There are numerous forms of worship among Hindus, of which Puja is one of the more popular. The most widely accepted and followed system of Puja is the Shodasa – Upachara Puja, or 16 – Service worship.
The main purpose of this type of Puja is two-fold. Primarily it is to uplift the five senses of the worshiper and by doing so elevate him to a higher level of consciousness that will promote good thoughts and actions. Secondarily it draws upon the Indian traditions of honoring a guest, wherein each upachara is a service to the deity who takes presence in the sculpture for the duration of the Puja.
Dhyaana – Meditating on the deity that is being invoked.
Aavaahana – Inviting the deity into the altar.
Aasana – Giving the deity a seat.
Paadya – Washing the deity’s feet with clean water.
Arghya – Offering the deity water to rinse hands and mouth.
Aachamana – Offering the deity water to drink.
Snaana – Bathing the deity with various auspicious items.
Vasthra – Dressing the deity in clean clothes.
Yagnopaveetha – Offering the deity a clean sacred thread.
Gandha – Spreading fresh sandalwood paste on the deity.
Pushpa – Offering fresh flowers while chanting the deity’s names.
Dhoopa – Spreading incense smoke throughout the altar.
Deepa – Waving a lamp to illuminate the freshly decorated deity.
Naivedya – Offering the deity food.
Taambula – Offering the deity a refreshing mix of betel nut and leaves.
Pradakshina& Namaskara – Circumambulating the altar and bidding farewell to the deity.
Among these sixteen services, five hold more importance than the rest. Together these five services are referred to as the pancha – upacharas, and include gandha, pushpa, dhoopa, deepa, and naivedya. Collectively, these five services engage the five senses.
Gandha – Touch
Sandalwood paste cools the skin and is a natural insect repellant.
Pushpa – Hearing
The recitation of the deity’s names that accompanies each flower engages the ears.
Dhoopa – Smell
Incense envelops the entire temple with a refreshing fragrance for the nose.
Deepa – Sight
The lamp illuminates the deity and brings out the beauty of the icon to the eyes.
Naivedya – Taste
Food that has been offered to the deity is eaten and entices the taste buds.
Today, November 13th 2012, marks the beginning of the 5 days of Diwali. The first day of the Diwali is known as Dhanteras or Dhantrayodashi, which falls on the 13th day of the month Ashvin according to the Hindu calendar. The name comes from the root word Dhan or Wealth. Dhanteras is known as an opportune day for Hindus as they celebrate by buying precious metals such as gold or silver for good luck in the coming year. It is not surprising then that today is the day Hindus worship the revered Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth. For many Hindu businesses today marks the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Many worship this day through Lakshmi Puja, which is a Hindu tradition of placing lighted clay pots outside their homes in hopes that she may pay their home a visit and bless them with prosperity in the coming year. These lamps are left burning on doorsteps throughout the night in order to light her path. It is believed that Lakshmi only visits homes that are clean and to those who are hard-working and deserving of acquiring and preserving wealth. She does not visit the lazy or those that keep their homes uncleanly.
Worship with Hindus across the globe in worshipping Lakshmi by placing a small lamp upon your doorstep with offerings of saffron paste, flowers, sweets, fruits, and/or rice. Today is a day for peaceful worship and offering upon the beautiful Goddess Lakshmi.
It is also believed that today, an incarnation of Vishnu known as Dhanvantari, was born. Vishnu as Dhanvantari is known as the physician of the Gods. So in addition to Lakshmi, pay special devotion to Vishnu as Dhanvantari by paying homage to his birth.
According to Hindu teachings, Kali is Goddess of time or change, but is most notably known by non-Hindus for her darkness and violence. Much like Shiva in the form of Bhairava, her earliest incarnation was that of an annihilator of evil within the world. She is often depicted in grotesque fashion as her terrifying eyes and shrieking expression horrify. Kali is referred to as ‘the black one’ as she is thought to have been the first creation before light itself and her very presence is said to convey death and destruction.
Within her most famous Hindu legend she comes to the aid of Hindu Goddess Durga and her assistants as they attempt to slay the demon Raktabija. They attempt to wound him with various weapons but come to find that with every drop of blood they inflict he only multiplies in form. His duplicates overwhelm them and they call upon Kali for aid. Instead of Kali being summoned, however, Durga herself manifests into Kali’s form.
