Altar and Puja

September 27, 2007 in FAQ, Worship and Practices

Puja Offerings

Question:

What is the difference between an oblation and an offering?

Swamiji Says:

Generally, oblations are made to the fire, while offerings can be made at any time, with or without a deity.

Question:

Is it correct to do puja just with incense and lights and without all the other materials? Is it considered inauspicious not perform the puja in the prescribed way?

Swamiji Says:

The best thing is to use whatever materials you have immediately available, and take the rest from the garden of your heart. Any Puja that you offer to God will surely bear fruit.

Question:

Can we offer whole rice, whole food, or we must only offer white rice to the deity during puja?

Swamiji Says:

Whole uncooked food is acceptable. But, if you want to cook the offering before you eat it, you would offer it again at that time.

Question:

Swamiji Says:

The actual meaning of akshata is “whole grains”. So brown rice will be fine.

Question:

What does one offer as Arghya?

Swamiji Says:

Start with a small piece of cloth, usually red — approximately 4-5 inches square, fold it, and then place one flower with a small stem, like a rose; sprinkle into the cloth rice, black sesame seeds, sandal powder, kumkum and/or sindur, some tulasi, and fragrant scent, then wrap it and tie with a ribbon or string, with the flower sticking out the top. You can also put other greens, grasses, or flowers with it. Think of it as a corsage of sorts.

Question:

Is it correct to offer all the puja items on the murti itself rather than mixing the items in a bowl and offering using the panchamrit mantra?

Swamiji Says:

There is no wrong way to show your love to God. Yes, these procedures are correct. Some people have pictures, photos, or other murtis which do not lend themselves to direct application. If you can apply your offerings directly to the murti while sitting in one asana, this is best.

Question:

What is the significance of the conch shell in the visesharghya (the conch shell offering)?

Swamiji Says:

It’s in the Shankha and Tulasi story.  You can find it in the book, Swami Purana.

Question:

You present all the offerings to a flower on the altar. Does that mean that the flower represents the deity and that all offerings are presented to it directly? How do you make offerings to the Lingam and other deities?

Swamiji Says:

The liquid offerings are poured into a small bowl in front of the lingam or yantra. All other powders are applied to the flower upon the yantra.

Question:

What kind of food should not be offered to the Goddess? Is it true that one should only offer sattvic food? Can you please advise what should not be offered when cooking at home?

Swamiji Says:

Whatever you eat should be offered to the Goddess first. So the question is, what should you not eat? Each one of us has our own definitions about what is or is not appropriate. But if it is good enough for us, it is good enough for God.

Question:

Is it true that a negative effect is created when offerings are not made?

Swamiji Says:

When we don’t offer, it may be understood that we seek to hoard for our own selfish enjoyment. That creates a negative effect.

Question:

I find that the ghee gets hard again after melting it first. So it doesn’t really mix into the panchamrit. What do I do?

Swamiji Says:

In the panchamrit just use a very small amount of ghee. You can rub it against the side of your container when you put it in, and mix it thoroughly before serving.

Question:

I would like to use a beautiful piece of sari fabric that was worn by my guru as an offering to my deity during puja. Is this a good offering?

Swamiji Says:

Yes, it is a fine offering. If you consider it a holy offering, it is pure by your intention.

Question:

In the Advanced Shiva puja, we offer a sacred thread. The translation of the mantra for this offering is: “Om the sacred thread of the highest purity is given by Prajapati, the Lord of Creation, for the greatest facility”. What does “the greatest facility” refer to?

Swamiji Says:

The greatest facility is for remembering and performing. It is given by Brahma, the Lord of creation, because He established all forms of worship.

Question:

Can people doing the beginner puja just offer incense/lights/camphor and flower?

Swamiji Says:

As there are many ways of offering puja, so there are many ways of offering arati. There is panchopachar puja (five items), dasopachar (ten items), shorasopachar (sixteen items) and rajopachar (many more than sixteen). The important ingredient is bhakti.

Mudras

Question:

I use Mudras as part of my daily worship. I am not entirely sure of their significance or meaning.

Swamiji Says:

Mudras are symbolic gestures that demonstrate a specific attitude of respect, according to the various meanings found in the ceremonies of worship. Every time the fingers assume the appropriate positions, the mind automatically conceives the corresponding attitude. Therefore, mudras are an effective technique to bring the mind to a state of harmony.

