WORSHIP AND RITUALS
Worship is a means of establishing a direct and personal communion with God, the almighty. The ultimate purpose of ritualistic worship is the realisation of the supreme. It is a part of bhakti marg or the path of devotion, which is one of the three paths for achieving moksha or liberation. The other two paths being karma marg and jnana marg.
Bhakti marg aims at the realisation by the worshipper of the underlying unity with the deity and thus achieves spiritual unnnnion with the surpreme reality. Worship of the divine in Hinduism is characterised by immense diversity. It can be done at home or at temple and it can be personal or public.
There are two stages in bhakti marg; frist stage is called apara bhakti, while the second stage is called para bhakti. In the first stage, the devotee chooses a from of saguna Brahman or ishwara as his or her ishta deva, which can be one of the trimurti, brahma, Vishnu or Mahesh (shiva), or could be any of the incarnations of Vishnu (usually Krishna and rama) or themother Goddess. The chosen ishta deva is visualised by means of an image or idol called muti. It is installed in the home shrine or in temples to which puja is offered daily. Murtis are especially consecrated in Ceremony called pran pratishtha before a puja is performed for them either at home or in temples. In the second stage or para bhakti, there is no ritualistic worship. The devotee is absorbed in God. He sees the lord everywhere and feels his power manifest as the antirs are essential to achieve this stage.
Puja can be defined as rituals of worship, through which the devotee aspires to achieve the unison with god. It is essentially a ritual suggestive of symbolic offering of or lives and activities to god and enjoying whatever he has given us as a gift from the Almighty. The word puja is comprised of two letters-pa and ja. Pa means parayana or continuous repetition of the name of god, and ja means japa or continuous mental recitation of the name of god.
It must be emphasised that hindus do not worship the idol or image itself. Image is just an external symbol of god. It is not possible for all to fix their minds on the absolute. Hence, a from is necessary for the vast majority to practise concentration. It is the easiest from of worship for the modern man. During the vedic period and even now the hindus who do not believe in idol worship have the symbol of OM to fix their wandering mind. Thus, in an image of various manifestation of Brahman, the devotee feels the presence of the supreme lord and pours his devotion into it. This disciplines his wandering mind by fixing his concentration on the image. With the passage of time and constant practice, the mind is rendered steady and subtle to be able to fix on the absolute or formless Brahman.
Puja can be performed either at home or in temples. The rituals for performing puja are described in the scripture called agamas. A priest is required to preside over the puja.
The devotee takes a bath to purify himself before performing the puja. He adorns the centre of his forehead with vermillion powder or sandalwood paste or holy ashes, which helps him achieve a calm and relaxed state of mind. Women also wear a red mark, as red is considered the colour of auspiciousness and power.