One of the primary places where Hindus go to worship is a temple, which is known in Hinduism as a mandir. The central activity in a mandir is puja, an elaborate religious service that participants believe spiritually connects them to Hindu’s deities. Hindus often make numerous preparations before entering a temple, such as bathing themselves and dressing in modest clothing. Most temples discourage shorts and short skirts. Once arriving at the temple, Hindus often stop at its entrance to pray in either a prostrate position or with their hands above their heads. Many temples also have an outdoor flagpole where worshipers can pray and clear their heads of negative thoughts. Before entering the temple, worshipers are usually required to remove their shoes as a sign of respect to Hinduism’s deities.
Entering the Temple
Each Hindu temple is generally dedicated to a specific god, such as Shiva or Ganesha, but they regularly have shrines set up for a variety of gods. Upon entering a temple, worshipers often see a small bell by the door that they traditionally ring in order to announce themselves to the gods. It’s then customary for worshipers to visit each of the shrines within the temple and to offer a flower in honor of each represented god. Worshipers then customarily walk clockwise around the temple’s primary shrine and clear their heads of non-religious thoughts. Afterward, devotees place an offering (often fruit or flowers) at the shrine to honor the deity. Hindus then sit for the worship service known as puja.
During puja, devotees sit before the temple’s main shrine while a priest chants in Sanskrit and makes hand gestures that are intended to conjure the deity, which is often represented by an image. The priest then rings a bell and makes the deity offerings, such as food and holy ash. Religious rites, such as bathing an image of the deity in water, are also performed by the priest. After the image of the deity is dressed in new clothes, the priest offers worshipers flowers while chanting the names of Hindu gods. The priest then waves a lamp before the image of the deity while bells ring. This symbolizes the deity sending his power through the image. The worshipers then pray in a prostrate position toward the shrine.
The priest then holds the lamp in front of each worshiper, who then traditionally wave their hands across its flame three times. The devotee then softly touches their eyes in a gesture meant to draw blessings into themselves. The priest then places a handful of ash in the right hand of each worshiper, who then transfers it to his left hand and uses the right hand to spread it across his forehead. A priest then pours each worshiper a small amount of blessed water that is meant to be sipped. Each devotee is then offered sandalwood paste and red powder, which are then applied in a small dot on the forehead with the ring finger. Sometimes, food may be offered to worshipers at the end of the puja ceremony.
When the puja service is finished, Hindus often partake in a variety of related activities while at the temple. Worshipers may sing hymns to themselves or with a group, either at select times during the puja service or afterwards. Some Hindus may choose to meditate or mentally repeat a mantra while counting prayer beads, an act known as japa. It’s also common practice for Hindus to receive an individualized puja service, known as archana, which can be obtained through a modest fee and offering. Although not required, devotees may also make a general monetary donation before leaving the temple.
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