Pooja - That which is born out of fullness

Sri Sri performing Puja
The ancient sages brought sacredness in every celebration, so that you don't lose the focus in the hustle-bustle of the activity. Observing rituals and religious practices (called Puja) is simply showing  one's gratitude to the Divine. This brings depth to the celebration.

These practices, along with promoting spiritual values and harmony in the family and society, have a scientific foundation as well. Unfortunately today people do not have access to this understanding and the value systems and traditions are lost as a result.

What is Puja?

In Sanskrit the word ‘puja’ is defined as ‘purnaat jayate iti puja’, which means ‘that which is born (jayate – ja) out of fullness (purnaat – pu)’. 

Pooja means that which is born out of fullness and completeness. To express a heart which is overflowing with so much gratitude and joy, Pooja is done. 

‘Dear God, I am so grateful and blessed. You have given me so much in abundance’ – to express this feeling, we do Pooja.
When such a feeling arises within us, then some action inevitably gets linked with it also. One simply cannot resist expressing this deep feeling of gratitude. We express our love towards each other by doing some sort of action. In the same way, when a devotee is so in love with the Divine, he wishes to do something or give something to the Divine. This is why our ancestors developed the various rituals and methods of performing Pooja. So, whatever we have received from the Divine, we offer it back to him, innocently and playfully. 

General procedure/process of puja
  1. Praying and getting connected or feeling the connection with the Divine.
  2. Invoking the divinity in us.
  3. Invoking the divinity in the idol/symbol.
  4. With a feeling of gratitude and innocence, playfully offering flowers, water etc
  5. Praising the glory of the divine and performing the aarti
  6. Meditating with the feeling of oneness

Invoking the Divinity within us 

The rule of pooja is only Shiva can worship Shiva. So first you place the names of the Divinity on different parts of your body. You become part of the Divinity and then you offer the flowers and everything to the Divine. This is the actual and right way to do pooja, seeing the Divinity inside.

Pooja means creating an atmosphere of Divinity and reposing in it. It is the chanting that is important. The chanting has all the vibrations from thousands of years. 

Mantra = ‘Mananat trayatie Iti mantrah’ in Sanskrit ‘That which takes your mind across by listening to it or chanting it is called mantra.’

Puja is an innocent playful process reciprocating the supreme love of nature.

Lamps with five wicks during pooja
The five wicks symbolize the five senses. Let there be awareness and light in the five senses, that is the wish. Our body is like a lamp and it has five senses and they should all be lit.

Secret of offerings during pooja

God has given you flowers, so you also offer flowers back to Him with a prayer that may our hearts also blossom just as abundantly towards Him.

God gave us water, so we offer water to Him during Pooja, with the feeling that we too should become humble like water and bring coolness to everyone. Like water, we too should have a foundation in life (just as water is the vital element and basis of life). So we pray that our life too becomes like this. 

Akshat (whole unbroken rice grain) 
We also offer Akshat (whole unbroken rice grain) to the Divine because; it is a symbol of never ending abundance. Akshat in Sanskrit means 'that which cannot be destroyed'. Just as these rice grains, the spirit in me is indestructible, remembering this we offer the akshatas.

The rice grain does not break ever. Scientists have said that matter and energy can never be created nor be destroyed. Similarly also for the rice grain because it never gets destroyed or damaged. When we eat rice, it provides energy and nourishment to us and is absorbed by our body. And upon death, when our body is cremated and returns to the Earth element, the same rice grain after sometime grows from the Earth and becomes ready as food for consumption. When the body turns into ash, the ash becomes food for many fishes which in turn become the food for many other human beings again. So this happens again and again in Nature. When you bury the body under the Earth, the body dissolves away into the five elements.

Chandan ( sandal Paste)
Similarly we offer Chandan (sandal paste) also, with the feeling that its fragrance spreads everywhere.

All our five senses which bring sensory experiences and pleasure to us – the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the skin have certain sense functions and substances associated with them. So all the substances and objects that bring joy or pleasure to these five senses are also given as sacred offering in the Pooja.

