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  • Writer's pictureMuktikshetra Gokarna

How to conduct a traditional Hindu puja (Puja Vidhi)

Puja Vidhi/rituals are meant to be acts of worship and devotion to the one Reality in its various manifestations.  Some rituals will be undertaken for specific results. Hindu rituals, from the elaborate to the very simple, are conducted at home, temples, kshetras, and in other divine places.

Rituals include various types namely puja, pitru puja, homam or havanyajna, all of which draw together all the five senses thereby centering the attention of the devotee performing the ritual and calming the devotee’s heart and mind through adoring focus of the chosen deity (deities) being invoked and worshiped in the ritual. In these ritual forms of worship, an idol/kalasha (deity; literally, manifestation which is three-dimensional) or two-dimensional image (ie. a photo or bimba or flat engraving) serves as an embodiment of the Divine, invoking the idea of that form and its attributes in the mind of the devotee. They are focal points designed to be aides in meditation and prayer. Hindus do not consider God to be limited to the idol/kalasha, but it is a sacred symbol that offers a medium for worship. The idol/kalasha or image thus serves as a powerful tool for contemplating the nature of the Divine. How to conduct a traditional Hindu puja (Puja Vidhi)


Shodashopachara Puja
Puja Vidhi

Idol/Kalasha are also considered to house the power or energy of the Divine, which is infused as life-breath into the idol during a ceremony called prana prathishthapana, and withdrawn at the end of ceremonial worship, when the idol is immersed in water or offering Kalasha and other puja samagris used to the priests after the puja in form of danam. Visarjan is the process of Deity is released from the form that it was invoked in, so it is a generic term used to conclude a puja for deities that do not have a permanent pratishtapana. It is this Divine cosmic principle which is worshipped in rituals like puja in one’s favorite form/s (Ishta Deva/ Ishta Devata) of the devotee.

In Hindu practice, pooja is considered to be a technique or discipline for fostering the spiritual growth of a devotee by facilitating action (karma), devotion (bhakti), knowledge (jnāna), and focus and introspection, all of which are offered with humble and loving surrender to the Divine. Puja literally translates to adoration or worship. It is considered to be an especially powerful form of worshipping the Divine because it combines physical, verbal, mental, and vibrational aspects of worship. In any puja, the devotee treats their Ishta Devata as a revered guest in their home and heart, welcoming them with hospitality, serving them with love, and finally sending them off courteously back to their abode, seeking their blessings throughout the process. The traditional 16-step puja is called the Shodashopachara Puja in Sanskrit — shodasha means 16, and upachāra meaning offering given with devotion. It can be performed for an Ishta Deva in a fairly short time period on a daily basis as a spiritual practice (sadhana) fostering discipline and devotion. This allows the devotee to set aside a given amount of time each day to remember and cultivate a personal connection to their favorite form of the Divine. Objects and actions offered in puja to the Divine act as vessels of the devotee’s faith and spiritual energy, which allow direct communication and interaction with the Divine. Over a lifetime, setting aside this time for worship every day helps the devotee to work toward remembering the Divine at all times and eventually to see the Divine in all things and beings around them. The 16 step puja can also be performed over a longer period, sometimes hours together, for special occasions, festivals, and major events in life, such as rites of passage. In this case, the same 16 steps are expanded or added to, and each step is more elaborately attended to by the devotee, often through the guidance of a priest. Each step is given more time so that more material offerings and forms of worship, like chanting of hymns or other acts of devotion, can be offered at the feet of the Divine. 

Specific instructions for these pujas are given in the karmakanda of the Vedas, as well as in various Smrti texts. Each of the 18  Puranas, for example, detail the specific preferences of the deity which they praise, and how that deity should ideally be worshipped. The Devi Bhagavatam lists the specific colors, flowers, and food which Devi or the Mother Goddess loves, and these can be offered to her in Devi puja. And Shiva Manasa Puja, a hymn composed by a 9th-century realized master, enumerates some favorite items of Lord Shiva, which are illustriously imagined and offered at his feet in devotion.