Question:

I would like to know more about the Khechari Mudra. Can you please let me know the benefit of doing this mudra?

Swamiji Says:

Rising above our worldly attachments.

Question:

Is “rising about our worldly attachments” the benefit for advanced practitioners only? Will everyone (beginners to advanced alike) benefit from using the mudra during meditation.

Swamiji Says:

All of us strive to attain it. Let us all rise above our worldly attachments and look down on selfishness through divine perspective.

Question:

Can you please tell us something about the Upasamhara Mudra? It looks like a mudra of blessing, and also like a mudra which says “I surrender”.

Swamiji Says:

It actually means a combination of both, plus one added ingredient. Samhara here is used is the sense of unite in oneness, and upa means near. We are calling the deities to assemble and unite near me in oneness.

Question:

Is the Mrga mudra the one that is described in the Shiva dhyanam?

Swamiji Says:

Yes.

Question:

Is the Mrga mudra characteristic for the Consciousness of Infinite Goodness?

Swamiji Says:

Yes.

Question:

Could the Mrga mudra be an expression of the state of consciousness Shree Ramakrishna was in?

Swamiji Says:

Yes.

Question:

What is the purpose of the following procedure: “Roll hand over hand forwards while reciting karatala kara, and backwards while chanting prishthabyam, then clap hands when chanting astraya phat”?

Swamiji Says:

With the mantra we purify our hands, both front and back. That means that every action we perform is done with pure intention, pure objectives, pure instruments, and pure results.

Question:

What is the definition of Karatala, kara, prishthabyam, and astraya?

Swamiji Says:

Karatala – palms of the hands

Kara – hands

Prishthabyam – back sides

Astraya – weapon of

Phat – purity

Question:

How are the hands to be rolled? Is there any picture that can help in seeing this?

Swamiji Says:

Fold your arms in front of your chest – left hand closer to your body.
Keep a space between your hands and your chest for movement of the hands.
When you say “karatala kara” – roll your hands clockwise around each other
When you say prshtabhyam, – roll your hands counter-clockwise around each other
And then astraya – roll your hands clockwise once more
With phat – clap your hands.

Murtis

Question:

Is it proper to repaint a murti and if so is there a principle to be followed?

Swamiji Says:

Yes it is proper to repaint a murti but, do a puja first before you start. After painting make a new prana pratishta.

Question:

I recently got a murti of Goddess Bhagavati from Nepal. Can you please tell a little about this Goddess?

Swamiji Says:

Bhagavati is a generic term for Supreme Goddess, just like Bhagavan means Supreme Divinity. She can be worshipped with any of the Devi mantras or with Hrim Bhagavatyai Namah.

Purification

Question:

When you do the arati, you sprinkle some water over the light holder and camphor holder. Can you please explain the significance behind this?

Swamiji Says:

We purify the fire, just as we do when we enkindle the divine fire.

Question:

What is the significance of additional purification mantra ,”ete gandhapuspe hung”, used in the vishesha arghya (conch shell) offering?

Swamiji Says:

Hum is called astra mantra, because it is the weapon for cutting down the ego. It is the mantra that makes this arghya vishesha (special). An arghya is an offering depicting our devotion, and this one is special because it is blessed with the special-ness of containing the weapon that cuts down the ego.

Puja to Saints and Masters

Question:

I would really like to focus my worship on Ramakrishna, do you have any suggestions?

Swamiji Says:

Perform the Beginner’s Shiva Puja, and then substitute “Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramakrishnaya Namah” for “Om Namah Shivaya”

Question:

Can puja be done for Nityananda Avadhuta in the manner that you have mentioned for Sri Ramakrishna?

Swamiji Says:

Yes, it surely can.

Question:

Can the Ramakrishna Puja be performed on a Shiva Lingam using the Shiva Mantra or Ramakrishna Mantra?

Swamiji Says:

All of the deities are present in the Shiva Lingam so you can worship them all by offering to the lingam. Both the Shiva Mantra and the Ramakrishna Mantra can be used.

Puja Experiences

Question:

What does it mean if the coconut breaks into half by itself, with a loud sound, in the middle of the puja?

Swamiji Says:

She loves your puja!

Prana Pratishtha

Question:

What does it mean to give life to a deity?

Swamiji Says:

The process of giving life to the deity is called Prana Pratishtha. It means breathing your soul into the deity so that the deity becomes a reflection of a living God or Goddess. It is performed through a specific set of mantras and kriyas.

