Nature of Worship

Of the 400 deities mentioned in the Hindu scriptures, the number of those worshipped by Hindus hardly reach the figure of 200; of them, only a few are worshipped in ordinary life of a Hindu and the rest receive their share of worship, if any, only once a year.[1]Another aspect of Hindu worship is that the deities worshipped differ from region to region (e.g. Durga in West Bengal, Rama in the north and Ravana in the southern provinces of India), tribe to tribe, community to community, or even from person to person in the same family.

Worship is performed in the form of repetition of mantras (hymns. In a general worship called puja, a picture or image of the deity is used, mantras are recited, flowers, Joss-sticks are offered, water is sprinkled and incense lighted. In this way, love and devotion is expressed for the deity.[2]

Hindu worship is linked with the temples big or small built by Hindus for this purpose.

The temples contain idols which are taken care of by the priests who must be Brahmans; they perform the worship there. Among the famous temples is that of Jagannath.

The temples are generally small, although there exist some large ones. Hindus visit a temple to walk round the building, perform puja, hand their offerings to the officiating priest, catch a glimpse of the idol it contains, and prostate before it.

Some Other Worships and Festivals

Daily Worship

Most Hindus regard it as a duty to bathe daily if this is at all convenient, and to raise their hands and to bow towards the sun as it rises. In the home of a Hindu, there is a family image which is worshipped by offering flowers, fruits, grain and water. The ceremonies are performed by the family priest. The shopkeepers have a picture or an image of Ganesa (elephant-headed deity) in their shops; they burn a little incense before it before commencing business. A devout workman salutes his tools before commencing work for the day.

Ram Navami

Rama Navami also known as Sri Rama Navami is a Hindu festival, celebrating the birth of the god Rama to King Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya in Ayodhya. Rama, the 7th avatar of Vishnu, is the oldest known god having human form.  The holy day falls in the Shukla Paksha on the Navami, the ninth day of the month of Chaitra in the Hindu calendar. Thus it is also known as Chaitra Masa Suklapaksha Navami, and marks the end of the nine-day Chaitra-Navaratri (Vasanta Navaratri) celebrations. Rama navami is one of the most important Hindu festivals.

Worship of Vishnu

Vishnu is worshipped by his devotees called Vaishnavas (also Vishnuvites), a major Hindu sect. The worshippers of Vishnu, if they can afford to get one, own a salgrama ( a kind of rock), or at any rate, cultivate a small tulasi plant.

Durga Puja

Durga Puja is annually held in September-October. It is the most important festival of Bengali Hindus. A special image of the goddess, Durga, is made and worshipped for nine days. Then it is immersed in the nearby river in large procession and much festivity.

Kumbh Mela

The Kumbh Mela, a month-long celebration, is held every twelve years at the confluence of the sacred rivers at Allahabad, in north-central India. This mela recalls the struggle of Hindu gods and demons for a cup, or kumbha, that held amrit, the nectar of immortality. A drop of the nectar was spilled into the waters where the Ganga (Ganges) and the Yamuna rivers meet at Allahabad. The mythical river of enlightenment called Saraswati also flows there. Millions of Hindus gather near the city for ritual bathing. A bath at the Sangam, the ‘sacred’ confluence of the three streams, is supposed to shrive all sins. The most propitious time for bathing is calculated by astrologers. The bathers enter the water to wash away the sins of their past lives and pray to escape the cycle of endless reincarnation.

Worship of Kartekiya

The worship of Kartikeya, the god of war, and son of Siva and Parvati, is performed only on one evening in the year.

Holi Festival

Holi festival is widely observed throughout northern India. In observing this festival, the people go about in excited crowds throwing red powder upon each other.

Dussehra Festival

Dashara festival is held to commemorate the descent of the Ganges (river) from heaven. Hindus believe that bathing in this river at the proper season removes all the sins committed in ten previous lives. This is an interesting ceremony. Thousands of people bring their offerings of flowers, fruits, and grain to the riverside, and then enter the sacred stream.



