Customs and Etiquette
The customs and etiquette when visiting Hindu temples have a long history and are filled with symbolism, solemn respect and veneration of Brahma's creation.
Worshipers in major temples typically bring in symbolic offerings for the puja. This includes fruits, flowers, sweets and other symbols of the bounty of the natural world. Temples in India are usually surrounded by small stores called 'dukanam' (Telugu) or 'dukan' (Hindi) which offer them typically wrapped in organic containers such as banana leaves.
When inside the temple, it is typical to keep both hands folded together as a sign of respect. The inner sanctuary, where the murtis reside, is known as the garbhagruh. It symbolizes the birthplace of the universe, the meeting place of the gods and mankind, and "the threshold between the transcendental and the phenomenal worlds." It is in this inner shrine that devotees offer prayers and salutations to the presiding deities. Devotees may or may not be able to personally present their offerings at the feet of the deity. In most South Indian temples, only the pujaris are allowed to enter into the garbhagruh. In North Indian temples, however, it is more common for devotees to be allowed entrance.
The mantras spoken are typically "Om Namo Narayana" or "Om Namah Shivaya" which mean "Obeisance to Narayana (vishnu)" or "Salutations to Shiva". These are followed by a series of shlokas or verses from the holy texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads or Vedas. Upon the conclusion of prayer, devotees get down on their knees or even fall flat on their stomach and bow before the symbol of the deity. If a pujari is present, they are likely to provide sacred symbolically blessed food, prasad to the devotee. He may also apply a holy red mark called 'tilak' to the forehead of the devotee symbolising blessings.
Finally the worshiper or visitor walks clockwise around the innermost sanctum, or garbhagriha, stop once on each side, close their eyes and pray to the All Loving Being. The worshiper may receive a sprinkling of the water from the holy river Ganges while the 'pujari' states "Om Shanti" which means "peace be unto all".
During religious holidays, temples may be swarmed with devotees chanting and praying loudly. There may be facilitators called 'paandaas' who help visitors navigate through the crowds and complete the pujas quickly.
Temple management staff typically announce the hours of operation, including timings for special pujas. These timings, due to the vast diversity in Hinduism, vary from temple to temple. For example, some temples may perform aarti once or twice per day, while other temples, such as those part of Swaminarayan movement, may perform aarti five times per day. Additionally, there may be specially allotted times for devotees to perform circumambulations (or pradakshina) around the outside of the temple. There are also timings for devotional songs or music called bhajans, which are accompanied by a dholak or tabla soloist and/or harmonium soloist. There are dates and times for devotional dances such as the classical Bharata Natyam dance performed by accomplished performers.
Visitors and worshipers to Hindu temples are required to remove shoes and other footwear before entering. Most temples have an area designated to store footwear. Additionally, it may be customary, particularly at South Indian temples, for men to remove shirts and to cover pants and shorts with a traditional cloth known as a Vasthiram.
The Hindu religion teaches that all life-forms are created by Brahma and that humankind needs to share the world with the animal kingdom. It is common to see stray dogs, cows, monkeys, and birds congregated at temples.
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