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Pujā - Worship or Devotion Rituals of Jains

Published: 27.07.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

Pujā is a part of obligatory duties (āvaśayakas) which adopts perhaps certain characteristics of Hindu pujā. Laity performs both dravya (with the aid of material substances) and bhāva (psychic or mental) pujā while the ascetics and even laity from Sthānkvāsi and Terāpanth Śvetāmbara Jains perform only bhāvā pujā. While origin of pujā is obscure in literature it seems that it is an extension of obligatory duties like meditative contemplation (sāmāyika), inner worship and reverence to the holy teachers. It is an activity to signify devotion, interaction and obeisance towards a divine through his iconic form. It is generally conducted in temples in the morning. Both sects of idol worshippers perform this with some differences.

The individuality of the daily pujā is emphasized by the fact that Jains are not supposed to greet, or even recognize each other while at worship, and as they make their way about the temple, it seems almost that they cannot see the kinsmen, neighbours, and collegues around them. One is alone in their religious practice. The pujā is not performed in unison. Each celebrant acts alone and chooses his /her own way. There is no set time for performing daily pujā and no congregation which holds a common service. Worshippers are free to come to the temple and worship at any time during morning hours before the noon, and they have direct access to the idols. They spend as long as they like at their devotion and put together their own separate performances. This is in accordance with Jain teachings which stress the need for individual efforts to their salvation. In theory only consecrated idols should be worshipped at least once a day but it is lay people themselves, rather than priests, who perform these regular repeated rituals.
 It is to be noted that emperor Samprati (2nd century BC) in order to popularize Jainism used iconography as a means to spread and expand Jainism. Consequently temple building grew and with it arose a host of rituals, which were later popularized by all sects of Jains (Digambaras in south) and Ancalagacha (Śvetāmbara sub sect of 10th century AD) in Gujarat.

Performing or acts of Jain pujās, especially the dravya pujās, have deep Hindu effect and at times performed with lot of enthusiasm, pomp and show but differ significantly in substance and content. For example, after the pujā, Hindus distribute prasāda (left over offerings) i.e. the goodwill of divinity worshipped which is not the case in Jain pujās. Similarly pujāris in Hindu pujās are conspicuous by their absence in Jain pujās as Jain laity themselves performs all interactions with the idols and divinity. Watching Jains perform pujā give an impression that Jains are far from dry and inactive people and exercise lot of physical and other activities in performing religious duties.

Pujā hymns and similarities to Hindu pujās: Invariably while performing pujās, making the offerings, the devotees sing quietly so as not to disturb the others performing the puja, certain hymns depending on the jina represented by the ruling idol and other auspicious events. Generally these are in praise of the fordmakers, at times assuming the Hindu tinge with fordmakers being described as gods able to bestow their grace to the devotee. However the deep Jain doctrine ingrained in devotee stays and does not get affected except singing and contemplating the praise of the fordmakers. For worldly favors however, there are gods and goddesses are worshipped, like Padmāvati, Cakreśawari, Saraswati linked to fordmakers; Dādāgurus; doorkeepers (kşetrapālas) for all Jains and protectors like Bhomiāji at Sammetśikhar (now at different temples at other places also), Bhairava at Nakoda, Ghantākarana at Jain temples in Gujarat for Śvetāmbara Jains.

Object of devotion and the devotee:

Jina means a spiritual conqueror who has gained complete control (or has become totally indifferent to sensual pleasures and pains and followers of Jina are called Jains. The word Śrāvaka is also used for a Jain, the teleological meaning of which is as follows:

  • Śrā: Believer or has full faith (Śraddhā) in some one’s sermons /beliefs.
  • va : Having discriminating knowledge (vivekavāna)
  • ka : Active (kriyāvāna)

Śrāvaka also means an apt listener. Śraddhā implies unquestioned faith in Jinas and their holy sermons. With this faith, A Jain tries to develop discriminating knowledge (vivek or bhedavijňāna) of good and bad and lead a virtuous life.

