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Bhakti Yoga Through The Art Of Puja (Part 2)

by Jana Thevar

Part 2: How to Perform Simple Puja

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Most Indians are familiar with puja and would know how to perform a simple, basic puja at home (or anywhere, actually). If you’re new to this and would like to start, congratulations on taking this first step in Bhakti Yoga.

Puja can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. Remember, the most important aspects of puja are devotion and sincerity. Don’t worry about doing something wrong. As long as you perform puja with love and good intentions, your offerings will be accepted and you’ll receive the benefits of the ritual in the form of positive energy.

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Basic things you’ll need for puja:

An incense holder
A clean cloth for the altar
New cotton wick
A brass puja bell
A brass oil lamp
Pictures or statues of your deities of choice
Pictures of your spiritual masters / gurus
A container for water (for offering)
Oil for the lamp (ghee or any pure, edible vegetable oil)
Fresh flowers, leaves or fruits (all three, if possible)

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Additional items (optional):

A camphor holder
A frankincense holder
A container for water with a spoon (to purify your hands)
Plates for offering food (kept specifically for puja purposes)

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Method:

1. Shower. Always be freshly showered before having anything to do with puja, even if you’re just cleaning or setting up the altar. Purity on all levels is best when it comes to puja.
2. Clean the altar. If you don’t have an altar, a table covered with a clean, new cloth will do. If the altar was used previously for puja, remove any dried flowers, dried garlands, leftover incense ash and previously offered water. Dispose all organic material under a tree or plants. Any previously offered water should be consumed or poured on plants. It’s not necessary to throw away leftover oil in the lamp – it can be reused and replenished as needed.

A photo by Boris  Smokrovic. unsplash.com/photos/ZUDOdyNSWPg

3. Arrange your pictures and puja utensils. Every altar should ideally have a picture or statue of Ganesha, as he is the deity in charge of removing obstacles. Place Ganesha on the left, followed by the other deities to the right. If you have a two-tiered altar, you can place the pictures of your spiritual masters below the pictures of the deities; otherwise, place these to the sides. Place the incense holder, water container and bell on your altar, in front of the pictures. Note: You can easily make additional tiers on your altar using bricks, wooden blocks or books, and covering these with a cloth.
4. Decorate the altar and prepare your offerings. If you have fresh flowers or garlands, decorate the altar with these, in any style you like. Light the incense. Fill the water container up with clean drinking water or fresh milk. If you have sattvic vegetarian food or fruits you’d like to offer, arrange these on the altar on plates specifically purchased for puja. If the oil lamp is empty, refill it with fresh ghee (or vegetable oil). Trim a cotton wick to about 1 ½ to 2 inches in length, then lightly dip the edge you’re going to light into the oil. Squeeze the wick’s tip to remove excess oil, then place the whole wick into the lamp, with the edge of the wick sitting on the pointed rim of the lamp.

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5. Light the lamp to begin your puja. Ring the bell firmly for a few seconds; this is done to invite the devas to accept your offerings and dispel any negative energies within the space. If you feel comfortable enough, ring the bell using your left hand and perform aarathi with your right hand (with lit camphor placed in the camphor holder). Aarathi should be performed in large, circular motions three times, in a clockwise direction. Some people prefer to perform aarathi at the end of the puja, but I do mine at the beginning.
6. Recite mantras or pray silently. If you want to recite mantras, always start with a Ganesha mantra before anything else. After Ganesha, the mantras for the other deities should follow in this sequence, according to your chosen deities : Vishnu / Krishna, Shiva, Lakshmi, Durga, Muruga, and the rest. If you don’t know any mantras, it’s perfectly acceptable to pray silently, in your mind and heart, in any language. Offer your greetings and obeisances to the deities respectfully, and thank them for coming to grace your puja (never doubt this – once you ring the bell, they are energetically present at your altar). Mentally share any concerns you have and ask them for help or guidance. Once you have completed your prayers, thanks the deities for everything you’ve been given so far – always remember to have an attitude of gratitude.

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7. Meditate. Make sure the flame is ‘safe’ so as not to accidentally cause a fire when you’re not watching it. You may place it on a large metal tray to prevent stray sparks from touching the altar cloth. Once you’re sure the lamp is burning in a safe manner, meditate with your eyes closed for about 10 to 20 minutes. It’s best to sit on a pillow or mat, with your hands in chin mudra or in your lap. You may also do japa chanting with the aid of a rosary.
8. Conclude the puja. Once you’ve completed your meditation, silently ask for permission to end the puja. Then, put out the lamp using a flower (or use a twig to drown the wick and flame in the oil). If you have offered milk, water, fruits or food, you may now remove the items and transfer them to your regular cups and plates for consumption.

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Note: If you’d like to perform a more elaborate puja for a special reason, you may want to consider hiring a priest as they are trained extensively in complex Vedic rituals. It does not mean that a simple puja you do yourself is inferior – it’s just more practical due to the complexity of the rituals, especially those done for specific purposes.

Related Posts:

Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 3)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Five Main Benefits Of Traditional Hatha Yoga

by Jana Thevar

Everyone seems to be into yoga these days. It’s also getting more and more confusing for those looking to get started in yoga due to all the ‘variations’. So what’s the big deal about it? Is it just another exercise fad? Does it really work, and if so, how?

Hatha Yoga – A Complete System of Well-Being

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Traditional (or classical) hatha yoga is a complete health solution – that’s the secret to why it’s so effective. True health and well-being must extend to all aspects of life. For instance, person X may look amazingly slim and fit. However, if person X also has irregular sleeping patterns, high stress levels and inadequate nutrition due to constant dieting, these imbalances will eventually lead to one health disaster after another. All bodily systems must work together in harmony for a person to be considered truly healthy.

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Traditional hatha yoga is far more than just exercise. When practised correctly, it is a way of life. According to Swami Vishnudevananda, the core of traditional hatha yoga is made up of five aspects: Proper Exercise, Proper Breathing, Proper Diet, Proper Relaxation and Positive Thinking and Meditation. When yoga is practised this way, with the corresponding yogic diet and lifestyle changes, various diseases are eliminated and prevented. The body and mind become youthful and energetic, and the yoga practitioner’s whole being is infused with positive spiritual vibrations.

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Five Main Benefits of Traditional Hatha Yoga

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1. It can be practised by almost anyone. Most people (including senior citizens, children and pregnant women) can practise hatha yoga safely. Even in most cases of serious disability, injury or illness, hatha yoga asanas (poses) can be modified to suit the practitioner’s ability.

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2. It is convenient and easy to practise. All you need for a session of hatha yoga is a yoga mat (or thick cloth) and a little space. This eliminates the need for a gym membership and complicated exercise equipment.

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3. It is a safe form of exercise. Classical (or traditional) Hatha Yoga is gentle with no strenuous or jerky movements. Student are encouraged to go at their own pace and to never over-stretch or over-exert the body in any way. If the student is struggling with balance or flexibility, props like chairs and foam blocks can be used until the student gains more strength and control.

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4. The health benefits show up quickly. The physical, mental and spiritual changes that come from the practise of yoga can manifest in as little as two weeks of consistent, disciplined practise. The early signs of positive health changes include a feeling of lightness and inner peace. Lethargy and insomnia are progressively cured, along with various bodily aches and pains. Persistent conditions like sciatica, constipation, back pain, shoulder stiffness and urinary tract infections show tremendous improvement within a matter of days.

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5. The benefits are backed up by Vedic scriptures. From the Patanjali sutras to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Bhagavad Gita, numerous Vedic scriptures consistently back up the fact that the practise of yoga has immense health and spiritual benefits.

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