Puja Thali

In India, pooja supplies are as pivotal to the act of pooja as spice boxes are to cooking. Pooja essentials range from the idols, to incense sticks, and offerings like fruit and flowers. Another quintessential element of the pooja experience is the pooja thali. ‘Thali’ translates to ‘plate’ in English, which in some sense is how they are used during prayer rituals.
 
Thalis come into play at key moments of the prayer ceremony, such as when the devotee presents a thali laden with offerings of betel leaves and coconut; and towards the end of the ceremony, when the priest brings around a plate carrying burning camphor, whose flame devotees worship briefly, and kumkum with which one anoints the forehead and the base of the throat.
 
Pooja thali decoration can differ from region to region and from festival to festival. In homes across north India for example, Diwali thalis are layered with a bright piece of gold- or silver-threaded cloth or lace fabric, which is then decorated with vivid rangolis. Minor variations aside, there are certain key ingredients that can be found on thalis across the country, regardless of region or festival. The following is a list of some of these ingredients.
 
Tilak or kumkum: a fine vermilion powder that’s stored in a small container, kumkum is a blend of dried, powdered turmeric and a bit of slaked lime, which is what turns the turmeric red. Kumkum is a sacred application and is typically placed between ones brows. It serves as a mark of divine protection.
 
Sweets (e.g. laddoos) and seasonal fruits for prasadam (food offering to God).
 
Incense sticks: a blend of fragrant plant matter and essential oils, incense sticks are used in rituals across religions, as their aroma is believed to repel negative energy and to purify the air.
 
Vibhuti:  made out of a blend of dried cow dung and semi-grown rice paddy, vibhuti is believed to have curative properties.
 
Diya: light, whether firelight or candlelight, signifies knowledge (en‘light’enment) of a spiritual nature. A lit lamp invokes and encourages spiritual enlightenment.
 
Other ingredients include camphor, coconuts, betel leaves, a hand bell, a small metal pot filled with water (a little of which is sipped at the end of the ceremony), and a sacred string to be tied around the wrist after the pooja ceremony.
 
Pooja ceremonies and objects are deeply cherished aspects of everyday life in India, and must be chosen with great love and care.

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