Question:

Can we do Prana Pratishta on a picture, a murti, and a lingam or other object?

Swamiji Says:

Yes, we can perform prana pratishta on a picture, a pot, a yantra, in the fire, on a flower, or wherever we want to establish divinity.

Question:

Can the lingam/or object that has had Prana Pratishta done to it be moved/bathed?

Swamiji Says:

After prana pratishta has been performed, some divine objects should have visarjana performed before moving them. That means withdrawing the prana. If you move a Shiva Lingam every morning to bathe it, then replace it, perform prana pratishtha, and then in the night perform visarjana. That would be a complete paddhoti.

Question:

What is the meaning and reason for having and establishing a Kailash?

Swamiji Says:

Please refer to the video class on prana pratishtha in either the Shiva Puja or Cosmic Puja. In short, the kailash or pot is the container of all the bhava, all the devotion, all the consciousness, we wish to give to the deity. We fill the pot with all the goodness from the samsara, even give up our negativities, and then close it with a coconut, enliven it with prana pratishtha, and worship it as the embodiment of divinity. This practice will train us to see all that we choose as the embodiment of God.

Question:

Why is Prana Pratishta left out of the Beginner Siva Puja?

Swamiji Says:

Just to keep it simple.

Question:

Thinking of the five components of puja (preparation, purification, invitation, offering, union), would Prana Pratishta be considered part of invitation?

Swamiji Says:

Yes.

Question:

Is the beginner Shiva Puja a complete puja because, even without Prana Pratishtha, it does include all five components (preparation, purification, invitation, offering, and union)?

Swamiji Says:

Yes!

Question:

After removing the pot, what is the proper way to “dispose” of the fruit (coconut)?

Swamiji Says:

Share it as prasad and eat!

Question:

In the Kali Puja, does one perform “establishment within” before the prana pratishtha? What about “establishment on the altar” which is also not in the Kali puja text?

Swamiji Says:

Yes, or one could perform the entire Cosmic Puja, and make establishment of Kali as the main deity.

Question:

Can we establish divinity on more than one thing in our home?

Swamiji Says:

Yes, everything is divine.

Question:

If we establish divinity on a flower, what do we do when the flower dies? Is it ok to throw it away or is there a special way to do that?

Swamiji Says:

Use the Visarjana Mudra and mantras to pick up the flower, remove the divinity and put it back into your heart, and then put the flower in a river or at the foot of a tree.

Question:

What is the difference between the consciousness of Shiva and the Atman?

Swamiji Says:

There is no difference between consciousness of Shiva and the Atman.

Question:

When we perform prana pratishtha and establishment within, we are establishing Shiva in the heart and enlivening His presence. Given that Shiva and the Atman are the same, and that Atman is already within us, what then is happening when we perform this ritual?

Swamiji Says:

Through prana pratishta and the establishment within, we remember.

The Atman is the same as Brahman. There is no difference between Shiva and the Absolute. The Atman is said to share every aspect of our lives, to observe everything, and yet remain unaffected. It is very near. When we perform prana pratishta we establish Him within, and then affirm to Shiva (in this case) “you are the life of this life,” and “you are situated in this life,” and “you are all these organs [of action and knowledge)," and "you are all these vibrations, mind, sound, eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and life force." So, we affirm and remember.

Consumption of Prasad

Question:

What do you do with the prasad that is offered in prayers? I normally consume a portion and take the rest with flowers, etc. and release it in the river. Is it the right thing to do?

Swamiji Says:

Yes, but you should share it with any other devotees or family members present first, before sharing it with all living beings.

Question:

What do we do with the prasad and offerings (panch amrit) if we have dietary restrictions and cannot consume?

Swamiji Says:

If you do not want the prasad, you can offer a few drops of water when you recite the mantra. Or you can offer what items are appropriate for your circumstance.

Visarjana

Question:

Should one perform visarjana to altar items (pictures, murtis) that haven't been worshipped, or thought about, in a while?

Swamiji Says:

We make visarjana to a physical presence. If we want to remove it from our minds, then we fill our minds with a new image.

Question:

What is the correct process to move a murti to a new location? Do we need to remove life and reestablish it?