The term worship, ibadah in Arabic, is generally understood to mean a ritual act or practice like prayer, fasting, etc. In Islam, the term is used in a very broad sense. This is because Islam as a complete code of life regulates the whole gamut of human life: individual, collective, social, economic, political or spiritual. Worship, therefore, includes any activity of an individual, if it is accomplished in conformity with the divine guidance and with the intention of seeking the pleasure of God.

Scope of Worship

According to the Qur’an, the purpose of life of a human being is to worship God.[3] Man has been exhorted to submit himself completely to his Lord Almighty.[4] The submission to God requires a Muslim to ensure that all his activities conform to the divine guidance provided by God in the form of Islam. Islam being a complete way of life, its follower is required to abide by its teachings in every sphere of life, religious or otherwise. This may sound strange to those who think of religion as a personal relation between an individual and God, having no impact on one’s activities outside rituals. But this is not the case with Islam; it is a comprehensive system with rules and regulations which controls and regulates every aspect of human life. This special feature of Islam makes it different from all other religions.

Islam encourages man to worship his Lord through various forms of rituals, but at the same time it gives due consideration to all the needs and requirements of human beings. While it urges a believer to rush to perform salat (ritual prayer) when it is due, it also exhorts him to engage him in income-earning efforts as soon as the prayer is over.[5] All the efforts made in connection with fulfilling these requirements are also regarded as acts of worship, if due care is taken of the instructions given in Islam. For example, if a person eats lawful {halal} food or takes lawful drinks, it is worship; but if he eats something unlawful (haram) (e.g., pork) or drinks something unlawful (e.g., alcoholic drinks), it is an act of disobedience to his Lord.

The concept of worship in Islam is so comprehensive that it includes any good deed. In line with this is the saying of the Prophet: “Doing any good deed is a charity.”[6] Thus, eating, drinking, sleeping and enjoyment of innocent recreation or actions which satisfy man’s physical needs become acts of worship. The Prophet said that when a person affectionately puts a piece of food in the mouth of his wife in order to strengthen bonds of matrimonial love, he is rewarded for it. Once he said to his companions that they would be rewarded even for having sexual intercourse with their wives. In response to their question as to how one could be rewarded for something he had done for the sake of enjoyment the Prophet asked: “Suppose you satisfy your desires illegally, don’t you think that you will be punished?” They replied “Yes.” “So” he said, “by satisfying it legally with your wives you are rewarded for it.” When a person knows that even his enjoyments and pleasures can become acts of worship merely by virtue of purity of intention and motive he does not find it difficult to obey God in every sphere of his life.

Worship in its narrow sense refers to certain rituals both obligatory and voluntary. These occupy very important place in Islam. If performed in true spirit, these worships elevate a man morally and spiritually and make it easy for him to follow Islam in every sphere of his life. The obligatory worships discussed in the following paragraphs are the basic minimum needed to keep a man on the right track, worthy of the name Muslim.

Obligatory Worships

The obligatory forms of worship comprise salat (ritual prayer), zakat (compulsory charity), sawm (fasting) and hajj (pilgrimage). These are the chief means for strengthening man’s relationship with God and are the minimum required to be accomplished by every adult Muslim to achieve the main goal of worship. These worships serve to distinguish those who really have faith and wish sincerely to serve God.

Salaat (Namaaz)

Salat (ritual prayer) is a combination of physical and spiritual exercise aimed at disciplining and edification of the individual. The obligatory (fardh) salat is performed five times a day and is the minimum a Muslim must perform. The times for daily obligatory salat are dawn (fajr, before sunrise), afternoon (zuhr), jate afternoon (‘asr) dusk (maghrib, after sunset) and early night (isha). In addition, salat al-Jumu’ah (Friday’s special prayer) and salat al-Janazah (funeral prayer) are also obligatory for a Muslim.[7] Salat can be performed at any clean place but daily obligatory salat is recommended to be performed collectively in a mosque, if available.

