Worship, or "puja," is different for Hindus than for followers of other world religions. Rather than engaging in communal worship, Hindus worship privately in their homes or in temples. Central to their worship is the image or statue of the deity being worshiped. In addition, the Ganges River is an important site of pilgrimage for many Hindus and is worshiped as a god.
Worship can take two forms: the first are practices shaped by ancient rituals, including prayers that are offered during certain times of the day such as at sunrise or in the evenings. Second, Hindus participate in daily puja at shrines set up at homes or in temples. In most Hindu homes, a small shrine honoring specific deities (such as Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, the protector of the universe) is set up for worship. At local temples, Hindus may chant mantras and offer gifts, such as flowers, money or meals. The temple's central shrine is the heart of worship for Hindus, while its tower is a symbol of the departure of the soul to heaven. Small side-street and roadside shrines also exist throughout India, as Hindus may offer a prayer or small gift when they pass the statue or picture during their travels.
In the household, a shrine -- essentially a simple altar -- can comprise a number of things. Frequently, it may include small statues of the deity being worshiped. In addition to Krishna, other common statues include Lakshimi, the goddess of prosperity, and Ganesha, the god of good fortune. In addition to statues, pictures of the deity are common objects of worship. If the household includes a guru -- a venerated holy teacher -- the shrine might also include the guru's photograph, which reminds family members of his teachings.
The Sacred Ganges
Frequently referred to as Ganga Ma, the Ganges river is one of the religion's most sacred sites. The Kumbh Mela is the world's largest religious festival. In 2013, festival organizers predicted about 30 million visitors. It takes place every three years near a major river, and every 12 years where the Ganges and Jumna meet.
Although the sacred thread is not an object that is worshiped, it is an important garment that some Hindus wear during times of daily puja. It is a thread worn by twice-born Hindus that is placed on the left shoulder and goes across the body to the right hip. Traditionally, for the high Brahmin class, this thread is cotton, while merchants' sacred thread was wool.
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