Varāđga Caritra and Harivańśa Pūrāņa have described charity, pujā, penance, and śīla as essential observances of a householder (Śrāvaka)1. However Ācārya Jinasena in Ādi Pūrāņa says ‘Bharat Cakravarti calls pujā, worldly duties (vārtā *), charity, self study, self restraint and penance as the essential observances of a householder. Later on śīla was identified as vārtā, self study, self restraint and then vārtā was replaced by service of the holy teacher and pujā. Ācārya Soma Deva in Upāsakādhayyana and Padma Nandi in Pańcavińśatikā say:

Devapujā gūrūpāsti Svādhyāya sańyamastapaħ
Dānań ceti grahsthānań sat karmāņi dine dine. 2

Since then the six essential observances of the householders have been established. Further it is indicated in these texts that the householder, when he gets up first in the morning, after attending his nature’s calls, should take a bath should pay obeisance to the divinity (Devapujā). Ācārya Kunda Kunda in Rayansara 3 says ‘ Dāņań puyā mūkkhań sāvayadhmmo ņa sāvayā teņa viņā’ i.e. the two most important religious duties of the householder are pujā and charity as without performing these, a person cannot be called a Śrāvaka.

Amit Gati in the Śrāvakācāra 4 speaks of the nature of the deva (divinity) as follows.

‘Those who have destroyed, the huge mountains ranges like rows of snakes of inauspicious karmas (resulting in pain only) both material and psychic, by their meditation (similar to lighting destroys the matter coming in its way); have attained omniscience (like the messenger of the woman like liberation); who are the owners of the auspicious events of the life (kalayāņakas); whose divine sound being free from the movement of lips and tongue causes amazement and is the cause of knowledge of the three worldly realms and relieves the listeners of all theirs pains(like the rain clouds bring comfort to the earth suffering from scorching heat of the sun); and wander on this earth due to the activation of the meritorious karmas of their listeners. The gods worship with great respect and honour such divinity by decorating the eight auspicious things (aşţapratihāriyas) around them for gaining worldly miracles/benevolence. The householders are suitably advised to follow the same feelings while worshipping the divinity. He further cites the following example to explain this concept of worship:

“Like a mongoose is not found in a hot place, similarly the jinas are free from the flaws like attachment, aversion, pride, anger, greed, delusion etc. Such Jinas, who are the supreme most in the three realms of the world, are worthy of worship (with the aid of material objects (dravya) or just psychic (bhāva)) according to the capabilities of individual devotee. Bhāva puja implies to regain control over mind, speech and body or to concentrate the mind on devotion of the Jina only. Using the eight materials (water, sandalwood, shelled rice, flowers, coconut, lighted lamp, incense or sandalwood powder) to perform pujā is called dravya pujā. By performing such pujā, the devotee is not only able to achieve the most sought after worldly comforts but can even move forward to attain complete liberation also.

Types of Pujā

Besides the dravya and bhāva pujā, we also find mention of the following six types of pujā 6.



To recite the names of the Jinas and offer rice, flowers etc at a clean and holy place.


To establish or to assign

It is of two types namely Sadbhāva or similar and Asadbhāva (dissimilar). The first one implies assign or think a similar objects like idol (as the jina and then worship their virtues) while the second type assumes dissimilar objects like rice etc assigned the image of jina and then worshipped.



It assumes using three types of materials e.g. entity with life (like real jina present or a holy teacher etc,) without life (matter only like idols or holy scriptures) and mixed (with and without life)).



Those places associated with the five auspicious events of the life of the jinas worshipped with eight types of materials.



Worship during the time periods or moments when the five auspicious events of the life of jinas or the special religious events take place.


