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Today, most of the Hindus consider worship, often referred to as “performing puja” as an integral part of their faith. Hindu worship is not congregational, except in sects which put great emphasis on devotion (bhakti). The great majority of the Hindus worship various gods and goddesses in the temples and also have a small shrine in their homes. They also visit the holy places like Varanasi, Puri, Haridwar, Mathura, Ayodhya, Ujjain, Dwarka, Kanchipuram, Badrinath, and Rameshvaram. Such holy places and holy abodes have a temple which is dedicated to a major deity. Some of the famous gods and goddesses which are worshipped are the Brahma, Agni, Surya, Indra, Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh and Shakti. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are the three gods which are considered as very powerful gods. The Lord Brahma is regarded as the ultimate source of creation, whereas the Lord Vishnu is regarded as the preserver or protector of the universe and Lord Shiva is regarded as the destructor. Some of the holy rivers which are also worshipped are the Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Narmada, Godavari and Kaveri.

Indian Religion, Hinduism

In the temples, performing puja means making an offering to deity and darshan means having a view of the deity. The temples houses an image of the deity which will be tended by a priest and visited at special times when a darshan of the resident God can be obtained. In the temple, the devotee may perform his own rituals or he may employ a priest to carry out a ritual for him or summon the god’s attention. The worship varies with the size of the sect and the size of the temple. Domestic worship varies according to the individual needs. A rich person may employ a full time priest while others may invite priest to perform ceremonies on special occasions. A busy person perform prayer in the morning or in the evening, and visit a large temple on some important festivals only. There are two kinds of worship. Saguna is the first kind of worship, in which the worshipper uses a concrete symbol or idol which helps him to concentrate more easily. Nirguna is the second kind of worship in which concentration is done on the Absolute by drawing the mind inward, without the help of any physical symbol to fix the mind on. In Hindu worship it is not compulsory to go to a temple. One can meditate on the Absolute anywhere. In a temple, various normal religious observances are performed throughout the day like waking up the deity in the morning, bathing, feeding and putting to rest at night. When entering the temple the devotee first have to remove the shoes. Then he has to wash his hands. On the entrance gate of the temple, he rings a bell which is suspended from the ceiling at the entrance. This is done in order to shut out external sounds and to enable the devotee to make the mind go inward and get concentrated. It also indicates the presence of the devotee in front of god. Lights are waved before the deity that denotes that the Lord is all light and also as a mark of respect conveying the devotee’s reverence. Incense is lighted to denote that the Lord is pervasive. The incense acts as a disinfectant also. The burning of camphor denotes that the ego should melt like it and the individual soul should become one with the Supreme. The devotee offers sweets, rice, fruit, etc. to the god. These are then distributed among the members of the household or the devotees present at the temple. This is called Prasad. The priest puts a red or yellow paste on the forehead of the devotee. This is called tilak and is applied on the forehead between the eyebrows at a point called the ‘ajna chakra’, indicating the third or the spiritual eye. Circular round around the deity is done after the prayers.


Agni, the God of Fire, is represented as a red man having three legs, two to seven arms, dark red eyes, thick eyebrows and hair. He carries a spear, fan, cup, spoons and various implements used for fire associated ceremonies in his hands. He may have one or two heads and a pot-belly. Flames came out from his mouth with which he licks up the butter which the priest offers to the sacrificial fire. The priest, while pouring butter in the fire calls ‘Svaha’, the consort of Agni. Agni rides on a ram, wears a sacred thread, a garland of fruits and seven streams of glory radiated from his body. Agni is one of the few gods who have retained their supremacy in the Hindu hierarchy of gods, from the Vedic age till today and has the largest number of hymns addressed to him. He is the priest of the gods and the god of the priests and serves as the liaison between gods and men. He presides over all the great events of a person’s life and at the end through the flames of the funeral pyre, it accepts the body as an offering.


Soma is also known as Chandra or Moon. He is represented as a copper-coloured man, trailing a red pennant behind his three-wheeled chariot, which is drawn either by an antelope or by ten white horse. He normally has two hands, in which one carries a mace and the other is in a protective mode. He was the son of Dharma or Varuna, lord of the oceans, from which the moon rises. According to a legend, Surya nourishes the moon with the water from the ocean when Soma is exhausted by the many beings who feed upon his substance. During half of the month, thirty-six thousand divinities feed on Soma and thus assure their immortality. This account neatly combines the two aspects of Soma: as the nectar from which the gods derive their strength and as the moon which waxes and wanes. The legend of the banishment of Soma by Brahma to the outer atmosphere can be interpreted as yet another myth that explains how intoxicants can be brained.


Surya, the Sun god is one of the most important deities of the Vedas. He usually has a lotus in each hand and is usually shown in a chariot drawn across the heavens by seven horses or one horse with seven heads. He is also shown with four hands in which three hands carries a wheel, conch-shell and lotus and the fourth is shown in a protective mode. His charioteer is Aruna, the god of dawn, who carries a whip in his hands. He is the source of light and warmth, and has the ability to control the seasons and the power to grant or withhold the ripening of the crops. The Lord Surya is also known as Savita and was very popular in the early times, but later on lost some of his importance to Vishnu. Even then he is the god to whom the famous Gayatri Mantra (prayer) is chanted everyday when he rises. Everyday in the morning one can see hundreds of devotees chanting the mantras and offering water to the Sun god. Small images and visual representation of the Sun god can be seen in the temples of other gods, but he rarely has a full-fledged temple to himself. The Sun temple at Konark in Orissa is one of the famous temple dedicated to Lord Surya.


Varuna, the god of the oceans, is shown as a fair-complexion man riding a monster fish called Makara, which has the head and legs of an antelope. He may have two to four hands and in one of his right hands he carries a noose. Varuna lost his importance even during the Vedic times. Of his former character of a celestial deity, he retains only the title of the regent of the Western quarter of the compass. The mythological explanation of this great fall is that a great conflict occurred between gods and demons and to avoid further conflicts, Indra remained god of the atmosphere while Varuna was outset from the guardianship of the heavens and was given the over-lordship of the oceans. Here he kept watch over the various demons of the ocean. Varuna sits with his wife, Varuni, on a throne of diamonds and the gods and goddesses of the different rivers, lakes and springs form his court.


Vayu is the god of the wind. He is extremely handsome and moves noisily in a shining chariot drawn by a pair of red or purple horses. Sometimes, the number of horses increases to forty-nine or even a thousand. The latter number would probably be employed when there is a cyclone. He is also represented as a fair-complexion man riding a deer and carrying a white flag. He may have two to four hands and may carry a goad and a wheel. He is often associated with Indra and won the race for the first drop of Amrita. He does not occupy a very prominent position in the Vedic hymns. He is considered as the friend of the waters. At a later stage he is said to have got a son, Hanuman (the monkey god), who played a conspicuous role in the epic Ramayana. In the other epic, Mahabharata, Bhim is also said to be the son of Vayu.

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