‘Out of the surface of her (Durga’s) forehead, fierce with frown, issued suddenly Kali of terrible countenance, armed with a sword and noose. Bearing the strange khatvanga (skull-topped staff), decorated with a garland of skulls, clad in a tiger’s skin, very appalling owing to her emaciated flesh, with gaping mouth, fearful with her tongue lolling out, having deep reddish eyes, filling the regions of the sky with her roars, falling upon impetuously and slaughtering the great asuras in that army, she devoured those hordes of the foes of the devas’
Kali slays the Raktabija by sucking every last ounce of blood from his body and devouring his duplicates. She rejoices in victory and dances upon the fallen in triumph. Her ferocious celebration is said to have consumed her fully, unable to stop herself from stomping on the slain. In order to snap his consort Kali out of her violent elation, God Shiva laid down amongst the dead beneath her feet. The instant her foot touched her beloved Shiva she was able to calm herself. This is why Kali is often depicted standing atop Shiva.
Although Kali is often seen as a terrifying and vicious slayer of demons, in union with Shiva she is said to help create and destroy worlds.
“May Goddess Saraswati, who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops, who is adorned in radiant white attire, on whose beautiful arm rests the veena, and whose throne is a white lotus, who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me. May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance.”
Within Hinduism, Saraswati is the Goddess of knowledge, art, music, and science. Companion to Brahma, it is said that Saraswati was key to his creation of the Universe. As his source of vital spirit and energy, she along with Goddess Kali and Lakshmi played pivotal roles in helping the gods shape and maintain the universe. Saraswati also plays an important role in Buddhism as sacred devotee of Gautama Buddha making sure his teachings live on in practice. She is daughter to Durga and sister to Ganesh.
Saraswati is thought to contain the divine flow of all things serving as a beautiful body of knowledge and catalyst of learning throughout the world. Her sultry appearance is striking and the epitome of feminine and divine beauty. Her beauty is strategic in order to make knowledge and learning alluring to onlookers. She is often depicted in flowing white to symbolize her purity and unmatched mind while seated upon a lotus flower which represents the light in knowledge. By worshiping Saraswati one is able to realize the possibility of infinite knowledge and an endless quest of enrichment. She embodies not only knowledge itself, but the highest of spiritual knowledge, much like Buddhist teaching of the Gautama Buddha reaching enlightenment. Her potential is fully realized and as one follows her example they too can become enlightened.
Many devotees believe strongly in offering honey to goddess Saraswati during worship as a symbol of the purest of knowledge.
Click to learn more about Hindu goddess Saraswati.
Durga is a vicious form of Hindu Goddess Devi, known for her indestructible nature. She is commonly depicted with 18 arms all carrying weapons as she rides atop a fierce tiger. She carries a weapon given to her by each of the Gods including Hindu God Indra’s (God of Destruction) lightning bolt and Hindu God Vishnu’s (The Preserver) Discus. These weapons are endeared to her as a defender of the world. She is frequently seen slaying demons especially the buffalo demon known as Mahishasura. It is said that she was created in order to fight off the incredible might of the asura Mahishasura, who could not be defeated by any male or god alike. Mahishasura had been reigning incredible terror upon the earth and as the gods became helpless, Hindu God Shiva turned to his wife Parvati for help. Parvati responded by traveling to an ashram to take on the role as female goddess warrior. The Gods also turned to Brahman, the supreme creator of all gods, for help and together they banned together emitting beams of light from their bodies. The beam of light expanded to the Ashram where Hindu Godess Parvati had ventured and out of the light Durga was born, a fierce and eager female warrior goddess. She was formed of the female aspects of Brahman just as Shiva had once been formed of Brahmans male counterparts. The gods were blessed and endeared by her. As she fought with the revered Mahishasura she exclaimed:
“Roar with delight while you still can, O illiterate demon, because when I will kill you, the gods themselves will roar with delight”.
Eventually paralyzed by the blinding light constantly emanating from Durga’s body, the buffalo demon was slain with one swift slice of her sword as she erupted in laughter.
This account of her ferocious stand off and conquering of the buffalo demon is celebrated annually in the national festival Durga Puja, which falls on October 19-24th of 2012. As an endeared Goddess, Durga’s divine feminine energies are thought to be a manifestation of all the gods.
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