There was another devotee there who asked some of the others, "Do you have Shalagrams too?" "No" came the reply "I told them I didn't want to do, I have too much going on in my life, and wouldn't be able to fit it in!"
You could see the sevaks eyes meet across the room.
There's something attractive in all aspects of the puja; the Deity(ies) Themselves, the paraphernalia, the actual process of serving the Lord - the ritual seva, the mantras, everything. Many devotees I know have been attracted by hearing and or seeing the puja going on.
Still just as there is teleological freedom of choice, we have that freedom to according to our natures to be attracted to different aspects of the Lord and His entourage, He is after all, All Attractive - Krishna.
shravanam kirtanam vishnoh
archanam vandanam däsyam
iti pumsärpitä vishnau
bhaktish chen nava-lakshanä
kriyeta bhagavaty addhä
tan manye ’dhitam uttamam
shri-prahrädah uväca—Prahläda Mahäräja said; shravanam—hearing; kirtanam—chanting; vishnoh—of Lord Vishnu (not anyone else); smaranam—remembering; päda-sevanam—serving the feet; archanam—offering worship (with shodasopachära, the sixteen kinds of paraphernalia); vandanam—offering prayers; däsyam—becoming the servant; sakhyam—becoming the best friend; ätma-nivedanam—surrendering everything, whatever one has; iti—thus; pumsä arpitä—offered by the devotee; vishnau—unto Lord Vishnu (not to anyone else); bhaktih—devotional service; chet—if; nava-lakshanä—possessing nine different processes; kriyeta—one should perform; bhagavati—unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead; addhä—directly or completely; tat—that; manye—I consider; adhitam—learning; uttamam—topmost.
Prahläda Mahäräja said: Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Vishnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one’s best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words)—these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Krsna through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge. (Srimad Bhagavatam 7:5:23-24.)
As usual in Prabhupada's purport he makes everything so clear. His purports are so jammed ful of instruction and inspiration, as well as the means to protect our enthusiasm, everything is there.
Herein he says; "Hearing from the text of Çrémad-Bhägavatam
is considered the most important process of hearing. Çrémad-Bhägavatam
is full of transcendental chanting of the holy name, and therefore the
chanting and hearing of Çrémad-Bhägavatam are transcendentally
full of mellows. The transcendental holy name of the Lord may be heard
and chanted accordingly to the attraction of the devotee. One may chant
the holy name of Lord Kåñëa, or one may chant the holy
name of Lord Räma or Nåsiàhadeva (rämädi-mürtiñu
kalä-niyamena tiñöhan [Bs. 5.39]). The Lord has innumerable
forms and names, and devotees may meditate upon a particular form and chant
the holy name according to his attraction. The best course is to hear of
the holy name, form and so on from a pure devotee of the same standard
as oneself. In other words, one who is attached to Kåñëa
should chant and hear from other pure devotees who are also attached to
Lord Kåñëa. The same principle applies for devotees attracted
by Lord Räma, Lord Nåsiàha and other forms of the Lord.
Because Kåñëa is the ultimate form of the Lord (kåñëas
tu bhagavän svayam [SB 1.3.28]), it is best to hear about Lord Kåñëa’s
name, form and pastimes from a realized devotee who is particularly attracted
by the form of Lord Kåñëa. In Çrémad-Bhägavatam,
great devotees like Çukadeva Gosvämé have specifically
described Lord Kåñëa’s holy name, form and qualities.
Unless one hears about the holy name, form and qualities of the Lord, one
cannot clearly understand the other processes of devotional service. Therefore
Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu recommends that one chant the
holy name of Kåñëa. paraà vijayate çré-kåñëa-saìkértanam.
If one is fortunate enough to hear from the mouth of realized devotees,
he is very easily successful on the path of devotional service. Therefore
hearing of the holy name, form and qualities of the Lord is essential.
In Çrémad-Bhägavatam (1.5.11) there is this verse:
yasmin prati-çlokam abaddhavaty api
nämäny anantasya yaço-’ìkitäni yat
çåëvanti gäyanti gåëanti sädhavaù
“Verses describing the name, form and qualities of Anantadeva, the unlimited Supreme Lord, are able to vanquish all the sinful reactions of the entire world. Therefore even if such verses are improperly composed, devotees hear them, describe them and accept them as bona fide and authorized.” In this connection, Çrédhara Svämé has remarked that a pure devotee takes advantage of another pure devotee by trying to hear from him about the holy name, form and qualities of the Lord. If there is no such opportunity, he alone chants and hears the Lord’s holy name." (Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad. Srimad Bhagavatam 7:5:23-24. purport excerpt.)
ässe shrutekshita-patho nanu nätha pumsäm
yad-yad-dhiyä ta urugäya vibhävayanti
tat-tad-vapuh pranayase sad-anugrahäya
"O my Lord, Your devotees can see You through the ears by the process of bona fide hearing, and thus their hearts become cleansed, and You take Your seat there. You are so merciful to Your devotees that You manifest Yourself in the particular eternal form of transcendence in which they always think of You." (Srimad Bhagavatam 3:9:11.)
