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Pooja (Puja) I - the Altar
The traditional or orthodox Hindu rite of worship is called Pooja and ideally it should be conducted at least twice a day i.e. once in the morning and once in evening (as per the instructions given by Lord Shiva). The first Pooja was conducted by Shakti when she worshiped Shiva and in so doing the Goddess paved the way for all Hindus to worship and venerate the Gods.
The morning Pooja is the most important, followed by the evening Pooja. However, if work commitments or health limitations prevent a person from attending two Poojas per day then it is best to attend or be part of at least one Pooja on a daily basis.
The word Pooja itself comprises of two syllables, Poo means Joy and Ja means attain and the therefore Poojas are a means for all Hindus to attain joy and liberation.
Poojas are divided into two types - Aanmatha Pooja and Parartha Pooja. The former is conducted for the benefit of the self i.e. to attain spiritual or material rewards and the latter is conducted for the benefit of the universe.
Among the millions of life-forms that inhabit the planet, the human race is the only life-form with the ability to think and reason and therefore it is only fitting that we pray for the well-being of all living entities, heavenly, celestial and mortal (Parartha Pooja).
The Hindu shastras require that we attend Poojas at temples but if that is not possible then we can perform or conduct Poojas in our homes (God is omnipresent and thus God can be worshipped anywhere at any-time) but there are certain stipulations that we must observe with regards to Poojas.
It also does not mean that we should not go to temples to worship. To the contrary, we should do so whenever it is possible and permissible.
The altar where the Pooja is conducted should be kept impeccably clean and therefore it should be located in the part of the house that can be cordoned off with the exception of Pooja times. The size of the altar is irrelevant, as long as it is kept clean and remains untouched by dust or dirt.
The altar may be made of wood or precious metals like gold or silver, but it should not be made of cement or metals like iron or aluminum. The base of the altar should be at least 2 ft. from the ground or above the ground.
The altar should be placed in the middle of the room, facing the east and ideally there should be a window that can be opened during Pooja times to allow sunlight to come streaming through and to flood the altar with its radiance.
This is one of the reasons why Hindus generally prefer to buy homes that face the east. The house should face the rising sun and the setting sun should be at its back. Under no circumstances should the altar be placed in any corner of the room or the home.
The altar must take into account all three aspects of existence i.e. the powers of creation (Brahma), the powers of procreation (Vishnu) and the powers of destruction (Shiva) or their female equivalents.
At the start it is best to have just pictures of deities but once a person has been initiated by a guru or a teacher it is possible to have statutes at the altar.
Statues must be less than 12 cm in height and must not be made from black granite. Statutes made from black granite are suitable only for temples. Statues in home altars should ideally be made from gold, silver, copper or brass.
Prior to installing the statute(s) at the altar, one must learn the proper means of bathing the statutes and the proper means of caring for them including making the appropriate fruit and flower offerings.
The photo of the Ista Deva or Devata (preferred deity) must be placed at the center of the altar and photos of other deities may be placed to the right and left of the Ishta Deva or Devata. One may have a photo of a Kaval Deivam (guardian deity) but that must be kept some distance away from the main altar.
Central to the altar is the oil lamp which is made from either gold, silver, copper or brass and when it is lit it represents the flame of righteousness or Agni. All Hindu worship is conducted in the presence of Agni.
© 2016 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward