or purity. Upasana destroys Vasanas, Trishnas, egoism, lust, hatred, anger, etc. Upasana turns the mind inward and induces Antarmukha Vritti. It eventually brings the devotee face to face with the Lord, frees the devotee from the wheel of births and deaths, and confers on him immortality and freedom.
The mind becomes that on which it meditates in accordance with the analogy of the wasp and the caterpillar (Bhramara-Kitaka Nyaya). Just as you think, so you become. This is the immutable psychological law. There is a mysterious or inscrutable power (Achintya Sakti) in Upasana which makes the meditator and the meditated identical.
You will find in the Bhagavad-Gita: “But by devotion to Me alone, I may thus be perceived, O Arjuna; and known and seen in essence and entered, O Parantapa” (Ch. XI, 54).
Patanjali Maharshi emphasises in various places in his Raja Yoga Sutras, on the importance of Upasana. For even a Raja Yogi, Upasana is necessary. He has his own Ishta Devata or guiding Deity—Yogesvara Krishna or Lord Siva. Self-surrender to God is an Anga (limb) of Raja Yoga and Kriya Yoga. Patanjali says: “One can enter into Samadhi through Upasana.”
Of all those things which are conducive to spiritual advancement, Adhyatmic uplift and the acquisition of Dharma, Upasana is one which is not only indispensably requisite, but eminently beneficial to all classes and grades of people. It is easy too.
Eating, drinking, sleeping, fear, copulation, etc., are common in brutes and human beings, but that which makes one a real man or a God-man is the religious consciousness. He who leads a mere outward sensual life without doing any Upasana is an animal only, though he wears outwardly the form of a human being.
Saguna-Upasana And Nirguna-Upasana
Upasana is of two kinds, viz., Pratika-Upasana and Ahamgraha-Upasana. Pratika means a symbol. Pratika-Upasana is Saguna-Upasana. Ahamgraha-Upasana is Nirguna-Upasana or meditation on the formless and attributeless Akshara or transcendental Brahman. Meditation on idols, Saligrama, pictures of Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Siva, Gayatri Devi, etc., is Pratika-Upasana. The blue expansive sky, all-pervading ether, all-pervading light of the sun, etc., are also Pratikas for abstract meditation. Saguna-Upasana is concrete meditation. Nirguna-Upasana is abstract meditation.
Hearing of the Lilas of the Lord, Kirtana or singing His Names, constant remembrance of the Lord (Smarana), service of His feet, offering flowers, prostration, prayer, chanting of Mantra, self-surrender, service of Bhagavatas, service of humanity and country with Narayana-Bhava, etc., constitute Saguna-Upasana.
Chanting of Om with Atma-Bhava, service of humanity and country with Atma-Bhava, mental Japa of Om with Atma or Brahma Bhava, meditation on Soham or Sivoham or on the Mahavakyas such as Aham Brahma Asmi or Tat Tvam Asi after sublating the illusory vehicles through ‘Neti, Neti’ doctrine, constitute Ahamgraha-Upasana or Nirguna-Upasana.
Saguna-Upasana is Bhakti Yoga or the Yoga of Devotion. Nirguna-Upasana is Jnana Yoga or the Yoga of Knowledge. Worshippers of Saguna (the qualified) Brahman and of Nirguna (the unqualified) Brahman reach the same goal. But, the latter path is very hard, because the aspirant has to give up attachment to the body (Dehabhimana) from the very beginning of his spiritual practice. The Akshara or the Imperishable is very hard to reach for those who are attached to their bodies. Further, it is extremely difficult to fix the mind on the formless and attributeless Brahman. Contemplation on the Akshara or Nirguna Brahman demands a very sharp, one-pointed and subtle intellect.
The Bhavas In Bhakti Yoga
The Yoga of Bhakti or Devotion is much easier than Jnana Yoga or philosophical meditations. In Bhakti Yoga, the devotee establishes a near and dear relationship with the Lord. He cultivates slowly any one of the six Bhavas according to his temperament, taste and capacity.
Santa Bhava, Dasya Bhava, Sakhya Bhava, Vatsalya Bhava, Kanta Bhava and Madhurya Bhava are the six kinds of attributes of devotees or Bhavas towards God. The Bhavas differ in type and intensity of feeling. The different Bhavas are arranged in order of their intensity. Dhruva and Prahlada had the feeling of a child to its parents. This is Santa Bhava. In Dasya Bhava, the devotee behaves like a servant. His Lord is his master. Hanuman is an ideal servant of God. In Sakhya Bhava, there is a sense of equality. Arjuna and Kuchela had this Bhava. In Vatsalya Bhava, the devotee looks upon the Lord as his own child. Yasoda had this Bhava for Sri Krishna. Kausalya had this Bhava for Sri Rama. Kanta Bhava is the love of the wife towards the husband. Sita and Rukmini had this Bhava. The culmination is reached in Madhurya Bhava. The lover and the Beloved become one through the intensity of love. Radha and Mira had this type of love.
The last Bhava is the highest culmination of Bhakti. It is merging or absorption in the Lord. The devotee adores the Lord. He constantly remembers Him. He sings His Name (Kirtana). He speaks of His glories. He repeats His Name. He chants His Mantra. He prays and prostrates. He hears His Lilas. He does total, ungrudging, unconditional surrender, obtains His grace, holds communion with Him and gets absorbed in Him eventually.