Mental or psychic

To recite hymns or to remember the arhantas / jinas with body and endowed with the four infinites, siddhas with infinite attributes and without body i.e. pure soul; preceptors, holy teachers and ascetics according to ones capabilities. Similarly the four types of meditation i.e. pindastha, padastha, roopastha and roopātita is also called bhāva pujā.

Āśā Dhar in Sāgara Dharmāmŗta (2.44) says that the devotees who worship the sermons (scriptures) of jina in fact worship the jina himself as there is no difference between jina and his sermons. Dhavalā (9.4) says that worshipping a monk results in extinction of the sins committed. Upāskādhyayna indicates prastāvanā, purākarma, sannidhāpana, pūjā and the benefits of pūjā as types of pūjā.8 Synonyms of pūjā are jājňa, jajňa, kratu, pūjā, saparya, ijyā, adhwara and makha. Ācārya Soma Deva had described two types of pujā primarily namely daily (nitya) and event oriented (naimaitika). 7 He says that the devotees and especially the learned ones who are familiar with the Jain metaphysics should be attentive while performing pūjā and not show any form of carelessness.

Types of Pujās

Daily Worship:
This implies the worship performed daily by the devotee. Besides this, contributing daily towards establishment of a jina idol, building a temple, popularizing the Jain religion, paying obeisance to the deities of all the three time periods, sāmāyika, paying obeisance at the feet of the holy ascetics and charity for religious cause are also indicated as different types of pujā.

Event Oriented Worship:

Pujā performed by emperors, kings and cakravartis is called Caturmukha pujā. Worship performed during the holy eight days every 4 months is called Aşţahānikā pujā; worship performed by gods is called Indradhwaja pujā and the worship performed during Das lakşaņa /Paryuşaņa is called Daslakşaņa/ Paryuşaņa pujā. Besides these worship performed during consecration of idols or temples, called pancalkalyāņaks and during fasts are also called event oriented pujās. Tiloyapaņņatti describes the method of performing the pujā with types of offerings. Special event oriented pujās, like Aşţahānikā (for eight days), during festivals and special purpose pujās where lot of glamour, music, professional singers and ascetics are also involved along with special offerings like coconuts, incense in the fire, food for all those attending the pujās etc.

Offerings in Pujās:

Reasons for performing abhişeka (giving a bath to the idol) and pujā with eight types of offerings and the benefits accrued: Vasunandi Śrāvakācāra pages 483-488:

  • Pouring water over and in front of the idol, the devotee washes/ rids the dirt (sins) associated with him. Based on the principle ‘like water removes dirt associated with body /cloth etc, similarly water in the form of the true belief and knowledge (samyaktva) washes away the dirt of the kārmika accumulations over the soul’.
  • Putting sandalwood paste on the idol, the devotee acquires good fortune. Based on he idiom ‘candayati āhalādayati cańdanam’ i.e. like sandalwood pastes causes the bodily heat /fever to cool down, similarly samyaktva (right belief and knowledge) in the form of sandalwood paste causes the destruction of the ill effects of the inauspicious karmas associated with the soul and provides peace and tranquility to the devotee.
  • Using the shelled rice as offering causes the devoted to acquire the wealth (9 nidhis and 14 jewels) of the cakravarti, the devote stays always free of diseases and pain and ultimately achieves the salvation (mokşa). ‘Na kşati eti akşatam’ i.e. an entity which can never be destroyed is called akşata (indestructible). This is based on the fact that the rice after being shelled from its husk cannot be used as a seed to give rice plants again. Similarly removing the there types of matter dirt (dravya, bhāva and nokarma) from the soul, it attains the state of pure soul i.e. mokşa or end of the transmigration cycle called sańsāra.
  • Using the flowers as offering causes the devotee to have a gleaming face like a lotus flower and becomes attractive and praiseworthy from the people (primarily opposite sex).’ Pūşpayati vikasati eti pūşpa’ i.e. flower is an entity which transforms the mind in a state of blissful fragrance. Similarly offering flowers cause the devotee to experience the fragrance of his own soul i.e. bliss.
  • Using naivaidhya (delicacies i.e. cooked delicious foods) causes the devotee to be full of energy and aura, healthy body and handsome appearance. Coconut or its pieces are used as a substitute as it is supposed to contain all ingredients of food and by offering them, the devotee develops conquest on hunger thereby making his body free of the ill effects of various types of food and the devotee enjoys the eternal energy (ananta virya) of his soul.
  • Using lights (burning/ lighted lamp) result in the devotee developing equanimity and true knowledge of the Jaina metaphysical doctrine i.e. attains omniscience ultimately or the infinite knowledge (ananta jňāna and darśana) attributes of his soul.
  • Using the incense powder in the fire, the devotees becomes like the moon, an owner of worldly fame by burning all types of matter karmas associated with his soul and letting his soul shine like the full moon in the entire universe.
  • Using the fruits, the devotee acquires the ultimate benefit i.e. nirvāņa/mokşa or salvation.

