During puja an image or other symbol of the god serves as a means of gaining access to the divine. This icon is not the deity itself; rather, it is believed to be filled with the deity's cosmic energy. It is a focal point for honoring and communicating with the god. For the devout Hindu, the icon's artistic merit is important, but is secondary to its spiritual content. The objects are created as receptacles for spiritual energy that allow the devotee to experience direct communication with his or her gods.
Where is puja held? Hindus commonly conduct pujas in shrines in three different environments: in temples, in the home, and in outdoor public spaces. It is equally common for any of the deities to be worshiped in any of these three types of shrines.
Hindus believe that if proper care is not taken of a temple's images, the deity will abandon the temple. Hence priests reside at the temple and take care of the gods' needs. Priests perform puja at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight. For a layperson, however, visiting a temple every day or even regularly is not mandatory, and many devout Hindus worship at home. The essential aspect of puja is not congregational worship but an individual's offering to a deity. Worship in the home usually takes place daily.
Puja in a Temple A Hindu temple is believed to be the earthly seat of a deity and the place where the deity waits for its devotees. As such, temple structures are sacred spaces where gods partake of human offerings and in which the people can be with the gods. Many temples resemble palace architecture; this is not surprising, as deities are often considered kings.
Temples are normally dedicated to one primary god. Often they are elaborately decorated on the outside with stone or plaster carvings depicting religious stories, and their decoration is specific to the deity being worshiped. Mythological scenes are juxtaposed with scenes of everyday life and important political events, such as royal coronations, conquests, and celebrations, or with portraits of royal and secular patrons. These divine images and mythological scenes on the outer walls of the temple help worshipers recall the sacred stories they have heard or read.
One should remove one's shoes before entering a Hindu temple in order to pay appropriate respect to the deity within the temple.
The innermost sanctuary of the temple contains the principal image of the deity. The character of each shrine is determined by the deity being worshiped.
Home worship The heart of every Hindu home is its shrine: the sacred space set apart for honoring and worshiping the gods. While a particularly devout Hindu may visit a temple every day, others go there only to request a favor of the deity, to fulfill specific vows, or on festival days. The pujas that take place in the household shrine are the foundation of all family actions and decisions. Temple worship requires the intervention of a priest, but in the home the contact between devotee and deity is direct.
The size and decoration of a household shrine do not matter. The shrine may be large and impressive, an entire room or a beautifully designed edifice, or it may be simply a tiny niche, or even just a row of religious prints pasted on a wall.
Although children grow up following family beliefs, they are encouraged as young adults to make their own choices of which gods or goddesses they find personally inspiring. Consequently, household shrines contain images of deities that pertain to the belief systems of all a home's inhabitants, and it is not uncommon to find several small individual shrines in one household.
Puja is usually performed by at least one member of the household every day. Puja is a means of honoring the gods or goddesses, whose presence in the home is believed to protect the family and to engender good fortune. The paraphernalia used include an incense burner and a tray with flowers, fruits, and food.
When do Hindus worship?Hindu worship may take place whenever an individual wishes. Worship is usually performed daily at each household shrine by one or more family members on behalf of the whole household. Temple worship is often associated with a particular request being made of the deity, or it may follow the granting of that wish. Festivals to each of the gods take place during the year, and a follower of a certain deity may choose to participate in the ceremonies associated with that deity either at home or in a temple.