India is a spiritual land, with temples, mosques, churches and other religious shrines intrinsically tied to the community. Despite the crowds and presence of Western tourists, one must remember these are places of worship and should be respected. If you’re interested in seeing a Hindu temple, follow these tips to know what to do and be respectful.
I wouldn’t advise you to stop by a crowded temple after a day of sightseeing. As a sign of respect, wear clean and modest clothes. Footwear is not permitted inside, but there will be a place where you can safely leave shoes. Socks are fine, but keep in mind some of these temples are old with slippery stone/marble floors and no safety railings.
Make an Offering
Before entering the inner temple, you will be able to purchase fruit, cloth, coconuts or sweets to give as offerings. This is not mandatory, but is an easy way to participate in the ritual. Some shrines will let you place the offering yourself, but for many temples, the inner chamber is off limits to anyone except the priests. In this case, hand your offering to the priest with your right hand (avoid using your left hand). Cash is also a common offering, but making a donation is never required or expected.
Take the Tour
Some places are dedicated to a single god, but many temples will have several shrines to see. Start on the left, move clockwise and take a moment to reflect on the murtis (statues). Some shrines have a bell hanging in front, which you can ring as a blessing. Visitors aren’t required to participate in any kind of worship, but if you would like to do a simple gesture, place the palms of your hands together in namaskar. Also keep in mind most temples will forbid photography, as well as the touching of statues.
Priests will make the rounds to offer visitors their own blessing. This can be in the form of agni, which is a tray of lamps over which you sweep your hands and touch your forehead. The priest may accompany this with a splash of holy water and a forehead mark, which is a dash of turmeric or chili powder to bless your third eye. Priests will also hand out prasad, a piece of fruit or coconut that has been blessed by the gods. Remember to take it with your right hand before consuming.
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