The sacredness inherent in nature has been extolled in India—through both the spoken and written word—since at least the Vedic times. During the period when the Vedas were being composed, from approximately 1500 to 500 BCE, there were no temples and no images of God in India. Instead, it was mountains, oceans, rivers, trees, the wind, the sun, the moon, and other forces of nature that were worshipped year in and year out.
The great sages and saints drew upon the example of nature to impart to their disciples the knowledge of the Self. They explained how the universe comprises various forms of divinity that can be worshipped. One of the verses of the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana, a text of ancient stories and teachings, says:
खं वायुमग्निं सलिलं महीं च
ज्योतींषि सत्त्वानि दिशो द्रुमादीन् ।
सरित्समुद्रांश्च हरेः शरीरं
यत्किं च भूतं प्रणमेदनन्यः ॥ ११.२.४१ ॥
khaṁ vāyum agniṁ salilaṁ mahīṁ ca
jyotīṁṣi sattvāni diśo drumādīn ।
sarit-samudrāṁś ca hareḥ śarīraṁ
yat kiṁ ca bhūtaṁ praṇamed ananyaḥ ৷৷
One should honor everything—space, wind, fire, water, earth, the celestial bodies, all living things, the directions, trees and plants, rivers and oceans—as the body of the Lord, who is no different from oneself.1
The sages of the Puranas recognized that this entire cosmos arises from the Lord’s own being and is not different from the Lord. Therefore, one way to honor God is to pay homage to God’s creation. We can express our reverence to God by performing rituals of worship and by showing respect to everything in this world. We can offer our salutations to the Lord by acknowledging the divinity in all people and creatures.
The word puja in the Sanskrit language means “worship,” and it derives from the root puj, which means “to worship and honor.” To perform puja is to offer reverence, adoration, and respect. It is a way to give homage, to recognize the sacredness and sanctity of someone or something. In essence, puja is a means of honoring, of expressing love, gratitude, and devotion to one’s ishta-devata, or chosen deity—one’s beloved form of the Divine.
Through the ritual of puja to their chosen form of the Absolute, the worshiper connects with the presence of the Divine in daily life and invokes blessings. It is a ritual that requires a continued—and very beautiful and symphonious—engagement with the Divine. The sadhana of puja gives the mind a very clear focus. The worshiper must be fully present and attentive to and careful about how each step of the puja is performed. As a result, the mind has less of an opportunity to wander or escape.
In the Guru-disciple tradition, the preeminent form of puja is puja to one’s own Guru. In a doha, Saint Kabir eloquently describes the bhava, the inner disposition, a disciple holds in relation to their Guru:
गुरु गोविन्द दोऊ खडे़ काके लागूं पांय ।
बलिहारी गुरु आपकी जिन गोविन्द दियो बताय ॥
guru govinda doū khaḍe kāke lāgū̃ pā̃y ।
balihārī guru āpakī jin govinda diyo batāy ৷৷
My Guru and the Lord are both standing before me.
To whom should I bow first?
O Gurudev, I give myself completely to you.
You are the one who has shown the Lord to me.2
Saint Kabir tells us that Shri Guru, embodying infinite compassion, should be worshipped foremost, since it is the Guru who imparts teachings about the Divine and guides disciples to the experience of that divinity.
In 1972, I was traveling as a seeker throughout India when I was told by someone in the Himalayas about a great Guru who resided in Gurudev Siddha Peeth, the Siddha Yoga Ashram in India. Not long after, I realized that I did wish for and need a Guru, and so I decided to go to Gurudev Siddha Peeth. I was still somewhat of a skeptic when I arrived; nonetheless, I received Baba Muktananda’s darshan and shaktipat-diksha, divine initiation. And that—to make a long story short—propelled me into Siddha Yoga sadhana.
Since then, Guru-puja has been one of my constant practices. By offering puja, I can express my profound reverence and love to my Shri Guru for all that I have received and continue to receive. When I was in India, I was able to learn the rituals for offering puja to the Guru. In Gurudev Siddha Peeth especially, worship of the Guru is happening around the clock.
That being said, there are specific days on which the offering of puja is of particular importance. It is said in the scriptures and stories of India that when puja is performed on these holidays, the benefits of worship magnify exponentially.
I have laid out for you the steps to offer Guru-puja in honor of Shubh Gurupurnima. And if, for some reason, you’re not able to set up or offer worship at a physical altar, you may do manasa puja; this is mental worship, wherein you envision doing all the steps of worship. It is just as powerful as offering the worship outwardly.
Each of the puja offerings has specific and manifold meanings. I’ve explained a few of those meanings below so that you can hold this knowledge in your awareness as you perform worship. In this way, your actions will not be rote; they too will be imbued with meaning.
The elements of worship can be simple and elegant. Let them be of a quality that inspires devotion and love in you.
- You may prepare by bathing beforehand and wearing neat and clean clothes. Cleanliness represents purity, and it expresses our intent to offer the best of ourselves for worship.
- Be sure the space for puja is also clean and neat.
