A friend was telling me recently how her cleaning lady is upset with her because she keeps her dirty dishes in the puja room beside the kitchen. This friend is not particularly religious and her place is small - hence the decision to maximise space and use the puja room as an extension of the kitchen sink! For her cleaning lady however, it’s disrespectful to keep dirty dishes in the most sacred room of the house.
Every Hindu home has a special puja room where religious idols are kept and the daily puja is performed. When we were looking for a place to live, I remember one landlord had pointed out the small room with a decorated door inset with brass bells and told us solemnly: “This is god’s place.”
A puja room is usually near or beside the kitchen. It could also be just a cupboard or simple shelf or a special cabinet. In our kitchen there is a cupboard without a door which I assume was meant to be used as a puja space. According to Vaastu, a puja room should be located in the north-east, north or east. Sure enough, our kitchen is on the north side of the house.
The puja is an important morning ritual: lamps and incense are lit, prayers are recited and the idols are offered fruits and flowers. In the mornings, I see men on bicycles delivering flower garlands to my neighbours’ letterboxes, especially for this purpose. For festivals like Dasara and Diwali, my landlady takes special care to decorate her puja room and always invites me to come and have a look.
Many foreigners living in India assume this small space is a closet and use it for storage. I even heard of a family innocently using it as a shoe closet. Their maid had told one of their neighbours, who felt it was her responsibility to tell the family that keeping shoes (considered impure) in a puja room was close to sacrilege!