Other Forms of Worship
Besides puja and arti, there are eight other major forms of worship.
Bhajan means adoration and refers to devotional hymns, usually sung in small groups or by the entire congregation. Kirtan means glorification and more specifically indicates the repetition of mantras to the accompaniment of musical instruments. Bhajan and kirtan are particularly central to bhakti (devotional) movements and are often performed during the arti ceremony. Common instruments are drums, (such as tablas and mridangas), hand-cymbals and the harmonium (see also Music).
Darshan literally means “seeing,” though it is better translated as “audience.” Devout Hindus generally present themselves before the deity in a temple or before a holy person to receive their blessings. They pay respects through pranam, bowing the head and folding the hands (though some may make obeisance by prostrating themselves). Traditionally they bear an offering, in money or kind (fruits, flowers, grains, etc.), and may offer prayers. Many Hindus will visit a temple each morning to “take darshan.” Afterwards they will sip some charanamrita (holy water collected after bathing the murtis) or accept some prasada (sanctified food). Many visitors will not only take darshan but also stay for one of the arti ceremonies.
Regularly offering food to the deities is technically an integral part of puja, but deserves special mention. Visitors to the temple conclude their darshan by accepting morsels of prasada (sacred food) offered to the deity. In larger temples, meals (normally vegetarian) are offered several times per day and the “remnants” are considered to purify body, mind, and soul and to bestow spiritual merit. Some devotees will eat nothing but prasada and will offer all their meals to the household deity before eating it themselves (see also Worship in the Home, Food and Prasada).
Pravachan refers to a philosophical lecture based on a verse, or verses, from one of the scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gita. This is delivered by a priest or guru and often followed by questions and answers or a general discussion. The speaker may sit on an elevated seat out of respect for the authority of scripture. Hearing about spiritual topics is said to divert the mind from the mundane, strengthen one’s powers of discernment, and purify the heart.
Personal study of sacred books (see Sacred Books) is also an important spiritual practice.
Havan is translated as “fire sacrifice” or “sacrificial fire.” It is also called “homa” or “agnihotra.” This procedure is undertaken particularly on festive occasions and for rituals such as initiation and marriage. Some Hindus practice it daily as part of their regular worship. Grains and ghee are offered to through the fire, and with the chanting of various mantras. Particularly notable is the ancient chant “svaha“, recited as the grains are tossed into the flames. For some groups, such as the Arya-Samaj, this ancient practice, is central to their worship.
Japa and Meditation
Japa refers to the quiet or silent recitation of a mantra (such as om namo shivaya or the well-known Hare Krishna mantra).This is generally performed on a mala, a string of 108 beads. The beads are usually made of Tulsi wood (for Vaishnavas) or Rudraksha beads (for Shaivites). Another popular form of meditation is the recitation of the Gayatri mantra, traditionally observed by brahmanas at dawn, noon, and dusk. Japa and other forms of meditation are considered to purify the heart of selfish desires and to invoke love of God.
Prayer is also an important part of worship, and Hindus may either recite standard prayers, or simply express their heartfelt devotions. It is customary to offer words of glorification before asking for some boon or blessing.
Circumambulation is another form of offering respect and worship and is generally performed in a clockwise direction. In or around many temples there is a walkway for circumambulation of the deity, sometimes performed whilst chanting on japa beads (see above) or singing. Pilgrims circumambulate holy spots, entire sacred towns or even the whole of India – often barefooted out of respect for sacred ground.
Active service to the deity is considered a form of worship, and in many temples the priests are constantly engaged not only in puja but many associated functions. Lay members also offer their services by helping in cleaning, cutting vegetables, etc. Many traditions consider service to holy people, even in apparently mundane matters, a means of winning the Lord’s blessings. Service to holy places, through sweeping the land or serving pilgrims, is also considered meritorious.