Pooja (Prayer) is the first step to impart training to the mind to concentrate and involve physically and mentally while performing worship of God. It is important to understand the meaning of “MANTRAS” and actions required to be performed to obtain the complete benefits of the prayers.
“Shodasa Upacahar” is a complete process of performing the rituals of pooja, the worship. Upachar means service; there are 16 upachars to be executed for worship. It is usually rendered with the vedic chantings. Alternately one should close the eyes and perform this offering mentally (manasa puja). All these “Shodasha upachara pooja” is a standard practice in temples and also at home on special occasions.
All these 16 steps are symbolical representations of the various forms of expressing reverence like offering the deity a golden throne to be seated, washing his feet, washing his hands, offering him water to drink, ceremonial bathing with sacred waters, offering new clothes, anointing him with sandal paste and other perfumes, adorning of jewels, worshipping with flowers, offering of fragrant incense, lighting the lamp, offering food (Prasada), fruits and sweet drinks, chanting his praises, offering Arati and finally prostrating to him and seeking his blessings.
The following is the meaning and a brief explanation of the 16 steps: (Example is provided for Lord Ganesha, for other deities, replace the name accordingly.
1. Dhyanam (prayer)
Dhyanam is reciting a short prayer specific to god that one worships and engage our mind into lotus feet of that god. In the Hindu scriptures, Lord Ganesha is always worshipped in the beginning of any ritual for his blessings to ensure that the whole procedure would move smoothly unhindered by any external obstacles at any stage. So, these upacharas are first done for Lord Ganesha and then all steps are repeated for the main deity.
Shukla-Ambara-Dharam Vissnnum Shashi-Varnnam Catur-Bhujam |
Prasanna-Vadanam Dhyaayet Sarva-Vighno[a-U]pashaantaye ||
OM Ekadantaya Vidmahe Vakkratundaya Dheemahi, Tanno Danti Prachodayat
2. Avahana invocation
Inviting the worshipped God or Goddess to come into the place of worship or idol by chanting the Vedic verse as though you are inviting a loveable guest inside your home.
Om Gannaanaam Tvaa Ganna-Patim Hava-Amahe
Kavim Kaviinaam-Upama-Shravas-Tamam |
Jyessttha-Raajam Brahmannaam Brahmannas-Pata
Aa Nah Shrnnvan-Nuutibhih-Siida-Saadanam ||
Om Mahaa-Ganna-Adhipataye Namah ||
3. Aaasana (offering seating)
Offering the worshipped God a seat. After inviting a guest to your house you would offer a comfortable seat for him to relax. In similar way by chanting the Vedic verse offer a seat to the chosen deity.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, ratna simhasanam samarpayaami.
4. Paadya (washing of feet)
Wash the feet of God by pouring water at His feet. As per our tradition, the guest is offered water to wash his feet after he relaxed for adequate time. Imagine you are washing the delicate, lotus feet of Lord.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, padyo padam samarpayaami.
5. Arghya (washing of hands)
Water is offered to the deity to wash hands.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, hastyo arghyam samarpayaami.
6. Aachamana (Offering water to drink)
Water is offered to drink with the chanting of the relevant vedic mantra.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, aachamaniyam samarpayaami.
7. Snana (bathing with water or panchamruthas)
Sprinkle water on God as if giving Him bath. In a detailed pooja, bath God with panchamrutham (Milk, Yoghurt, Ghee, Honey, Sugar, Coconut Water, Fruit Juice, Sandal Powder, Turmeric one at a time). This is followed by bath with fresh water
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, snanam samarpayaami.
8. Vastra (new clothes), Abharana
Offer new clothes, Jewellery. Imagine that you adore the Lord with the ornaments of your love and other good qualities.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, vastram, abharanam akshatam samarpayaami.
9. Yajnopavita (sacred thread)
Offer Yajnopaveetham(sacred thread/flower/akshathas). In olden days the old people used to make “Yagnopaveeta” daily in their houses for offering to the guest. It is presumed that the guest had travelled for a long distance before he reach your house, during the course he had to take bath in the Rivers/streams and may lose his “Janevu” or “Jandem”. It is also important to note “Yagnopaveeta” used to be worn by both men and women. You might have noticed the statues of Goddesses shown wearing “Janevu” in museums. So whether you worship God or Goddess you have to offer “Janevu”
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, yagnopaveetham akshtam samarpayaami.
