How to perform a Puja?
Waking up in morning:
A devotee should get up early in morning before sunrise. This is clearly stated in Shikshapatri (S.49). Before sunrise does not mean that if the sunrise is at 7:00 am then we should get up before 7:00 am but it means that we should try to wake up at brahma-muhrata. Brahma-muhrata is generally between 4:00 am to 5:00 am, rule of thumb is one and a half hour before sunrise. So a devotee should at least get up in brahma-muharata.
Our shastras are so perfect and meticulous (detailed) that they also describe as to how one should perform his daily cleanliness duties. This is also stated in Shikshapatri briefly (S.49-50). One should clean his hands and legs properly after evacuating in morning. The process is also specified - both the hands should be washed (using soap water) seven times while rubbing them against each other. Then wash the feet soles three times with soap water.
Afterwards one should clean his teeth. This should be performed while sitting at one place only. In the modern facilities, this should be performed standing at one place, and during this process, any other activities or conversation should be avoided. If one is not able to obtain materials for brushing teeth or a neem stem for brushing teeth, then he should clean his mouth by gargling twelve times.
Then one should shower, if healthy, using cold water. Without performing a shower in morning oneself is not considered sanctified or pure. Only after taking a bath one is eligible to perform worship of the deities or any sacrificial duty. While bathing, one should try to remember Lord Hari. After bathing, a devotee should cover himself with one cloth on the upper portion and with another piece of cloth in the lower portion of body. These cloth, used to cover body, should be freshly washed and should not be contaminated by any other impure objects touch.
For performing puja, a devotee should sit down on floor (on a clean cloth made of straw, or deerskin, or wool can be used), facing north or east. Then he should perform achamana ( sipping water using ones palm). The process of achaman can be best described as - rest the right hand thumb on right hand middle fingers tip center. This will form a small cup like shape in your right hand. The using left hand pour a small quantity of water in right hand and sip it reciting achamana mantra. This should be repeated another two times (total three times). The mantras used are as follows:
After performing achaman wash your hands using clean water and wipe with washed cloth.
All devotees should apply tilaka or chandlo as prescribed in Shikshapatri (S. 41-46). While applying tilaka (using chandan/ gopichandan), one should recite the following mantras -
Afterwards apply a round dot/ chandlo using gopichandan/ chandan/ kumkum powder. All the ingredients used for tilaka/ chandlo should be first offered to Lord Sri Hari.
Then after washing hands, a devotee should perform manasi-puja (mental worship). This process is very nicely explained by Sri Swaminarayan Mahaprabhu in Vachnammritam ( Gadhda-Antya 23). Then, one should invite The Supreme Lord by reciting the following mantras:
"Uttish to tishtha he Nath! Swaminarayana
Reciting these mantras, invite The Supreme Lord in the pictorial form of your puja. Then one should chant his fixed number of rounds of Sri Krsna Ashtakshar mantra. Then do fixed number of rounds for Swaminarayan Mahamantra. If one likes and is able to do it, then he should do tapa-mala, that is chanting the mahamantra on beads, while standing up. It is extremely important to chant on the beads, and the beads should be always in a bead bag. While chanting one has to be careful that the index finger and also any of the finger nails do not touch the beads. After chanting the prescribed number of rounds, a devotee should circumbulate the puja (purpose is to circumbulate the Lord in puja) at least five times. The he should offer dandvats (prostrate obeisances) six times as explained in Sri Vachnammritam. Then read Shikshapatri in the presence of Lord Sri Hari. We should have a fixed number of verses that we should read everyday. It is said in Shikshapatri (also in Vachnammritam) that on a given day if one is not able read Shikshapatri, then he should fast that day. If one does not know how to read, then he should worship the Shikshapatri. After reading Shikshapatri, ask The Supreme Lord for excuse of any offenses committed during puja, reciting the following mantra:
"aparadh sahastrani kriyante ahornisha mayaa;
Then one should recite the final mantra inviting The Supreme Lord back to His abode- Akshardham. The mantra used for this is:
"sva-sthanam gaccha Devesha, puja madaya
Thus, puja is completed which then is wrapped up properly in a special cloth (which should be always kept clean and used for only that purpose) and is placed back at a secured place. Then a devotee should rectite various prayers (patha and strotras) and compositions from our sampradaic shastras. Then the devotee should go to the temple (if possible) and offer obeisances to the deities and devotees in temple.
NOTE: All the contents of puja and all the paraphernalia used for puja should be kept very clean as they are for The Supreme Lord. Also the worshipable picture (of Lord Sri Hari) in puja should be very clean and should be cleaned regularly.
How to perform a Puja?