The statement here that the Lord manifests Himself before the devotee in the form in which the devotee likes to worship Him indicates that the Lord becomes subordinate to the desire of the devotee—so much so that He manifests His particular form as the devotee demands. This demand of the devotee is satisfied by the Lord because He is pliable in terms of the transcendental loving service of the devotee. This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gitä (4.11): ye yathä mäm prapadyante täms tathaiva bhajämy aham. We should note, however, that the Lord is never the order supplier of the devotee. Here in this verse it is particularly mentioned: tvam bhakti-yoga-paribhävita. This indicates the efficiency achieved through execution of matured devotional service, or premä, love of Godhead. This state of premä is achieved by the gradual process of development from faith to love. On faith one associates with bona fide devotees, and by such association one can become engaged in bona fide devotional service, which includes proper initiation and the execution of the primary devotional duties prescribed in the revealed scriptures. This is clearly indicated herein by the word shrutekshita. The shrutekshita path is to hear from bona fide devotees who are conversant with Vedic wisdom, free from mundane sentiment. By this bona fide hearing process, the neophyte devotee becomes cleansed of all material rubbish, and thus he becomes attached to one of the many transcendental forms of the Lord, as described in the Vedas.
This attachment of the devotee to a particular form of the Lord is due to natural inclination. Each and every living entity is originally attached to a particular type of transcendental service because he is eternally the servitor of the Lord. Lord Chaitanya says that the living entity is eternally a servitor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna. Therefore, every living entity has a particular type of service relationship with the Lord, eternally. This particular attachment is invoked by practice of regulative devotional service to the Lord, and thus the devotee becomes attached to the eternal form of the Lord, exactly like one who is already eternally attached. This attachment for a particular form of the Lord is called svarüpa-siddhi. The Lord sits on the lotus heart of the devotee in the eternal form the pure devotee desires, and thus the Lord does not part from the devotee, as confirmed in the previous verse. The Lord, however, does not disclose Himself to a casual or unauthentic worshiper to be exploited. This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gitä (7.25): näham prakäshah sarvasya yoga-mäyä-samävritah. Rather, by yoga-mäyä, the Lord remains concealed to the nondevotees or casual devotees who are serving their sense gratification. The Lord is never visible to the pseudodevotees who worship the demigods in charge of universal affairs. The conclusion is that the Lord cannot become the order supplier of a pseudodevotee, but He is always prepared to respond to the desires of a pure, unconditional devotee, who is free from all tinges of material infection. (Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srimad Bhagavatam 3:9:11. purport)
Also I suggest that we interact with acceptance and freedom from envy any of the nine processes where devotees engage in the loving service of the Lord. Neither we should try to maximise ours as better, nor anothers' as lesser. Mutual appreciation, mutual acceptance, and mutual advancement in Krishna consciousness.
I found an interesting little paragraph in the book Tattwa Jnan of HH Visveshwar Tirtha Swami of the Madhwa Vaishnava line rather inspiring in this regard. There he says that just as various devotees may collect vessels for containing water and go to the Ganges, each being satisfied with the vessel he chose. In the material realm I'd compare what you have to mine and minimise yours, or you'd do likewise, or you'd look at my vessel and out of disatisfaction envy mine or visa versa. Other scenarios might be that I compare the best quality or quantity of your service with the least of mine, become discouraged feeling inadiquate or inferior. Out of natural humility one may feel so, but to be told so by another is incorrect. We see in the episode of the Ramayan the small spider wanting to render service in helping to build the bridge to Lankha .......... his effort by the monkey's and bear's standard seemed insignificant, but Rama saw the capacity and intent of that person and was pleased that he was willing to render some service.
So the size of the puja, the length of the puja, even the number of upacharas offered has little bearing on the overall effect. The desired effect is that one develop a pure loving exchange with the Lord, not artificially by some strength or dynamic of our own, but by mutual reciprocation awakened and invoked by a sincere desire to please the Lord.
We often remember the mood of Mother Yashoda as she tried to bind Baby Krishna by her own strength, but it was not possible. Only when Krishna saw her sincere intent based in her love for Him did He allow Himself to be bound by Her. This is the conclusion of the Acharyas (Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur Bhagavad Gita 10:10 purport; Satyavata Muni, compiler of Damodarastakam, Sanatan Goswami, etc.) For who by our own strength can bind Krishna in any of His forms? It is simply not possible.
Instead through submisive action and sound we call to Him to allow us into His service, and His associates make the necessary arrangements. Much of that is done through the address of the Holy name, the Yuga dharma for this age, without which little has any worth.
The Acharyas (Bhaktivinod Thakur - Harinam Cintamani, Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur - Madhurya Kadambini, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad - throughout his teachings) stress that especially in this age process must at least include the chanting of the Holy names of the Lord, otherwise nothing else has any meaning, or potency on its own. That is stated throughout the scriptures. So in these pages, that so strongly glorify the Shalagram form of the Lord, we're not in anyway trying to minimise the practices of hearing and chanting, which are the very the basis of the nine-fold process to invoke remembrance of Vishnu.
parékñid abhavad vaiyäsakiù kértane
prahlädaù smaraëe tad-aìghri-bhajane lakñméù påthuù püjane
akrüras tv abhivandane kapi-patir däsye ’tha sakhye ’rjunaù
sarvasvätma-nivedane balir abhüt kåñëäptir eñäà param
“Parékñit Mahäräja attained salvation simply by hearing, and Çukadeva Gosvämé attained salvation simply by chanting. Prahläda Mahäräja attained salvation by remembering the Lord. The goddess of fortune, Lakñmédevé, attained perfection by worshiping the Lord’s lotus feet. Påthu Mahäräja attained salvation by worshiping the Deity of the Lord. Akrüra attained salvation by offering prayers, Hanumän by rendering service, Arjuna by establishing friendship with the Lord, and Bali Mahäräja by offering everything to the service of the Lord.” All these great devotees served the Lord according to a particular process, but every one of them attained salvation and became eligible to return home, back to Godhead. This is explained in Çrémad-Bhägavatam. (Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad. Srimad Bhagavatam 7:5:23-24. purport excerpt.)
Bhagavad Gita AS IT IS