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Let’s Get Scholarly Before We Get Sexy: What is a पूजा?

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As I mentioned in my last article, the word puja is a sanskrit word that translates to mean sacred ritual, or ceremony. It is used by the Hinkus, Sikhs, Buddhists and others for a variety of reasons. It is most often used to honor a deity (god or goddess) to celebrate her character traits (and ideally see them as a reflection of what we have inside ourselves, too). A puja happens on specific Hindu or Buddhist holidays. It is also used during specific celebrations like a birth or death, and is basically the prayer and ritual itself to honor the occasion.

Pujas vary in terms of how they are done. Some people do them daily, some less frequently, and some just for special occasions. How they are organized, the steps taken, the deities honored, can all vary according to culture, region in Asia, religion, family tradition and individual practice. The good news is that it doesn’t matter. The location isn’t dictated either. The ritual of Puja is done in temples, at home or in an outside location for worship.

The temple (or mandir) pujas tend to be more elaborate with statues of gods and goddesses, jewels, beautiful scarves, candles, incense and more. They tend to be led by a “temple priest” or pujari, whose honor it is to take care of the puja, and welcome the Guest (god or goddess) each morning.

Pujas done in the home are usually less elaborate. As long as they are done with the sacredness that is intended, they have the capacity to be beautiful, soulful, spiritual ways to honor deeply.

Whether they are done in the home or in the temple, in the east pujas often follow similar steps outlined here:

1. The deity is invited to the ceremony.

2. The deity is offered a seat and his/her feet are ceremonially washed.

​​​​​​​3. Water is offered for cleansing.

​​​​​​​4. A cloth may be wrapped around the deity.

​​​​​​​5. The deity is then adorned with incense, ornaments, jewels and more.

6. A burning lamp, or candle, is waved in front of the honored one.

​​​​​​​7. Foods such as cooked rice, fruit, and sweets are offered.

8. The attendees bow to take homage in the energy the deity is providing.

9. The attendees walk around the deity.
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​​​​​​​10. The attendees leave.

Puja is an ancient cultural tradition that has unknown roots. Some scholars believe the practice began during Vedic times (1500 – 600 BCE) where the word puja has been found in the Sutras (composed to describe domestic rites, prayers, rituals). In these years, it appears that puja mostly referred to the time when a priest was visiting a home to offer a ritual to the family. The deity was considered an invited guest and the puja invited the god/goddess’ spiritual essence to permeate the home and the people in it.

We can already begin to see how pujas in the west reflect the ancient traditional pujas of the east.

Stay tuned for next week’s article on how puja migrated to the east and whether or not the modern practices of the west are in fact in integrity with the true practice of puja.

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