Worshipping at a Hindu Temple
Dear Girls and Boys,
There are many ways to worship God.
Here we are going to see the ways of worshipping God in a Temple.
After reading these your next Temple visit will be more meaningful.
The almighty God has created us and this wider universe and also the stars like sun, moon and various other planets.
The great God is organizing actions and movements of all in such a way that all are in perfect order.
God also protects and also destroys all.
God is omnipresent.
There is no place without him and he is inside every living being as well as outside of all such creations.
He is also observing all our words, thoughts and deeds.
Shouldn’t we, thus worship this omnipresent God, who shower us with immense grace?
But the question is how and where to worship him?
We can worship the God anywhere, at home, at a temple or in the middle of a forest or while travelling or when in danger or in happiness or even while preparing or doing our school exams. We can think or meditate of him in our mind and pray with pure love. We can also set up a shrine room in our home and worship him there.
However, going to a temple and worshiping the God along with other devotees brings in lot of advantages. Can I tell you an example of this?
Solar + Cotton lint = Fire?
We all know that the solar energy is very powerful and it is giving us both light as well as heat energy. However if you leave a piece of lint outside exposing it to the glowing sun it would not catch fire. Would it? Even if you leave it long, the lint would not catch fire at all.
But if you hold a lens just above that cotton lint, what do you think would happen?
The sunlight that accumulates at the focal point of the lens will make the cotton lint to ignite.
The Temples are also doing the job of the lenses. They act as the spiritual centers that accumulate the omnipresent god’s immeasurable grace and present them to us.
There are so many worshippers coming to a temple and worshiping God with pure inner love. When all of them pray together and glorify the God with devotion, the power, and grace of God will be revealed in abundance.
We have studied earlier about the structure of a Temple.
Now it is time to learn about the procedures that we must follow to visit a temple and also how to worship God in a Temple.
Shall we go into those details now?
Worshiping the God at a temple everyday is ideal but it is not always practically possible. We have to do various jobs on daily basis. Children must go to school.
Adults need to go to work. Mothers should go to work too and if not there will be plenty of work for her at home, cooking, child care, washing, cleaning etc. Therefore, it is not always possible to go to the temple every day.
So, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday of the week and special days like “Pirathosam”, Full Moon day, No Moon day, New Year day, First day of the new month, Solar eclipses, Lunar eclipses, “Shivratri”,” Navaratri”, “Ganesh Chaturthi,” “Kantha shasti “days, “Thaipoosam”, “Diwali “etc are the days when we must try our best to go and worship God at the temple. In addition, on our birth day, it is better to go to the temple to seek the blessings of the God.
The mornings and the evenings are the special moments to go to the temple.
Temple is a place filled with grace and power of the great God. God is an embodiment of pure love and grace and a temple is a holy place and therefore when we go to worship him, we must clean ourselves by taking a shower.
It is not enough to clean our body but also we must fill our mind with pure thoughts as well.
Then, we must wear clean clothes and in the forehead, we must apply, ‘thiru-neeru’ (if Saivas) or ‘thiru-mann’ (if Vaishnavas). When you place ‘thiru-neeru’ or ‘thiru-mann’, you must close your eyes and utter the name of the God with devotion.
If it is Lord Shiva, you would say ‘Ohm, Namashivaya’ and if it is Lord Vishnu, you would say ‘Ohm Namo Narayana’ and likewise, you would say other deity’s name too.
When we go to the temple it is not advisable to go empty-handed. There is a maxim that when you visit children and the seniors, you should not go empty-handed and so when we visiting the God who is greatest of all, we must take some items to offer him.
Milk, coconut water, coconut, flowers, flower garland, fruits, betel leaves, betel, camphor, incense sticks, honey, ghee, yogurt can all be taken as offerings to a temple. You can also take some clothing such as silk that can be adorned to the idol. Of these, coconut, fruits, betel leaves and betel must be tidied up and washed well and neatly arranged in a clean tray or basket with other products.
You must not carry the tray or basket below the waist level. Carrying it using both hands at the chest level is the ideal way.
It is true that not everyone can take all of these offerings to God. It is okay to take just one flower or a small packet of camphor with you. God will accept them with love and bless us.
Some devotees offer rice, vegetables and other items to the temple kitchen so that the people can have ‘pirasath’ after the poojas.
On special festival days like Thaiponkal, Diwali, etc, along with usual offerings, we can also take carefully prepared food items like Pongkal (milk rice), puffed rice, chickpeas, vadai, motakam etc with us for ‘Neivethiya’. Once the pooja is finished, we can share them as ‘pirasath’ with other devotees.
When we approach the temple and when the temple tower is known as “gopura” (sthoola-lingham) appear in our sight we should lift both arms above our head and joining the palms together worship it while uttering the name of the God.
If there is a holy pond, well or water fountain made available to us then we should wash our feet, hands etc well before entering the temple so that we will not be taking any dirt inside. Footwears like shoes, sandals must be removed and left outside in the place provided, before entering.
As we pass the main entrance at the bottom of the “gopura” (sthoola-lingham) and enter the temple, the ‘kodimaram’ (meaning: Pillar of flag or Flag Pole) (also known as tuvaja-stampam), ‘palipeedam’ (means: stage of sacrifice), ‘deepaa-sthampam’ (means: pillar carrying the lamp) and the vehicle can be seen in a row just in front of the ‘karphpak-kiraha’ (main shrine (sanctuary) or moolasthanam) and the saba mandaba (Hall).
As if waiting for the order of the master, the vehicle of the God or goddess of the main shrine will be seen looking straight to the moolasthanam (main shrine).
