by Shrishthi Brahmarupa
Part 1: Understanding the Art of Puja
Note: This article may be a little long for today’s readers. However, if you wish to understand and explore the deeper spiritual meaning behind the practice of puja, I request that you read this article to the very end. One of my biggest challenges in writing about Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim) is trying to summarize vast amounts of information from Vedic scriptures and make content easy to understand for readers. Thank you for your time and patience. I hope you’ll be inspired to include puja as a part of your daily life and your personal journey on the path of Self-Realization.
An Introduction to Puja
Puja is a ritual of prayer or worship generally practiced by followers of Sanatana Dharma (better known in modern times as Hinduism). It is a form of Bhakti Yoga (the yogic path of devotional service and love). Puja may be done to honor and worship demigods, deities or any chosen manifestation of the sacred universal energy. It may also be performed to commemorate auspicious days or events.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Sri Krishna says this about Bhakti Yoga:
patram puspam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakti upahrtam
Translation: If one offers Me, with love and devotion, a leaf, flower, fruit or water, I will accept it (Chapter 9, Verse 26).
What’s the meaning of this verse? Simple: it’s easy to serve God or the universal energy through puja, as all one requires is a leaf, flower, fruit or water offered with sincerity, love and devotion.
Puja is complex on every level, even when performed in a simple manner. It is especially resplendent with spiritual meaning. Every gesture, utensil, item and offering involved in puja has a purpose. The rituals, depending on the type of puja, may be lengthy and complex, and may include various types of offerings such as flowers, incense, fruits, food, clothing, frankincense, sacred powders and dried herbs. A daily home puja may involve nothing more than a small altar, a picture of a chosen deity (ishta deva) and some modest offerings.
What is Bhakti Yoga?
There are four paths of yoga, namely Raja Yoga (the yoga of mental and physical control), Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge), Karma Yoga (the yoga of selfless action) and Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotional service). Each path represents a different approach to attain union with Brahman, a higher state of awareness or ultimate Self-Realization. Bhakti Yoga is the easiest of the four paths.
Is Puja Really Necessary?
Those who don’t understand the full spiritual significance of puja may question the practice or dismiss it altogether as unnecessary. It’s not uncommon to hear remarks along the lines of “If God is everywhere, why do we need to waste time with this ritual?” or “If God is the Almighty, why does He need these mortal offerings?”
These questions are valid. It’s always better to question something one does not understand – this is better than blind acceptance. One can only receive the right knowledge through questioning first, then subsequently seeking the answers.
Why Do We Perform Puja?
Puja is done for many reasons, including these:
• It’s a way of sharing your love, joy and gratitude with the universe. Puja, in other words, is communion with the sacred universal energy. When you radiate these energies and corresponding thoughts, you attract equally positive vibrations back to you.
• It’s a method to communicate with higher powers and elevated beings, such as your chosen deities (ishta devas).
• You’re re-energising yourself and the surrounding spaces each time you perform puja. Think of it as a ‘spiritual reset’, to get rid of the negative energies you have accumulated through daily material life.
• The act of performing the ritual trains the mind to focus on communion with the universal energy.
• The ritual develops mental discipline if you perform it regularly – it’s a manner of training the mind into a habit, so it becomes ready automatically when you merely think of performing puja.
• Puja helps ease the burden of the mind in times of stress, depression and sadness. Performing the ritual can be comforting to those facing mental distress.
• Puja helps you develop gratitude and appreciation. For instance, you may realize that you’re lucky to have food to offer during puja, and to be able to consume it later as prasada (blessed remnants). When you make offerings of flower garlands and leaves, you may realize how blessed you are to live in a place where plants are healthy and grow abundantly.
• According to Vedic scriptures, fire (agni) is purifying in all ways. By lighting the lamp for puja, you are purifying the puja space, your home and yourself.
• The bronze bell that is used for puja eliminates negative energies through sound vibrations when it is rung. Good quality incense and frankincense act as air purifiers, can eliminate bacteria and act as natural insect repellent.