What is a Puja Anyway?
Each step up the spiral black metal staircase was intentional, careful…curious, and cold on the bottoms of my not-yet-summer-callused bare feet. My breath deepened as I arrived into the space I thought was only a sleeping space. Instead when I raised my eyes, I found myself in front of a beautiful altar and lambswool rugs with cushions for us to sit together. The altar set with a bright orange silk cloth was covered with statues of deities, photos of holy looking men and women, posters of Hanuman and Krishna and Ganesh, a small picture of Ram Dass, a candle burnt at the tip, beautiful boxes and other obvious keepsakes of experiences from a younger time.
He invited me to sit facing each other; to breathe together. To gaze into each others’ eyes. The energy, potent and powerful, ran through my veins and through my entire body.
Soon Shubal asked me if he could perform a Durga Puja for me. Not quite knowing whatit was exactly, but sure it would be an honoring experience, I said yes. Soon he was chanting in sanskrit (the ancient language of India), and although I didn’t know everything he was saying, there were many words I recognized: Durga, Kali, Shakti, Om and more. Flowers landed at my feet and Shubal performed many ritual acts of acknowledging the divine goddess in me. I sat with my eyes closed and took in the energy.
I had been leading “pujas” of the western variety for years. Although they are quite different, in form and structure, from the one my soon-to-be-beloved performed with me that day, the intention is the same and the outcome similar.
The word ‘puja‘ is a sanskrit word that means offering. However, many sanskrit words have more than one meaning and such it is with the word ‘puja.’ As I understand it, puja, also means reverence, honor, worship and adoration. It’s used by the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and others — as a ceremony to honor a very special occasion; it’s also used more often as part of a sacred ritual, or practice to support opening to the wisdom of the Divine — our individual and collective source.
Puja is done differently in the east and the west; but it is also performed differently from person-to-person, teacher-to-teacher, student-to-student.
What does the Durga Puja I experienced have in common with the Intimate Puja Circles I lead? They both:
1. Invite God, or the Divine, into our awareness.
2. Assert that we are each an individual reflection of the Divine.
3. Use breath to presence yourself.
4. Are a sacred ritual, or practice.
6. Result in feeling more deeply connected and loved.
7. May use pranayam or asana to open the body.
8. Are symbolic expressions of honoring the goddess within.