When Hindus enter a temple of their faith, they equate the visit to a meeting with God, which entails a great deal of traditional preparation.
A typical visit to a Hindu temple includes communion and inner reflection. The primary activity, however, is the worship service called puja, a Hindu ritual in which worshipers make a connection with their personal deity, or ishta devata. Before entering a temple and participating in puja, which translates to “adoration,” worshipers make numerous preparations that include proper dress, bringing an offering, clearing the mind and removing footwear. While Hindus traditionally abide by the following steps, non-Hindus can also follow them when they wish to follow proper temple etiquette.
A common step prior to visiting a Hindu temple is bathing and wearing a clean set of clothes. This is believed to help clear the mind for focused worship: “By keeping our bodies clean, we remember to keep our mind pure,” according to the book “What You Will See Inside a Hindu Temple.” An article in a 2012 issue of “Hinduism Today” says that traditional dress is best. This includes saris for women, long dresses for girls, and a kurta with dhoti or pants for men and boys --alhough any modest clothing is acceptable. Most sources advise against shorts or short skirts.
Although not a requirement, it’s a tradition for worshipers to bring an offering with them to Hindu temples as a symbol of their devotion. The offering is purchased or made before visiting the temple and can consist of anything that the worshiper sees fit. Some common offerings include flowers, fruits and incense. According to the Bhagavad-Gita, one of Hinduism’s holy books, Krishna said, “Whatever a devotee offers with love, may it be a flower, a leaf, or even water, I accept and enjoy.” When carrying the offering, the worshiper should not place it directly on the ground or let it touch feet or shoes. The offering is later presented inside the temple.
Clearing the Mind
In the journey to a Hindu temple, it’s common practice for worshipers to prepare their minds for the visit by focusing their thoughts on God. Whether traveling only minutes or making a long pilgrimage, Hindu worshipers traditionally center their minds on their spiritual purpose in order to better attain that goal upon entry. While traveling to a temple, “Hinduism Today” advises worshipers to center conversations on spiritual affairs rather than non-religious matters.
Approaching the Temple
When approaching a temple, Hindus stop outside of its gateway to pray with their hands above their head. Then before entering, Hindu temples generally require visitors to remove their shoes. This avoids carrying dirt into the temple but it also reflects the important symbolism that feet hold in Hinduism. Since feet touch the ground, a symbolically low and impure place in Hinduism, devotees are asked to leave their low parts at the door. After removing their shoes, worshipers commonly rinse their feet, hands and mouth in order to purify themselves before entering the temple. Many temples also have a flagpole outside where worshipers commonly pray and clear their heads of negative thoughts. After these steps are taken, the Hindu devotee is ready to enter the temple.
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