What is a Pooja?

Pooja is a ritualistic worship. This is a Sanskrit word which means “to honour or worship”. It is the most popular form of ritualistic worship Hindus that have followed over the centuries. A Pooja involves an elaborate series of ritualistic `offering’ of goods, services and gestures of hospitality to honour one’s favourite deity in the form of an idol. The deity is treated as an honoured `guest’. The steps to perform a full and proper Pooja entail: invocation and praise, offering of water for washing and sipping, bathing the idol, offering a fresh garment, offering flowers and incense; waving a burning clay lamp in front of the deity, offering food, and at the end bidding farewell to the deity. After the conclusion the Pooja, food offered to the deity, called Prasad, is distributed among members of the family or the congregation because it is supposed to be blessed by the deity.

Many Canadian Hindus who practise their religion by following the Bhakti path set up a small shrine in a separate room or unused closet by adorning it with religious motifs, pictures or idols of their favourite deity or deities. Most of them do not know the elaborate procedure to perform a proper Pooja ordained by the scriptures, which is also very time consuming. Therefore, before leaving for work every morning, they would light a lamp and or an incense stick in front of the deity and stand with their hands folded and eyes shut, saying a short prayer. The extended Pooja is performed only on special occasions- e.g. birthday, house warming, children’s graduation, some ancestor’s death anniversary, promotion at work or some other happy occasion- by inviting to their homes a priest from the local temple or any lay-priest. This could be a private family Pooja or a public event attended by all friends and relatives. The event is usually followed by a sumptuous feast. For the sake of convenience, some Hindus organize the special Pooja at the local temple that can provide facilities to accommodate a large number of guests. It is worth mentioning here that, usually, Pooja and most Hindu ceremonies and rites are performed while sitting on the floor which symbolizes the display of humility. There are also practical aspects of this practice; usually, the performance is lengthy and therefore it would be very tiring to stand throughout the ceremony; people from India feel relaxed while sitting on the floor. However, most temples in Canada provide chairs, cushions and pillows for seniors or people with some medical problem.

Book: Hindus of Canada

Author: Ajit Adhopia