I have been the head pujari (one who does puja or moving prayer) of Kashi Atlanta for many years. My hands-down favorite ritual or ceremony is Fire Puja. It is an ancient ritual dating back anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 years, depending on the source.
We do this puja to transform the limited mind and negativity and bring us into the Divine. It sounds very simple, but it is very deep and often intense.
The puja begins with the preparation – gathering of the elements needed for the puja, preparing the vessels holding the elements, cleaning and decorating the temple and the dhuni (firepit) for the puja. Once the items are prepared, and those who are attended gather, kirtan or chanting is performed to get our minds empty and our hearts open to the ceremony. A coconut – symbolizing the negative mind – is offered to Ganesh (the remover of obstacles) and then cracked, breaking the mind. The hands of the pujari are cleansed and then water is offered, bringing in the flow of the Ganga or the sacred.
The pujari then offers ghee (purified butter) into the fire, while chanting 108 names of the Divine Feminine – representing 108 aspects or paths to the Divine. After each name, participants throw a little rice into the fire, asking to be free of whatever it is that causes suffering. Typically, after the ghee is used and the rice is thrown, the participants and the pujari feel much lighter, as the fire burns and consumes that which is offered. The ceremony ends with a few more chants, closing and giving thanks for the space.
For me, each time I do the puja my mind gets very active prior to the puja in so many ways (usually not pleasant)! But after it I feel my heart wide open, and much closer to that which I seek to invoke. I feel the existence of God and Goddess, that this form of love exists, and I feel comforted, connected and deeply loved. And with that love, it becomes easier to love, to be kind and to share. Which in the end, is really what it’s all about.