Salat is the first practical manifestation of iman (faith) and is regarded as an act which distinguishes a Muslim from a non-Muslim. It prevents an individual from all sorts of vices by providing him chances of direct communion with his Creator five times a day. In his salat, a Muslim seeks God’s guidance and asks Him again and again to enable him to avoid His wrath and follow His chosen path. Various poses made by him during salat are the embodiment of the spirit of submission; various recitals remind him of his commitments to his God. He reads out from the Qur’an and expresses witness to the truth of the Prophet and also refreshes his belief in the Day of Judgement; he also enlivens in his memory the fact that he has to appear before his Lord and give an account of his entire life. The frequency and timing of salat never let the object and mission of life be lost sight of in the maze of worldly activities.

The daily salat is recommended to be said in congregation and especially so is Friday’s salat. This creates among Muslims a bond of love and mutual understanding. This arouses in them the sense of their collective unity, fosters among them national fraternity and inculcates in them a deep feeling of brotherhood. In salat, people from all walks of life- the poor and the rich, the low and the high, the ruler and the ruled, the educated and the unlettered, the black and the white all stand in one row and prostrate before one Lord with same devotion. Salat is thus a symbol of equality. Salat also inculcates in Muslims a strong sense of discipline and obedience to their leader. In short, salat trains them in all those virtues which make possible the development of a rich individual and collective life.


Sawm (fasting) is compulsory for an adult Muslim during the daytime of the month of Ramadhan.[8] The fast starts at dawn and ends at sunset. During the hours of fasting, one abstains from eating, drinking, sexual intercourse (between wife and husband) and smoking. Muslims irrespective of their status must observe fast during the same period. This brings to prominence the essential equality of human beings and thus goes a long way towards creating in them sentiments of love and brotherhood.

The main purpose of fasting mentioned in the Qur’an is the attainment of taqwa.[9] Each and every moment during fasting involves suppressing one’s passions and desires, thereby demonstrating the supremacy of the law of our Lord. This consciousness of duty and the spirit of patience strengthens his or her faith. Rigour and discipline during the month of fasting help a Muslim make his or her life during the rest of the year a life of true subservience to the will of God.

Fasting teaches man the principle of sincere love because when he observes fasting he does it out of deep love for God. It equips him with a creative sense of hope and an optimistic outlook on life. This is because when he fasts, he is hoping to please God and is seeking His grace- It imbues him with a genuine virtue of effective devotion, honest dedication and closeness to God. It cultivates in him a vigilant and sound conscience because the fasting person keeps his fast in secret as well as in public. It indoctrinates him in patience and unselfishness because when he fasts he feels the pains of deprivation. It develops in him a wise sense of adaptability and power to overcome the unpredictable hardships.

Fasting inculcates in man the real spirit of social belonging, of unity and brotherhood, of equality before God as well as before the law. When he fasts in proper manner he exercises full command over his passions, disciplines his desires and resists all evil temptations. By this course, he is in a position to reassure himself, to restore his dignity and integrity and to attain freedom from the captivity of evil. Once he obtains all this, he has established inner peace which is the source of permanent peace with God and, consequently, with the entire universe.

Zakaat (Charity)

Zakat, a compulsory charity, is a form of worship which relates to wealth. Every Muslim whose financial ability reaches a certain level, has to part with a certain percentage of his excess wealth every year for certain purposes. It is a means of redistribution of wealth in a way that reduces the gap between various income-groups. Thus it makes a fair contribution to social security. Zakat is charged on cash balance as well as on gold, silver, merchandise, cattle, and other valuables. Zakat is offered to the poor, a (needy) traveller, a person in debt, and for some other purposes. Zakat not only makes a person help his fellow beings, but also fosters in him the qualities of sacrifice. In Islam, it is a compulsory duty of every well-to-do Muslim to help his lowly placed, poor brethren. There could be no greater cruelty than to fill one’s own coffers while thousands die of hunger. Zakat makes one share his own wealth with others and help them stand on their own feet.