- Create an altar with an image of the Guru and, if you have a pair of the Guru’s padukas, or sandals, place them in front of the image.
- Offer fruits by placing them on the altar.
- The fruits represent the attainments we achieve, with the Guru’s grace, as we perform spiritual practices. We offer the fruits as a gesture of detachment and gratitude.
- Begin the puja by invoking the Guru’s grace. You can say: “Sadgurunath Maharaj ki Jay.”
- Behold the Guru’s image and the Guru’s padukas with the understanding that you are receiving darshan.
- Offer fragrance by waving an incense stick three times—or more, as you wish—in front of the image of the Guru. Wave the incense stick in a circle in a clockwise direction.
- Then, wave an arati tray that holds a small candle or ghee lamp in front of the Guru’s image and the padukas three times—or more, as you wish. First wave the tray to your left, then make a half circle to the right, and make a dome by waving the tray in a full circle in a clockwise direction.
- The flame represents the light of the Divine, the light of the Guru, the light of the Self.
- On the tray, you can place small amounts of turmeric, kumkum, rice, and flowers. Position the flowers so that they face the Guru’s image.
- The yellow turmeric represents vigor, radiance, and knowledge.
- The red kumkum represents Shakti and auspiciousness.
- The white rice represents nourishment, purity, prosperity, and that which is indestructible. In the context of Guru-puja, this indestructible quality translates to how the relationship between Guru and disciple is eternal; this bond is unbroken and unbreakable.
- The flowers represent our innate goodness: we offer the excellent qualities that have blossomed in us.
- After waving the arati tray, place it on the puja altar. If you are using a ghee lamp, the flame can stay lit until it goes out naturally. If you are using a candle, you can extinguish the flame after the puja is over. (Do this by covering the flame, rather than by blowing it out.)
- Now offer your prayers. There are many ways to do this. You can formulate your own prayer, practice mantra japa, or recite one of the invocations in your Siddha Yoga chanting book, such as Shri Guru Paduka Panchakam or Jyota se Jyota Jagao.
- After praying, offer pranam to the Guru in front of the altar and sit quietly for a while. Just be there, open to receiving teachings from the Guru now that your heart is completely open after the worship.
- Offering puja is a wonderful prelude to meditation, since your mind is at peace. Your mind is content. Your mind is filled with devotion.
May the Guru-puja you offer bring forth the goodness in you. May the Guru-puja you offer fortify your sadhana. May the Guru-puja you offer bring blessedness to this world.
1 Shrimad Bhagavata Purana 11.2.41; English translation © 2022 SYDA Foundation.
2 English rendering © 2020 SYDA Foundation.
I love the part in this exposition in which Swami ji recommends just being with the Guru after performing puja—to be “open to receiving teachings from the Guru.”
Today, as I practiced these instructions, I did not expect to receive a teaching. “How could the Guru give me a teaching?” I wondered. But it did happen! As I sat, I began to hear shabda brahman, the unstruck sound. Somehow I remembered a song by the nineteenth-century poet-saint Brahmananda in which he outlined the steps that occur after listening to this sound. It was as if Gurumayi were giving me the experience and the teaching that this is a sound worth listening to, because it leads to the state whereby identification with the body becomes a faint memory.
Had I not read about this step in the exposition, I don’t think I would have recognized or appreciated receiving the prasad of this teaching. I relished hearing this sound both for what it is and for what it is leading to.
Washington, United States
is one of my regular practices. Today, on Gurupurnima, I decided to perform my puja
at the time the moon was at its fullest. I began making my offerings. My intention was to give myself completely to my Guru. At the same time, I knew that it is through Guru’s grace that I can realize my Self completely and therefore offer myself fully. So I made a subtle shift and set my intention to be totally open to divine grace. As I did, I saw a beam of blue light burst forth from Gurumayi’s photo. I felt it enter my heart and radiate in all directions inside me. I experienced waves of bliss that continued until I completed my puja
I am infinitely grateful for this blessing today. It adds a whole new dimension and depth to my daily puja
and my relationship with my beloved Guru.
New York, United States
Yesterday I was taking a walk along the Danube River and enjoyed a colorful sunset. When I turned around to return home, I was awed to see the (almost) full moon rising! The moon was very beautiful reflecting on the water. The sky was soft pink, blue, and turquoise. “Shubh
Gurupurnima!” I said.
I looked around and found that I was all by myself, so I sat down and chanted Om Gurudev
with the recording on the Siddha Yoga path website. There were little fish on the surface of the water and a crow sitting on a branch looking at me as I chanted the divine syllables. To me, the moon, the sky, and the water were the altar, and the beautiful light of the moon was the Guru’s presence. As I allowed myself to release into the experience of the chant and of my surroundings, Om Gurudev
seemed to encompass everything.
And now I continue to behold the nectarean light of the moon in my heart as the divine presence of the Guru in my life.
