Prayer services and “Poojas” at home and at the Temples follow the traditions and rules established in the Agamas and in Bhakthi form of the religion.
The Temples are established as the palace of a manifestation of God in a form of the Incarnation that is represented at the Temple.
Most Temples will have Sanctum for several forms of God, though it may have only one form as the Main Deity. The temple worship has evolved over the years as a service to God as the King or the leader of the land. Here, an image of a likeness of a manifestation of God is consecrated after several days of Holy Rituals. Without these consecration rituals, the idols do not get the Divine powers or the respect more than a statue in a museum. Once so sanctified, all rituals are performed as done to a live King or leader of the land.
The Deity is woken up every morning with a morning service with ceremonial bath with water, milk and other perfumed substances, dressing up with cloths and Jewelry. The services are repeated four to six times or more every day, with offering of food as “prasadam” and singing prayers and songs in praise of the Deity and reading of the Scriptures. After this, “Aarthi” of lighted camphor is performed for every one to see the Deity in a “Dharshan.” The service concludes with the offering of “prasadams” of fruits, flowers and food to the devotees attending the prayer services.
The devotees take what is given back to them as “Prasadams”, let it be holy water, ashes, kumkum, a flower, a fruit or a full meal.
The prayer services at home are also very similar in practice. Often there is a prayer room. Sometimes, a special area is arranged to perform the home prayer services. Here, prayer services are offered to a picture, small icon [vigraha] or a lamp which is sanctified by rituals for the occasion.
The Divine powers of the form of God offered prayer on that occasion is represented in this. The rituals are simple and they first invite God as a guest to the house. Then, they perform a ritualistic bathing and offering of cloths. Then, there will be prayers and singing of songs and offering of food which is then offered to members of the family and friends.
Major part of Hindu Religious practice among the common people consists of ritualistic form of worship for God in the various forms of Deities of Saguna Brahman, called Avathara. It follows prayers offered to God in the devotional path as a worship to a Pratika [picture], Prathima or Vigraha [statue], Yanthra [a geometric drawing] or a Linga, following the rules and traditions established in the Agamas and Sasthras.
Sri Adhi Sankara, in addition to the Advaitha Philosophy explaining that the Self as part of the Divine Nirguna Brahman, established a school for prayers to the Saguna Brahman is His six Forms called the Shanmatha Sthapanam.
He established the rules for the six types of prayers to God at home as 1. Ganesha, 2. Kumara [Karthikeya], 3. Surya [Sun], 4. Siva, 5. Vishnu, 6. Sakthi. The main tenets of the practice is by prayers to “Ishta Devatha.” The methods of learning and doing the various types of prayers to the Ishta Devatha are governed by the rules of “Doctrine of Adhikara.” By this doctrine, the religious teachings and methods of worship that is taught varies from person to person, according to the various schools they follow.
Special prayer rituals are usually taught and given specially to persons following certain tradition as a form of initiation to that form of worship practice. This is very much like specialty training and certification in modern day professions. Only a guru who has understood the manthra of “Sri Viddhai” can teach the pooja methods of Sri Chakram to his Devotees. In the past, mostly men have been learning and performing these types of poojas.
Most people perfom poojas at home just by lighting a lamp for a collection of pictures and images of various Avatharas of God in their prayer room and recited some songs for prayer.
Karma, in addition to referring to our duty and activity for living, also refer to Vedic Karma or our spiritual duties. Thus study of the scriptures and performances of the vedic ritual are as important as the performance of one’s Dharma or duty to the community according to one’s birth and profession and stage of life.
Every one has to perform all their daily duties according to their education and vocational training. They need to do the sandhya rituals and sanskaras and the yajñas to people, animals, ancestors, celestial bodies and to God.
All these have an important effect on our family, our future births and ultimate liberation from the Samsara or cycle of rebirth.
The daily Vedic rituals performed are called nithya karma like the sandhya rituals, various Yajñas and Sanskaras. Rituals of sandhya and sanskara are prayers offered to the gods through water, fire and Sun.
Contrary to popular belief, a Karma Yogi also has duties of offering his prayers to the Divine through Nithya Karma. He also performs his work as a service to God, as he sees God in every one.
Sandhya are the most important rituals that a Hindu is expected to perform in the house every day, three times a day. These are rituals performed at dawn, noon and at dusk to God, to the Sun and to ancestors. Yajna rituals are offered to Vedic Gods such as Prajapathi, Indra, Varuna, Purusha, Rudra and the Deities of the nine planets.
The Vedic gods are the custodians of our social well being and only from our sacrificial oblations in Yagnas they draw their sustenance. The Pancha-Maha Yajnas which are important include Brahma Yajna or sacrifices to Brahman, to Vedas and to sages, Deva Yajna to celestials, Pitri Yajna for ancestors, Bhutha Yajna to all creatures and Manushya Yajna to fellow men.
There are fifty-two Sanskaras which are listed as rituals performed at home, of which ten are important. These Sanskara rituals like Simanthonnayana, Namakarana, Annaprasana, Chudakarana, Upanayana, Samvarthana and Vivaha, are for family events. There are also funerary rituals which are performed after death of a person and srardha ceremonies which are rituals to ancestors performed by family members.