Customs and Rituals

Is there a standard Hindu group or individual liturgical worship?

Ordinary daily puja is often communal in the sense that a number of people, such as an extended family, might make an offering together. But puja is not strictly speaking a congregational ritual. Some sub-communities, such as those living together in ashrams or members of other exclusive groups, engage in congregational ritual as a matter of course. In general, Hindus join in larger group rituals for special occasions. These may involve congregational singing or chanting of prayers or scriptural texts, practices called kirtan(a) or bhajan(a).

Various forms of individual ritual prayer offer devotees opportunities to sanctify time alone wherever they may be. A form called japa, “muttering, recitation,” is the most widespread. Devotees repeat a mantra, sacred syllable or phrase, and keep track of their repetitions with a string of beads (often 108 in number) called a mala (“garland”). Reciting names of the deity is the most popular type of personal prayer, as in the mantra “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” repeated by many devotees of Vishnu. Hindu texts distinguish fourteen kinds of japa, depending on variables such as purpose, physical posture, and method (whispered, voiced, or murmured). Processions are another important form of congregational worship. Occasionally the priestly staffs of local temples mount a processional image of one or more deities on shoulder-borne platforms to be paraded through the streets. Worshippers often join in, or stop and catch a glimpse of the passing icon.


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