This word is the common term for worship of which there are numerous synonyms in the Sanskrit language. Puja is done daily of the Ishta-devata or the particular Deity worshipped by the sadhaka – the Devi in the case of a Shakti, Vishnu in the case of a Vaishnava, and so forth. But though the Ishta-devata is the principal object of worship, yet in puju all worship the Pancha-devata, or the Five Deva – Aditya (the Sun), Ganesha, the Devi, Shiva, and Vishnu, or Narayana. After worship of the Pancha-devata, the family Deity (Kula-devata), who is generally the same as the Ishta-devata, is worshipped.
Puja, which is kamya, or done to gain a particular end as also vrata, are preceded by the sangkalpa; that is, a statement of the resolution to do the worship, as also of the particular object, if any, with which it is done.There are sixteen upachara, or things done or used in puja: (1) asana (seat of the image); (2) svagata (welcome); (3) padya (water for washing the feet); (4) arghya (offering of unboiled rice, flowers, sandal paste, durva grass, etc., to the Devata in the kushi) (vessel); (5 and 6) achamana (water for sipping, which is offered twice); (7) madhuparka (honey, ghee, milk, and curd offered in a silver or brass vessel); (8) snana (water for bathing); (9) vasana (cloth); (10) abharana (jewels); (11) gandha (scent and sandal paste is given); (12) pushpa (flowers); (13) dhupa (incense stick); (14) dipa (light); (15) naivedya (food); (16) vandana or namas-kara (prayer).
Other articles are used which vary with the puja, such as Tulasi leaf in the Vishnu-puju and bael-(bilva) leaf in the Shiva-puja.
The mantras said also vary according to the worship. The seat (asana) of the worshipper is purified. Salutation being made to the Shakti of support or the sustaining force (adhara-shakti); the water, flowers, etc., are purified. All obstructive spirits are driven away (Bhutapasarpana), and the ten quarters are fenced from their attack by striking the earth three times with the left foot, uttering the Astra vija “phat,” and by snapping the fingers (twice) round the head.
Pranayama (regulation of breath) is performed and the elements of the body are purified (bhuta-shuddhi). There is nyasa ; dhyana (meditation) offering of the upachara; japa , prayer and obeisance (pranama). In the ashta-murti-puja of Shiva the Deva is worshipped under the eight forms: Sharvva (Earth), Bhava (Water), Rudra (Fire), Ugra (Air), Bhima (Ether), Pashupati (yajamana – the Sacrificer man), Ishana (Sun), Mahadeva (Moon).