Panchayatana Puja Attributed to the Theologian Adi Shankaracharya

Panchayatana puja (पंचायतन पूजा) also known as Pancha Devi Deva Puja is a system of puja (worship) in the Smarta sampradaya, which is one of four major sampradaya of Hinduism. It consists of worshiping five deities set in a quincunx pattern: (1) Ganesha, (2) Adi Shakti, (3) Shiva, (4) Vishnu, and (5) Surya. Sometimes an Ishta Devata (any personal God of devotee’s preference) or Kartikeya is the sixth deity in the mandala. Panchayatana puja has been attributed to Adi Shankara, the 8th-century CE Hindu philosopher. It is a practice that became popular in medieval India. Panchayatana puja has predominantly been a tradition within Hinduism. However, the Udasis – a tradition that reveres the Guru Granth Sahib of Sikhism – also worships the five panchayatana deities.

Meaning of Panchayatana puja

“Panchayatana Puja” is a form of worship in Hinduism that involves the simultaneous veneration of five deities. The term “Panchayatana” comes from the Sanskrit words “Pancha,” meaning “five,” and “Ayatana,” meaning “abode” or “seat.” The five deities commonly worshipped in this practice are Shiva: The God of destruction and transformation. Vishnu: The preserver and protector of the universe. Devi (Durga): The Goddess representing Shakti, the divine feminine energy. Surya: The sun God, representing light and knowledge. Ganesha: The elephant-headed God of wisdom and remover of obstacles.

Different styles of puja in different communities
Panchayatana Puja is a form of worship in Hinduism

Origin of Panchayatana puja

The origin of Panchayatana Puja is traditionally attributed to the philosopher and theologian Adi Shankaracharya, who lived in the 8th century CE. Adi Shankaracharya is known for consolidating the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, which emphasizes the non-dual nature of the ultimate reality, Brahman.

The introduction of Panchayatana Puja is believed to be part of his efforts to unify the diverse sects within Hinduism and promote the idea of a single, all-encompassing divine reality. Adi Shankaracharya aimed to harmonize the various forms of worship and highlight the underlying unity among different Hindu traditions by advocating for the simultaneous worship of five principal deities.

The practice also reflects the inclusivity and flexibility of Hindu worship, allowing devotees to honor their deity while recognizing and respecting other manifestations of the divine. This inclusive approach helped reduce sectarian divisions and fostered a sense of unity among followers of different deities.

Purpose of Panchayatana puja

The purpose of performing Panchayatana Puja is multi-faceted, encompassing spiritual, philosophical, and practical aspects:

Unity in Diversity

Panchayatana Puja promotes the idea that the various deities worshipped in Hinduism are different manifestations of the same ultimate reality, Brahman. By worshipping five deities, devotees recognize and honor the unity underlying the diversity of divine forms.

Holistic Worship

This puja provides a balanced approach to worship, acknowledging different aspects of the divine. Each deity represents a unique facet of life and the cosmos, and their collective veneration ensures that all these aspects are respected and revered.

Inclusiveness

It allows devotees to incorporate their chosen deity into a broader framework of worship. The central deity in the arrangement can be personalized based on family tradition or individual preference, while still acknowledging other important deities.

Philosophical Significance

The practice embodies the Advaita Vedanta philosophy propagated by Adi Shankaracharya, emphasizing the non-dual nature of reality. It teaches that all forms and names are ultimately one, leading to spiritual realization and a deeper understanding of the divine.

Cultural Harmony

Panchayatana Puja fosters a sense of community and reduces sectarian divides by harmonizing the worship of multiple deities. It encourages mutual respect and understanding among followers of different sects within Hinduism.

Spiritual Practice

For individual devotees, the ritual serves as a means of cultivating devotion (bhakti), mindfulness, and concentration. It is a structured practice that helps in developing a disciplined approach to spiritual life.

Overall, Panchayatana Puja is a comprehensive form of worship that integrates various aspects of the divine, promotes philosophical understanding, and encourages harmony within the Hindu tradition.

Procedure of Panchayatana puja

The procedure of Panchayatana Puja involves several steps, typically starting with preparation and culminating in the actual worship. Here is a detailed outline of the procedure:

Preparation

  1. Clean the Area: Ensure the puja area is clean and free of any impurities.
  2. Setup the Altar: Arrange a platform or altar where the puja will be performed.
  3. Arrange the Deities: Place the five deities on the altar. Traditionally, these are represented by idols or stones, and they are arranged as follows:
    • Central Deity: The main deity preferred by the devotee (e.g. Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Surya, and Ganesha).
    • Four Surrounding Deities: The other four deities are placed around the central deity in the cardinal directions.

The Deities

  • Shiva: Usually represented by a Shivalinga.
  • Vishnu: Represented by a Shaligrama stone.
  • Devi (Durga): Represented by a certain type of stone or idol.
  • Surya: Represented by a red stone.
  • Ganesha: Represented by a white stone or an idol.

