Worship and Practices

Hindu worship is called puja and encompasses the ceremonial practices that take place in the home or in the temple. The majority of the worship is carried out in the home because Hinduism is part of life, so there are no special days for worship — any time is a time for worship. Puja is the daily expression of devotion. Virtually every home has a shrine with images of the gods and goddesses.

The ceremonial practices vary considerably according to sect, community, location, time of day, and requirements of the worshiper. An image of the worshiper's chosen deity is displayed in the home and accorded the honor that would be given to a royal guest. The worship can be modest or elaborate depending on the circumstances. A daily puja might involve offerings of flowers, fruit, rice, incense, sandalwood paste, and milk water. If a puja is performed at a mealtime, food will be placed at the shrine, blessing it before it is consumed. Also included might be a circumambulation of the shrine in the home. The temple would probably have a path circling the shrine. In either case, the worshipers chant their prayers as they walk.

Hindu temples range from buildings that can accommodate hundreds of worshipers to simple village shrines. However, the layout, both inside and out, is nearly universal. Most temples will have a ceremonial chariot called a rath, which is like a miniature temple on wheels. A small version of the main deity is placed on it. It is used in processions at festivals. The temple will have a shrine room for one or more deities in which only a Brahman priest may perform the puja.

The variations among temples will of course be considerable — ranging from the elaborate to the simple — but the mode and philosophy of worship will follow the same principles: Devotees will endeavor to create a constant exchange of love and commitment between themselves and the deities.

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