Hinduism Pūjā
by
Lynn Foulston
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0230

Introduction

The term pūjā is most commonly translated as worship but also means offering and is replete with meaning and inference. Although strictly speaking, pūjā, in a Hindu context, denotes honor and ritual offerings to deities, its ubiquitous presence means that it appears in numerous festivals and as part of other rituals. In most cases it involves making offerings, literal or figuratively, to a divinity or an aspect of the divine. While most often found in discussions of Hindu ritual, it is distinct from yajña (vedic sacrifice) and from bali (animal sacrifice), though it may well accompany the latter. It is one of the aspects that creates a connection between seemingly disparate aspects of what is usually referred to as Hinduism. It is perhaps the most fundamental and central aspect of Hindu ritual practice. In some instances, it is very simple, whereas in other situations it can be very complex. The range of occasions where pūjā predominates is wide ranging and numerous. From a shrine set up in a kitchen with a ritual undertaken by the householder during Domestic Pūjā to a complex ritual mediated by priests during Temple Pūjā, what connects them is that at the heart of the ritual practice, there will be found pūjā. In reality, pūjā is a rather wide term that encompasses many variations and is also subject to its cultural and regional context. Therefore, this article has sought to capture, in its many sections, the diversity of situations where pūjā rituals play a fundamental part. These range from Popular Pūjā, practiced widely and generally not orthodox, to Cyber Pūjā, a phenomenon that has seen considerable growth in the early 21st century. Although prescriptions for Hindu pūjā may appear in sacred texts, as a ritual it is fluid and also lends itself very well to an online presence, especially since Hinduism is a predominantly a visual religion.

General Overviews

There are a number of very useful overviews of the fundamental aspects of pūjā. Flueckiger 2015 offers material that is suited to undergraduates or those new to pūjā. It includes photographic material and explains the connections among pūjā, sevā (selfless service), and bhakti (devotion). Flood 1996 and Michaels 2004 provide further concise overviews that also give a context for the elements of Hindu ritual. Both discussions are part of larger chapters on Hindu ritual and religiosity, respectively. A much-wider discussion can be found in Eck 1998, which situates pūjā within the framework of darśan (religious seeing) of an image. Darśan cannot be separated from pūjā, and so this work provides some of the underlying principles of ritual action. Rodrigues 2006 provides an overview of domestic and temple worship in particular, Kinsley 1993 offers an account of common worship, and Harman 2004 examines Deva pūjā. Fowler 2014 is a revised and expanded version of the author’s 1997 original work, which offers a very clear overview of different types of pūjā. Foulston and Abbott 2009 covers a wide variety of worship types, albeit primarily associated with goddesses. Finally, one of the more recent sources is Michaels 2015, which examines the importance of ritual and offers the reader some excellent information and insights into pūjā’s past, present, and future, as well as considering what Hindu rituals can contribute to ritual theory.

  • Eck, Diana L. Darśan: Seeing the Divine Image in India. 3d ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

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    This important source concentrates on the visual aspect of pūjā: darśan, the ritual and religious seeing of a visual representation of divinity. Written for students, it is accessible and illuminating.

  • Flood, Gavin D. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    A chapter on Hindu ritual (pp. 198–223) offers the reader an overview of types of ritual and what part pūjā plays in this fundamental aspect of Hindu practice. However, it is clear in this volume that pūjā cannot be easily separated into one chapter as it appears elsewhere, especially in connection with Vaiṣṇavism and bhakti (devotion). See the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Hinduism article “Bhakti.”

  • Flueckiger, Joyce Burkhalter. Everyday Hinduism. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.

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    This book provides an introduction to pūjā in a variety of forms and contexts. It also includes some lovely photographs of domestic shrines. It offers an approachable and largely ethnographic explanation of pūjā, accessible to undergraduates and as a companion to Flood’s more historical study. This resource also helpfully explains the relationship between sevā and pūjā and places them both within the larger frame of bhakti. Available online.

  • Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott. Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton, UK, and Portland, OR: Sussex Academic, 2009.

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    This book covers a wide range of types of pūjā, from orthodox and local or popular worship to temple and home shrines in addition to tantric worship. There are also chapters on pilgrimage and festivals that provide accounts of fieldwork.

  • Fowler, Jeaneane. Hinduism Beliefs & Practices: Major Deities and Social Structures. Vol. 1. Brighton, UK, and Chicago: Sussex Academic, 2014.

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    Provides an excellent overview of pūjā in various situations, such as at home, at temple, at shrines, and to local goddesses.

  • Harman, William. “Hindu Devotion.” In Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. Edited by Robin Rinehart, 99–121. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004.

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    This chapter examines Deva pūjā and provides an analysis and outline of Hindu worship in its various forms. It also provides some context of the ritual.

  • Kinsley, D. R. Hinduism: A Cultural Perspective. 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, and London: Prentice-Hall, 1993.

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    Chapter 6 contextualizes Hindu worship, considering the similarities and differences between pūjā and vedic yajña, and providing a detailed account of two rituals, the rājasūya ceremony and common worship of the goddess.

  • Michaels, Axel. Hinduism: Past and Present. Translated by Barbara Harshaw. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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    A short overview (pp. 241–245) succinctly covers the etymology, history, and details of a modern Paśupati pūjā in Nepal and provides a list of the sixteen upacāras (proofs of respect).

  • Michaels, Axel. Homo Ritualis: Hindu Ritual and Its Significance for Ritual Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

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    This book identifies the numerous Sanskrit terms that relate to Hindu ritual, including pūjā (pp. 8–10). Section 7.3 (pp. 247–258) examines worship and prayer, designated pūjā, specifically. It differentiates pūjā from vedic yajña (sacrifice). Having done this, the section goes on to cover one pūjā’s functions and meanings, its history, and the use of mantra within pūjā rituals. Section 7.4 brings this study up to date by introducing “E-darshan and Cyber-puja” (pp. 258–264).

  • Rodrigues, Hillary. Introducing Hinduism. New York and London: Routledge, 2006.

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    Chapter 11 (pp. 222–248) provides a very accessible overview of Hindu art and worship rituals, containing many firsthand accounts of pūjā and photographs. Aimed at the undergraduate, it includes numerous detailed examples of temple and home pūjā as well as Hindu pilgrimage. Rodrigues maintains that the “crucial feature of pūjā is intimate relationship with the divine” (p. 244).

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