Hindu devotees commonly worship at shrines in three different types of places: in their home, in a temple and outdoors in public. Hindu worship generally refers to puja, a religious ritual where devotees make a deep connection to God through prayer, inner reflection and an offering. In their life, Hindus choose a personal deity, known as an ishta devata, which they pray to when worshiping. Since there are as many as 330 million deities in Hinduism, any of them may be prayed to at any of the three places of worship. Unlike some religions where worship is done in a congregation, Hindu worship is generally done individually.
Hindu Worship in a Temple
In Hindu belief, the temple is the physical home where Hinduism’s deities await their devotees. While any of the deities may be prayed to, each temple is commonly dedicated to a specific deity, such as Ganesha. Each temple, often called a mandir, generally has several common features, including a central shrine to the temple’s primary deity; secondary shrines for other deities; and Hindu priests who live within the temple and perform puja. Priests generally perform puja four times per day. Devout Hindus, however, are not required to visit a temple each day. Many Hindus worship their personal deity at home.
Hindu Worship at Home
Most Hindu homes include a shrine where devotees may present offerings and pray to the deities three times per day. The shrines can be any size: an entire room, a small altar, or just religious pictures attached to a wall. Since it is common for members of a single family to choose different personal deities for themselves, most shrines include pictures of a variety of gods. By worshiping at the shrines, it is believed that the deities will protect the home dwellers.
Hindu Worship in Public
Countries that are predominantly Hindu, such as India, have many outdoor shrines to the gods as well. While these shrines can be similar to altars seen in homes and temples, they can also be natural landmarks, such as mountains or a rock wrapped up in a tree’s roots. In many Hindu communities, the public shrine is considered the overseer of the surrounding area. Rather than priests, however, these public shrines are generally taken care of by members of the community. In one example in northern India, worshipers who have cholera honor a public shrine built for the goddess Kali-Ma in order to rid themselves of the disease.
Puja in the home is generally conducted by the head of the household, who chants prayers to the deities. Each worshiper in the home honors their deity by symbolically offering it a seat, bathing it, and giving it a new set of clothes. They also offer the deities food and water, which the devotees believe becomes blessed for their consumption. One difference between temple and home worship is that the devotee prays directly with their chosen deity rather than through the intervention of a trained priest.
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