Ringing of Holy Bell
We ring the holy bell during the Pooja because due to the sound that is produced, the mind is freed of all thoughts from here and there, and settles in the present moment. 
Then the mind comes in harmony with the Naad – the single sound in the environment during the Pooja. Therefore, to focus and channel the mind, many drums, trumpets and cymbals are also played during the Pooja. Such a loud sound causes the mind to come into the present moment.

Burning of camphor during Aarti

Camphor is burnt to perform Aarti (circular movement or display of the lamp in reverence before the deity or the idol) before the deity. Just as God rotates the sun and the moon around you, you imitate the same and thus offer and move the small camphor lamp before God to bring joy to you.

This is also to express the prayer that the light of our life should never go astray from God and should always be centered and revolve around God. It is with this deep feeling that you perform aarti. In the whole of India, people everywhere perform the aarti but do not know the deeper meaning behind it. 

What is Aarti?

Aarti means the highest and the greatest possible bliss. It represents the fact that the Divine is the greatest source of joy. When our hearts overflow with such intense love and devotion that every particle of our body is soaked in it, then that is what aarti really is. 

Aarti is that which gives you total contentment. It is made up of two parts: ‘Aa-’ and ‘rati’. ‘Rati’ means joy, bliss and ecstasy. So when we are full of such kind of devotion and bliss - that is called Aarti. So we perform aarti with the prayer that our lives should also be filled with the ecstasy of devotion, such that we see God everywhere we look. This is called Pooja. Pooja is never done to flatter or please God.

Praising God

Who is God?
The first thing to understand is that God is One. No matter by what name you may call him, he is One. That is one thing.

God is not some person sitting somewhere at some place. It is a field of energy which is present everywhere and at all times and in all forms. He is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. Just as white light is composed of many colours, god is considered as the collective sum of all energies that exist.

Why so many gods and goddesses?
Even though God is one, he is seen as present in different names and forms. There are various attributes or divine qualities attributed to the different names and forms of God. Hence, many gods and goddesses.

What do we praise?
During pooja, various divine attributes and qualities are chanted and the Supreme Consciousness  is praised. The divine qualities are sung with a feeling of gratefulness, devotion and oneness with the Lord.

Why praise?
It is said that as we praise something or someone, that quality starts reflecting in us. So by praising the vastness and beauty of the Supreme energy which beholds this entire creation or universe, we invoke that Consciousness in us and in our lives.

Significance of puja

The state of mind with which the puja is performed, the various materials used and the chanting (mantras) which is done during the puja, all have a profound effect on the environment. 

The vibrations purify the place, the atmosphere and the people present. Puja is a meditation, it is a yoga (a means to reach the state of total oneness).The feeling of oneness of the worshipper and the worshipped, is the realization of the true nature of the Self.

You perform some rituals on festivals. Children are introduced to religion and spirituality through the rituals. 

Performing rituals also purify and electrify the atmosphere at home. E.g. when all family members come together and do Pooja on Diwali, the atmosphere of our home changes.

Pooja and ignorance

Pooja is never done to flatter or please God. But in our country, people go and feed sweets to the idol of the deity, so much so that the face of the deity is spoilt.

Furthermore, they offer flowers to every deity’s picture or idol with fear and guilt that if they offer to a flower to Lord Hanuman and not to Lord Shiva, then Lord Shiva will get angry and punish them. All sorts of superstitions arise in the mind. This is why it is said that you must have only one Ishtadevta (referring to the tradition of having a prime or central deity for worship and devotion). All others deities are simply divine forms of the same Divinity. The essence is to see One Divinity in everyone and everyone as part of One Divinity. That is what it is.

Whatever prayer we do, we do it for our own happiness. We pray to uplift our own selves. We do not pray to please God. People who think that they can please God by fasting are foolish. It is sheer ignorance. 

Now, do not think that God will give you something very special if you worship him and pray. Yes, if you pray, you will surely get the fruits of your prayer because that is the law of nature. Just like how, when you open the windows, the sunlight will surely come into the house and when the sunlight comes you will get the benefits for sure. 

See, God anyway loves you very much. But to grow to love God just as He loves you, that is what devotion really is and this is the essence of prayer. 

(Based on the excerpts of talks from H.H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar)

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