The 16 steps common to most puja, along with the preparatory steps are outlined below. There is, of course, diversity in practice and the way in which different steps might be sequenced or grouped depending on sampradaya and deity tradition, as well as regional, community, and family tradition. Devotees may also perform puja with far fewer than 16 steps, with a daily practice as as simple as lighting a lamp and offering quiet shloka and mantra (prayers), or chanting one of God’s names using a japa mala or prayer beads (usually made with 108 beads).

One of the Bhagavad Gita Chapter explains a beautiful description of a simple puja in which Lord Krishna says that even a leaf, flower, fruit or water if offered with unconditional love and devotion is  sufficient and pleasing to God.

How to conduct a traditional Hindu puja (Puja Vidhi). Preparation to conduct a traditional Hindu puja

Altar set-up

The altar of worship which houses the idol or image of the Ishta Deva are kept neat and clean. Decorations can be added according to the taste of the individual devotee and/or deity. Rangoli/kolam designs made with rice flour, grains, legumes, or flowers can also be made.

Achamaniyam (Purification)

The devotee, having already bathed, takes three sips of water by placing a spoonful of water with their left hand in the base of the palm of their right hand and chants the following mantra to invoke their own purity of body, mind, and spirit.

Oṃ Acyutāya NamaḥOṃ Anantāya NamaḥOṃ Govindāya Namaḥ

Salutation to the Lord who is imperishable Salutations to the Lord who is without limits Salutations to Lord Govinda

Deepa Jyoti

Clay or metal lamps with ghee or oil and wick are symbolic of the victory of knowledge over ignorance. The devotee lights the wick, places palms together at the heart center, and chants:

Shubham karoti kalyanam arogyam dhana sampadah |

Shatru buddhi vinashaya deepa jyoti namostute ||

My respect to the light that brings auspiciousness, good health, prosperity and abundance |that which destroys the darkness of ignorance with the light of knowledge. I bow to you.

Vighneshwara (Ganapathi) Dhyanam (Contemplation on Lord of Obstacles)

The devotee undertakes specific hand gestures chants mantra dedicated to Lord Ganesha asking that any obstacles be removed during the puja. Two such mantra are:

Gannaanaam Tvaa Ganna-Patim HavaamaheKavim Kaviinaam-Upama-Shravastamam |Jyessttha-Raajam Brahmannaam Brahmannaspata Aa Nah Shrnnvan-Uutibhih Siida Saadanam ||

Among the Ganas (Group of Prayers), to You Who are the Ganapati (Lord of Prayers), we Offer our Sacrificial Oblations, You are the Wisdom of the Wise and Uppermost in Glory, You are the foremost King of the Prayers, presiding as the Lord of the Prayers (Brahmanaspati), Please come to us by Listening to our Invocation and be Present in the Seat of this Sacred Sacrificial Altar (to charge our Prayers with Your Power and Wisdom).

shuklambaradharam vishnum shashi varanam chatur bhujam |prasana vadanam dhyayet sarva vighnopashantaye ||

We meditate on the One in white attire, who is all pervading, bright as the moon, and four-armed | Salutations Compassionate One with a kind face, we pray to the Lord Who Removes all Obstacles ||

Pranayama (Breath Control)

The devotee undertakes specific actions to align the vital airs.