Zakat purifies the property of the contributor and clears it from the shares which do not belong to it anymore, the share which must be distributed among the beneficiaries of zakat. It purifies not only the property of the contributor but also his heart from selfishness and greediness. It is an effective instrument of cultivating the spirit of social responsibility on the part of the contributor, and the feeling of security and belonging on the part of the recipient. It is a vivid manifestation of the spiritual and humanitarian spirit of responsive interactions between the individual and society. It is a sound illustration of the fact that though Islam does not hinder private enterprise or condemn private possessions, yet it does not tolerate concentration of wealth in a selfish manner. Islam adopts a moderate and middle course between the individual and the society, between the citizen and the state.


Performing hajj (pilgrimage) once in a life-time is a compulsory duty for every adult Muslim who fulfills certain conditions. He should have enough money for the journey to Holy Makkah and back and also for the dependents he is leaving behind. He should be in good health and the way to Makkah should be safe. Hajj is performed in the hajj season.[10]

Hajj takes place in and around the venerable city of Makkah where lies the Holy Ka’bah, the Sacred Mosque, which, according to the Qur’an, is the first house ever built on earth for the worship of the One and Only God. Makkah is the city where Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was born, the city in which and in whose vicinity he received the first and a large part of the wahy (revelations) from God Almighty. Muslims from all walks of life, from all trades and classes, and from every corner of the globe, assemble in Makkah in response to the call of God. They dress in the same simple way, observe the same regulations, and utter the same supplications at the same time in the same way, for the same purpose. There is no royalty, but loyalty of all to God. There is no aristocracy, but humility and devotion. It is to acquaint the pilgrims with the spiritual and historical environment of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) so that they may derive warm inspiration and strengthen their iman (faith). It is to commemorate the divine rituals observed by Ibrahim and Isma’il (peace be upon them), who are known to have been the first pilgrims to the House of God on earth, the Holy Ka’bah. It is a reminder of the grand assembly on the Day of Judgment when people will stand equal before God, waiting for their final destiny.

The performance of hajj provides several spiritual lessons to a pilgrim. It enables a Muslim to purify his soul, strengthen his faith in God and apply the principles of Islam in his daily life so that he may gain the peace and prosperity of this life and the eternal joy of the life to come. The course of hajj is one of the unique characteristics of Islam. It is the largest annual convention of  iman (faith) where Muslims meet to know one another, study their common affairs and promote their general welfare. It is also the greatest regular conference of peace which has no parallel in the history of mankind. It is a wholesome demonstration of the universality of Islam and the brotherhood and equality of Muslims.

The pilgrimage to Makkah, the huge assembly of the believers from all five continents, the gathering together of a multitude of worshippers of all races on the plain of ‘Arafat is perhaps the most spectacular expression, symbol and proof of unity and brotherhood of man as enunciated and upheld by the religion of Islam. On this occasion, it can easily be observed that it is a course of spiritual enrichment and moral rearmament, a course of intensified devotion and disciplinary experience, a course of humanitarian interests and inspiring knowledge – all put together in one single institution of Islam.

[1] Bhattachariya, pp. 50-51.

[2] Chaturvedi, Hinduism The Eternal Religion, (Bombay: 1992), p. 159.

[3] The Qur’an, 51:56.

[4] See ibid., 6: 162.

[5] Ibid., 62: 10

[6] Mishkat, No. 1893.

[7] 26 Salat al-Janazah is a collective responsibility of all the Muslims of the locality of the dead person. If a group of them perform it, all other will be exempted.

[8] The ninth month of Islamic calendar.

[9] The word taqwa, literally, means to keep away but in Islam, it means a slate of being constantly on guard against what has been forbidden by God arising out of His fear.

[10] The months of hajj comprise Shawwal, Dhul Qa’dah and the first ten days of Dhul Hajj, al-Sabuni, Safwat al-Tafasir, (Beirut: 1985), 1:129.