Swamiji Says:

Yes, that is exactly the process. Please reference the Advanced Shiva Puja Book where you will find the Visarjana Mantras. Recite those mantras, and with Kshamasya, pick up a flower from in front of the deity and hold it to your heart. You have just removed the energy from the deity and put it into your heart, from where you can establish it again after you move her to her new location.

Altar Vastu and Altar Direction

Question:

Most texts say to face East when you are doing puja, but they also say that the Deity should face East (which means we land up praying to the back of the deity!!). Can you please clarify which is the correct direction that the deity should face and the correct direction the devotee should face?

Swamiji Says:

We never want to turn our back on the deity.

If the deity is placed on the East wall, facing West, and the worshiper faces East, then the diety faces the worshiper. Similarly, and especially in the worship of Shiva and Shakti, the temple can be organized so that the diety is on the North wall, facing South, and the worshiper faces North. The deity faces the worshiper.

Question:

In which cardinal direction does the altar have to be guided?

Swamiji Says:

Along the North or East wall

Question:

In which cardinal direction does the priest have to be guided?

Swamiji Says:

The priest should face North or East.

Question:

Should my altar be on the North Wall (facing South) or should it be on the South Wall, facing North?

Swamiji Says:

The altar should be on the North wall facing South. The pujari should face north.

Question:

What are the most important items to include on an altar with limited space?

Swamiji Says:

Please organize your worship in the most convenient and conducive manner possible and spend the least amount of time, energy and resources necessary to maintain that worship. It is my experience that if you recite the mantra with love and devotion, the necessary articles and decorations will appear. If you spend more of your time trying to find the articles and organize the altar, then you will have less time to learn the mantras.

 

Yantra

Question:

What is a yantra and what does it do?

Swamiji Says:

A yantra literally means a tool. It is actually a road map for our guided meditation. Each of the lines and angels represents a sign post along the journey to bring our awareness to God. When we follow the path that the rishis took, it becomes much easier for us to make the journey. They told us to study the map before we start the journey. Then, it will be more efficient to travel by the right roads. Just like when we make an itinerary before we take an unfamiliar journey. We study the map, read the directions, and then it is easy to go. In the center of the yantra is the bindu, the point where we are all One with God. On the outside of the yantra are four doors: dharma, artha, kama, and moksha. Just as there are many alternative routes to any destination, so also we can take several different ways to unite with God. That is why there are many kinds of yantras, many different deitie and many different flavors of religious experience.

Question:

How do I worship a Yantra for Lord Ganesh?

Swamiji Says:

A yantra is a tool in focusing our attention, and therefore must be worshiped according to traditions of that yantra. Every yantra has an individual viddhi or specific set of mantras that are employed in its worship. The Yantra Gayatri is included in the Cosmic Puja, and that is common to all yantras.

However, the meditation and description of the yantra, the different deities that sit in the various angles and lines of the yantra, are specific to each and every yantra. That is why we worship yantras according to our specific tradition, and learn a complete body of knowledge: the mula mantra, the various bijas, the nyasas, and the worship of the yantra for a specific deity.

My recommendation in the absence of a Guru qualified to give you such instruction, is to read the Ganesh Atharvashisham from the Advanced Shiva Puja, and the accompanying mantras from the Ganesh Puja. Then offer sindhur, chandan, rice, etc. to the yantra.

Question:

I don't always have time to draw the Chandi Yantra, can I engrave it on a stainless steel plate or glass? Which material would be more auspicious?

Swamiji Says:

Yes. Our yantras are engraved on silver plates.

Question:

I recently happened to purchase a beautiful crystal Sri Yantra. I want to know the method of worship and mantra.

Swamiji Says:

The best reference is the Lalita Trishati in the book "Shree Maa - the Guru and the Goddess." Please read this book.

Question:

Is the Shri Chakra Yantra the same as the Sarva Bhadra Mandal Yantra in the Shiva Puja book?

Swamiji Says:

No, the Sarva Bhadra Mandal is particular to the Shree Chakra Yantra of Chandi also called as Chandi Shree Chakra Yantra. This is different for the Meru Shree Chakra Yantra which has thirty-six triangles.

Question:

In Sri Vidya is the yantra the primary medium for invocation and offering of puja articles?

Swamiji Says:

No. A yantra is a tool or a medium. Sri Vidya invokes many mediums, of which, the yantra is one.

Question:

I bought a Durga Yantra. Can you please let me know how I can use it to enhance my beginner Durga Puja? Are there any viddhis that I should observe?

