What is Puja?


Puja means Honour, worship, reverence.

Puja is believed to be derived from the Dravidian (see Dasas) word 'pu-chey', (flower action) or worship with the offering of flowers. Some trace it to the Dravidian word 'pusu', to anoint or smear with sandalwood paste or vermilion.

The term puja is now used to include all forms of ceremonial worship, ranging from the simple daily offerings of flowers, fruit, leaves, rice, sweetmeats and water to the deities in homes or temples, to the sacrifices of goats and chickens in temples dedicated to Kali, Durga and other female deities. This rite is performed, in its bloodless form, by all pious Hindus at least once a day.

There are three kinds of pujas: great, intermediate and small.

A great puja is usually a community affair or performed during important occasions like religious festivals. This puja comprises of these steps:

Avahana - the invocation of the deity.
Asana - a seat is offered to the deity.
Svagata - the deity is welcomed, asked about his journey and whether he faced any problem coming to the place of puja.
Padya - the feet of the deity are washed with water.
Arghya - a respectful offering of water is made to the god. This water is laced with sandalwood paste, vermilion and rice.
Achamania - water is then offered for washing the face and mouth of the deity.
Madhu-parka - a beverage made of honey, sugar, and milk is offered to the deity.
Snanajala - the deity is offered water for bathing.
Bhushana abharanasya - clothes, jewels and ornaments are offered next.
Gandha - sandalwood paste or any other fragrant object is offered.
Akshata - grains of rice mixed with vermilion are offered.
Pushpanjali - flowers are offered.
Dhupa - incense is lit.
Dipa - the lamp is lit.
Naivedya - rice, fruit, butter and sugar are offered next.
Visarjana - the deity is finally bidden farewell.
At the end, arati is performed.

An intermediate puja includes the steps from madhu-parka to naivedya and is performed during fasts or birthdays of deities.

A small puja involves the steps from gandha to naivedya and is performed everyday. All pujas end with arati.

The object of performing the puja in this manner is to treat the deity as one would a guest, with honour and respect. In temples, the deities are treated as kings. Though the steps of worship are the same for all deities, there is some difference in the puja of each. For instance, the kind of flowers offered is different for each deity. Presently, a puja might also involve japa or meditation. A very important part of any puja is the applying of tilaka and the distribution of prasada to devotees.

A worshipper is required to be pure of body and mind. The Puranas lay more stress on the quality of devotion and good behaviour than on rigid puja procedures. Puja originated as a substitute to homa and other Vedic sacrifices which could not be performed by women and Shudras and which required animal sacrifices. Due to Dravidian (see Dasas), Buddhist and Jain influences which preached non-violence, the killing or sacrifice of animals was discontinued and with the development of iconography, idol worship and puja took the place of sacrifice. It was also recognised that worship was essential for all, whatever the gender or caste (see Varna) and therefore puja was formalised as a universal option instead of the exclusive homa.

Taken from indiaMystica CD by Magic Software


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Last Updated on: Tuesday, September 21, 1999 11:32 PM