Wave 3:  Basics of Hindu Religious Worship   :  Page 3


(Continued from Page 2)


There are certainly several rituals for religious worship. But these rituals vary in detail from region to region, from tradition to tradition and from time to time. This variety itself is because of the inherent flexibilities in the practice of Hinduism. It is further accentuated by the largeness of the subcontinent with different roots in culture that goes back to several centuries. But always the concept of worship is to first invoke the god of worship in some kind of a picture or idol or a lump of sandal paste or even some specific types of stones identified for the purpose.


For the principle of idol worship, click here


The pUjA (ritual worship) begins with such an invocation. The pUjA itself consists of sixteen formalities. These include, besides the invocation, the offering of a seat, offering water for various purposes, offering water honey and milk for bath, offering cloth for dressing, offering flowers as obeisance, offering eatables, waving flaming camphor, and finally doing prostrations. The ceremonial waving of lighted camphor is called Arti. The prostration indicates a total surrender to the deity of the pUjA. The very invocation, which is the first formality, contains the essence of the Hindu teaching. It says:   


Oh God!   I know you are omnipresent.

But, for the purpose of my concentration and worship

Please condescend to make your presence felt here

In this idol (image, picture or stone or whatever)

For the period of the pUjA.

Maybe I am insulting your omnipresence

by requesting you to confine yourself to this form

But please pardon me, I know no other way.


All this is contained in the mantra (vedic chant) that is used for the invocation. In every formality of the pUjA, the mantra that is recited carries such high philosophical thinking within itself.  Throughout, it is the attitude (Click here for more on the importance of attitudes) that matters rather than the real thing you offer. You may just offer some flowers and say that instead of the silken clothes you would like to offer to the Lord, you are offering these flowers. Similarly instead of pouring water over the image or the picture for bath you may just sprinkle some drops of water on it and say this may be taken as bath.

Incidentally, mantras are everything in Hinduism.

 They can do and undo. For more on mantras click here.


The five elements being the ultimate purifier of all things in the universe, Hindu tradition uses them effectively for such purposes in all their rituals. It is mostly either water or fire. So every time something has to be purified, the relevant quotation from the scriptures is recited and water sprinkled on the deity before you. In temples where the images of gods have been built in stone or metal for this very purpose, the daily pUjA will have elaborate procedures for ritually and physically bathing the deity and is called abhisheka.

A pUjA at home may take as small a time as five minutes or as long a time as four to six hours. The eatable that you finally offer to the deity is technically called naivedya – the word simply meaning, that which is shown to God. It could be any sweet dish, fruits, coconuts or any other specially prepared dish and after thus being offered to God – which the deity does not eat, of course – is then shared by those who have attended the pUjA and their friends and well-wishers. In fact Hindu scriptures are very clear on the injunction that nothing should be eaten without first being formally offered to God, and therefore nothing should be eaten which are not offerable to God.

Flowers are one offering to God which we do not take back in full. Flowers come from nature, that is prakRti, and go back to the Lord of that prakRti, namely God. Since flowers are the only thing which we can leave wholly with the deity of worship, Hindu deity worship always emphasizes a massive use of flowers. Even the water which is used for bathing the idol is taken back in little drops as lustral water, in the hollow of the right hand and swallowed immediately. When anything is offered to God and then taken back for our use like this, it becomes prasAd, meaning Grace (of God). This takes us to the next topic, bhakti and grace.


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Copyright İV. Krishnamurthy   July 4, 2002