Puja is an integral part of our culture, values and faith. It is a humble way to show our gratitude to the Lord.
It is an act of showing devotion to God, or the divine through rituals, prayers and hymns to get blessings. It is an essential part of Hindu devotees who want to make a spiritual connection with the divine. Most often that connection is facilitated by the use of an idol, an image or a symbol and to help us connect with God, we recite and repeat sacred verses or mantras.
Puja is a word derived from Sanskrit which means honor, homage, reverence, worship and adoration. The worship can range from small and brief daily prayers at home to elaborate rituals in temples. Some Pujas may be performed by the devotee alone, whereas elaborate Puja services may require a priest or Pandit to conduct the ceremony.
The prayer ritual is also performed to celebrate an event, occasion or festival spiritually.
Puja ceremony differs vastly among individuals, communities, sects, and regions.
There are many explanations as to how the word Puja was created.
One version explains, Pu means to purify or cleanse and Ja means birth. Hence, Puja means that which cleanses a person.
Another version interprets, Pu means Purusha and Ja means Janma or to wake up or rise up. Therefore, Puja means that which awakens the Purusha or the soul either in the object of worship or the body.
Another interpretation is, Pu represents Flower (Pushpam) and Ja means water (Jalam) and Ja also means Japam (recitation). Thus, Puja means that which involves the use of flowers and water along with reciting prayers.
In earliest texts, Puja was performed to make a direct request to the gods. The significance of performing a Puja to a deity later on changed from petitions and asking for favors to experience oneness with the divine.
Puja is usually performed to create spiritual vibrations around us. These vibrations help to spread and surround us with positive energy which brings peace of mind, prosperity and abundance and brings us close to the Divine.
To enhance the benefit of Puja, certain spiritual practices like fasting, meditation, Japa, chanting of mantras can also be included. These practices enable us to imbibe more deeply the spiritual energy invoked by performing Puja and also to purify us.
Indulging in Puja brings a sense of peace and you feel content and happy. It frees the mind of stress and tensions and you experience tranquility.
Most commonly Hindus perform Pujas in two main places: temples and homes.
No matter where the Puja is performed, there are three important components that are included in the process: Darshan (seeing the deity), Puja (worshipping the deity which includes an offering of flowers, fruits and food) and Prasad (retrieving and consuming the offering).
These sacred acts while performing a Puja creates a relationship between the devotee and the divine.
When performing a Puja at home it is mostly done in the morning as it is the best way to start the day. The worshipper would usually do a simple ritual by chanting prayers, washing and cleaning the deity, and dress the idol in new garments and jewelry. Flowers and garlands are offered along with incense, Diya, fruits, sweets and food. Vermillion is applied on the deity and on family members, and Prasad is offered to everyone after being offered to the deity.
Temple Pujas are a more elaborate version of Pujas done at home. When a Puja is performed in a temple, it is usually headed by a priest and is performed at sunrise, noon, sunset and sometimes even at midnight. It may include a pradakshina of the image or temple, a Homan (sacred fire) and Aarti (swaying of lamps in front of a deity) and singing of hymns or mantras.
The ceremony of Puja in Hinduism is a declaration of devotion and allegiance to God and the Supreme. It is an opportunity to connect directly with the deity in both mind and body. It is a simple and straightforward way to earn the grace of God and cultivate purity, discipline, concentration, devotion and liberation.