Puja - Temple Rites
Offerings of perfumed substances, flowers, incense, lamps and fresh fruits—these are the five elements of the traditional pūjā, which culminates with the offering of the lamps.
Kāmika Āgama 4.374. sa, 248
What Is the Inner Importance of Pūjā?
The traditional rite of worship, called pūjā, is a sanctified act of the highest importance for the Hindu. It is the invoking of God Śiva and the Gods and the heartfelt expression of our love, devotion and surrender. Aum.
Pūjā is a ceremony in which the ringing of bells, passing of flames, presenting of offerings and chanting invoke the devas and Mahādevas, who then come to bless and help us.
Pūjā is our holy communion, full of wonder and tender affections. It is that part of our day which we share most closely and consciously with our beloved Deity; and thus it is for Śaivites the axis of religious life.
Our worship through pūjā, outlined in the Śaiva Āgamas, may be an expression of festive celebration of important events in life, of adoration and thanksgiving, penance and confession, prayerful supplication and requests, or contemplation at the deepest levels of super-consciousness.
Pūjā may be conducted on highly auspicious days in a most elaborate, orthodox and strict manner by the temple pujārīs, or it may be offered in the simplest form each morning and evening in the home shrine by any devotee.
The Vedas proclaim:
“Sacrifice resembles a loom with threads extended this way and that, composed of innumerable rituals. Behold now the fathers weaving the fabric; seated on the outstretched loom. ‘Lengthwise! Crosswise!’ they cry." Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
A devotee sits inside the garbhagṛiha, the inner chamber enshrining the Śivaliṅga. Having fasted and chanted for days to gain spiritual purity, he has grown thin, but his spirit soars as he offers flowers and mantras to his Lord in the simplest of pūjās.
What Is the Special Rite Called Archana?
Archana is an abbreviated form of temple pūjā in which the name, birth star and spiritual lineage of a devotee are intoned to the God by the priest to invoke special, individual, family or group blessings and assistance. Aum.
If we wish to receive the Deity’s blessing for something special that is happening in our life, we may request an archana. This is arranged and paid for within the temple itself.
We give a basket or tray to the priest, or pujārī, upon which have been placed certain articles to be offered to the Deity:
usually a flower garland, bananas and a coconut (carefully washed and not even breathed upon), holy ash, incense, camphor, rosewater and a contribution for the pujārī.
The pujārī asks for our name, which we tell him aloud, and our nakṣatra, or birth star. Then he asks for our gotra—the name of the rishi with which our family is associated.
He then intones these, our credentials, before the Deity along with a Sanskrit verse. A brief pūjā, in which the 108 names of the God are chanted, is then performed specifically on our behalf and special blessings received. At the end, the pujārī will return most of the offerings as prasāda.
The Vedas implore:
“By your favors granted enable us, O Lord, once again to leap over the pitfalls that face us. Be a high tower, powerful and broad, for both us and our children. To our people bring well-being and peace." Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
A man gracefully offers flowers to a small crystal Śivaliṅga during a pūjā in his home shrine. So sincere and one-pointed is the worship that Lord Śiva appears in His subtle, spiritual body and touches the devotee’s head in a life-transforming blessing.
What Is the Nature of Image Worship?
We worship God Śiva and the Gods who by their infinite powers spiritually hover over and indwell the image, or mūrti, which we revere as their temporary body. We commune with them through the ritual act of pūjā. Aum.
The stone or metal Deity images are not mere symbols of the Gods; they are the form through which their love, power and blessings flood forth into this world.
We may liken this mystery to our ability to communicate with others through the telephone:
We do not talk to the telephone; rather we use a telephone as a means of communication with another person who is perhaps thousands of miles away.
Without the telephone, we could not converse across such distances; and without the sanctified mūrti in the temple or shrine we cannot easily commune with the Deity.
His vibration and presence can be felt in the image, and He can use the image as a temporary physical-plane body or channel.
As we progress in our worship, we begin to adore the image as the Deity’s physical body, for we know that He is actually present and conscious in it during pūjā, aware of our thoughts and feelings and even sensing the pujārīs gentle touch on the metal or stone.
The Vedas exclaim:
“Come down to us, Rudra, who art in the high mountains. Come and let the light of thy face, free from fear and evil, shine upon us. Come to us with thy love." Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
A youth enters the sanctum, drawing closed the curtain which conceals the Deity. He has placed a Rudrākṣa mala on the Linga and arranged clay ghee lamps around the mūrti. Śiva blesses the soulful devotee with a gentle touch on the shoulder.
Who Are the Priests of Śiva Temples?
Ādiśaiva priests are the hereditary pujārīs who care for the temple and conduct its varied rites and rituals as humble servants of God. They are trained in the complex arts of worship, generally from a young age. Aum.
Every temple has its own staff of priests. Some temples appoint only one, while others have a large extended family of priests to take care of the many shrines and elaborate festivals. Most are well trained from early childhood in the intricate liturgy.
Śiva temple pujārīs are usually brāhmins from the Ādiśaiva lineage, though in certain temples they are not.
These men of God must be fully knowledgeable of the metaphysical and ontological tenets of the religion and learn hundreds of mantras and chants required in the ritual worship.
When fully trained, they are duly ordained as Śivāchāryas to perform parārtha pūjā in a consecrated Śiva temple.
Generally, pujārīs do not attend to the personal problems of devotees. They are God’s servants, tending His temple home and its related duties, never standing between the devotee and God.
Officiating priests are almost always married men, while their assistants may be brahmachārīs or widowers.
