First and foremost begin with cleansing, i.e. clean the area where the altar is to be set up. This should face the eastern direction if possible. You and others who will participate in the performance of the Puja should bathe, and wear clean and comfortable clothes. Men may wear kurta/pajama combination, or dhoti/uttareeyam combination with or without a kurta/shirt/jibba etc. If men wearing dhoti decide to wear no upper garment,then a y agnopavita should be worn.
A small bench or a wooden table or a cardboard box covering an area no larger than 36" x 24" and about a 15" to 24" tall is adequate. The size can vary if you wish to arrange more or fewer pictures and/or statues on the surface. Remember that you should be able to see the
items on the altar and have easy access to make offerings during the worship. Place the table (or box) against a wall, cover it with a clean cloth, preferably white, and secure the same by tucking it under so that it won't slip off easily. Tape it if necessary such that the tape is not visible. Now arrange a picture of the God/Goddess to be worshipped, preferably at least an 8.5 "x 11 " size such that it makes about 10 to 15 degrees to the vertical and leaning against the wall.
Similarly pictures/statues of the family Godhead and Guru must also be arranged on the altar.
Prepare one or two lamps with cotton wicks soaking in oil. Place the lamp/s about 6" in front of the picture if it is one lamp, or about 10" apart if two lamps. Do not light these until you are ready to begin the Puja. Prepare a
worship plate (stainless steel, silver or any other metal, 12" to 24" diameter) by placing on it small vessels (cup-like,
preferably metallic) of kumkum, turmeric, one packet of camphor, sandal paste, a dozen agarbatti sticks (incense sticks), and a match box. Prepare another plate, 12" or 24" diameter, metallic or wicker and put a variety of fruits (bananas, apples, oranges, etc.) and a couple of varieties of leaves and flowers. You will need an aarati plate. This can be a small plate with a few vertical wicks soaking in oil or ghee or an aarati receptacle with a few wicks soaking in oil or ghee. You will also need a small cup of akshata. Covered dishes of your favorite
prasaadam or sweets may be placed in front of the altar on the cloth- covered ground. A metallic vessel large enough to contain a couple of mugs of water should be filled with water and placed in front of the altar. You will need a smaller vessel, preferably a metallic straight-walled tumbler into which water will be poured during the service. A dispenser (called uddharana or a simple metallic spoon) to dispense water from the tumbler will be needed. You will need a piece of cloth, white for a male deity and colorful cloth for a Goddess.
Now you are ready to begin. Light the lamps and a couple of agarbattis. Keep them safely in the vicinity such that they present no hazard. Direct the agarbatti
smoke towards the altar such that the smoke would not cause discomfort with chanting by the assembled. You must realize that in a few moments you will be invoking and receiving a godhead and therefore the principal mood should be one of joy and bhakti, but the mind should be relaxed. Make sure nothing starts until you are certain that a pleasant, sincere, reverential, relaxed environment is created to fill yourselves with joy as you begin to
surrender to the Godhead through worship.