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Items often used in the
Worship of Hindu Deities


People often ask, why do Hindus use flowers (lotus, jasmine, rose etc), sacred leaves (basil, bilva, durva etc), seeds (rice, sesame etc), rice, milk or water as offerings when worshiping Gods and goddesses.  All these items are offered from the heart and with great reverence. 

Here are some of the reasons I believe we use these items.

Symbolic reasons :-
By offering flowers, we offer the most beautiful aspect of nature to God.
By offering scared leave and plants, most have herbal qualities, we offer the most beneficial aspect of nature to God.
By offering rice and other seeds, we offer preciousness of life sustaining food to God.
By offering water or milk, we offer the life sustaining liquids to God.
By offering our precious time and concentration, we offer the very essence of life to God.

Practical reasons :-
During long rituals (recital of 1000 names can take up to 45 minutes), the practical aspect of offering flowers or pouring water keeps the devotee alert and avoids the embarrassing prospect of falling asleep while listening to rhythmic chanting of sacred verses. 
Another aspect is that those who have come for the puja can easily identify the host by the fact that s/he is the one offering flowers to the deity.

What should we offer :-
Usually the items we offer to the deity are the ones that are easily available to us.  God does not need or want anything from us except our love.  The fact that we have sat down to do the puja is enough for God. Beyond our love, what we offer or how expensive it is, is of no importance to God.  For this reason, in times gone by, whatever was offered was usually gathered or collected by the devotees themselves as an expression of their love for God.  Seasonal flowers and herbs such as durva and basil were gathered from the gardens, riverbank or forests nearby.  Most families used to own cows and so having spare milk for puja was never an issue.  In ancient India, water was another abundant resource.

Over time some items of offering have become more associated with specific deities.  Eg – basil is mostly offered to Vishnu and his avatars Rama and Krushna and bilva is usually offered to Shiva.  Certain colours are also associated with specific deities – eg red for Ganesh and white for Sarasvati.  But on the whole, most flowers can be offered for puja.  Flowers are popular for puja because of their vibrant colours and pleasing fragrance.  Rice being abundant and easily available, it is often used when flowers or herbs aren’t available.


So next time you sit for puja or attend one at a friend’s house, observe and see what is being offered to the Gods.  If you are asked to participate in the rituals, please make sure you offer the items of worship with genuine love and devotion to God.


© Bhagwat Shah
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