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Learning Morning Puja
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Learning Morning Puja

At 4:20am, I woke up, showered and got dressed so I could be at my friend Sujatha’s house by 5am. As I walked a short distance down the hill to her home, people were just waking up themselves as they prepared for their own morning’s puja (ritual). I passed a some cows and a few dogs which were rummaging for food in the trash. When I arrived at Sujatha’s, she silently greeted me without a word but a big smile spread across her face. She was teaching me how to perform my morning prayers, Hindu-style. I felt this was another step into deepening my spiritual growth. Motioning me to take off my shoes, she gathered the necessary items we needed to perform our morning puja.

It was a dark, warm morning as we sat outside on her front porch, facing east, the sun barley lightening the sky, in front of the tulsi (holy basil). From a copper bowl filled with water, she began to wash the plant, the pot it was in and the dish that held the plant, removing all the old flowers, rice offerings and the markings of tumeric powder, kum kum (red powder), rice flour and sandalwood paste from yesterdays puja. She later explained to me that this was like giving the gods a bath.

Once the plant was washed of all previous signs of yesterdays puja, she began to mix tumeric with some water in a small copper bowl which she then placed inside a larger one. She lit some incense, called dhoop and placed that in what looked like a bottle cap. The flame of this cylindrical, log shaped incense was left in front of the tulsi plant. The flame burning out of it’s own accord, wove a sweet smell through the air.

Beautiful, fragrant, fresh jasmine flowers and bright red hibiscus, or “God’s flowers”, as they are called in India, were placed with love on a brass tray. These were the flowers we would use as offerings that morning. Sujatha took two small silver bowls, filling one with tumeric and kum kum in the other, then placed these bowls on the tray. There was also a small bowl of uncooked rice and one of sugar there on the tray as well.

She began chanting our prayers in Hindi, starting with one that invokes, the Hindu triad of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver or maintainer and Shiva, God of destruction. While she chanted to these manifestations of God, she beautifully decorated the rim of the plate that held the tulsi plant and the pot with the different colored powders creating a pattern of color and symmetry. She continued to chant a prayer to invoke blessings for a happy marriage as she dotted some leaves with the red kum kum. Then she chanted to Lord Ganesh-ji for all of our wishes to come true successfully, while she draped a string, threaded with what looked like small white cotton balls, used as an offering of cloth, over the leaves around the plant, similar to garland on a Christmas tree.

She continued praying in Sanskrit for our long, healthy, prosperous life, offering the uncooked rice to “feed” the gods. We walked around the plant five times in a clockwise circle. This is called parikrama, meaning, “the path around” which we do with a deep sense of reverence and self reflection. After the fifth walk around, we stood in front of the pant facing east again. She lit some camphor and placed that in a silver dish-like spoon as we sang arati in praise of the deities. While we chanted arati to the gods, she made clockwise circles with the burning camphor int he spoon around the the front of the plant. She then bowed to the flame and with cupped hands, brought the energy of fire to her heart and over her head three times. I then did the same. We do this because the flame now has the power of the deities infused in it.

She tied nine of the red hibiscus flowers together in a garland and draped them around the base of the plant, placing five more of them around the plate rim. Taking the jasmine flowers, tumeric and rice, she blessed it with the arati smoke continuing to chant to the deities. She ate a bit of sugar which reminds us of the sweetness of life and offered some to me to eat as well.

Then she used her ring finger of her right hand and placed that in the small dish of tumeric to place a dot of it on her third eye and motioned to me to do the same. We repeated this act with a dot of the red kum kum, a symbol we have done puja for that morning. She offered me an orange and put the jasmine flowers in my hair. I felt a deep connection with the gods and my heart swelled with love. We sat in silent meditation for a while in the wake of the sun rising, blessing this new day. As I walked to yoga practice, I see other people with red dots on their foreheads. I feel a sense of oneness with all!


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