Many Hindus perform puja, or worship, in their homes every day, but go to a temple for special occasions and holy days. Each physical location of the temple has a different symbolic meaning. The main shrine, located in the center of the temple, represents the core of the worshiper. The temple's tower symbolizes the spirit's journey into heaven, a journey that begins in this life, but continues after death.
Hindus perform puja in a temple using images of a deity called murtis, prayers to the deity called mantras and a depiction of the universe called yantras. The image of the yantras appears in various ritual aspects, such as folding hands during prayer or the sacrifice altar's structure. Worshipers make offerings of fruit, water, incense or clothing to a deity. Three forms of worship exist: Nitya is a daily puja, which Hindus do not necessarily have to perform in the temple. Naimittika includes special rituals that take place on holy days. Finally, Kamya describes other acts of faith that are optional, but that Hindus try to complete. Not all of Kamya rituals include temple worship; some involve making pilgrimages.
Deity Temple Worship
Many Hindu denominations begin temple ceremonies by worshiping the god Ganesh before performing any other ritual. They believe that if they please Ganesh, he will protect the ritual and make sure everything goes as planned. The process they use to worship Ganesh, called Shodasha-upachara puja, can also serve to worship other Hindu deities. The worship includes 16 steps, most of which involve making offerings of foods such as water, sweet drinks and fruits, and gifts such as perfumes, clothes, jewels, incense and flowers. They also bathe the representation of the deity, wash the feet and chant mantras in praise of him.
Mantras and Readings
During temple service, priests will read from the Vedas, which are sacred texts for some Hindus. A priest does not have to read the text; any Hindu who is "twice-born," or born into a higher caste and undergoes initiation rites, may perform the readings. Worshipers recite mantras, beginning with the Sankalp, which puts them in the correct state of mind for the practice. The Sankalp reminds worshipers that everything they do in the temple serves a specific purpose in their worship.
The kalash is a pot, typically made of copper or some other type of metal, that plays a role during both important events, such as weddings, as well as standard worship. The pot holds water, and worshipers decorate it with either five or seven mango leaves. They then surround it with ornate cloths or a flower garland, and place a coconut over the top. During the rituals, a member places the kalash in the northeastern portion of the temple. Hindus believe that it soaks up all of the good energies that descend from heaven, and that the water transforms into amrit, or the elixir of life. At the end of the ceremony a priest sprinkles the water on practitioners to share the positive energy.
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