While closing the right nostril with the right thumb, inhale through the left nostril and the devotee mentally chants: om bhuh om bhuvah om suvah om mahah om janah om tapah om satyam

Invocations to the physical plane, the plane of life-breath, the plane of the Divine mind, the plane of all-pervading Consciousness, the plane of all-creating Consciousness, the plane of Divine light, the plane of Truth-Consciousness

Holding the breath inside by closing the right nostril with the right thumb and left nostril with right ring finger, the devotee mentally chants:

om tatsaviturvarenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah pracodayāt

May the light of consciousness come to shine forth its radiance through our intellects. Closing the left nostril with the right ring finger and exhale through the right nostril  and the devotee chants mentally: om āpo jyotiraso mrtam brahma bhurbhuvasuvarom. Salutations to the Divine Consciousness Who is all-pervading, ever bright, of divine essence, immortal, bliss-filled nectar, Truth-Consciousness-Bliss

Sankalpa (Intention; literally, good thought)

The devotee establishes intention or purpose of pujā. The specific blessings requested of the Divine are stated here. The devotee turns the left palm upward and places it on the right thigh.  They then turn the right palm downward, and place it on top of the left palm and chant: mama upatta samasta durita kshaya dvara sri parameshvarah prityartham devapujaaradhanam cha karishye ||

To remove all negative thoughts, words, and actions that I have accrued over lifetimes . To be worthy of the Divine’s grace, I begin this worship.

Asana Puja (Worship of the seating on which puja is performed)

The devotee invokes Mother Earth, as she is ultimately the being on which people live and sit. Om prithvi tvayā dhruta lokam devi tvam vishnuna dhrutam. Tvam cha dhāraya mam devi pavitram kuru chasanam.

O Mother Earth, Upholder of the Worlds. Vishnu holds you |May you hold me, O Mother Earth, and purify my seat.

Ghanta Pujā (Worship of the Bell)

The devotee uses a bell to invite the Divine and dispel negative forces during the pujā is invoked.

Agama artham tu devanam gamana artham tu rakshasam|

Adou ghantta ravam nityam devatahvana lanchanam ||

For the arrival of the good forces and departure of destructive forces. Ring the bell, marking the invocation of auspiciousness that comes with the Divine manifestations.

Kalasha Pujā (Worship of the pot/vessel)

The Goddesses of the sacred rivers are invoked and invited by the devotee into the water in the panchapātra (vessel made with five materials) which will be offered during pujā.

कलशस्य मुखे: विष्णु कण्ठे रूद्र: समाश्रित।

मूले तंत्र स्थितो ब्रह्मा मध्ये मातृगणा स्मृता:।।1।।

कुक्षौ तु सागरा: सर्वे सप्तद्वीपा वसुन्धरा।

ऋग्वेदोऽथ यजुर्वेदो सामवेदोऽथर्वण:।

अंगैश्च सहिता: सर्वे कलशं तु सामाश्रिता:।।

Atma Puja (Worship of the Divinity in the self)

The Divine self present in the devotee is invoked by the devotee.

deho devalayah proktah jivo devassanātanah |

tyajedajannanirmalayam so’ham bhāvena pujavet ||

The body is the temple.  The jiva is the eternal deity of this temple. May I remove the wilted flowers that symbolize ignorance and worship the Divine knowing the Divine is not separate from me.

Guru Dhyanam (Contemplation on Guru)

The Guru, by whose grace the puja can take place, is invoked by the devotee.

gururbrahma gururvishnuh gururdevo mahesvarah. gurusāksat param brahma tasmai srigurave namah.

The Guru is Brahma, the Guru is Vishnu, the Guru is Mahesvara |The Guru is Ultimate Reality,  My obeisances to the Guru ||

Shodashopachara Puja



There are five steps within the 16 which are central to the shodashopachara pujj.  They are referred to as the pancha upachara and correlate to the five senses: touch, hearing, smell, sight, and taste. The pancha upachara are gandhampushpamdhoopamdeepam, and naivedyamGandham involves touch in applying various pastes and powders to the murti. Pushpam involves sound as the deity’s name is chanted with each offering of flowers. Dhoopam involves sound as incense is offered. Deepam involves sight in the offering of light. And naivedyam involves taste from the food offerings made to and blessed by the Divine.

