Indian Pooja Rituals & Their Significance

During pooja rituals, Hindus worship an image of the god.
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Pooja is an act of invocation, prayer, offering or song showing reverence to a deity, or to an aspect of the divine. For the majority of Hindus, devotion to a deity is the predominant religious path. Hindus perform pooja to connect with the deity, and they nurture this intimate and personal connection through daily rituals and sacraments.

1 God As An Idol

During a pooja, devotees use a statue or image of the god to connect with the divine, as idols in Hinduism contain the spirit of the gods that they depict. The deity may come in the form of a person or symbol, and it may take the shape of a framed image or a stone figure. Because each deity has a distinct personality, the nature of the pooja can vary depending on the deity being worshipped. Hindus perform pooja either in temples, where the gods are sanctified and cared for by a priest, or in the home of the devotee in front of a small altar.

2 Offerings

The standard custom during a Hindu pooja ritual is for the devotee to offer the deity gifts that he believes will please that particular god. For example, devotees bring milk as an offering for Lord Shiva, whereas sweets are generally given to Ganesha. Highly established deities in popular urban temples often receive pure vegetarian food, jewelry and even plots of land. Flowers, fruits, sweets and money are standard offerings in almost all Hindu temples across India.

3 The Divine Exchange

The fundamental act of the pooja, both in domestic and public rituals, is an exchange between humans and gods. The devotees, by presenting offerings to the gods, put their faith into a material object, as the offerings are physical manifestations of human belief and devotion. In exchange, the devotee receives from the deity its blessing, wishes granted or assistance in overcoming an obstacle. Once the deity grants the desired boon, the devotee returns with more offerings or fulfills certain vows made during the exchange. Some of these vows may include volunteering to clean the temple or promising to abstain from certain indulgences.

4 The Divine Relationship

As a result of the human-God exchange, the devotee forms an unending relationship of reciprocity with the deity. Because the devotee is not as ritually pure or beneficent as the deity, a sense of self-worth emerges from being virtuous enough to even enter into a relationship with God. This position gives the devotee an overall sense of stability and purpose in a world that is largely chaotic and characterized by change.

  • 1 Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture and Practice; Robin Rinehart
  • 2 Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion; Stephen P Huyler

Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.