These are the eight types of offerings used by the devotee while performing dravya pujā of the jinas.

Benefits of Pujās:

Pujā signifies devotion and expressing wishes to attain certain levels of purities in thought and action and worldly achievements even though the Jain doctrine of non responsive jina / fordmakers and not bestowing any favors is deeply ingrained in them. The pujās, in fact do not elicit any response from the jina / fordmakers but rather brings about an internal, spiritual purification in the worshipper and at times causes bondage of merit /auspicious karmas and keeps the worshipper away from the inauspicious karmas during the period of pujās. About the benefits of pujās, Samantbhadra in Ratna Karnada Śrāvakācāra (verse 41)10 says that ‘the devotee of jina ultimately attains the state of jina (who stay at the summit of the loka and worshipped by all the luminaries with there heads bent down in reverence) himself’.

Performing pujās (daily)

Digambara Jains:

Digambara Jains, generally do not touch the idols, except a handful of men (women also allowed in Bisapanthi sub-sect). The men, who touch and give bath (prakşāla), first thing in the morning to the idols, take the bath themselves in the temple and wear two non stitched clothes (dhotis) before starting the pujā. The person starts pujā with first chanting abandonment (nissahi) or move from the world to a holy place three times while entering the temple, then with folded hands recites navakāra three times before the idols and making three circumambulations of the idols afterwards followed by bowing before the idols. After dusting the idols with clean cloth, they remove the metal idols from the pedestal and keep them in a plate on the table at the altar. These men, one at a time, give bath to the idols with clean water in specified manner and reciting mantras, followed by drying the idols with a clean cloth and placing the idols back on their normal place. They along with other fellow devotees in the temple, sing hymns, perform ārati with lighted oil lamps and adore the idols with fly whisks.

A few of the men then stay at the table and perform puja there while others sit at different palces in the hall. The sequence consists of first preparing a plate with painting, using sandalwood paste, a swastika with three dots on top and a half moon for offerings and keeping all the ingredients in a separate plate, small pots for water and sandalwood water to use as offerings, bowl to offer water and sandal wood water and a separate stand to offer rice or cloves while invoking the divinity being worshipped.

Then both women and men sing hymns, mantras etc using eight types of substances (water, sandalwood water, rice, flowers (replaced by saffron coated rice), sweets (replaced by coconut bits), lamp (substituted by coconut bits coated with saffron), sandalwood powder (substituted by cloves), fruits (substituted by almonds) and a mix of all these. They perform the puja singing hymns adoring the fordmakers, holy teacher, liberated souls, mantras and offering different substances at different times in the course of the pujā. Most lay persons, not involved in the above manner of pujā, bring rice, almonds, and coconut bits and cloves mixture from the home and perform the puja without preparing the plates as indicated above. Generally the temples also provide these ingredients to the devotees who do not bring them from their homes. Mostly the pujā is performed either individually or a team of husband and wife together.