Dhyanam & Avahanam

The Divine is invited into the devotee’s mind with a meditation.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] dhyayami, dhyanam samarpayami

Chant: om sri [Deity name] avahayami, avahanam samarpayami

Asanam

A seat is offered by the devotee to the Divine avahanam done.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] asanam samarpayami

Padyam, Arghyam & Achamaneeyam

Water is offered by the devotee who washes the feet and hands of the Divine form. Water is also offered to the Divine to wash their face and mouth, just as one might traditionally offer a guest who has come into the home after journey.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] padyam arghyam achamaneeyam samarpayami

 

Madhuparkam

Honey, sugar, ghee, curd (yogurt), or water is offered by the devotee to the Divine form

Chant: om sri [Deity name] madhuparkam samarpayami

Snanam

Water is offered by the devotee to bathe the Divine form. In longer pujas, the five items included in panchamrit (milk, curd, ghee, honey and sugar (jaggery)) are used in bathing the Divine form as well. Sacred hymns/mantras are chanted during this process and this process is called as Panchamruta Abhisheka Purvaka Kumbha Abhisheka. Eg; If Atharvasheersha is chanted during this process then called Atharvasheersha Abhisheka, if Rudra is chanted during this process it is called as Rudra Abhisheka (Rudrabhisheka) and so on. After this process of Abhisheka are over,Chant: om sri [Deity name] snanam samarpayami

Vastram: After the abhishekam is done,

Clothing is offered by the devotee to the Divine form after bath.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] vastram samarpayami

Yagnoveetam

Sacred thread is offered by the devotee to the Divine form after bath.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] yagnopaveetam samarpayāmi

Abharanam

Divine form is decorated with ornaments by the devotee. Songs can be sung in praise of the Divine form during this process.

Chant: om sri [Deity name]  abharanam samarpayami 

Gandham

Sandalwood paste, kumkum or vermillion, and haldi (turmeric) or vibhooti (sacred ash), are offered by the devotee.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] gandham/chandanam samarpayāmi, om sri [Deity name] sindoor tilakam samarpayāmi, om sri [Deity name] haridra/kumkumam samarpayāmi, om sri [Deity name] bhasmam samarpayāmi 

Pushpam

Various types of flowers and patras (leaves) are offered by the devotee to decorate the Divine form. In longer pujas, 108 (ashtottara nāmāvali archana) or 1008 (sahasra nāmāvali archana) flowers are offered, one for each name of the Divine form. In shorter pujas, just a few well-known or favourite names of the Divine form are chanted with each flower being offered.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] nana vidha parimala patra pushpani samarpayāmi

Dhoopam

Incense is offered by the devotee to please the Divine form.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] dhoopam samarpayāmi 

Deepam

Another lamp is lit and offered by the devotee to the Divine form.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] deepam samarpayami

Naivedyam

Coconut/various fruits/Fresh food are offered by the devotee to the Divine form. Water is also offered again to cleanse the mouth of the Divine after naivedyam has been consumed.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] naivedyam samarpayami

Tambulam

Betel nut and leaves with coins or monetary amounts, which have symbolic meaning, are offered as mouth fresheners after the meal.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] tambulam samarpayami

Mangala Niranjanam

Mangalarati for the Divine form is shown and offered by the devotee.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] mangala niranjanam samarpayāmi

Pradakshina-Namaskaram

The Divine form is circumambulated, or the devotee stands in place and turns around three times clockwise, symbolizing that the devotee worships the Divine as the centre of their life, around which their life revolves.  The devotee bows down to the Divine, and asks for forgiveness of any mistakes committed during the puja process and sends off the Divine form with gratitude.

Chant: om sri [Deity name] pradakshina namaskaram samarpayami

Closing

The devotee chants the following closing mantra.

kayena vacha manase indriyairva buddhy atmana va prakrte svabhavat |karomi yadyat sakalam parasmai narayanayeti samarpayami ||

Whatever I do with my Body, Speech, Mind, or Senses, Whatever I do using my Intellect, Feelings or unconsciously through my natural tendencies |whatever I do, I do selflessly for others and surrender them all at the Lotus Feet of the Divine ||

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