Temples and Sacred Sites in Hinduism
According to Hindu belief, the planet is Bhumeshvari, “Mother Earth” a living Goddess, and India is Jambu Dvipa, “Rose-Apple Island,” the holiest place in the world. The entire Indian Subcontinent is dotted with temples and sacred sites. Within a day’s walk of virtually any spot of India, you’ll find at least one holy center. Hindu renunciates spend their lives circling India, stopping at another pilgrimage point or famous temple each evening. These places are magnifying lenses for the spiritual energy of the land itself, the Hindus’ beloved Mother India.
Taking off your shoes
You’ll have to take off your shoes before you enter a Hindu temple. You’re not allowed to drag in the dirt from the outside world, either on the soles of your shoes or in your own soul. Outside all large temples, you will find a shoe stall where you can store your shoe for a few pennies. You’re expected to leave your worldly thoughts behind, too, though there’s no convenient place to store them!
Any visitor should also dress modestly. Ladies, in Hindu culture this means the bosom, upper arms, and legs should not be exposed, so no halter tops or shorts. Gentlemen, clothes should be clean and untorn, with your legs covered. Please leave leather items at home, as it is considered a desecration to bring objects made from butchered cows into a Hindu temple.
Come bearing gifts! God and Goddess have filled your life with blessings, so it’s only appropriate that you bring a present as an expression of your gratitude. Fruits like mangoes, coconuts, or bananas are good. So are handfuls of flowers. Rupee notes go down particularly well. Foreign currency will not be turned away! If it wasn’t convenient to bring anything with you, don’t fret. Plenty of helpful vendors will meet you at the temple door and cheerfully sell you every kind of offering appropriate at that temple.
Be careful not to stumble as you walk in. There’s a raised step right before you enter. you may want to bow, touch this step with the fingers of your right hand, and then touch your fingers to your forehead and heart. Even the dust from the steps of a holy temple carries a blessing!
Worshipping in a Hindu Temple
There is a specific timing to visit the temple when you can visit the divine statue. In busy temples, you may have only a moment to see the deity and feel his divine presence before you’re waved out so the next group of devotees can squeeze in. At smaller community temples you can stay for the full services, however, which may include devotional singing and devotees dancing before the divine image. A priest or devotee will offer objects like a fan, a fly whisk, and incense. The main event is arati, the ritual waving of light before the deity. A brass tray filled with camphor candles is waved in circles before the deity. Then a temple officiant carries the tray around to each worshipper. Pass your hands quickly through the flames as you waft the sacred fire’s blessings towards yourself.
Receiving your blessing
The temple assistant will come to offer you holy water into your cupped right palm. Hindus drink the water, then run their right hand over their heads, distributing the blessing force. Temple personnel will come and mark your forehead, this is Tilak a sign that you’ve received the diety’s blessing. Don’t leave without prasad. They are the gifts brought in by devotees to the temple and are blessed by deity. This may be an article of food or flowers and is a token of God or Goddess affection for you. It’s considered quite holy. Amazing healing has been attributed to the power of prasad.
Altar in your home
The center of the Hindu religion is not a temple but their home. Hindus go to the temple for festivals or consecrations or to ask for special favors from the deity. But no sermons are delivered there. You don’t go to the temple to get lectured at or be educated in your religion. You just go to pay your respects to the temple deity. the real worship goes on right in your own house. So does your religious education, which comes from your parents and elders. Or you may go to your guru’s home to study with him or her.
Every Hindu home has its own shrines where images of the favorite family deities are installed. The family worship before these deities every day, waving lights and offering incense and food. In fact, good Hindus won’t touch their meals till the food has first been blessed by the household gods. The home shrine may contain small statues of popular deities like Krishna, Lakshmi, or Shiva. Or there may be pictures and even inexpensive color posters of the Hindu god and goddess. These are not considered less holy than metal or stone statues. The divine presence has been invoked in these articles, and Hindus treat them as living representations of the deity.
The household shrine saved Hinduism during the Muslim takeover. Fanatic Muslim leaders destroyed almost every major temple in northern India in an effort to exterminate Hinduism, but they failed because the most important temples were in people’s homes. Most Hindus remained faithful to their religion despite tremendous pressure to convert to Islam. When calmer Muslim governors, and later the British, headed the country, the great Hindu temples were rebuilt.