Puja Procedure

  1. Invocation (Dhyana): Meditate and invoke the presence of the deities, focusing on their divine forms and qualities.
  2. Aachamanam (Purification): Sip water three times while reciting purification mantras.
  3. Pranayama (Breathing Exercise): Perform pranayama to center the mind and body.
  4. Sankalpa (Resolution): State your intention for performing the puja, mentioning your name, family details, and the purpose of the ritual.
  5. Ganapati Puja: Offer initial prayers to Ganesha, the remover of obstacles.
  6. Kalasha Sthapana: Establish a Kalasha (a sacred pot filled with water) and invoke the deities into the Kalasha.
  7. Shodashopachara Puja (Sixteen Offerings): Make sixteen traditional offerings to each deity:
    • Avahana: Inviting the deity.
    • Asana: Offering a seat.
    • Padya: Washing the feet.
    • Arghya: Offering water for washing hands.
    • Achamaniya: Offering water for sipping.
    • Snana (Abhishekam): Bathing the deity.
    • Vastra: Offering clothes.
    • Yajnopavita: Offering the sacred thread.
    • Gandha: Applying sandalwood paste.
    • Pushpa: Offering flowers.
    • Dhoopa: Offering incense.
    • Deepa: Offering a lit lamp.
    • Naivedya: Offering food.
    • Tambula: Offering betel leaves and nuts.
    • Nirajana: Aarti, waving the lighted lamp.
    • Mantra Pushpa: Reciting hymns and mantras.
  8. Naivedya: Offer specially prepared food to the deities.
  9. Aarti: Perform aarti to each deity, waving a lighted lamp in a circular motion.
  10. Pradakshina and Namaskara: Circumambulate the altar and prostrate before the deities.
  11. Mantra Recitation: Chant-specific mantras and prayers are dedicated to each of the five deities.
  12. Visarjana (Concluding the Puja): Conclude the puja by respectfully asking the deities to return to their celestial abodes, while retaining their blessings.

Summary

  • Prasada Distribution: Distribute the Prasada (offered food) to all participants.
  • Cleanup: Clean the altar and puja items, storing them appropriately for future use.

The procedure can vary based on regional practices, family traditions, and personal preferences. However, the essence of Panchayatana Puja lies in its inclusive and holistic approach to worship, emphasizing the unity of various divine aspects.

Panchayatana - YouTube
Structure of Panchayatana Puja

Benefits of Panchayatana puja

The effectiveness of Panchayatana Puja, like any religious or spiritual practice, depends on various factors and can be perceived differently by different individuals. Here are some aspects to consider regarding its effectiveness:

Spiritual Benefits

  1. Holistic Worship: Panchayatana Puja encourages a holistic approach to worship by venerating multiple deities, which can enhance a devotee’s spiritual experience and deepen their connection to the divine.
  2. Unity and Inclusiveness: By acknowledging various forms of the divine, this practice promotes a sense of unity and inclusiveness, which can foster inner peace and harmony.
  3. Devotional Growth: Regular practice can enhance a devotee’s bhakti (devotion), helping them cultivate virtues such as humility, gratitude, and surrender to the divine will.

Psychological Benefits

  1. Mental Focus and Clarity: The structured and ritualistic nature of the puja helps in focusing the mind, reducing stress, and bringing mental clarity.
  2. Emotional Stability: Engaging in regular worship can provide emotional comfort and stability, particularly during times of personal difficulty or stress.
  3. Sense of Community: Participating in such rituals with family or community can strengthen bonds and provide a sense of belonging.

Cultural and Traditional Benefits

  1. Preservation of Tradition: Performing Panchayatana Puja helps preserve and transmit cultural and religious traditions to future generations.
  2. Cultural Identity: It reinforces a sense of cultural identity and continuity among practitioners.

Personal and Practical Benefits

  1. Discipline and Routine: The daily or regular practice of the puja instills discipline and a sense of routine, which can have positive effects on one’s daily life.
  2. Positive Environment: The rituals, mantras, and offerings can create a positive and sacred environment in the home, contributing to overall well-being.

Subjective Experience

The perceived effectiveness of Panchayatana Puja can vary based on individual faith, belief systems, and the sincerity with which the rituals are performed. For some, the puja can be a profound spiritual experience, leading to personal transformation and a deep sense of connection with the divine. For others, the benefits might be more psychological or emotional.

Theological importance of Panchayatana puja

The theological importance of Panchayatana Puja lies in its emphasis on the interconnectedness of various aspects of the divine and its roots in the non-dualistic philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. Here are some key theological points:

Advaita Vedanta Philosophy

This philosophy posits that the ultimate reality (Brahman) is non-dual and that all distinctions and multiplicities in the world are superficial manifestations of this single, unchanging reality. By worshiping multiple deities simultaneously, the puja underscores the idea that all forms and names are merely different expressions of the same ultimate truth.

Unity in Diversity

The practice highlights the concept of unity in diversity, a core principle in Hindu theology. By venerating five deities, the puja teaches devotees to see the oneness behind the multiple forms of the divine. This is an important theological standpoint that fosters inclusivity and respect for different paths within Hinduism.