10. Gandha (sandal paste)
Place sandalwood paste on the forehead of God. After getting dressed and wearing “Yagnopaveeta” the host offer good smelling sandal wood paste. “Sugandham (Good Smelling), “Manoharam” (Should steal the heart) is the quality of Sandal wood paste narrated by Vedic verse. It is expected to apply the sandal wood paste gently on the neck of the Lord.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah divya parimala gandham samarpayaami.
11. Archana (flowers)
Glorify God by reciting His 108 names, and offer one flower or a petal at a time, like offering flowers/flower petals to Lord Venkatesha and Lakshmi Devi, Lord Shiva and Parvati Devi etc
Om Sri Mahaganapatye namah nanavidha parimala patra pushpani samarpayaami, puspayi pujyami
After Archanam, Ganapati puja can be performed with the chanting of Ganapati Atharvashirsha.
12. Dhoopam (incense)
Show incense to God. As the perfumed smoke reaches the Lord, so our soul also should aspire to reach God.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, dhoopam agrapayami
13. Deepam (Oil lamp)
Show oil lamp to God. It is not expected to make your guest to sit in the dark. In olden days when electric power was not in use, lamps were used to be kept on stands slightly away from the place where people used to dine. It also symbolizes bringing of light into one’s place and life.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, deepam darshyaami.
14. Naivedyam (offering of specially prepared food).
Offer specially prepared food to God. This food must be prepared cleanly in separate utensils, other than in what we eat, and without tasting beforehand.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, naivedyam samarpayaami.
15. Tamboolam (offering Betel Leaves and Betel nuts)
Betel leaves and betel nuts are offered to God after the Naivedhyam. After delicious food, it is the practice to offer betel leaves for proper digestion. The quality of betel leaves is narrated in the verses. “Pooghiphala (Beetle nut) Samayuktam, Nagavalli dalairyatam (Japatri petals) karpoora churna (Edible Karpoor powder) samuktam, tamboolam”.
Do not offer dried leaves.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, tamboolam samarpayaami.
Camphor lamp is shown to God. It is again customary that in every auspicious occasion aarati is offered to the deity. This is an important and auspicious occasion as Lord himself has come home, so with utmost devotion offer “Aarati” to the Lord.
Om Sri Mahaganapataye namah, karpoora niranjanam sandarshyaami, raksha raksham dharayami.
The pooja ends with another service called “Mantra Pushpam” in which a devotee offers handful of flowers to God finally glorifying Him and places the flowers on his lotus feet with utmost devotion and dedication.
Pooja is based on Mantras (hymns) and is focused on concentrating on sounds.
In the end, devotees say the following manthra
kayena vaacha, manasendriyairva
budhyatmana va prakriter swabhavat
karomi yad yad sakalam parasmai
Translation: Whatever I do with my body, speech, mind or with other senses of my body, or with my intellect and soul or with my innate natural tendencies I offer (dedicate) everything to Lord Narayana.
Note: Water in a pot, (Kalasha) sanctified by invoking the names of seven sacred rivers of India namely Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswathi, Narmada, Sindhu, Kaveri, is used for worship.
Gange cha Yamune chaiva Godavari Saraswati,
Narmade Sindhu Kaveri jalesmin sannidhim kuru
In this water, I invoke the presence of holy waters from the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri.
Additionally Namaskra, Atma Pradakshina (Revolving round you and saluting the Lord within yourself). Samarpana, Kshamarpana (To beg apology for any mistake made during offering of the services), Theertha prasada are also important steps apart from the above Shodashopachara pooja. In addition there are “Rajopachara” like holding Umbrella for the Lord, waving hand fan to provide Lord a gentle breeze, singing a song to please him, dancing before him to give him entertainment,, Showing Mirror to him, providing horse and elephant ride etc;
These are otherwise called “DEVOPACHARA”