Steps involved in Conducting Vedic Pujas/Prayers
Steps involved in Conducting Vedic Pujas/Prayers :
There are 16 basic steps in conducting a puja in Hinduism. This is known as Shodashopachara, and is common to all pujas, irrespective of whom we are worshiping. Nowadays we are pressed for time and perpetually in a tearing hurry, and this time factor is coupled with one more thing: our ignorance and lack of desire to further our knowledge. But one must know the basic necessities in conducting a puja as not only will we ourselves benefit from the puja, but our next generation and subsequent generations too will learn from our actions and benefit. After cleaning and sanctifying the identified area for the puja, we beautify it with floor decorations, and install the deity with due respect and honour. This imbues a feeling of love and peace in our mind.
The Shodashopachara or 16 steps:
Avaahana & Dhyana: Installing the deity for the puja is akin to inviting an important person to our house, which we do with respect and humility( avaahana). While inviting him, we dwell upon his fine qualities (dhyaana).
Asan: we offer a place of honour to our guest to seat himself and be comfortable. In the case of gods/goddesses, we offer an asan or decorated mat, or a raised and decorated platform.
Paadya: In traditional (and rural) India – and in various texts, mythologies and legends we have read that kings have washed the dusty feet of their kulgurus or other rishis who have visited them – it is customary to wash the feet of a guest when he visits a family. Other than honouring them thus, one other reason could be that since nerve endings are found in our hands and feet, it is necessary to keep these parts of our body clean and cool. Hence, offering water to wash these body parts od deities is carried out in pujas.
Arghya: This means offering water to wash the hands of our guest.
Aachamana: By this we mean taking three- and only three – consecutive gulps of water. This act soothes our throat and all organs that are needed for speaking easily and agrreably, so that the sound thus emitted will be pleasant to hear.
Madhuparka: After offering water, the guest is offered a drink. If we add a few drops of honey to the drink, it is called madhuparka.
Snaan: Once our guest has rested, we make all necessary arrangements for the guest’s snaan (bath) so that he can freshen up. The deity is bathed with water, milk, dahi (yoghurt), ghee (clarified butter), etc.
Vastra: Next, fresh clothes are offered to the guest.
Gandh: Sandal paste (gandh) is applied on the forehead.
Pushpa: Pushpa means flower. In pujas, it is customary to offer different flowers to the deity even as we chant 108 names of that particular deity.
Agarbatti: By lighting agarbattis or incense sticks, we add to the already-fragrant and holy surroundings. Some schools of thought believe that inhaling the smoke of herbs is good for health.
Deepa: This word means light, and traditional lamps are lit to give due recognition to the Almighty as a form of light.
Naivedya: Next, the guest – or the deity – is offered a variety of dishes; this forms an important component of looking after and pleasing the guest. In no part of India will a guest not be offered some food, if not a full meal. Bhog is offered to the deity.
Tamboola: This word means betel leaf, and it is popularly believed that chewing betel leaf rolled up with assorted herbs after a meal helps in effective digestion. The betel nut symbolizes the ego and the hard coarse qualities that must be surrendered to the deity.
Aarti: This is done when the puja is coming to its closure. A flame of camphor and other oil items is systematically offered to the deity, reminding all present once again that the source of all light is God himself. The Aarti is then offered to the devotees as a form of blessings from the Almighty.
Mantrapushpa, Pradakshina: To propitiate the deity, mantras or prayers that are particularly dear to the deity are chanted during the puja.
Pradakshina or circumambulation means that God is present all around us, and we recognize his omnipresence.
Detailed information on these 16 essential steps to conducting a puja can be found in our Upanishads, Puranas and Vedas.
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