What is PUJA


The word ‘puja’ is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word ‘puja’ is worship. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.

The word ‘puja’ is derived by adding the suffix a in the passive voice to the root puj. The suffixes of ang and tap are also added sometimes. The word ‘puja’ means worship, salute, honour, adore, praise, laud, the ritual of worship, the sixty-four rites of worshipping Shakti, austerities, contemplation, honouring of guru, the worship of weapons and vehicles before war, action, the establishment of the different faces of different forms of Shakti, the aids for doing ritual worship, culture, respect, reverence, homage to superiors, adoration of the gods, and homage.

In the sense of ritual worship, puja can involve a structure with many elaborate steps. The place of worship and the person who does the worship have to be physically clean. The worshipper has to start the puja with a calm and spiritually-oriented pure mind

First, the avahana or the invoking of the deity is done. Then, the deity is offered a seat or asana. In the next step of padya, the deity’s feet are washed, symbolically or physically. Water is also offered for complete washing of the deity’s body. Arghya is water offered to the deity for washing the mouth. In snana or abhisheka, water is symbolically offered for the symbolic bathing of the deity. Then, vastra or clothes are given to the deity. Then the sacred thread is put on the deity. Then, perfumes or anointments are applied on the deity through gandha. The deity is offered abharana or ornaments. The deity is also offered chhatra or umbrella. Flowers or pushpa are offered to the deity.

Then, dhupa or incense is offered to the deity. Naivedya or food offering is given to the deity. Achamaniya or water is offered for sipping by the deity. A lamp or arati is waved before the deity. The deity is offered chamara or fly-whisk. The worshipper then prostrates before the deity, thus offering namaskar or pranam. Then, the worshipper does a parikrama or circumambulation of the deity. In some rituals, there is visarjana or moving the deity or saying farewell to the deity.

There are various versions of puja based on the number of offerings, like pancha-upachara or five offerings, dasha-upachara or ten offerings, shodasha-upachara or sixteen offerings, or chatushashthi-upachara or sixty-four offerings.

Often, the elaborate steps of puja are shortened into a brief and quick version, enabling people without much knowledge of rituals also to be able to perform worship.

Some schools of the Purva-Mimamsa system of philosophy critique the performance of puja and consider it a false ritual because images cannot accept offerings. In Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism, puja is performed on images or pictures of deities.

Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article.


To read all articles by the Author


This article was first published in the November 2019 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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