I followed the steps Swami ji so clearly and beautifully outlined. I performed mental puja
to Gurumayi while sitting outside in my yard under the sky and trees. I imagined having darshan
of Gurumayi in the courtyard in Gurudev Siddha Peeth and carried out the steps of worship. I truly felt like I was there. I experienced so much love and the magic of the Guru’s presence. I can’t wait to do this same mental worship every day this month. What a boon to receive the knowledge of this practice.
Washington, United States
I’ve always felt a specific sense of gratitude for the practice of puja. It gives a clear structure, or form, for me to express my love and devotion for my Guru—a feeling that can otherwise seem so big and amorphous and ineffable.
On a related note, I found Swami ji’s explanation of the mental focus required for puja to be very helpful. I’ve definitely felt like offering puja harnesses the energies of my mind and directs them toward what is most beneficial for me. In this way, puja illustrates what is so beautiful and rewarding about observing discipline.
I can’t wait to offer puja to my beloved Gurumayi as part of the month-long satsang in honor of Gurupurnima.
New York, United States
How beautifully Swami ji has explained every aspect of puja
. Offering Guru-puja
in the morning after my bath has been my daily routine for years. It fulfills my inner longing. My favorite part is washing the Guru’s padukas
and receiving that holy water as prasad
. When I do this, I feel I am expressing the immense gratitude that I have toward my Guru, and, in turn, I feel I am completely immersed in the blessings flowing from my Guru.
When I practice guru-puja
, almost immediately I experience a pervasive silence and peace descending both within me and in the environment around me. As I experience darshan
during the puja
, the love I have for the Guru and the Guru’s love for me become indistinguishable and increasingly expansive. The bhava
of devotion and gratitude, which was the impetus for my practice, deepens throughout the puja
, taking root in my heart.
Washington, United States
I have been performing guru-puja
for many years. It invariably calms my mind and transports me into a peaceful space of oneness, not only with my beloved Guru, but also with my own Self and with the Self of others. A sense of unity and blessings then flows with me throughout the day.
St. Laurent, Canada
Two nights ago I had a dream of Gurumayi where she helped me solve a problem that had been worrying me for months. In the dream, I felt so much thankfulness and joy in my heart, and I turned to a young woman who was next to me and asked her, “What must I do next?” She answered, "Now you must offer puja.
When I woke up I offered puja
with a few elements I had available. I did not know exactly how to offer puja
so I improvised. I am extremely grateful for the guidance in this exposition so I can now offer a more complete puja
The understanding that the focus of my worship is the power of the Shakti, my own inner Self, has shifted my practice of puja.
This is something I was longing for.
Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico
Before reading Swami Shantananda's exposition on guru-puja
, I thought puja
was simply an altar. I did not understand it as an awareness and state of mind that I can bring to my daily meditation.
I used to approach my meditation altar, bow, seat myself, and begin to meditate. Now I take time to pause as I silently invoke Gurumayi's blessings and grace for the day. And then I sit for meditation.
Creating a space for my awareness to become centered allows me to go deeper in meditation and shapes how I experience my day.
Missouri, United States
From studying this exposition, I have experienced new understandings about bhava
. I was familiar with the importance of the inner state while I perform seva, and now I understand that my inner state, my bhava
, is also the essential element of performing puja
What a wonderful and clear explanation of the practice of guru-puja
! It is very inspiring and full of shakti
As I read these words, I was drawn inward and found myself very calm. I was preparing to do some housekeeping before I read the post, and somehow, as I read it, and afterwards, as I went about my cleaning, I felt that I was indeed preparing to perform puja
- which I will do right now.
Rueil Malmaison, France
Wow, it is so beautiful to be drawn into the essential experience of puja—
the state of the Self.
Being reminded so clearly of the elements and process will help tremendously as I perform puja
at home and while offering seva
. Big thanks.
Dulwich Hill, Australia
I am grateful for this illuminating statement on the importance of regular worship. I am reminded that my intention is what makes the worship. Wherever I am, I can perform puja
. I needed to hear this.
Oregon, United States
While looking at a set of photos of Bade Baba, Baba, and Gurumayi, I felt a deep sense of appreciation for the act of performing puja
in my home. I recognized how I am led to a calmer state from which I can view challenging situations in my life more openly. The act of worship allows me to express my gratitude for all that I have received while following the Siddha Yoga path for several years. This beautiful exposition gave me guidance and inspiration.
California, United States
Each morning for many years, I have performed guru-puja
before meditation, using many of the elements Swami ji describes. But reading this exposition has reminded me that the most important element in puja
is "the feeling and the awareness with which we perform worship.”
After I read Swami ji’s words, I formed the intention that in the future I would perform puja
much more consciously, remembering to offer my outer actions with “devotion, respect, and reverence,” and with an awareness of oneness with the Guru, with the divine. Then, holding this intention, I went to my meditation room and offered puja
before the Guru’s picture. As I did this, I experienced the sweetness and power of this practice. By welcoming the guru-shakti
I felt the boundary between worshiper and the one being worshiped dissolve.
I’m so grateful for this very inspiring exposition.
Massachusetts, United States