Śvetāmbara Jains

The pujā sequence is called eightfold (aşţaprakāri) divided in two parts namely the three limbs (anga) pujā where offerings are made onto the limbs of the idol (water, sandalwood paste and flowers) and the second part is called the agra (facing) pujā where the remaining five offerings are made in front of the idol (incense stick burning, lighted lamp, rice, food and fruits).

The pujāri in the temple first briskly cleans the stone idols, with peacock feather brushes, of the previous day’s offerings on them, then give them a bath and dries the same for the devotees to perform the pujā. A handful of men and women, especially after they take bath in the temple, wearing two non stitched clothes (for men) and simple daily dress for women on entering the temple, chant abandonment (nissahi) (move from the world to a holy place three times), then with folded hands in front of the idol says Namo Jinānam and recites navakar three times before the idols. Then he makes three circumambulations around the idols ending with a bow before the idols. They put a cloth to cover their mouth to perform water pujā involves giving a bath to the idols placed on the pedestal followed by wiping it dry with a clean cloth.

Like prakşāla of idols by Digamara Jain, they also perform the similar bathing called snatra pujās of one metal idol kept in temple for the purpose. This is performed by a small group of lay people who come early in the morning. The idol is placed on a pedestal called samosarana and all those who take part in this pujā sing songs from the books provided alongwith pouring water on the idol to give it a bath(at times with milk, curd, sugar, ghee and sandalwood also). This ritual is a re-enactment of the first bath given by angels led by Indra (king of gods and goddesses) to the newly born jina at Mount Meru. In snatra puja worshippers take on the role of angels and Indra. On a particular day, not more than 2 or 3 persons perform this pujā. After drying of the idol, it is returned to the pedestal meant for it.

The next stage of the pujā is to put dabs of sandalwood paste on nine parts of the idol and to place fresh flowers on the lap, knees shoulders and top of the head of the idol. This is known as anga (limb) pujā. The process of anointing and decorating may continue by putting perfumed oil, silver leafs pasting and by dressing the idol with jeweled ornaments and a silver coin. During the pujā, worshippers also enact certain rituals like waving flywhisks to serve the idol/ jina etc.

This is followed by agra pujā. The worshipper takes a burning incense stick and waves it in front of the idol followed by waving a lamp in the same manner. These activities are performed while being inside the central shrine. Then the worshipper comes out of the shrine and sits in the central hall to perform the remaining pujā. Using rice, s/he makes a svastika on the table followed by offering food and fruits on this svastika. This is followed by ringing a metal bell, waving the fan while dancing. Throughout the above pujās, there are hymns which the devotee keeps on reciting slowly to be one in mind, body and speech in devotion.

Throughout the morning the people continue to come and perform the bathing rites on older idols. They may also circumambulate the central idol thrice and ring the bell hanging in the central hall before performing the puja. As the morning progress more people come, dressed in ordinary work clothes and before going to their work place and content only in bowing before the idols and take a darśana/vision.


  1. Ādi Pūrāņa by Ac. Jinasena (v 25. ‘hajyā ---svavosadanūkamāt
  2. Padma Nandi’s Pańcavinśati v.2
  3. Rayaņasāra by Kunda Kunda
  4. Śrāvakācāra by Ac. Amit Gati
  5. ibid
  6. Upāsakādhayyana
  7. ibid
  8. ibid
  9. Ratna Karnada Śrāvakācāra by Ac. Samanta Bhadra.
  10. ibid verse 41. ‘Devādhideva paricaraņań sarva dūħkha nirharaņam; kāma dūhi kāmadāhini paricinūyādhāhato nityam’ i.e. worshipping the feet of jina results in destruction of all worldly pains, pains of sensual addictions. Therefore the enlightened beings should worship the jina.
  11. Renouncers and Riches by James Laidlaw, Assembly of listeners by Michael Carrither
 International School for Jain Studies.


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