By Swami Harshananda
Pañcāyatanapujā literally means ‘worship of five deities’.
Five Different Portrayals of God
The Ṛgveda declares that ‘Sat’ or the Truth is one, but sages designate it by various names. Hence the various deities of the religious pantheon should be looked upon as various facets of one and the same God, generally called as Brahman or Paramātman in the scriptures. These deities can be classified into five groups each group representing different aspects of one principal god. They are:
Diversification by Śaṅkara
Gradually, various sects grew round these deities. The votaries of these sects, forgetting the Rgvedic dictum and the philosophy of the one Supreme Being, became mutually exclusive or even hostile. To rectify their attitude and put them back on the right track, Śaṅkara is said to have evolved a method for harmonizing them all. The result was pañcāyatanapujā or worship of all the five deities simultaneously, keeping the iṣṭadevatā in the center and the other four in the four corners of a square.
Mode of Pañcāyatanapujā
These five deities may be worshiped either in their images of small size or through symbolic objects such as śālagrāma for Viṣṇu, bāṇaliṅga for Śiva, metallic stone for Devī, red stone for Gaṇapati and sphatika for Surya. Geometrical drawings like square, hexagon or circle are also sometimes used to represent these deities.
Five Cosmic Elements with Deities
These five deities are represented as associated with the five cosmic elements:
- Gaṇapati is associated with earth
- Śiva is associated with water
- Devī is associated with fire
- Surya is associated with air
- Viṣṇu is associated with ether
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore