Puja Practice and Temple Etiquette: A Brief Information Page for Newcomers to Puja
Welcome to SHARANYA's puja etiquette page! Below is a general outline of the structure of our puja (worship service) and basic temple etiquette that we ask participants to try to observe during the ceremony. This page has been created in order to offer guidelines for newcomers who wish to be informed about the basic structure and symbolism of what we do. This is not an exhaustive representation of our puja, so please, if you have questions, either before or after attending one of our ceremonies, email us.
Also, please know that it is not necessary to have memorized all of this information prior to attending a ceremony with us. Each part of the puja is explained as it unfolds, and one might simply follow the example of members of the community and enjoy the experience as it happens. SHARANYA’s pujas are welcoming, friendly, devotional, and inclusive. All are welcome!
Prior to entering the sanctuary, each person is smudged with smoke. This purifies and helps to remove extraneous thoughts and energies that are accumulated in daily activity. It is a kind of spiritual bath that prepares one to enter the temple, in both the literal sense, and in the symbolic sense of opening the heart.
As you are entering the sacred space of our mandir (temple), touch the ground with your right hand, and then touch your forehead. This is a symbolic gesture of humility. Taking the dust from the feet of Maa, our Divine Mother, to our brow, we contemplate and bring mindfulness to the surrender of our egos and the openness of our hearts to Her.
Come into the space and be seated on a cushion (or chair if you prefer), and take time to look at the altars, calm your mind and meditate with a focus on your breath whilst the rest of the group enters. (Monthly attendance at pujas is approximately 30 people, so you will have about 10 minutes from when the smudging process begins until the formal puja starts.)
SHARANYA's Rashani will facilitate the ceremony throughout aided by initiates and those working in the Daughters of Kali program.
As you move in the space, always try to walk around the circle in a clockwise direction and pass objects similarly around the circle. This practice stems from earth-based traditions where when one is invoking (calling in a power, deity or intention). This helps draw on the power of natural cycles and brings us into greater alignment with the mirroring of our individual selves and the turning of the universe. (To walk clockwise is called deosil, meaning, in the manner of the sun, or sun-wise.)
The circle is cast hand to hand, again, in a clockwise direction. The person on your right will offer their left hand to you, facing up. Connect hands with this person, then offer your left hand, face up to the person on your left. Each person states, "I cast this circle hand to hand." To cast a circle is to encircle the ceremony with protection and containment, to keep the energy that is raised focused, safely held in community, and strong.
Incense (in powdered form) is passed around, which will be offered whilst the group chants a mantra, the Shappodhara Mantra from the Chandi Path (also known as the Durga Sapthashati, a Puranic text), to remove curses from Devi. Take a small pinch of incense from the jar with your right hand with thumb and ring finger. Cast it onto the charcoal at the word svaha! The right hand is used when making offerings in puja. The ring finger is associated with the heart. Svaha means, "I offer myself." It is an activating Sanskrit word used when offering to the sacred fire and for other offerings in order to bring one’s intention to the attention of the deity, as well as to facilitate manifestation of that intention.
Camphor is passed around and each participant rubs it gently over each eyelid, first left then right. This is to open the ajna chakra, helping to induce clairvoyance and insight, as well as awaken consciousness in the devotee. Karpura, or camphor, is also a purifying agent.
When tarot cards are passed, open to the question, "Maa, what is it I need to know now?" Then take one card and observe from it your personal message, the answer to your divination. When paper and pen is next passed around, take one each, writing your prayer and/or intention on it. Return the pen and the tarot card, but keep the prayer. After taking personal time with Maa at the altar, break off a red flower at the stem and take it home with you. The prayer should be buried or burnt and the flower returned to the earth within three days after the puja.
The central point of power during puja is aarati, where the divine energies of Maa are honored and celebrated with bells and fire, offerings and incense. All present will be chanting Jai Maa! (Victory, or Praises, to the Holy Mother). Maa can be felt through her sacred image on the altar, and you are invited to take darshan with her. Darshan comes from the Sanskrit verb meaning "to see" and one can think of it as both seeing and being seen by the Divine. It also refers to sitting in the presence of the Divine and connecting by staring into the eyes of Kali Maa in the central image, the one that has been enlivened through prana shakti or life force energy. This practice will encourage peacefulness, insight, blessings and perhaps visions to come to you.
After aarati is complete, the chanting of Jai Maa! will subside. All participants will drop to the floor and bow to Maa in respectful reverence. Listen to chanting from a recent puja...
Basic Temple Etiquette
Do not turn your back to the altar after you have paid homage to Maa during aarati or any other time you approach Her; please back away for a few paces and then turn. Also, try not to block the altar from other people and allow others to join you as you prostrate before Her. As you do so, you may wish to put your hands behind your back and your head to the floor, or make a triangle with your fingers, opening your hands above your head and placing your forehead on the floor inside your fingers.
Please do not face the bottoms of your feet toward the altar as this is disrespectful. Do cover your feet with a shawl if you are able to do so in order to sit more comfortably.
Be mindful when things are being passed around the room or during individual prayer time not to take too long, allowing the ceremony to flow.
You are invited to wear red. Please abstain from wearing black during puja.
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or to find out more about
personal ritual and services, please email: