A puja is a traditional ceremony, a Bhakti Yoga practice, a form of worship (or "sitting near God"). We cultivate a relationship with the Divine. Having a symbol helps concentrate the mind and turn it inwards. All matter is a manifestation of God. God is present in everything which exists. To the worshipper who believes the symbol, any kind of image is the body of the Lord in the form of stone, clay, brass, picture, etc.
"The aspirant gradually begins to feel that the Lord he worships is in the idol, in the hearts of all creatures and in the names and forms of all in this universe. He begins to feel His presence everywhere." —Swami Sivananda
We bathe the symbol in warm milk and water, receiving "God" as our guest. We offer our best—our intentions and attention, as well as mantras, holy powders, flower petals and rice, incense, light, fruits and sweets.
Attendees have the opportunity to participate in the bathing and offering.
Traditionally, we wear white, which represents purity. Donations of flowers, fruit or sweets are gratefully accepted, as are dedications.
This auspicious, all-night vigil to Lord Siva is celebrated in February or March according to the Hindu calendar and coincides with the new moon. Siva is "shakti" or power. Siva dissolves in order to create, death brings rebirth. We prepare to shed those parts of ourselves which no longer serve us. Siva chants are sung all night. (We take over the cosmic dance for this one night so Siva can rest.) A series of four pujas are offered, roughly timed at 10:00pm. midnight, 2:00am and 4:00am. Siva is bathed in milk during the first puja, yogurt at the second puja, ghee at the third and honey during the final puja. Festivities conclude at dawn with a feast. Om Namah Sivaya! (You need not stay all night to participate and gain blessings.)
We celebrate the female aspect of the divine for nine consecutive nights in late fall. She is the universal mother, the creative aspect of the Absolute. She brings balance. The first three nights are dedicated to Durga, who, wielding her powerful weapons, can destroy our impurities and vices. For the next three nights, we worship Lakshmi who bestows spiritual wealth. The final three nights we praise Saraswati, goddess of wisdom. The daily puja follows the final class of the evening. At 6:00 on the morning of the tenth day, the festival culminates with Vijayadasami, a lavish puja and blessing of our "instruments of karma." We bring laptops, musical instruments, photos, notebooks—anything that represents what we do in life. All these are worshipped as the Devi herself.