|| Sri Mahatripurasundari Chandramoulishwarebhyo namaH ||
The performance of Pancha Maha Yagnas is the foremost instruction given by Srimadacharya to attain the Chitta Shuddhi required for perceiving the infinite self. Of these, Devata Puja and Archana is one of the most important duties imposed by the Shastras. Nitya Puja not only destroys one's Karma but also destroys the Tapa Trayas. It is erroneous to assume that it was Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada who started the system of Panchayatana. The Shastras are filled with details of the Panchayatana Krama and its various technicalities.
Puja is a systematic procedure which involves physical and mental discipline, requires inner and outer cleanliness and progresses from mere outer worship to awareness of the true Self. The details of Devata Puja have been detailed in the Puranas and Agamas. By following the scriptural injunctions and by worshipping one's Ishta Devata, one obtains the Lord's Anugraha, without which liberation is not a possibility. Hence, the importance of outer worship or bAhya pUja cannot be discarded as this is the path leading to antaryajana.
When one still remains within the boundaries of limited awareness, desha and kAla are two important factors which influence the fruits of all the actions performed. Hence, the Shastras prescribe specific time or kAla for every Karma. Puja can be done once, twice, thrice, six or eight times in a day. Eka kAla pUjA is done once during the early noon. DwikAla pUjA is done twice in a day, once early in the morning and once during the dawn of night. TrikAla pUjA is done thrice a day – in the morning, noon and night. Pa~ncha kAla pUja is done five times in a day – in the mid-night, pratyUSha (early in the morning when the first ray of the sun reaches the earth), morning, noon and night. shaT kAla pUjA is done six times in a day – during the mid-night, pratyUSha, morning, noon, evening and night. The Tantras also detail the procedure for aShTa kAla pUja which is done based on the flow of the nAdi in the body of the upAsaka and the related details should be learnt from Sadguru.
There are also specific rules of time like those related to bali dAna. Bali cannot be offered except in the morning and noon according to Shaiva Agamas. However, Urdhwamnaya Bali – involving Rajarajeshwara Bali, Kurukulla Bali etc. – can be offered both the in the day and the night according to Rudrayamala Tantra. The flowers and water required for one's Puja should be collected only during the first part of the morning during sunrise or in the last phase of the night.
The Tantras also differentiate between pUja, archana and shanti. Offering Puja till dIparAdhana is called archana, till naivedya is called pUjA and till Bali is called shAnti. Based on one's capacity one can offer the possible upachAras to the Devata. upachAra traya being the most inferior, involves offering snAna, puShpa and naivedya to the Devata. SnAna, Pushpa, Naivedya, Pradakshina and Namaskara are the Pancha Upacharas according to Sivarchanachandrika. Bhairavayamala prescribes Gandha, Puspa, Dhupa, Dipa and Naivedya as the five Upacharas. The eight Upacharas are Gandha, Pushpa, Dhupa, Dipa, Naivedya, Sangita, Nritta and Veda Pathana. pAdya, Achamana, arghya, snana, vastra, vilepana, puShpa, dhUpa, dIpa, japa, namaskara and homa are the twelve upacharas. The twelve, along with AvAhana, sthApana and chuLukodaka form the sixteen upacharas. Along with Asana, Vastra, Upavita, akShata, tAmbUla, Stotra, shayyA, saMgIta, nritta and aropaNa, twenty-four upacharas are offered. Shastras also prescribe thirty-two, sixty-four and seventy-two upachAras. The upacharas listed are different in vaiShNava, shAkta and shaiva Agamas. Let us examine some lesser-known details useful in Nitya/Naimittika Puja.
One should offer pAdya at the feet of the deity (i.e. at the feet of the murti or with bhAvana in the case of Salagrama, Linga or Yantra), achamana at the face, Arghya at the head (arghyaM shirasi vinyasya – Garga Samhita), Gandha to all organs, flowers at the feet and the head, dhUpa at the nasal area of the deity, dIpa in front of the eyes of the deity and Naivedya in the right hand of the Devata.
By offering Padya to Sri Devi in Srichakra, one is relieved of all sins. One is blessed with progress by offering Achamana to Sridevi. By offering Arghya, one is granted success in all endeavours. Freedom from diseases is achieved by offering snAna to Sridevi in the Srichakra. By offering Naivedya, one is blessed with food. By offering beverages to the deity, one's life is protected during dangers. Offering tAmbUla grants riches, perfumes bring comfort and dIpa assures victory. Offering Chatra makes one influential, chAmara destroys one's enemies and Vastra destroys the evil. Offering upavIta grants knowledge, homa grants brAhmaNa janma [i.e. awakeneing to the knowledge of the Brahman] and Bali saves one from all troubles.
It may be impossible for all to perform the various Upacharas to the deity. Hence, Sri Mahadeva has kindly assured the same merit as that obtained by performing all these upachAras to even those who mentally offer the upachAras to Sridevi. Sri Krishna assures the same in gItA - patram puShpaM phalam toyam. However, it has to be noted that those who are capable of performing pUja with the said upacharas, incur great sin by skipping them due to laziness or greed.
