Puja in the home connects the family with the Divinities, bringing protection, right living and shared spirituality 

By Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami 

One practice that most world’s religions share is having an ordained priest or minister conduct a religious service in a place of worship which lay members of the faith attend. In the Western (Abrahamic) religions, this takes place on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. In Eastern religions, there is no universally accepted day of the week on which adherents worship. 

In Hinduism, priests are ordained through initiation, called diksha, and usually perform ritual worship, called puja, every day in a temple, sometimes multiple times a day. As explained in our Hindu Lexicon, “Puja, the worship of a murti through water, lights and flowers in temples and shrines, is the Agamic counterpart of the Vedic yajna rite, in which offerings are conveyed through the sacred homa fire. These are the two great streams of adoration and communion in Hinduism, drawn from Hinduism’s two massive compendiums of revealed scripture—the Vedas and the Agamas.”

Puja performed in temples, often complex in nature, is called pa­rartha puja, which means it is done for the benefit of others, for those attending but also for the wider world, for humanity. In Hinduism, two popular days for the faithful to attend these temple pujas are Monday and Friday. However, in urban areas many Hindus attend a temple on Sunday, as it is a day off and therefore more convenient than weekdays.

What is different in Hinduism is that significant worship also takes place in the home, ideally on a daily basis. Commonly conducted by the husband, sometimes by the oldest son, it is called atmartha puja, which means puja done for oneself. Even priests perform daily at­martha puja in their own homes. The Karana Agama explains: “Only a well-qualified priest may perform both atmartha puja, worship for one’s self, and parartha puja, worship for others.” The Agama also says, “Worship of one’s chosen Linga by anyone in their own home for divine protection is called atmartha puja.” In other words, in Hinduism it is traditional for a family man to function as a lay priest in his own home. 

There is an excellent testimony about home puja in the introduction to Himalayan Academy’s publication Living with Siva. “Every Hindu family in our village had a home shrine where the family members worship their Gods. Even the poorest set aside a place for this. Rituals are periodic celebrations which are religious and spiritual in character, and they address the inward feelings rather than outward. Such pujas and rituals give an individual a chance to pause, look inward and concentrate on something more meaningful, more profound, than mere materialism and the daily drudgery of life. Worship and rejoicings in the name of God, fasting and observances of special days enable people to look beyond the day-to-day life to a larger scheme of things. In the best homes I know, the father performs the rites daily, and the family joins and assists. I guess it’s like the old adage, ‘The family that prays together stays together.’ Even in the busy rat race of life in cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai or Los Angeles, there are many Hindus who perform at least a mini puja daily. They claim that even the small ritual of a few minutes a day makes them concentrate, feel elevated spiritually, brings their minds on an even keel, enabling them to perform better in their line of work.”

The room in which this worship takes place is called the home shrine. Ideally it is a separate room unto itself. When that is not possible, a portion of a room that is less busy than other areas of the house can be used. My guru, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, gave this description of the ideal home shrine: “Every Saivite maintains a home shrine. It is the most beautiful room in the house, an extension of the temple, the abode for Deities and devas, and a holy refuge for daily worship and meditation. All Hindus have guardian devas who live on the astral plane and guide, guard and protect their lives. 

“The great Mahadevas in the temple that the devotees frequent send their deva ambassadors into the homes to live with the devotees. A room is set aside for these permanent unseen guests, a room that the whole family can enter and sit in and commune inwardly with these refined beings who are dedicated to protecting the family generation after generation. Some of them are their own ancestors. A token shrine in a bedroom or a closet or a niche in a kitchen is not enough to attract these Divinities. One would not host an honored guest in one’s closet or have him or her sleep in the kitchen and expect the guest to feel welcome, appreciated, loved. All Hindus are taught from childhood that the guest is God, and they treat any guest royally who comes to visit. Hindus also treat God as God and devas as Gods when they come to live permanently in the home. . . . The shrine room is meticulously cared for and not used for purposes other than worship, prayer, scriptural study and meditation. . . . By means of such sacred rites and the divine energies invoked, each family makes their house a sacred sanctuary, a refuge from the concerns and worries of the world. Pujas can be as simple as lighting a lamp and offering a flower at the Lord’s holy feet; or they can be elaborate and detailed, with many chants and offerings. The indispensable part of any puja is devotion.”

A point Gurudeva often stressed is that the home shrine is an extension of the temple. This can be the case when the family attends a temple on a regular basis, at least once a week. This regularity ties the temple and the home shrine together in the inner worlds. There is a specific practice given by Gurudeva to build this connection. First thing when you return from the temple, light an oil lamp in your shrine room. This brings devas who were at the temple right into your personal sanctuary, where they can bless family members and make the religious force field of the home stronger.

A important question to answer is “Are all Hindus qualified to perform puja in their home?” As we can see from the following quote from a revered pontiff of Kanchi Pitham, it depends on the type of puja. “Every family must perform puja to Ishvara. Those who find it convenient to do so may conduct elaborate types of puja after receiving proper initiation into them. Others need perform only a brief puja, not lasting more than ten minutes or so. Office-goers must offer at least this brief worship. The sacred bell must ring in every home” (Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswamiji, 1894-1994). The Shankaracharya thus advised that performing elaborate pujas requires initiation. For certain simple pujas, initiation is nonobligatory. 

Here at Kauai Aadheenam, we have developed a simple home puja to Lord Ganesha that does not necessitate initiation. It can be downloaded at: www.himalayanacademy.com/looklisten/chanting. The webpage gives this description and suggestions regarding learning the puja: “The chants of the simple Ganesha puja given here are in Sanskrit, Hinduism’s ancient scriptural language. Time spent mastering the pronunciation is time well spent. Ideally, training is received personally from a priest, pundit or other person proficient in Sanskrit, so that you can chant the verses properly. Such a teacher will generally begin by teaching the alphabet and will offer training in reading in the Devanagari script, as well as the transliteration, to help English-speaking students. Learning Sanskrit is not mandatory, and for those who do not have a teacher, we have a voice recording of this entire puja for learning the mantras properly.”

In conclusion, in Hinduism regularly attending the temple once a week is an important practice but not the full practice. The other part is equally as important, which is having a shrine room in the home in which the husband performs a daily atmartha puja. Over time, this daily puja steadily increases the religious vibration within the home, which benefits all members of the family and helps them live more peaceful, more wholesome and successful lives.