The Āgamas explain:
“Only a well-qualified priest may perform both ātmārtha pūjā, worship for one’s self, and parārtha pūjā, worship for others. Such an Ādi- Śaiva is a Śaiva brāhmin and a teacher.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
A Śaivite priest stands before the Śivaliṅga. The sandalwood doors are open and the cloth curtain drawn. With head shaved in South Indian style, he wears red and white cotton, symbolizing Śiva-Śaktī, and holds a censer of fragrant frankincense.
What Does the Pujārī Do During Pūjā?
During the pūjā, through mantras, mudras and mystical ritual, the priest invokes the Deity. All observances are precisely detailed in the Āgamas; every act, every intoned syllable is rich in esoteric meaning. Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
The pujārī performs strict ablutions and disciplines to prepare himself for his sacred duty.
Before the pūjā, he ritually purifies the atmosphere. As the pūjā begins, he meditates on Lord Gaṇeśa, praying that all obstacles may be removed.
He then beseeches the God to indwell the image, to accept the prayers of the votaries, and to shower blessings and love on all.
Calling the name of the Deity and chanting mantras and hymns from the Vedas and Āgamas, the pujārī makes offerings of unbroken rice, burning camphor, incense, holy ash, water, red turmeric powder, flowers and food.
Sometimes offerings of milk, rose- water, sandalwood paste and yogurt are poured over the mūrti as an oblation, called abhiṣeka.
Bells are loudly rung, conch shells sounded, and musicians may play the temple drums and woodwinds. The pujārī treats the Deity with utmost care, attending to Him as the King of kings.
When the pūjā has ended, the pujārī passes the now sanctified offerings to those present.
The Vedas state:
“Daily the sacrifice is spread. Daily the sacrifice is completed. Daily it unites the worshiper to heaven. Daily by sacrifice to heaven he ascends.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.
A priest sits before a large Śivaliṅga, showing the hand gestures, mudras, which are a vital part of his ritual. Mystical priests are trained to make every gesture inwardly profound. They know worship is a yoga which brings one into Śiva consciousness.
The devout performers of solemn ceremonies, aspiring for chariots, as if, are led to the doors of the chamber of the Lord. Ladles, placed to the East, are plying the fire with melted butter at the fire sacrifice, as the mother cow licks her calf.
Rig Veda 7.2.5. rvp, 2353
As hungry children here below sit round about their mother, even so all beings expectantly sit round the agnihotra.
Sāma Veda, Chāndogya Upaniṣad 5.24.4. ve, 412
May the forefathers of ancient days protect me in this my prayer, in this my act, in this my priestly duty, in this my performance, in this my thought, in this my purpose and desire, in this my calling on the Gods! All Hail!
Atharva Veda 5.24.15. ve, 860
At the time of the sacrifice, O Lord of the wood [Agni], the worshipers smear you with sacred oil.
When you stand upright or when you repose on Earth’s bosom, you still will grant us good fortune. Set up to the East of the sacred fire, you accept our prayer, intense and unflagging.
Hold yourself high to bring us prosperity. Drive far away dearth of inspiration. Lord of the wood, take now your stance on this, the loftiest spot of all Earth.
Well-fixed and measured one, give to the worshiper, who brings a sacrifice, honor and glory.
Rig Veda 3.8.1-3. ve 373-374
A Linga sprung up by itself and an image in the shape of a God are said to be intended for worship for the purpose of others. The merit to the worshiper of worship for all others is the same as the merit of worship for oneself. The worship rites from the very beginning, worship of the Linga and its support, must be done by an Ādiśaiva in the manner described in the Āgamas.
Kāraṇa Āgama 11. mt, 67; 76
The twice-born gurukal should twice place the triple sectarian marks of ash mixed with water. Having scattered all sins by this twofold protection of his body, the gurukal should now be competent to perform all the sacrificial rites.
As fire in a basin flames by means of air, thus Lord Śiva is born, is made manifest before the eyes of the devotee, by mantra, in the Linga.
Kāraṇa Āgama 64. mt, 111; 164
In the beginning of worship, at the conclusion of the rite, in the offering of water, in the anointing of the image, in the bathing of the image, in the offering of light, in the sprinkling of the image with sandal,
in the bathing of the image with consecrated liquids, in the offering of incense, in the act of worship, and in all other things to be done, the Śivāchārya should strike the great bell.
Kāraṇa Āgama 190-191. mt, 160
He should bathe the Linga, repeating the Vyoma-Vyāpi Mantra, and with sesame oil, and with curd, milk and ghee, with coconut water, with honey, repeating the Pañchabrahman, he should carefully rub the Linga with fine rice-flour paste, repeating the Hridaya Mantra.
Kāraṇa Āgama 274. mt, 188
First there is the invocation; second, the establishing of the God; third, water for washing the feet should be offered; fourth, water for sipping; fifth, the placing of arghya, water;
sixth, sprinkling water as ablution; seventh, garment and sandal; eighth, worship with flowers; ninth, incense and light should be offered;
tenth, offering of food; eleventh, oblation should be performed; twelfth, the holy fire, an oblation of clarified butter; thirteenth, an oblation; fourteenth, song and music; fifteenth, dancing; and sixteenth, the act of leaving.
Kāraṇa Āgama 423-426. mt, 222
Seers can reach Him because He is visible; worshipers, too, can see Him. But if they possess love for Him, Hara, who is the first cause of the ancient universe, will manifest Himself to their mind as light.
Tirumurai, Arputat Tiruvantati 17. at, 18
If he is but a priest in name only who Lord’s temple pūjā performs, deathly wars rage in fury, fell diseases spread, famine stalks the land. Thus did the great Nandi in truth declare.
Tirumantiram 519. tm
The devout are they who with flowers and water pray. The Lord, seeing that, bestows His grace on them. The undevout do not know how to approach Him, and thus slip by in ignorance deep.
Tirumantiram 1828. tm