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Pooja (Worship)

Pooja is the core of worshiping God, in a Thaanthric sense. It's purpose, in essence, is to propitiate the eternal and boundless God in any of it's manifestations (Siva, Vishnu, Durga etc.) by bringing or invoking one of the desired forms to the Poojakan's (Poojaari's) presence, and giving a general royal reception through various oblations and offerings (clothes, decorations, feast etc.), accompanied by chanting of hymns and Manthrams. It is an aspect of Karma Yogam.

Pooja is performed by any one of the eight symbols (Pratheekams) those made out of:
(1) Stone (Sila)
(2) Wood (Maram)
(3) Metal (Loham)
(4) Earth (Soil, Mannu)
(5) Gem stone (Rathnam)
(6) Flowers arranged on cleansed floor
(7) Beautifully drawn picture
(8) Any form through imagination of mind

In the case of the last mentioned, no earthly materials are used. Pooja is performed in mind and spirit. In all the above, it is of prime importance to have spirituality (Bhakthi) and cleanliness (Suddhi), without which Pooja or offering will have no effect. On the other hand, any offering, even if very small, when done with Bhakthi pleases God.

Pooja is a process of worship involving very complex techniques. There are Granthams (sacred texts) on Thanthra Saasthrams which describe and discuss in detail all the philosophical and technical aspects. It is meant to propitiate the deity and release and establish communion with God. The evolution and perfection of Pooja, the social and philosophical background of this evolution, the historical and anthropological situations under which the evolution actually materialised etc. are yet to be subjected to serious study. There is no significant reference to Pooja in the Vedams. The Puraanams (Mahaabhaaratham, Raamaayanam and especially Bhaagavatham) refer to it. The Bhaagavatham gives elaborate accounts though without technical aspects, of how a devotee is to perform Pooja to Lord Vishnu.

The Thaanthric cult was prevalent in South India during the Sangham period. The Pooja techniques evolved and were perfected through the centuries as part of the Thaanthric cult and based on Yoga philosophy. It had also been influenced by Vedic philosophy and the Upanishads. For example, the Pranavam (Omkaaram) profusely used in Pooja, is derived from Yogic and Vedic ways. The phoneme "Omkaaram" is constituted by three units, A, U and MA, which in Vedic philosophy present concepts as follows:

A    - Aatman          - Jaagratha  (conscious state)
U    - Antharaatman - Swapnam   (semi-conscious/ half sleep)
MA - Paramaatman - Sushupthi (unconscious/ deep sleep)
AUM (Om) - Brahman - The three states get merged and dissolved.

In Yogic representation, the above three units are:
A    - Sooryamandalam - Anaahatham and Manipooram
U    - Somamandalam   - Aajna and Visudhi Chakram
MA - Vahnimandalam   - Swaadhishtaanam and Moolaadhaaram

Man, according to Vedaantha and Yoga philosophies, is charged with a spark of the universal soul, Brahman which is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. He, the Pindaandam (microcosm), to put it Thaanthrically, is a miniature form of the universe, the Brahmaandam. As such, the ultimate purpose of human life is to realise the identity of his personal Aatman (micro-soul) with the universal soul (macro-soul) from where Aatman come and get absorbed into it. This unison is possible, says Yoga saasthram, through Yoga saadhana. The Thaanthric procedure of Saadhana is to rouse the Kundalini Sakthi by Praanaayaamam and bring it through the Sushumna Naadi to Sahasraara Paadam, a spot between the two eyebrows. Here the female power, the Kundalini unites with the Siva, the male power with the microcosm; and the Saadhakan realises the co-essentiality between his Aatman and the Paramaatman (Brahmaanda and Pindaanda- aikyam). During the upward trip, the Kundalini Sakthi crosses six Chakrams or three Mandalams, each establishing the identity with the corresponding Chakrams or Mandalams within the macrocosm. This procedure is marked with a series of representatives called Nyaasam. Now the Saadhakan is all Brahman. This is Dahavaakaasa Pooja, or Pooja inside one's own self. What we call Pooja in temples or in family shrines is Bahiraakasa Pooja, ie., Pooja performed on idols or Padmams.

