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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Puja

The act of showing reverence to a Deity through invocations, prayers, songs, rituals and ceremonies. In this act of devotion, faith, and surrender a devotee is trying to establish a spiritual connection with a cosmic energy. The ultimate desire of a true devotee is to experience his or her unity with the omnipotent, unifying cosmic energy referred to as “God.”

It is believed by the ancient Hindu sages that there is an energy which is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, unifying, and governing the entire universe. This energy has its influence over vast endless space, it is nameless, formless and its magnitude and power cannot be understood by man. This “cosmic energy” in Hinduism is referred to as Śiva which when in expression manifests itself as three energies: the life energy (Sat or Śiva), the supreme intelligence (Cit or Viśnu), and vibration (Ānanda or Brahmā). These three energies combine to produce matter. Matter (or consciousness) in Hinduism is also known Pārvatī or Śakti. The lord Śiva is believed to be dancing and the whole universe (vibrating matter or consciousness) is the expression of his dance (Nātarāja).

When a pujā is performed it includes three important components: a) the seeing of the deity; b) pūjā, or worship, which includes chanting, offering flowers, fruits, and foods; and c) retrieving the blessed food and consuming it. By performing these sacred acts the worshiper tries to create a relationship with the divine.

During a household pūjā, the head of the household chants prayers to the god or goddess. The worshipers place their deity (in the form of an idol) on a pedestal, wash its feet, and give it water. The idol may be symbolically bathed, clothed in new garments, and embellished with ornaments. Perfumes may be applied, and flowers and garlands may be placed before it. Incense is burned, and a lighted lamp is waved in front of the idol. Foods such as cooked rice, fruit, butter, and sugar are offered. Family members bow before the image, sip the water they have given to the god, and receive a portion of cooked food. The food and water are now considered to have been blessed by the deity.

At the temple, where the gods are believed to dwell as royalty, pūjā is usually performed at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight. Worshipers may also arrange for a pūjā to be done by a priest to mark a special event such as a birth or death or to ask for a particular favor.

In a temple elaborate pūjās are performed. The idol is washed with sacred water, then with milk, yogurt, honey, sandalwood paste, and ashes before being dressed in ceremonial robes. It is lavishly adorned with garlands of flowers and it may also be decorated with jewelry.

Pūjā is a multi-sensory experience for a devotee. The devotees observe the offering of the lighted lamps, touch the feet of their deity (where possible), hear the ringing of the bells and the sacred chants being recited, smell the incense, and taste the blessed food offered at the end of the ritual.

Many shrines in India are outside of buildings or temples, with either no external structure or only a small niche or edifice. Often deities are worshiped through natural landmarks, such as mountains, rivers, large rocks, or trees. Frequently the deity honored is a goddess who is viewed as the mother of the community. The shrine may not have a full-time priest or caretaker. Instead, members of the community will take turns cleaning and caring for the image, replacing flowers and offerings as part of vows to the goddess in return for her benefice. P™j€ is usually performed to an idol, sculpture, painting, to the elements of nature, and also to a guru, sage, parents or an elderly person.

S.G.G.

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