Swamiji Says:

Read the yantra viddhis from the Cosmic Puja. They are quite advanced from the beginner puja. Substitute the Navarna mantra with Durga Navarna: Om Hrim Shrim Dum Durgayai Namah. The yantra puja will have to be changed because each yantra has a different definition.

Question:

Does a metal engraved yantra need to be placed in a certain cardinal direction while on the altar (lying flat on the altar surface), if so, what direction?

Swamiji Says:

It will face the worshiper. Since the worshiper is facing North or East, the yantra will face South or West.

Question:

Which is the historical origin of the yantras?

Swamiji Says:

They come from Vedas: mantra, yantra, and tantra are all included.

Question:

<strong>What is the name of the yantra of Devi Mandir?

Swamiji Says:

Chandi Shri Chakra.

Question:

Do we see the Chandi Shri Chakra on the Shree Maa site? Or is it like the one in Shiva Puja?

It is the one in the Advanced Shiva and the Cosmic Puja books.

Question:

What is the yantra to draw at one's asan?

Swamiji Says:

The triangle with the bindu at the center.

Disposing of Old Articles of Worship

Question:

How do we respectfully dispose of religious items that have become damaged or worn with constant use - such as Murtis, photos, Flowers, Scriptures, Garments worn by murti, Asan, ornaments?

Swamiji Says:

You should not dispose Scriptures. There is no proper way of respectfully dispose of scriptures. The other items may be respectfully offered as follows: offer murtis to water; offer photos to the fire; offer flowers to water or at the base of a tree; offer garments worn by murti - as a gift or trash; offer Asan as a gift or trash; offer Ornaments as a gift.

 

Worship Restrictions for Women

Question:

Can women do puja's or recite the Chandi Path during the time of menstruation?

Swamiji Says:

Yes. In ancient India the idea of women not making puja during the period of menstruation was because to make the puja meant also to chop the wood for the fire, to carry the water, to labor over a wood stove, and to perform various tasks of hard labor. In the joint family system, there were others to perform the hard work, and during the time of menstruation was a wonderful opportunity to be silent inside and still outside. Therefore it was recommended that women in their period sit in meditation, become one with their feminine nature, become silent and still. Today, with our nuclear family homes and modernized appliances, it is no longer the case that puja requires such strenuous activities. Therefore, all are entitled to perform worship all of the time.

 

Short Puja to Deity

Question:

Is there a short form of the Kali Puja when we are short of time?

Swamiji Says:

You can easily adapt the Beginner's Durga Puja to Kali by substituting Kali's Mantra for Durga's, and changing the Dhyanams. Each deity has five personal ingredients that are their own:

A Gayatri mantra

A Dhyanam

A Bija mantra

A Stotram and

A Pranam

If you know these five, you can make any puja!

 

Puja for Welfare of Humanity

Question:

What do you say in your sankalpa when you are praying for humanity in general?

Swamiji Says:

For the welfare of humanity, say "Manav mangal artham." For the welfare of the earth, say "Prithvi mangal artham". There are as many ways to express it as we can dream.

 

Expanding our Puja

Question:

As we work through the various pujas (Shiva, Durga, Hanuman, ...), is the idea that we will add new deities to the altar (without replacing or removing existing deities) as we take up the practice of the new pujas?

Swamiji Says:

Correct. Pretty soon we will be worshipping all, wherever we go.

 

Order of Worship

Question:

When starting worship, who is to be remembered first, Sri Ganapathi or Sri Guru?

Swamiji Says:

The first mantra of the puja is: Shriman Mahaganapataye Namah. Sri Ganapathi is to be worshiped first.

 

Rearranging Altar

Question:

If you have two murtis, and you wanted only one on the altar, is it proper to remove prana from the other murti and place in a cupboard? Is it respectful or better to leave it on the altar?

Swamiji Says:

It would be better to leave it on the altar, and offer it pushpanjali or a minimum puja every day. You personally would not like to be locked up in a cupboard and forgotten.

 

Duration of Sankalpa

Question:

In the recitation of a sankalpa - where do we mention the duration [for one month, etc.] and what is the sanskrit equivalent?

Swamiji Says:

Towards the end of the sankalpa statement. Here is a sample: “… puja karmaham sahasra chandi patham (1,000 chandi Paths) or navratri vrat (the vow for 9 days), etc. karishye.”

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