This word is the common term for worship of which there are numerous synonyms in the Sanskrit language.(1) Puja is done daily of the Ista-devata or the particular Deity worshipped by the sadhaka – the Devi in the case of a Sakta, Visnu in the case of a Vaisnava, and so forth.

But though the Ista-devata is the principal object of worship, yet in puja all worship the Panca-devata, or the Five Devas-Aditya (the Sun), Ganesa, the Devi, S’iva, and Visnu or Narayana. After worship of the Pancadevata the family Deity (Kula-devata), who is generally the same as the Ista-devata, is worshipped. Puja, which is kamya, or done to gain a particular end as also vrata, are preceded by the samkalpa; that is, a statement of the resolution to do the worship; as also of the particular object, if any, with which it is done. (2)

There are sixteen upacaras, or things done or used in puja ;

  1. asana (seat of the image);
  2. svagata (welcome);
  3. padya (water for washing the feet);
  4. arghya (offering of unboiled rice, flowers, sandal paste, durva grass,’ etc., to the Devata) in the kushi, (vessel);
  5. acamana (water for sipping, which is offered twice);
  6. madhuparka (honey, ghee, milk, and curd offered in a silver or brass vessel);
  7. snana (water for bathing);
  8. vasana (cloth);
  9. abharana (jewels);
  10. gandha (scent and sandal paste is given);
  11. puspa (flowers);
  12. dhupa (incensestick);
  13. dipa (light);
  14. naivedya (food);
  15. vandana or narnaskara (prayer).

Other articles are used which vary with the puja, such as Tulasi leaf in the Visnupuja and bael-(bilva) leaf in the S’iva-puja. The mantras said also vary according to the worship. The seat (asana) of the worshipper is purified. Salutation being made to the Sakti of support or the sustaining force (adhara-sakti), the water, flowers, etc., are purified. All obstructive spirits are driven away (bhutapasarpana), and the ten quarters are fenced from their attack by striking the earth three times with the left foot, uttering the Astra-bija “phat”, and by snapping the fingers (twice) round the head.

Pranayama (regulation of breath) is performed and (vide post) the elements of the body are purified (bhata-suddhi). There is nyasa (vide post); dhyana (meditation); offering of the upacara; japa (vide post), prayer and obeisance (pranama). In the asta-murti-puja of S’iva, the Deva is worshipped under the eight forms: Sarva (Earth), Bhava (Water), Rudra (Fire), Ugra (Air), Bhima (Ether), Pasupati (yajamana – the Sacrifice man), Isana (Sun), Mahadeva (Moon).(4)

1. The above is a general outline of the Sama Veda samdhya, though as each Hindu is of a particular sect and Veda, the samdhya: differs in detail. See Kriyakandavaridhi and the Purohita-darpana, and S’risa Chandra-Vasu, “Daily Practice of the Hindus.” The positions and mudra are illustrated in Mrs: S.C. Belnos’ “Samdhya: or Daily Prayer of the Brahmin.” (1831).
2. Such as arcana, ‘ vandana, saparyya, arhana, namasya, area, bhajana, etc.
3. Kusa grass is used only in pitr-kriya or sruddha; and in homa. Arghya is of two kinds – samanya (general), and videsa (special).
4. See Chapter V of Todala-Tantra.