In Hinduism, the altar is the primary center of worship. Altars are not only found in temples, but in Hindu homes as well. In contrast to temple altars, a priest is not required to arrange a home altar. Although Hindus have various traditional methods of arranging an altar, there are regulations that must be followed. This includes the location of the altar, what to include in it and how to worship at it.
The altar should be placed in a separate room or space facing the east or west. However, the east is ideal because the deity's vibrations are said to be much stronger in this direction. It is also acceptable if the altar is placed outside, as long as it is covered. The altar should be placed in a clean area as a sign of respect. Although the altar can be constructed out of any material, sandalwood is preferred.
Materials of Worship
There are several objects of worship that are used for the Hindu altar. These include, but are not limited to, a bell, lamp, incense holder and incense sticks, water container and spoon, kum kum powder and container and prashad, or offerings. Sometimes a conch shell is used as well. Each object is symbolic and has its own meaning. They are used to integrate the worshiper's five senses when giving praise.
According to Hindus, a murti is an image of God. The murti is the central and most sacred part of the altar. The murti can come in many different sizes. It may be a stone statue, small figurine or even a photograph. It is common for Hindu households to worship the image of a family deity along with various other gods, goddesses or saints. Moreover, some wealthier families may even have larger murtis consecrated by a priest.
Every morning, Hindus replace all dried flowers, incense sticks, fruit and other offerings with fresh ones. The statues of the deities are bathed and dressed if desired. At night, the altar doors are closed shut if the altar has this option. The altar and space around it must be kept as clean as possible. The murtis are regarded as images of God and must be treated with the highest level of respect.
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