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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

Bhakti Yoga Through The Art Of Puja (Part 1)

by Jana Thevar

Part 1: Understanding the Art of Puja

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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
asnami prayatatmanah

Translation: If one offers Me, with love and devotion, a leaf, flower, fruit or water, I will accept it (Chapter 9, Verse 26).

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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?

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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.

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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.

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• 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.

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• 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.

Related Posts:

Bhakti Yoga Through the Art of Puja (Part 2: How to Conduct Simple Puja)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine