Symbolism in the Rituals of Hindu Worship

woman praying to Hindu god

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Vedic rituals, like the Yagna and Puja, as described by Shri Aurobindo, are "attempts to fulfill the purpose of creation and elevate the status of man to that of a godhead or a cosmic man." A Puja is essentially a ritual that symbolizes an offering of our lives and activities to God.

Symbolic Significance of Puja Items

Every object associated with the ritual of a Puja or worship is symbolically significant. The statue or image of the deity, which is called Vigraha (combination of the Sanskrit words: vi and graha). Vigraha means something that is devoid of the ill effects of the planets (or grahas). The flower that is offered to the deity stands for the good that has blossomed in the worshipper. The offered fruits symbolize detachment, self-sacrifice, and surrender. The incense burned stands for the desire for various things in life. The lamp that is lit represents the light in each person, which is the soul that is offered to the Absolute. The vermilion or red powder stands for our emotions.

The Lotus

The holiest of flowers for Hindus, theĀ beautiful lotus is symbolic of the true soul of an individual. It represents the being, which lives in turbid waters yet rises up and blossoms to the point of enlightenment. Mythologically speaking, the lotus is also a symbol of creation, since Brahma, the creator came forth from the lotus that blooms from the navel of Vishnu. It is also famous as the symbol of the Hindu Right-wing political party of India the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the namesake for the lotus position in meditation and yoga, and as the national flower of India and Bangladesh.

The Purnakumbha

An earthen pot or pitcher (Purnakumbha) full of water, and with fresh mango leaves and a whole coconut atop it, is generally placed as the chief deity or by the side of the deity before starting a Puja. Purnakumbha literally means a "full pitcher" (derived from Sanskrit the word purna meaning full and kumbha meaning pot). The pot symbolizes Mother Earth, the water life-giver, the leaves life, and the coconut divine consciousness. Commonly used during almost all religious rites, and also called kalasha, the pitcher also stands for goddess Lakshmi.

Fruits and Leaves

The water in the Purnakumbha and the coconut have been objects of worship since the Vedic age. The coconut (Sriphala in Sanskrit, meaning God's fruit) alone is also used to symbolize a god. While worshipping any deity, a coconut is almost always offered along with flowers and incense sticks. Other natural objects that symbolize divinity are the betel leaf, the areca-nut or betel-nut, banyan leaf, and the leaf of bael or bilva tree.

Naivedya or Prasad

Prasad is the food that is offered to God in a Puja. It is an individual's ignorance (avidya) which is offered to the deity in a Puja. The food symbolically stands for ignorant consciousness, which is placed before God for spiritual enlightenment. He suffuses the prasad with knowledge and light, and He breathes a new life into the worshippers' bodies. This makes the worshippers divine. When the prasad is shared with others, the knowledge gained from God is shared with fellow beings.