A Vaishnava shrine: Mother and daughter sing devotional hymns as father offers fruits, flowers and light to Radha and Krishna, before whom are enshrined Lord Hanuman and five Shaligrama stones. Traditional sweets have been prepared; incense and small ritual fire have been lit.
A Vaishnava shrine: Mother and daughter sing devotional hymns as father offers fruits, flowers and light to Radha and Krishna, before whom are enshrined Lord Hanuman and five Shaligrama stones. Traditional sweets have been prepared; incense and small ritual fire have been lit.
Holy Accoutrements: Puja implements for the shrine are kept on large metal trays. On these are arranged ghee lamps, bells, cups, spoons, and pots to hold the various sacraments. Available from Indian shops, these are dedicated articles, never used for purposes other than puja. Their care, cleaning, and polishing is considered a sacred duty.

Usual items include: 
1) water cups and a small spoon for offering water;
2) a brass vessel of unbroken, uncooked rice (usually mixed with turmeric powder), also for the offering; 3) tray or basket of freshly picked flowers (without stems) or loose flower petals;
4) a standing oil lamp, dipastambha, that remains lit throughout the puja; ideally kept lit all day;
5) a dipa (or lamp with cotton string wick) for waving light before the Deity;
6) a small metal bell, ghanta;
7) an incense burner and a few sticks of incense, agarbhatti;
8) sacraments of one’s tradition, such as holy ash, vibhuti; sandalwood paste, chandana; and red powder, kumkuma (these are kept in polished brass or silver containers);
9) naivedya, an offering for the Deity of fresh fruit and-or a covered dish of freshly cooked food, such as rice (never tasted during preparation);
10) a camphor (karpura) burner for passing flame before the God at the height of puja;
11) brass or silver pots for bathing the murti;
12) colorful clothing for dressing the murti;
13) flower garlands;
14) additional oil lamps to illumine and decorate the room;
15) a CD or tape player.

Purity: Before entering the shrine room, all attending the ceremony bathe and dress in fresh, clean clothes. It is a common practice to not partake of food at least an hour or more before puja. The best time for puja is before dawn. Each worshiper brings an offering of flowers or fruit (prepared before the bath). Traditionally, women during their monthly period refrain from attending puja, entering the home shrine or temple or approaching swamis or other holy men. Also during this time women do not help in puja preparation, such as picking flowers or making prasada for the Deity. Use of the home shrine is also restricted during periods of retreat that follow the birth or death of a family member.

Worshipful Icons: As seen in the main illustrations, the images enshrined on home altars vary according to lineage and denomination. All icons, however, are either anthropomorphic, meaning human in appearance; theriomorphic, having animal characteristics (for example, Lord Hanuman, the monkey God); or aniconic, meaning without representational likeness, such as the element fire, or the smooth Shaligrama stone, worshiped as Lord Vishnu. Other objects of enshrinement include divine emblems or artifacts, including weapons, such as Durga’s sword; animal mounts, like Siva’s bull; a full pot of water, indicating the presence of the Devi; the sun disk, representing Surya; the holy footprints or sandals of a God or saint; the standing oil lamp; the fire pit, mystic diagrams called yantra; water from holy rivers; and sacred plants, such as the tulsi tree. All these are honored as embodiments of the God or Goddess.

The Vedas enjoin: “The Gods, led by the spirit, honor faith in their worship. Faith is composed of the heart’s intention. Light comes through faith. Through faith men come to prayer, faith in the morning, faith at noon and at the setting of the sun. O Faith, give us faith!”
A Smarta shrine: A brahmin chants the Vedas as his father meditates after morning puja. Pictures honor major Deities of the Hindu pantheon. Ritual ablution has just been performed to five small Shaligrama stones (see inset) now encased in an ornate chest; Sivalinga (center), Devi (clockwise from top), Vishnu, Sun and Ganesha.
A Smarta shrine: A brahmin chants the Vedas as his father meditates after morning puja. Pictures honor major Deities of the Hindu pantheon. Ritual ablution has just been performed to five small Shaligrama stones (see inset) now encased in an ornate chest; Sivalinga (center), Devi (clockwise from top), Vishnu, Sun and Ganesha.


+Prof: Koti Madhav Balu Chowdary 

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