In Madhurya Bhava, there is the closest relationship between the devotee and the Lord. There is no sensuality in Kanta and Madhurya Bhavas. There is no tinge of carnality in them. Passionate people cannot understand these two Bhavas as their minds are saturated with passion and lower sexual appetite. Sufistic saints also have the Bhava of lover and the Beloved, Madhurya Bhava. The Gita Govinda written by Jaya Deva is full of Madhurya Rasa. The language of love which the mystic uses cannot be comprehended by worldly persons. Only Gopis, Radha, Mira, Tukaram, Narada, Hafiz and similar other great devotees of the Lord can understand this language.
Puja And Ishta-Devata
Puja is the common term for ritual worship, of which there are numerous synonyms such as Archana, Vandana, Bhajana, etc., though some of these stress certain aspects of it. The object of worship is the Ishta Devata or guiding Deity or the particular form of the Deity whom the devotee worships—Narayana or Vishnu as such, or His forms as Rama and Krishna in the case of Vaishnavas, Siva in His eight forms in the case of Saivas and Devi in the case of Saktas.
The devotee selects sometimes his Kuladeva or Kuladevi, family Deva or Devi, for his worship. Sometimes, the Devata is chosen for him by his Guru or spiritual preceptor. Sometimes, he himself chooses that Devata which most appeals to him. This form is his Ishta Devata.
An object is used in the outer Puja such as an image (Pratima), a picture, or an emblem such as Saligrama in the case of Vishnu worship or Linga in the case of worship of Siva.
Whilst all things may be the objects of worship, choice is naturally made of those objects which, by reason of their effect on the mind, are more fitted for it. An image or one of the useful emblems, is likely to raise in the mind of the worshipper the thought of a Devata. Saligrama stone induces easily concentration of mind. Everybody has got predilection for a symbol, emblem or image. Idol or Murti (Vigraha), sun, fire, water, Ganga, Saligrama and Linga are all symbols or Pratikas of God which help the aspirants to attain one-pointedness of mind and purity of heart. These are all personal inclinations in the worshipper due to his belief in their special efficacy for him. Psychologically, all this means that a particular mind finds that it works best in the direction desired by means of particular instruments or emblems or images.
The vast bulk of humanity are either of impure or of weak mind. Therefore, the object of worship must be pure for these people. The objects that are capable of exciting lust and dislike must be avoided. But, a higher, advanced Sadhaka who has a pure mind and who sees the divine presence everywhere and in everything, can worship any kind of object.
In Puja, an image or picture representing some divine form is used as the object of worship. The image is adored. All image, a Sila or Vigraha or Murti, represents the particular Lord who is invoked in it. A Linga represents Siva. It represents the secondless, formless Brahman. The Sruti says: “Ekamevadvitiyam Brahma—The Brahman is one alone, without a second.” There is no duality here. A Linga is shining and attractive to the eyes. It helps concentration. Ravana propitiated Siva and obtained boons by worshipping the Linga.
A Saligrama is an idol of Vishnu. Saligrama is the symbol of Vishnu. There are images of Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, Karttikeya, Ganesa, Hanuman, Dattatreya, Sita, Lakshmi, Parvati, Durga, Kali, Sarasvati, etc., according to the taste of the particular devotee.
The images of Vishnu and of His Avataras, and the images of Sakti and Siva, are the popular idols that are worshipped both in temples and in the houses. The idols in the temples of Tirupati, Pandarpur, Palani, Katirgama, etc., are powerful Deities. They are Pratyaksha Devatas. They grant boons to the devotees, cure their ailments and give Darsana. Wonderful Lilas are associated with these Deities. There is no polytheism in Hinduism. Siva, Vishnu, Brahma and Sakti are different aspects of one Lord.
God reveals Himself to His devotees in a variety of ways. He assumes the very form which the devotee has chosen for his worship. If you worship Him as Lord Hari with four hands, He will come to you as Hari. If you adore Him as Siva, He will give you Darsana as Siva. If you worship Him as Mother Durga or Kali, He will come to you as Durga or Kali. If you worship Him as Lord Rama, Lord Krishna or Lord Dattatreya, He will come to you as Rama, Krishna or Dattatreya. If you worship Him as Christ or Allah, He will come to you as Christ or Allah.
You may worship Lord Siva or Lord Hari, Lord Ganesa or Lord Subrahmanya or Lord Dattatreya, or anyone of the Avataras, Lord Rama or Lord Krishna, Sarasvati or Lakshmi, Gayatri or Kali, Durga or Chandi. All are aspects of one Isvara or Lord. Under whatever name and form, it is Isvara who is adored. Worship goes to the Indweller, the Lord in the form. It is ignorance to think that one form is superior to another. All forms are one and the same. Siva, Vishnu, Gayatri, Rama, Krishna, Devi and Brahman are one. All are adoring the same Isvara. The differences are only differences of names due to differences in the worshippers, but not in the object of adoration. It is only out of ignorance that different religionists and different sects fight and quarrel amongst themselves.