Education About Asia: Online Archives

Puja: Hindu Expressions of Devotion

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This video is part of a larger packet the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution has produced in conjunction with the exhibit of the same title. The packet also includes a teacher’s guide with reproducible handouts and Indian pop-art posters of various Hindu deities. The materials in the teacher’s packet are also available on a Web site, http://

The video has three parts in which three types of puja, or Hindu devotional practice, are illustrated and described. These are a general description of a puja; worship in the home, and worship at a temple. This gives some idea of the diversity of puja practices. The video depicts the significance of various items which are used in different types of puja and well illustrates the significance of puja to the worshipper. It explains that images and various items used in puja are representative of meanings and connections not immediately apparent to the uninitiated observer, such as that images of gods are considered to be representative, not actual deities themselves, or that various substances in which images are bathed represent geographic or essential forms.

The final section of the video features two subsections on household Durga puja in West­ern India and a Chandi puja at an outdoor shrine in Orissa state in Eastern India. This sec­tion is completely unnarrated, and there is no description of the ceremonies in the teacher’s packet, so these sections may be difficult to explain for instructors who are unfamiliar with Hindu rituals. It might, however, be interesting for students to try to analyze the activities shown. This section does come after the first section is repeated with captions, which means that it necessitates fast-forwarding if the instructor is not using the captioned version.

Footage of pujas from India and the U.S. (the Washington, D.C. metro area) is included, but interviews are conducted only with Indians living in the U.S. Their analysis tends to focus on rational explanations for puja activities. While they are accurate descriptions of one set of beliefs about puja, they are still descriptive of only one set of beliefs. As in many other aspects of Hinduism and life in India, there are many possible interpretations of meanings, and the selection of one necessarily excludes many others. For instance, the belief stated above that images are not the deity is contradicted in much bhakti literature. This is but one example.

This packet should be of use to educators of almost any level, as it is a basic introduction to a topic about which most Americans know virtually nothing. The level of presentation is basic enough that, when combined with other materials provided in the packet, students as low as third grade level would be able to make use of it, but it also has enough substance that college undergraduates (and even some graduate students) could make use of it as a basic introduction to some Hindu religious practices.

Editor’s Note:

The Asian Educational Media Service (AEMS) of the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign contributed the two previous reviews. AEMS provides information about where to find audio visual media resources for teaching and learning about Asia and advice about which ones may best suit your needs.
The program offers a Web site with searchable database and full-text reviews as well as a call-in/write-in service and twice-yearly newsletter, both free of charge. AEMS is supported by funding from The Freeman Foundation and The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.
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