Ganesh, or Ganapati, is the beloved elephant-headed deity in the Hindu faith. He is known as the bestower of boons and the remover of obstacles, and it is customary to perform Ganesh puja, or worship, at the start of all religious festivals. The Ganesh Chaturthi is an annual 10-day festival to honor the god, during which elaborate pujas are performed, ending with the submersion of Ganesh idols in a river or other body of water. A simpler Ganesha puja opens the daily prayer rituals in devout Hindu households, where a home altar is constantly tended.
Home Puja Preparations
A puja may be extremely detailed, involving a yatra or pilgrimage to a Ganesh shrine and the Sanskrit invocation of the 108 names or attributes of the god. But daily home puja is a simple tradition of worship, characterized by bhakti -- devotion or love for Ganesh -- and rituals of cleansing and offering. Prepare for a home puja by setting a tray with bowls of clean water, fresh fruits and sweets, live flowers, incense and a candle in the shrine room or altar space at the foot of the Ganesh statue. Prepare yourself by bathing and putting on clean clothes. Leave your shoes outside the puja room. Approach the statue of Ganesh and bow, kneel and touch your head to the floor to honor the deity.
Rituals and Gifts
Sit on a meditation cushion and take a moment to still your mind and contemplate the ritual to come. The officiant, perhaps the head of household, then performs abhisekha, a ritual washing of the statue. This may be as simple as dipping a flower in a bowl of clean water and flicking it over the statue, or as involved as washing and drying the Ganesh with a soft cloth. The statue is then adorned with specially made robes or a necklace of live flowers and a dot of red kumkum is placed in the center of his forehead. After the abhisekha, bowls of cut fruit, sweets and cooked food are offered to the god. A bowl or stick of burning incense is waved in a clockwise circle in front of the Ganesh or carried in circumambulation around him three times.
Mantra and Meditation
Those in attendance -- immediate or extended family, or family and friends -- chant the attributes of the god in call-and-response fashion in Sanskrit or invoke the Ganesh mantra, Om Ganapati Namah, 108 times. During the chant, arati may be performed. Arati is the waving of a candle or lamp in a clockwise circle in front of the statue. A statue of a Hindu deity is considered to embody the spirit of the god and therefore is "alive" and responsive to worship. Worshipers may approach the altar and the "murti," the live Ganesh, to pranam or bow and ask for blessings during the chant. After the chant, everyone sits quietly in meditation.
Bhakti and Blessings
A Ganesh puja may close with a chant, sung in Sanskrit in honor of Ganesh. Once the ritual is concluded, some of the sweets and food from the altar are distributed as "prasad," a gift or blessing from the god. Prasad is a very auspicious blessing, an expression of devotion and protection from Ganesh to those who took part in the puja. There are many interpretations of the way to perform a Ganesh puja. It may be adapted to a family's schedule, the ages of the participants or the physical capabilities of the worshipers. The most important part of the ritual is to approach the god with reverence and bhakti, or devotion, and to offer the best gifts and most heartfelt invocations in his honor.
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