Inclusivity and Harmony

Panchayatana Puja encourages an inclusive approach to worship. It allows devotees to honor their deity while acknowledging and respecting other important deities. This inclusiveness helps to bridge sectarian divides and promotes religious harmony among different sects and traditions within Hinduism.

Representation of Fundamental Elements

Each of the five deities in Panchayatana Puja can be seen to represent fundamental aspects of the cosmos and human experience:

  • Shiva: Represents destruction and transformation, highlighting the cyclical nature of the universe.
  • Vishnu: Symbolizes preservation and sustenance, underscoring the importance of order and stability.
  • Devi (Durga): Embodies Shakti, the divine feminine energy, representing power, creativity, and protection.
  • Surya: Represents light and knowledge, emphasizing the importance of enlightenment and awareness.
  • Ganesha: Symbolizes wisdom and the removal of obstacles, highlighting the need for clear thinking and progress.

Emphasis on Bhakti and Devotion

The puja places significant emphasis on bhakti (devotion) as a means to achieve spiritual growth and realization. The ritualistic worship, offerings, and recitations foster a deep sense of devotion and personal connection with the divine.

Ritual and Spiritual Discipline

The structured nature of the puja instills a sense of discipline and regularity in the devotee’s spiritual practice. 

Symbolism of Five

The number five has significant symbolic meaning in Hindu theology. By incorporating these elements into the worship, Panchayatana Puja emphasizes the interconnectedness of the physical and spiritual worlds.

In summary, the theological importance of Panchayatana Puja lies in its embodiment of non-dualistic philosophy, promotion of unity and inclusivity, representation of fundamental cosmic principles, and emphasis on devotional practice and spiritual discipline.

Conclusion

Panchayatana Puja is a profound and inclusive Hindu worship that emphasizes the unity of diverse aspects of the divine. Rooted in the non-dualistic philosophy of Advaita Vedanta and popularized by Adi Shankaracharya, this practice harmonizes the veneration of five principal deities—Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Surya, and Ganesha. Panchayatana Puja fosters a holistic spiritual experience through its structured rituals, promoting the recognition of a single underlying reality amidst the diversity of divine forms.

This form of worship not only enhances devotional practices by encouraging regular and disciplined worship but also cultivates a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of the cosmos and human experience. By embracing the theological principles of unity, inclusivity, and harmony, Panchayatana Puja serves as a powerful means to transcend sectarian divisions and foster a sense of community among devotees.

Ultimately, Panchayatana Puja is more than just a ritual; it is a spiritual journey that encourages personal transformation, philosophical insight, and a profound connection with the divine, embodying the essence of Hindu theology and practice.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Panchayatana Puja?

Panchayatana Puja is a form of Hindu worship that involves the simultaneous veneration of five principal deities: Shiva, Vishnu, Devi (Durga), Surya, and Ganesha. It emphasizes the unity of different divine forms and promotes an inclusive approach to worship.

2. Who introduced Panchayatana Puja?

Panchayatana Puja is traditionally attributed to Adi Shankaracharya, the 8th-century philosopher and theologian who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta.

3. What is the significance of the five deities in Panchayatana Puja?

The five deities represent different aspects of the divine and cosmic principles:

  • Shiva: Destruction and transformation
  • Vishnu: Preservation and sustenance
  • Devi (Durga): Divine feminine energy and protection
  • Surya: Light and knowledge
  • Ganesha: Wisdom and removal of obstacles

4. How are the deities arranged in Panchayatana Puja?

The deities are arranged on an altar with the central deity, chosen based on personal or family preference, surrounded by the other four deities in the cardinal directions.

5. What are the steps involved in performing Panchayatana Puja?

The steps typically include:

  1. Preparation and purification of the puja area
  2. Invocation and meditation on the deities
  3. Shodashopachara Puja (sixteen traditional offerings)
  4. Specific offerings such as flowers, incense, and food
  5. Concluding rituals like aarti, pradakshina (circumambulation), and namaskara (prostration)

6. What is the theological importance of Panchayatana Puja?

Panchayatana Puja underscores the non-dualistic philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, promoting the idea that all deities are different manifestations of the same ultimate reality, Brahman. It fosters unity, inclusivity, and a holistic approach to worship.

7. What are the benefits of performing Panchayatana Puja?

Benefits include spiritual growth, mental focus, emotional stability, preservation of cultural traditions, and fostering a sense of community and inclusiveness.

8. Can anyone perform Panchayatana Puja?

Yes, anyone with devotion and respect for the tradition can perform Panchayatana Puja. It is adaptable to personal and family preferences, making it accessible to a wide range of practitioners.

9. What is needed to perform Panchayatana Puja?

You will need representations of the five deities (idols or stones), a clean altar or platform, items for the sixteen traditional offerings (like flowers, incense, and food), and a dedicated space for the puja.

10. How does Panchayatana Puja promote unity and inclusiveness?

By simultaneously worshiping multiple deities, Panchayatana Puja acknowledges the diverse expressions of the divine while highlighting their fundamental unity. This practice helps reduce sectarian divides and fosters mutual respect among different Hindu traditions.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchayatana_puja

 

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