Puja, or “worship,” is perhaps the central cer-emonial practice of Hinduism. A puja minimally entails an offering and some MANTRAS. It can take place at any site where worship can occur, either of a divinity, a GURU, or SWAMI, a being, a person (such as a wife, husband, brother, or sister), or spirit. It can take place in a home or a temple, or at a tree, river, or any other place understood to be sacred.
   Incense, fruit, flowers, leaves, water, and sweets are the most common offerings in the puja. Also, common is the arati or waving of a lighted lamp. The most elaborate puja, the temple puja before the icon, includes the following elements accompanied by the appropriate mantras (usually in SANSKRIT): invitation to the deity, offering of a seat to the divinity; greeting of the divinity; wash-ing of the feet of the divinity; rinsing of its mouth and hands; offering of water or a honey mixture; pouring of water upon it; putting of clothing upon it (if it has not been already clothed for the day); giving of perfume, flowers, incense, lamps, or food; prostration; and taking of leave.
   In temples the iconic image of the divinity is always treated as a person of royalty would be treated. Therefore, a puja will be done in early morning accompanied by songs to awaken the deity. The deity is then bathed, dressed, and fed, and then more fully worshipped. Pujas go on throughout the day to the deity, as local traditions require.
   In the Jain tradition temple puja is actively done only among the SHVETAMBARAS, but it can take on a different aspect. When the puja is done to the main image of the temple, a TIRTHANKARA or ARHAT (saint), no grace can be expected in exchange, as the Tirthankara is a released being only and not a god. Shvetambara Jains do other pujas to subsidiary gods and goddesses and spiri-tual personages other than the arhats, which can confer desired results.
   Further reading: John Cort, Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India (New York: Oxford Uni-versity Press, 2001); Klaus Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994); Donald S. Lopez, ed., Religions of India in Prac-tice (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995); Hillary Peter Rodrigues, Ritual Worship of the Great God-dess: The Liturgy of the Durga Puja with Interpretations (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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