The puja is considered the way to reach god, an appeal to purify the soul of the worshipper. It is also a preordained process, which is done in stages according to prescribed texts.
Stage one deals with purification, to drive out evil influences from the site or home where the puja is being done. The priests ring a bell chanting “Hari Om” and ‘aagamanaartham”. Everyone participating have to join in. After it gets over, the lead priest intones the Digbandhana, “Om bhur bhuvah svah”, to form a protective shell, which prevents access to rakshasas and evil tendencies. At the end of the puja, we break the shell by reversing the mantra ‘bhur bhuvah svah’ with ‘Om’ as the last.
Stage two is meant for meditation on the divine through chanting prayers followed by the purusha suukta. These prayers are called the dhyaanam or mantras of invocation.
In the third stage, offerings are made in 16 phases (Shoda Shopachaara) to the deity invoked, whose idol or photo is installed at the puja. The first three phases of the ritual are called dhyaana, “tasya nishtha dhyaanah”. Chant first “dhyaayaami” asking the deity to remain in the image for the duration of the puja so that its spiritual force may flow and envelop all present. Chant “aavaahayaami” and “aasanam samarpayaami”.
After this comes the three phases of the “water ceremony”, namely offering the paadyam, arghyam and snaanam. Water is offered to wash the feet, hands and for oblation, if the idols are kept in temples or houses. To the decorated image or photo, water is sprinkled with the middle finger of the right hand first at the feet for paadyam in the beginning, then on the hands and in the end on the chest, completing the phases by sprinkling from head to the feet. The accompanying mantra would be:
Then gandha or sandal paste, raw rice mixed with kumkum called axata and flowers are offered with the chant.
Then, lamps are moved in a circular motion from the right in front of the deity, followed by offering naivedya—food, payas and fruit and then incense. The accompanying mantra would be:
Next a little water is poured on the right hand as the naivedyam and is offered to the idol along with chanting the names of praana and brahma. After this, taambula or betel leaf is offered to the god.
Chanting “naivedyam nivedayaami”, a few drops of water is poured into the right palm and offered as the naivedya, chanting:
“Om Praanaaya svaaha
Then light is offered in circles in the phase called niiraajana or mangala aaratii. At this time, all present must stand up. The mantra uttered will be:
“Mangala niiraajana samarpayaami.”
During the third offering of the deepam, the chant would be:
“Na tatra suuryo bhaati na chandra taarakam
Nemaa vidyuto bhaanti kutoyamagnih
Tameva bhaantamanu bhaati sarvam
Tasya bhaasaa sarvamidam vibhaati.”
Then the lead priest moves the deepam thrice at the feet of the deity, then before the head, ending with thrice from its feet to the head, while chanting the above mantra.
The lamp or burning camphor is taken to all the participants to cast the blessing of the divine spirit.
The next step consists of performing pradakshinaa and offering namaskaar, with the prayer,
Then, the priests get ready to send the divine presence back to its abode, break the protective shell by chanting “bhuurbhuvasvar Om”.
The mantras said then are:
It’s time for the final ritual, and shaanti mantras are chanted and the puja is dedicated to God or eternal purusha chanting:
Om bhadram karnebhih...
Svasti na indro...
Om sarve bhavantu sukhinah...
Om asato maa sadgamaya...
Om tatsatbrahmaarpa namastu.”
If it’s a Shivling puja, you are doing, never put tulsi leaves on the Shivling. No pasteurised or packet milk and always use ice cold milk. No coconut water on the Shivling, but you may offer coconuts. Offer only white flowers—never kewda and champa as they are said to be cursed by Lord Shiva. Never put a kumkum tilak on the Shivling, although it’s fine for idols of Goddess Parvati and Lord Ganesha. Consuming whatever is offered to the Shivling is believed to bring bad luck, loss of money and cause illness. Always do jaldhara on any Shivling kept at home since it attracts negative energies.