Prayers & Pujas
Prayer can be the way in which we connect to the Divine through the out pouring of love from the heart. On our path of Bhakti (Devotion) the majority of our prayers are offered through ritual ceremonies. This takes the form of prayer through Christian and Hindu Ceremonies. Prayer in general can be a very open and free way of worshipping the Divine whilst ceremonial forms of worship such as puja is more ritualistic. Both lead oneself to the same goal – the difference between the one praying and the one being prayed to disappears and one realises that which “is” - the Divine.
The word “puja” consists of two letters, “pa” and “ja”. “Pa” means parayana or continuous repetition of the names of God and “ja” means japa or continuous mental recitation of the names of God. So according to this interpretation puja is essentially a kind of worship in which both parayanam and japam are practised by the devotees.
According to another interpretation, Pu means pushpam or flower and ja means jal. In the puja ceremony both flowers and water are offered to the deity during the worship. The letter ja can also mean simultaneously japam. So if we take these twin meanings of ja into consideration, puja becomes that ceremony during which water and flowers are offered to God along with recitation of His names.
Regardless of the form of Hindu prayer that is conducted – all involve the invocation and the worshipping of the Deity that the pujari is praying to. We carry out a number of different pujas. The pujas that we carry out are Abhishekam, Yagna and Kalash Puja.
Abhishekam is a ceremony that is conducted to a deity in the form of a statue (murthi). This ceremony takes its current form from ancient India. Guests in that time in ancient India were welcomed with high regard and the guest would immediately be given a place to sit and the feet washed after walking to their destination. The guest was given food and drink and offered chandan to cool the body. Nowadays the abhishekam ritual based on this welcoming of the Divine has changed although the same intention of the prayer remains. The deity in this instance would be akin to the guest in ancient times.
The deity is invocated by meditating upon and chanting Sanskrit mantras. The deity once present in the murthi, is then given a foot bath and their hands washed before being worshiped. Various substances are then poured over the deity. Five of these substances – milk, yoghurt, ghee, honey and sugar represent the five elements respectively – water, earth, fire, air and ether.
Kanchikamakshi Devi being bathed with water, milk and yoghurt
A mixture containing all of these five (called panchamrit) is also poured over the deity after the initially five have been offered. Whilst each of these substances are being offered, various Sanskrit mantras are chanted asking the deity to accept these items. By offering to the deity these five substances, we are also asking the deity to purify the five elements – not just in the space where the ceremony is taking place but also within ourselves. The five elements also correspond to the five senses accordingly water – vision, earth – taste, fire – hearing, ether – smell and air – touch. Thereby when we offer these five elements we also are asking for the purification of the five senses.
We offer a bath of Ganges water. Ganges water comes from the holy river Ganges and is thought to wash and purify ones being of karma. We therefore offer this to the deity asking that they accept this offering. We then dress the deity and offer chandan, kumkum, perfume, incense, fruits (cooked Prasad) and water to drink.
Kanchikamakshi Devi and Mahakali Devi having been dressed and offered flower garlands and arati.
Once all the items have been offered with love and devotion to the deity we then offer arati (a ghee or camphor lamp). Whilst the arati is offered we sing the praises of the deity and ring bells and blow the conch to show our love and gratitude, for the deity coming into our presence and accepting our prayers.
The term “Yagna” has several meanings:
- Literally translated means to selflessly sacrifice for noble purposes.
- Secondly, yagna also means to worship the Divine - either and external ritual or an internal one – done within ones own being.
- Thirdly, yagna is the name given to a fire ceremony that is conducted where one offers sacrifices into a holy fire – where the fire becomes an aspect of god.
Many yagna fire ceremonies are carried out in the company of a group of people. The aim of the yagnas are varied but in essence they are performed to bestow benefit to some or all people present, the surrounding environment and the world.
The deity to whom the yagna is being performed is invoked into the yagna through meditation and chanting of Sanskrit mantras. We begin to worship the deity by offering ghee and a rice mixture containing Havan Samagri. The rice mixture symbolically represents the 9 astrological planets; so by offering the rice mixture into the yagna we are also offering all our negative astrological influences to the deity for purification.
Similar to abhishekam, we also offer into the sacred fire the elements milk, yoghurt, ghee, honey, sugar and panchamrit – asking that the deity purify the five elements within us, the surrounding environment and the five senses. Through chanting and contemplating the name of the deity this helps us to connect and feel and/or see her/his presence. The most important offering in the sacred fire is the love that comes from within our heart. This enables us to establish this connection of love which is paramount in surrendering aspects of ego to the beloved deity. Yagna is a very powerful tool for transmuting the accumulated karmas that one builds up from ones lives.
At the end of the yagna we offer arati to the deity and ask all the deities who have attended the yagna and offered their help and assistance to return to their dwelling place.
Kalash puja is the ceremony that is undertaken to purna-kumbha or Kalash as it is known. The kalash consists of a brass/ copperpot filled with water and other auspiscious articles on which mango leaves are place in the open neck of the pot. Onto the mango leaves is placed a coconut. The kalash itself is the vessel into which the deity is invoked to and worshipped.
Initally purification of the pujari (the person(s) doing the puja) and the surrounding environment and puja items in undertaken. Following purification the pujari Guru puja is done so that the pujari may also receive his blessing and guidance from the Guru and that his blessings may also benefit the puja.
The sapce in which the ceremony is conducted is sealed energetically so that there is no interference with the ceremony from external sources. We then invoke Varun (god of water) into the water of the kalash to purify the water prior to invoking the main deity. The main deity is then invoked into the kalash as well as in ourselves through a series of invocations known as the praana pratishta. We then offer puja to the main deity now residing with the kalash.
At the end of the puja we light a camphor arati and offer the arati to the kalash. After arati, we light the yagna with the arati camphor and invoke the presence of Agni – god of fire. We then undertake the yagna to the main deity that was invoked into the kalash and end the yagna by offering a coconut into the fire. The coconut represents the heart of man – the outer shell being hard like the ego whereas the inner part of the coconut is pure and clean much like the inner sanctum of the heart of man.
If we have a murthi of the deity we then carry out abhishekam to the deity and finish the abhishekam by pouring over the deity the energized water from the kalash. Before the water is poured over the deity we recite a mantra to thank the deity for their help and to leave the kalash and return to where it normally resides.
This whole ceremony is extremely uplifting for the devotee and this ceremony really helps to purify and help connect with the beloved deity. Many times after performing a kalash puja we are blessed with rain. A very auspicious sign from mother earth and the deity that the ceremony was very beneficial for the environment, and that much purification took place for all people present and the whole area.