Bell or ghaNTA is an important tool used in worship. The ghaNTA should have the imagery of Nandi, Trishula or Lotus in the uppermost region. Vaishnavas have Shankha or Chakra here. By playing the bell, the evil forces are driven away and the Devata is welcomed. One should sound the bell during Ganadhipati Puja, AvAhana, arghya, snAna, dhUpa, dIpa, naivedya, beginning of homa, pUrNAhuti and during bali. Playing the ghaNTa unnecessarily brings the wrath of the Yoginis and Bhairavas on the upasaka [Brihadvamakeshwara].
Shamkha or conch is another important article used in Puja. Shamkhas are of three types: masculine, feminine and Napumsaka. Conch shells available in river Tamraparni are the most sacred, those from Ganges are mediocre and those from river Narmada are inferior. Dakshinavarti Shankha is very sacred and the usage of this in Puja grants Vishnu Loka (Padma Purana). Silver or golden Shankhas are also permitted to be used in the Puja (Hamsa Maheshwara).
By offering Nirajanam or Aratikam to the Lord, one is freed from the darkness of ignorance. Arartika lit using cow's ghee is considered Satvika. Use of Til oil in the Arati makes it Rajasic and any other ingredient is considered Tamasic. Using oil extracted from seeds in arati is banned as this Arati is termed paishAchi. Tamasic and Paishaci Dipas should be avoided as they bring death and disease to the Upasaka. One who lights ghR^ita dIpa in front of Lord Sadashiva obtains worldly and spiritual riches.
One should offer white clothes to Sridevi in the morning, red in the noon and yellow in the night. By offering Vastra to Sridevi, one resides as many years in the Manidwipa as the number of fibers in the offered Vastra. Offering Yagnopavita to the deity blesses the sadhaka with the knowledge of the Vedas.
The shastras are filled with details of AshTa Gandha and its various versions. One who offers Chandanam with Bilva extract to Sri Shiva is blessed with gANApatya in Shiva Loka. By offering Akshatas to the Lord, one obtains immediate freedom from sins.
One should never offer flowers without fragrance to Sridevi. Blue flowers are also not prescribed to be offered to Sri Lalita. Offering fragrant, fresh flowers to Sridevi blesses one with beauty and health. Offering Patras like Bilva, Vishnukranta etc to amba grants virtuous progeny. One can use Tulasi, Bilva and golden flowers repeatedly after washing them in water. Tulasi which is one year old or Bilva which is six months old are permitted in Puja.
One should take care not to offer Tulasi to Ganesha, Durva to Durga, Akshata to Vishnu and Ketaki to Shiva. Also, flowers which are grown in the premises of a temple should never be used for Puja within one's home.
One who performs twelve Namaskaras to Lord Mahadeva with devotion, obtains the merit of a thousand Vajapeyas. By performing twenty-one namaskaras, one is freed from even great sins like Brahma Hatya. By performing 108 Namaskaras, one obtains eternal stay in Shiva Loka. By performing a single Prakshina to bANa linga or Srichakra, one gets the merit of hundreds of years of Tirtha Yatra. Namaskara done in the morning grants health, wealth at noon, freedom from sins at evening and liberation at midnight. One should perform Namaskaras to Shiva during Pradosha - and on AshTami, Navami, Vishu, Pournami, eclipses and Sankramana to Sridevi, to obtain the merit of crores of sacrifices like Ashwamedha, Vajapeya, AgniShToma etc.
One should avoid the following in a temple or pUjA grha – urination, excretion, vomiting, eating betel leaves, laughing, copulation, sleeping, gossiping and arguments. Indulgences such as these bring Brahma Rakshasa Janma. One who travels on a vehicle inside a temple, becomes lame. Entering a temple with footwear results in Naraka Prapti for one lakh years. One who steals even a blade of grass from Shivalaya rots in hell for ever. One who enters the temple of amba or shiva during Sutaka loses progeny. One who enters the Garbha Griha with the upper torso fully covered, becomes dumb and poor for several lives. By dropping hair and nails in Shivalaya, one enters Raurava hell. Stretching one's legs, gambling, eating food other than Prasada, playing games or exercising in Shivalaya assure Kumbhipaka Naraka. One who pollutes a water resource in a temple is reborn as an insect.
One who worships the deity without washing his feet and performing Achamana, should recite Mula Mantra 108 times and recite Rudradhyaya to destroy the incurred sin. One who worships the Lord without taking a bath, without wearing Bhasma and Rudraksha – should absolve the sin by reciting a thousand Gayatris and performing Rudrabhishekam. One who performs Srichakra Puja when he is nude, laughing, angry, without an Uttariya or talking, should recite Mula Mantra 1008 times, recite Aghorastra 108 times and perform Abhishekam to the Srichakra with Panchagavya. If one worships the Devata after touching impure articles like the hair, nails, bones etc., he should recite Gayatri 108 times, prAsAda mantra 108 times and perform Kshirabhisheka to Shiva Linga. One who worships the Lord after touching a woman in menses, a dead body or a Brahmana who does not perform Nitya Karma - should perform Shanti Homa to get rid of the incurred sin.