Rites of worship are prescribed by the Agamas:
Nitya — mandatory
Naimittika — situational, periodic, or occasional
Kaamya — desire-fulfilling.
There are strict set of rules to follow and any infraction makes pujari a Brahma RAksasa (demon).
Guru supervises and enforces these rules.
Upacara (worship) has sixteen plus components. There are many internal variations.
Central steps of puja include:
1) aacamana — water sipping for purification;
2) Ganapati prarthana — prayers to Ganesha to remove obstacles;
3) sankalpa — declaration of intent;
4) ghanta — ringing bell, inviting devas and dismissing asuras (demons);
5) aavaahana — inviting the Deity ;
6) mantras and dhyana — meditating on the Deity;
7) svagata — welcoming;
8) namaskara — obeisance;
9) arghyam — water offerings;
10) pradakshina — circumambulation;
11) abhisheka — bathing the murti (the deity);
12) dhuupa — incense offering;
13) diipa — offering lights;
14) naivedya — offering food;
15) archana — chanting holy names;
16) aarati — final offering of lights;
17) praarthana — personal requests;
18) visarjana — dismissal of the deity, farewell.
Also central are pranayama (breath control), guru vandana (adoration of the preceptor), nyaasa (empowerment through touching) and mudra (mystic gestures).
Puja offerings also include pushpa (flowers), arghya (water), tambula (betel leaf) and chandana (sandalpaste).
Atmartha puja: Karana Agama, v. 2, states: Atmartha cha parartha cha puja dvividhamuchyate, “Worship is two-fold: for the benefit of oneself and for the benefit of others.”
Atmartha puja is done for oneself and immediate family, usually at home in a private shrine. Parartha puja: “Puja for others.”
Parartha puja is public puja, performed by authorized or ordained priests in a public shrine or temple.
There are variations in procedure and ritual observances.
1. AAVAAHANA, Avahana — invocation of the deity; holding the thumbs against the root of the ring fingers (Mudra)
2. AAsana, Asana — the manner of sitting forming part of the eightfold observances of ascetics. Offering a seat to the deity.
3. Paadya, padya — Offering water to wash the feet.
4. Arghya — Worthy of a hospitable reception; water given to a guest; objects of worship. Copper, silver and gold vessels are desirable to hold water.
5. AAcaamana — Rinsing the mouth with water: water for that purpose. ceremonial sipping of water.
6. Snaana, Snana — Religious lustration of idol with water.
7. Vastra — Raiment; offering garment for the idol
8. Bhuusaa — Ornament and decoration of idol.
9. Gandha — Fragrance or Sandalwood paste applied to the idol.
10. Puspa — Offering flowers to the idol.
11. dhuupaa, Dhupa — Incense or making smoke from aromatic gum or resin.
12. Diipa, Dipa — Lamp; waving lamp
13. Aksata — Offering unhusked barley-corns
14. Naivedya — Offering victuals to a deity.
15. Taambuula, Tambula — Betel leaves and nut.
16. Pradaksinaa, Pradaksina — Turning the right side towards the idol; circumambulation from left to right, as a mark of respect.