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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Symbols and Substance: Daily Worship (Puja)

In the daily puja, a householder treats his or her favorite deity as an Honored Guest in the house. An image or an icon of the deity is at the center stage. The deity itself is a meta-representation of philosophical principles as pointed out in the section on Form and Substance. The puja may be very elaborate with 64 steps or simple with 16 steps. These steps are meant to help the performer focus on the deity and through that medium to merge with the Cosmos and The One Universal Force.

We already learnt that taking care of an unannounced guest is one of the five duties of every householder. Now, the deity is that honored guest. His presence is invoked in the idol (aavahanam) at the beginning of the puja with special mantra. His feet are washed , He is given sips of water, and is given a bath – not just with water but with honey, milk, saffron water, etc. He is then clothed, seated and is adorned with garlands and flowers. He is then worshiped with archana which consists of uttering His name and His glorious qualities. He is offered incense, food and fruits. There is a special ceremony called AArthi, (explained in the section on Form and Substance) with camphor or a special lamp with multiple wicks. This is followed by singing of His praise called bhajans. Finally, after He takes leave, the participants take part in the food and the water used to bathe the deity (Prasad).

In this process,the performer uses five specific items, called the saamagriyas. They are flowers, water, lamp (fire), incense and bell. They represent the five primordial elements of Samkhya philosophy namely earth, water, fire, air and space or ether. The flower stands for earth, water stands for water, lamp stands for agni or fire, bell stands for the sound or air and incense stands for space.

As mentioned earlier, there are two main streams in the Hindu religion on how to relate to the Supreme. Puja is the easy method suitable to all. But, the Upanishads say “saakare bhajas thaavath niraakare parey thathvey”. In other words, worship with the help of idols but remember the Formless Absolute.

The following is a sample sheet I prepared to teach children how to perform daily puja. You can use it too. Hope it helps.

A Practical Class on Puja for Children
Puja (or pooja) translates into WORSHIP. It is a religious service. It is an act of intense devotion to the Supreme, the God. It is an act anyone can perform, at home. It is not done only at the temple. It is a mere ritual when performed without faith and feelings. Performed with proper faith and attitude, it is a noble act, that benefits oneself and all of life forms, because it is one way of connecting our individual self (ATMAN) with the Universal Dimension (Brahman).

What is the PURPOSE of performing PUJA?
To show our respect and Love for the Supreme
To thank HIM/HER for all the bounties we receive
To ask for HIS/HER grace and guidance
To connect the individual (Atman, Pinda) with the Universal (Brahman, Brahmanda)
Of course, special pujas are performed to ask HIM/HER for personal favors, to help us during times of crisis etc and for the welfare of the society.

What are the requirements to perform PUJA?
Your Faith and your Attitude (called bhava in Sanskrit) are the most important ingredients.
Materials needed (with many variations, depending on your family tradition) are:
Image/Icon (made of clay, wood or metal) of a favorite deity (called vigraha). A painting will do. (Stone images are only for the temples)
A seat (aasana)
Few metal plates
A special vessel to hold water (called panchapatra – traditionally made of five metals)
A metal spoon
A bell (Ghanta – represents the SOUND/ Naada – Space/AAkasha element of the Universe)
Flowers (this and the next two items represent the SMELL/gandha – Air/vayu element)
Incense (agarbathi)
Sandalwood powder or paste (chandhan)
Lamp (represents LIGHT/agni element of the Universe)
Water (represents WATER/AApa element)
Fruits and cooked items of food (represent the EARTH/ prithvi element)
Raw Rice coated with turmeric, called akshata
Also, kumkum (vermilion), turmeric powder, milk , clean towels, a dress for the idol, a match box to light the lamp etc

What are the steps?
Consider the Lord as an honored guest in your house. What will you do to make Him feel welcome and comfortable?

Your preparation includes Your bathing and donning clean clothes
Get all the items (samagri) ready
Set the altar
Light the lamp - and say deepajyothi namosthu tthey
AAchamanyam (sip water three times)
Invoke Lord Gansha - and say
Shukla ambaradara vishnum shashi varnam chathur bujam
Prasanna vadanam dhyayeth sarva vigna upashaanthaye

Pranayam ( Gayathri will do for this purpose)
Sankalpa (determination, your intention to perform puja) - by saying
Mamopaktha samastha ddhuritha kshayadwara
Sri Mahaganapthi preeth-yartham aham Mahaganapthi pujaam karishye

Ring the bell - and say
Ghantaaravam kurvey
Sanctify the water and puja items (by sprinkling water on them)
Dhyanam – silent meditation and then say
Asmin bimbey Sri Mahaganapathim aa-vaa-hayaami (place akshata (yellow rice) on the idol (invoking Lord Ganesha in the idol)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – aasanam samaprpayaami (place akshata on the idol) (asking Him to be seated)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – paadyam samarpayaami (pour a spoonful of water in an empty dish) (washing feet)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah –arkyam samarpayaami (pour a spoonful of water in an empty dish) (water to wash hands)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – aachamanyam samarpayyami (pour a spoonful of water in an empty dish) (water to sip)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – snapayaami (sprinkle water on the idol) (bathing)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – vastram samarpyaami (wrap the idol in a clean piece of cloth) (dressing)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – gandhaan dhaarayami (place sandal paste on the forehead of Ganesh’s idol) (placing sandalwood paste on the forehead)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – akshaathan samaprpayaami (place akshata on the idol) (placing akshata/yellow rice)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – pushpaih pujayaami (place a flower or a petal at the feet of Ganesha) (placing a garland)
Now you perform the Ganseha Archana - with SIXTEEN names of Ganesha After saying each of the following names of Ganesha you place akshata or a flower at the feet of Ganesha.
Om Sumukhaya namah
Om Yekadanthaaya namah
Om Kapilaaya namah
Om Gajakarnaakaaya namah
Om Lambowdharaaya namah
Om Vikataaya namah
Om VigghnaRaajaaya namah
Om Ganaathipaaya namah
Om DDhoomakeythavey namah
Om Ganaadhyakshaaya namah
Om PPaalachandraaya namah
Om Gajaananaaya namah
Om Vakrathundaaya namah

Om Shurpakarnaaya namah
Om Heyrambaaya namah
Om Skandhapoorvajaaya namah
Om Mahaa Ganapathaye namah pushpaani samarpayaami

Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – ddhoopam aagraapayaami ( you hold the incense stick in your hand in front of Ganesha)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – dheepam dharshayaami (you
hold the lamp in front of Ganesha
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – mahanaivedyam niveydayami (you sprinkle water on the food or fruits being offered to the Lord)
Sri Mahaganapathaye namah – karpoora neeranjanam darshayaami (you now show the lighted camphor or perform AArti)
Then comes mantra pushpam, bhajan, and pradakshin (circambulation) etc
You then make your PRAYER (petition, requests)
1. Personal: avignam kuru mey deva sarvakaryeshu sarvadaa (please remove obstacles and help me perform my tasks)
2. Universal: sarvo janaah sukhino bhavanthu (Let everyone live in comfort/be blessed)
Now give Lord Ganesha a farewell: Thath sath brahmanaarpanam asthu

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