It’s finally here! Project Conversion began its first day with Hinduism and I must admit, I have much to learn. 

The day began at 8 A.M. Traditionally, an observant Hindu wakes before sunrise to perform their morning puja (ritual worship) before an altar bearing one’s personal deity (ishta devatha), or the family deity. This form of worship is called Bhakthi, as devotions are made before images or statues (called murti) of the deity and is the most popular among everyday Hindus. Because I’ve selected Shiva as my deity, my murti includes a small picture of Shiva and a small, oval stone that represents him called a lingam. 

*A Shiva Lingam with Yoni base* 

*The dude has a trident and wears a cobra for a necklace. Awesome, anyone?* 

If there’s anything I’ve learned so far about Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma), it’s that methods of worship are seldom consistent. One’s puja can be as simple or complicated as you wish. Shiva in particular is viewed as very receptive to all forms of worship, so long as the devotee is sincere. I’m using the method (with some modification) prescribed in this book called “Siva (an alternate spelling) Puja for Beginners.” 

My first puja took me half an hour. This isn’t typical for a home puja. I pretty much fumbled through it like a newborn learning to walk and trying to recite the Sanskrit hymns and mantras didn’t help. But hey, I was sincere. 

Shiva Altar
Ring bell to begin
Chanting 108 names of Sanskrit!
Performing aarti for darshan--to "see" the divine
Bhasma (sacred ash of Shiva) and the red Bindi (symbol of Shakti)
Here are a few images of my first puja. There is a great deal of symbolism here, all of which focuses on a centering of one’s self on Shiva as the absolute reality of the universe. Ring of the bell at the start of the puja is seen as a method of cleaning the air of negativity as sound vibrations clear the space around the altar. The 108 names of Shiva, when chanted, remind the devotee of all the aspects of Lord Shiva. Aarti is performed by circling a candle or lamp clockwise in front of your deity’s murti. Because Hindus understand the idols as being conduits for the divine to become present in their midst, darshan (through aarti) is the “seeing” of the deity face-to-face as you focus on the murti. Lastly, and particular to the Shivite sects, bhasma is the sacred ash of Shiva, signifying both the burning of sins and ego and of Shiva’s destructive aspect, clearing our world for new creation. The bindi represents his female consort and aspect, Parvati (Shiva’s creative energy known as Shakti). The combination of these two applications symbolized their union.
Seems  like a lot, doesn’t it? Trust me, I’ve spent many days and nights over the past three months reading about Hinduism until my eyes hurt. We must remember that this is a very rich, complicated, and diverse faith and exists as probably the oldest religion practiced today. There are many sects who worship in many ways, however all are joined by these universal Truths:

1) The Vedas are the ultimate scriptural authority 

2) The Self (Atman) is One, and is independent of the body, mind, and intellect 

3) The doctrine of karma (universal law of cause and effect) 

4) The doctrine of reincarnation (the transmigration of the soul) 

5) The existence of God as the creator, sustainer, and destroyer, with reference to the world of names and forms 

God exists to many people, in different names, and in different forms. What a great concept! 

I think that’s enough for now, but I haven’t even scratched the surface. Sanatana Dharma is about more than rituals and worship; it’s a lifestyle. I’ll dive more into those issues the next time we meet. Until then… 



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