So much of explanation is intentional. A Pooja has two phases, a preparatory phase and an executive phase. In the preparatory phase, the Poojakan performs Praanaayaamam and Nyaasam. Here, the Brahman is invoked or called down to him (Dhyaanam) in the form of the deity which he worships, and he offers himself to the deity in a Maanasapooja. All the five elements in him, his body which holds the Aatman, are offered with Manthrams and Mudras. This results in the escape of the Aatman free from the body and Brahman invoked into him as the deity gets united with the Aatman. Aatman of the Poojakan is now the "consumed" (Annam) and the Brahman, the "consumer".

Now the executive phase of the Pooja: There are the pedestal (Peettham) and the idol (Bimbam) before the Poojakan. Whatever be the Bimbam - of Devi or Devan - it represents Lingam or Purushan, the male manifestation of the cosmic soul, and the Peettham, Yoni, or the Prakrithi, the female manifestation. Purushan, the Sivan, a neutral power with no desire or feeling, is activated only when Prakrithi or Sakthi unites with him. Peettham or Yoni or Prakrithi is mother Earth.

Despite the material existence of the Peettham in the shrine, this is being reconstructed by the Poojakan in imagination (Sankalpam). Moolaprakrithi at the bottom, then the divine tortoise (Aadikoormam), followed by the thousand-hooded serpent God (Ananthan), the earth (Prithwi), and the eternal lotus (Padmam) - this is the sequence of reconstruction. The Peettham is then decorated in detail with chanting of Manthrams representing aspects of the Brahman. And finally, it is worshiped. This is Peettha Pooja. All the Manthrams which are used for reconstruction and decoration of the Peettham are chanted during the Pooja. In the series, Jalam (sacred water in Sankhu or conch), Gandham (sandal paste representing earth), Pushpam (flowers representing Aakaasam, the sky) are offered first. Then, Dhoopam (fragrant fumes representing air) and Deepam (the lighted lamp - Kodivilakku for light or Thejas) are also offered, accompanied by ringing of the hand-bell.

The deity to be invoked to the Peettham is now imagined in detail (Dhyaanam) chanting a hymn describing the state of the deity (Prathishttha sankalpam). The divine power of the deity is invoked or called down from the Praanan through the nostrils of the Poojakan who has already become one with the Brahman (this is Aavaahanam), accompanied by Manthrams and Thanthrams (Mudras) and is placed on the Peettham. This is done in a handful of materials (Dravyams). They are Jalam, Gandham, Pushpam and Akshatham. The Moorthy - deity - now dwells on the idol with all pomp, glory and kingly attendants. After the invocation, the attendants are separated from the Moorthy (Parivaara visarjanam). He is then washed and bathed. Here, the Moorthy Pooja with Jalam, Gandham, Pushpam, Dhoopam and Deepam as described earlier, chanting the Manthrams of the Moorthy and his Parivaarams (attendants), take place. He is then given a royal feast (Nivedyam). Although the materials, Annam (rice) and Paayasam (sweet rice) are offered, they represent the five elements which, it is said, the human body as well as the universe is made up of. Worshipping the deity with Jalam, Gandham, Pushpam, Dhoopam and Deepam amounts to offering the five elements ie., the body of the Poojakan. It is significant that these five elements, with mind as the sixth one, make the Thatwam (content) of the six Chakrams of the body of the Poojakan. The Thaanthric concept of Nivedyam is the symbolic offering of oneself to the Brahman, who now is represented by the deity of choice (Ishtamoorthy). Now the Poojakan comes out, closes the shrine, and feasts the attendants or Parivaarams. This is Sreebhoothabali.

The feast over, the deity is given royal entertainments (Raajopachaaram). This is Prasanna Pooja, the third phase of the Pooja. He is offered Appam (sweets), Thamboolam (betal leaf and nut), dance, music, percussion and other kingly entertainments. This is symbolised by the fact that during the Prasanna Pooja, the shrine remains closed and a percussion performance by Maaraar or Poduvaal takes place outside. What takes place inside is the symbolic offering of Raajopachaaram by Manthrams and Thanthrams followed by Pushpaanjali - offering of flowers accompanied by chanting all the Manthrams that are hitherto used for Pooja. When the Pushpaanjali is over, he concentrates all he has, his thoughts, words and deeds to Brahman (Brahmaarpanam). The shrine is then opened, Paadatheertham is sprinkled and Prasaadam distributed to the devotees standing outside. And finally, the Poojakan takes a flower from the foot of the idol and smells it. This act symbolises inhaling and taking back the power of Brahman he has extracted from his own breath during the invocation of the deity.

