The Puja Ceremony

On NPR’s journey along the Grand Trunk Road, photojournalist Kainaz Amaria encountered a group of seven young Hindu priests preparing for an evening ritual.

During the day they study, but every night they conduct a puja ceremony, presenting flowers, incense and food to an image or idol representing the divine spirit. Hundreds flock to the bank of the Ganges River to witness and participate in the ceremony.

“If we bathe there, the body is cleansed, but the heart is also cleansed,” priest Vikash Vastoda told NPR correspondent Philip Reeves about the ritual.

  • Damodar Sharma, 23, a Hindu priest, applies a bindi to his forehead before an evening ritual in the holy city of Varanasi, India. He will perform a puja, a Hindu ceremony in which priests present flowers, incense, food and other items to a murti, an image or icon of a divine spirit.
    Hide caption
    Damodar Sharma, 23, a Hindu priest, applies a bindi to his forehead before an evening ritual in the holy city of Varanasi, India. He will perform a puja, a Hindu ceremony in which priests present flowers, incense, food and other items to a murti, an image or icon of a divine spirit.
    All photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR/Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • The priests prepare for the puja at the Dasaswamedh Ghat, a wide row of steps at the riverside of the Ganges. The priests live together, cook for each other and take care of each other while they are away from home.
    Hide caption
    The priests prepare for the puja at the Dasaswamedh Ghat, a wide row of steps at the riverside of the Ganges. The priests live together, cook for each other and take care of each other while they are away from home.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • Vikash Vastoda, 24 (right), came to Varanasi a little over a year ago. When asked about his family he said, "I miss them so much, I can't explain to you how much I miss them." The seven priests, most from Nepal, came to Varanasi to live and study at a temple.
    Hide caption
    Vikash Vastoda, 24 (right), came to Varanasi a little over a year ago. When asked about his family he said, "I miss them so much, I can't explain to you how much I miss them." The seven priests, most from Nepal, came to Varanasi to live and study at a temple.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • Gokul Sharma, 18, watches from a balcony overlooking the Dasaswamedh Ghat where hundreds of people gather for the puja, which is performed seven nights a week.
    Hide caption
    Gokul Sharma, 18, watches from a balcony overlooking the Dasaswamedh Ghat where hundreds of people gather for the puja, which is performed seven nights a week.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • The priests wait patiently with their guru (far right) on the banks of the Ganges before the ceremony begins.
    Hide caption
    The priests wait patiently with their guru (far right) on the banks of the Ganges before the ceremony begins.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • The seven priests walk onto the Dasaswamedh Ghat. The priests, known as pujari, recite chants and meditate during the ceremony.
    Hide caption
    The seven priests walk onto the Dasaswamedh Ghat. The priests, known as pujari, recite chants and meditate during the ceremony.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • Sharma (right) and Vastoda prepare their platforms. Incense, flowers and lamps holding candles are all used to pay gratitude to Shiva, a Hindu deity, and the Ganges River.
    Hide caption
    Sharma (right) and Vastoda prepare their platforms. Incense, flowers and lamps holding candles are all used to pay gratitude to Shiva, a Hindu deity, and the Ganges River.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • Hundreds of Shiva worshippers and tourists gather at the Dasaswamedh Ghat every evening for the puja.
    Hide caption
    Hundreds of Shiva worshippers and tourists gather at the Dasaswamedh Ghat every evening for the puja.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • A woman selling flowers and candles, used as personal offerings to the Ganges River, walks through the crowd.
    Hide caption
    A woman selling flowers and candles, used as personal offerings to the Ganges River, walks through the crowd.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • Smoke envelops Vastoda as he waves a candle-studded lamp before Hindu worshippers during the aarti, the final step in which the light is used to express spiritual humility and gratitude.
    Hide caption
    Smoke envelops Vastoda as he waves a candle-studded lamp before Hindu worshippers during the aarti, the final step in which the light is used to express spiritual humility and gratitude.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR

1 of 10

View slideshow i

Vastoda, originally from Nepal, has been in Varanasi two years. He came to study music and to better himself so he could support his family.

His mother sent him to India, he says, with the words, “Please, son, do something because your father is no help.”

And so every day, he pushes forward, he says, attempting to lead a pure and just life, for his mother and the community.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.