India is a diverse land of many religions and temples are everywhere. Different places of worship have different rituals and customs. A temple is not only a place of worship but also a place of serenity. As per Hindu beliefs, they are regarded as the places where the gods reside. You can feel the energy, the calmness, the spirituality in the air. Taking a temple tour can be beautiful and fascinating, and to someone unfamiliar with the customs it can be confusing.
While visiting a Hindu temple, there are a few common rules that are mandated, to maintain the sanctity of the place. Here are some general rules with a list of dos and don’ts to make your visit a more meaningful and satisfying experience.
- Entry to most of the temples is free of cost. The fares differ for Indians and foreigners if there are any.
- Most temples are closed during the afternoon hours from 12 PM to 3 AM and hence entry during those hours is restricted.
- Mobile phones and cameras are not allowed inside a few temples. You cannot take pictures of the sanctum.
- Remove your footwear before stepping in as temples are considered to be holy.
- We should be clean before entering. So, bathing is a must.
- Barring a few, most temples are open to all people, regardless of their religion, caste, or creed. The only thing that is expected in return is to respect the place and the devotees who visit them. However, it is sad to admit that foreigners are not allowed inside a few ‘sannadhis’ or places where the deities are kept.
- Women need to wear clothes that cover their legs, and shoulders, and preferably not revealing clothes. Men wearing shorts and ‘lungis’ are not allowed inside. Men need to wear a dhoti ‘veshti’ as pants are not allowed in some temples like Tirupati, and Guruvayur, whereas for girls, a dupatta is mandatory. Keep in mind that temples are a place of worship. It is a place to introspect – collect yourself, and find guidance. Wearing modest clothes is more about being disciplined, much like dressing modestly to school, or places of learning.
- Untidy or dishevelled hair is a sign of impending disaster in Hindu mythology as described in the story of Mahabaratha and is considered offensive. So women must plate their hair before entering any Hindu temple.
- Hindus do not eat non-vegetarian food (including eggs) if they are visiting a temple that day. The idea is to be clean of the soul while entering a place of reverence, without having the blood of any lifeforms in their body.
- Drinking and smoking inside temple premises are severely prohibited.
- Women who are on their period or mensurating should not enter. If you break the rule, it is regarded as a sin not to shame.
- Hindus believe in a divine “energy” called “prana” which means breath, a life-giving source, and the deity in the temple is the source of that “prana”. As a result, it is considered disrespectful, if anyone other than the authorized priest, touches the deity. This also is a sign of reverence and respect that has been followed for centuries.
- Accept offerings. ‘Prasadams’, or ‘Prasad’ are free food that is prepared and served inside the temple premises at specific times during, and after ‘pooja’ or worship. They are offered on-hand or sometimes in sustainable bowls that are made up of dried leaves. You can eat inside or outside the temple. Wash hands before and after eating. More importantly, dispose of the bowl in the designated area, and ensure you don’t litter and clean after yourself.
- Observe what people are doing. You will realize that a lot of people worship the same deity in different ways. Regardless of how your faith is practiced, you are accepted if you show reverence and display the respect that is required. However, if you see children scribbling on the temple walls or inserting coins in pillars, do refrain from that activity.
- Travel the temple in a clockwise direction and not in an anti-clockwise direction. Always.
- If you are comfortable. you can wear a bindi, a small dot on the forehead. Accept the offering of ‘vibhuthi’ (white powder), ‘kumkum’ (red powder), ‘manjal’ or turmeric powder (yellow color), and keep it on the forehead, if you wish to. However, if you don’t dispose of the offering in its designated place. It is highly disrespectful if you just throw it.
- Do not spit or chew gums/pan/gutka inside the temple.
- Maintain silence. Slogans and devotional songs are chanted. Single along should they stir you, or remain quiet. It is a place to calm yourself, and displaying any agitation is disrespectful to the place, and more importantly, it is highly discourteous to other devotees.
- Learn the history if you are interested. Most popular or famous temples have a significant, and interesting story behind them.
- Offer donations in donation boxes called ‘hundiyal’ or in the ‘arati’ plate (plate carried by the head priest). The donations offered in ‘hundi’ directly go to the betterment of the temple and those in the arati plate go to the priest’s pocket.
Hindu temples are truly special, not only because of the deities they house but also because of their architectural splendor. From the stone that is used to the trees that grow on the premises, everything is designed to calm unsettled minds and promote clarity of thought. It is truly bewildering how some of the temples that were built during the time of the Indian monarchy could showcase such impressive scientific thought, and complimenting craftsmanship.
We follow these customs every time while visit Hindu temples. Hinduism is an old religion. Although some of the customs might feel outdated or oppressive to outsiders, all these traditions that are followed to date, over time have meaning and relate to a story in Hindu mythologies and even some of them have been proven scientifically. So never mock any religion, or debate the relevance of the act. Instead, try to find the meaning behind it and share them.
Comment on your experience below. Hope this blog helps you to get familiar with the etiquette and customs followed in Hindu temples in India. For more content such as this, and anything related to traveling – from planning to execution, stick with us, the wandering twins.