In a Hindu’s life prayer plays an important part. Every action and event and the ensuing circumstances, whether success or failure, are filled with prayers. Because of this, in Hindu tradition prayer takes more different and numerous forms compared to other cultures, though the object and motive remain the same.
Arguably, Hinduism is the religion with the highest number of prayers, acts of worship, rituals and ceremonies. Waking up, going to sleep, bathing, eating meals, studies, travel, name giving, birth, death, marriage, taking medicine and commencing a new venture are just some of the things requiring prayer. Prayers are important throughout the whole life of a Hindu.
In Hinduism, prayer is called Prârthana. Prârthana is not merely requesting, praising or confessing. It is simply an act of communicating to God. Such an act may not contain any praise or request or, for that matter, have any particular reason.
Hindu prayers can be broadly classified into mental (Mânasika), verbal (Vâcika) and physical (Kayika). Staying in the very thought of the Divine and completely forgetting oneself is a mental or Mânasika Prârthana, though, at lower level, a thought about the Divine, an appeal or desire about God can also be construed as Mânasika Prarthana. Chanting of mantras, repeating the verses about God, or verbal appeals and requests, constitute the Vâcika Prarthana. In a verbal Prarthana several mystical syllables are used since these syllables have the power of conveying the Grace of God quicker and also cleansing the aspirant both physically and mentally. Offering of oblation to fire, making mystical gestures, circumambulation of a temple, prostrating in front of God, lighting and waving lamps, offering food to God or going on a pilgrimage constitute physical or Kâyika Prârthana.
A unique feature of Hindu prayers is that the prayers are not only made to God or a lesser deity and the images representing them, but also to many things that are considered Holy and Sacred as they are manifestations of the Ultimate. So, a Hindu prays to a variety of Sages, Saints and Preceptors, the mountains, the rivers and even the trees.
There are set of prayers that a Hindu repeats every day spiritualising and energising every day existence. There are prayers that are repeated on certain occasions and there are prayers that are meant only for special occasions.