This is the broad outline of Pooja practised in Kerala temples. The Thaanthric philosophy behind this, as has been explained at the very outset, is to realise Brahman internally, as Daharaakaasa pooja and externally as Bahiraakaasa pooja. Brahman is capable of ruling over (Prabhavathi) the universe (Brahmaandam), the only Sakthi. Every deity, a particular manifestation (Avathaaram) of Brahman, has a Purusha state and a Sakthi state; the Pindaandam also, being enlightened by a spark of Brahman, has a Purusha power and a Sakthi power. Both man and Brahman have the six Chakrams in their structure. They have their Thatwams or content.
1. Moolaadhaaram Prithwi Chandanam (sandal paste)
2. Swaadishtthaanam Thejas (Agni) Deepam (lighted lamp)
3. Manipooram Ap Jalam (water)
4. Anaahatham Vaayu Dhoopam (fumes)
5. Visudhi Aakaasam Pushpam (flower)
6. Aajna Manass Nivedyam (rice)

Each Thatwam of the Saadhakan is consecrated to the respective Thatwam of Brahman thus seeking complete absorption of himself into the Brahman.

The Pooja, apart from its philosophical meaning, has anthropological and social significances too. Tracing back the history of the development of the Pooja techniques, we see a period, when the two powerful images in the whole poetic structure evolve. These images are different from what we see in the late BC and early AD period - the age of Mahaayaana Thanthra - the images of the Saadhakan and the Saadhya. Saadhya, the Brahman is represented as a royal guest and the Saadhakan as a respectful host. The deity is welcomed with kingly respect, while coming with pomp and glory and with royal decorations on him and with a train of attendants. He is entertained as a royal guest with feast, song and dance. This induces us to conclude that the technique was perfected at a stage of history when Gana Thanthra social set up gave way to the rise of kingdoms and kings. While treating the Brahman as king, the society was considering king as somewhat equal to Brahman, which was then a social necessity. The newly evolved set up of monarchy among the vestiges of Gana Thanthra still clinging on, was shaky. To perpetuate it, a new concept had to develop, and image of God, Brahman, emerged as king and vice-versa. It could also be noted that the image of kingship was approachable. He was a guest, could be invited, and intimate relations with him could be built up. The king was lovable, he was one who would protect the subjects. The kingship was, in short, not cut away from the people.

The basic symbols of Pooja go still farther back in the human history. Carefully looking at the whole system, one could find a series of fertility symbols in it. The concept of deity as the union of Peettham and Bimbam, Yoni and Lingam, which probably goes back to the Indus Valley Civilization, is a typical fertility symbol. Again, the pedestal is conceived as a lotus flower (the flower has surely to fertilize!). To further this concept, there is Abhishekam, pouring consecrated water on the idol in the beginning. This is nothing but bringing about the symbolic Amritha varsham, showers of nectar on to the pedestal, the earth or Prakrithi. The materials of Pooja - Jalam, Gandham, Pushpam, Dhoopam and Deepam - all represent fertility and abundance. By performing Pooja, just like by performing a Yaagam, despite the fact that the Poojakan does not ask for it, rains would be showered on to the fields, seeds would germinate, there would be plenty on earth. This concept of Siva and Sakthi is further made more clear in "Soundarya lahari" as a union of father and mother who foster the whole world.

Materials for Pooja:
1. Nivedyam rice on a plantain leaf;
2. Bronze bell with a handle;
3. Two Kindis (Jala Paathrams) with water;
4. A small conch with a stand;
5. A small dish for sandal paste (Chandana odam);
6. A flower plate (Pooppaalika) and flowers;
7. A long-handled charcoal dish with embers and sweet-smelling incense (Dhoopakkutti);
8. A small lamp with a handle (Kodivilakku);
9. A wooden-plank seat (Aavanappalaka);
10. Bronze lamp (Nilavilakku);
11. Hanging lamp (Thookku vilakku).

| Article No:7.5 | Last update of this article:28th September 2000 |
This article was written by late N N Kakkad, who was also a famous Malayalam poet; with inputs from Prof: P C K Nambudiripad.
For further details refer : "Saparivaaram Poojakal" by Thanthri Kakkad Narayanan Namboodiri, father of N N Kakkad, the author of this article. The book describes about 278 different types of Poojaas to different deities. (Publishers : Panchangam Pusthakasala, Kunnamkulam)

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