An intermediate puja includes the steps from madhu-parka to naivedya and is performed during fasts or birthdays of deities.
A small puja involves the steps from gandha to naivedya and is performed everyday. All pujas end with arati.
The object of performing the puja in this manner is to treat the deity as one would a guest, with honour and respect. In temples, the deities are treated as kings. Though the steps of worship are the same for all deities, there is some difference in the puja of each. For instance, the kind of flowers offered is different for each deity. Presently, a puja might also involve japa or meditation. A very important part of any puja is the applying of tilaka and the distribution of prasada to devotees.
A worshipper is required to be pure of body and mind. The Puranas lay more stress on the quality of devotion and good behaviour than on rigid puja procedures. Puja originated as a substitute to homa and other Vedic sacrifices which could not be performed by women and Shudras and which required animal sacrifices. Due to Dravidian (see Dasas), Buddhist and Jain influences which preached non-violence, the killing or sacrifice of animals was discontinued and with the development of iconography, idol worship and puja took the place of sacrifice. It was also recognised that worship was essential for all, whatever the gender or caste (see Varna) and therefore puja was formalised as a universal option instead of the exclusive homa.
Taken from indiaMystica CD by Magic Software
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