Ox known as ‘Nandi Devar’ can be seen as the vehicle of Lord Shiva’s temple, and the peacock as the vehicle at Lord Muruga’s temple, Garuda (eagle) can be seen as the vehicle at the Lord Vishnu temple, in Goddess Durga (sakthi) temple lion can be seen as the vehicle while mouse can be seen as the vehicle at Ganesha temple….
We have seen earlier that there will be a ‘palipeedam’ (stage of sacrifice) at the temple. You may wonder the relevance of it at a Hindu temple.
First of all, we must bow (namaskar) before the ‘palipeedam’ and in doing so we will also be sacrificing our pride, proud, prejudices, lofty, arrogance, ill feelings and all kinds of improper desires, etc.
When we do this it will be easier for us to worship God with pure devotion and love and God also will bless us.
There are some rules for bowing (namaskar) at a temple and we shall now learn them next.
If the deity in the temple’s main shrine facing towards to the eastern or western direction, we should bow keeping our head towards north direction and if the deity is facing towards a southern or northern direction then we should make sure that our head is facing towards east direction while bowing.
We should never bow keeping our legs towards eastern or northern directions.
Bowing guidance for men atta-angka namaskar
Men must do atta-angka namaskar. Atta means eight and angha means parts of the body. Hence atta-angha means, the bowing should involve eight body parts for men. Head, two arms, two ears, jaw and both shoulders should touch the ground and that is known as atta-angka namaskar.
Toppling or throwing the body to the ground slowly and keep it as if lying face down to the ground (prostrate), first let the head touches the ground followed by the chest. While the body is resting on the chest, extend the right-hand parallel to the head, followed by the left hand.
Then retreat both hands and keep them next to the hip, thus making both shoulders also touch the ground. Then right ear should touch the ground followed by the left ear.
This procedure is known as atta-angka namaskar for men.
Bowing guidance for Women: Pancha-angka namaskar
Women must do pancha-angka namaskar (see inage above). Pancha means five. Head, two hands and both knees (to the toes) should touch the ground is known as pancha-angka namaskar.
After namaskar, we must revolve around the sanctuary with devotion and veneration.
The revolving must be in the clockwise direction and at least three times and while doing so we should utter God’s name, sing devotional songs in praise of God, devotional mantras, psalm, etc.
Before we worship God of the moolasthanam (sanctuary) of the temple, as if asking permission to walk pass them to go towards the main shrine we must worship ‘Duvara – palakarkal’ (the statues of guards) first and then the vehicle of the God next.
We should then pray Lord Ganesh (if he is not the main deity of the temple) and ask for forgiveness in case if we do any wrong or mistake inadvertently.
The ways to worship Lord Ganesh
When we worship Lord Ganesh, first both of our fists should knock three times in both ends of the forehead.
Then crossing both hands across the chest, holding the right ear with the left hand and left ear with the right hand we should knee-bend at least three times as we pray the Lord.
Remember that these ways are exclusive to Lord Ganesh only.
விநாயகப் பெருமானை வணங்கும்போது, முதலில் கைகள் இரண்டையும் முட்டியாகப் பிடித்துக்கொண்டு நெற்றியிலே மூன்று முறை குட்டிக்கொள்ள வேண்டும்.
பின்னர், நமது வலது காதை இடது கையாலும், இடது காதை வலது கையாலும் மாறிப் பிடித்துக்கொண்டு, மூன்று முறை தாழ்ந்து எழுந்து தோப்புக்கரணம் போட்டுக் கும்பிட வேண்டும்.
Now it is the time for us to proceed to worship the deity at the moolasthanam (sanctuary).
We have to handover the tray or the basket with the pooja and offering items to the priest who would be there to conduct the pooja service.
When the pooja is taking place, we should stand watching it with devotion and reverence while uttering the name of the Lord.
As the priest shows the deepa (the camphor or ghee flame) known as ‘arthy’ to the deity, our hands should be raised above the head and palms should join together, we should pray reciting the holy name of the Lord.
When the priest brings out the lamp with burning camphor, we should pass our hands over it three times and each times touch the eyes with the palms.
Once the pooja is completed, the priest will give divine prasadams like ‘thiruneeru’, ‘sandal paste’ and if Durga temple, kumkumam (kum-kum).
We should receive it by keeping the right palm on top of the left palm and once we receive it, it should then be transferred to the left palm and using the right hand fingers we should apply them to the forehead.
After this the priest will distribute the ‘theertham’ which we should receive in our right hand palm and drink it.
You may now ask the priest to do an ‘archana’ in your name, your family members name or even in the God’s name. The priest will ask for your name and star to conduct this.
It is a good practice to offer the priest some gifts known as ‘dhahna’ either as money or as other items. Remember you should not give/place money in the palm of the priest as they are not supposed to receive it in their hand and so you should leave it in the tray that he may hold in his hand.
If you have to give some money to a priest as ‘dhahna’, just in case if he visited your home for a pooja service, it will be a good practice to wrap it in betel leave/s (in odd numbers) or at least in an envelope to pass it over.
After finishing the ‘archana’, go around the inner circle and worship other deities such as “Tatcinamurtti”, “Somaskantar”, “Chandrasekarar”, “Lingothpavar” “Subramaniyar” and Goddess” Durga” etc. Some other deities may be there and if this is the case we should worship them too.
Finally we should worship ‘sandeswarar’ and remember we should not go round him. Once we worship him we have to clap our hands softly and that marks the end of our worshipping.
Once we finish off with ‘sandeswarer’ we should return back to ‘palipeeda’ (stage of sacrifice) and stand there and looking at the sanctuary of the temple to bow again to thank the god for the blessing. Once we finish this we should get back to a quiet place or corner and sit there peacefully and meditate by bringing God’s image in our mind. Also, we can sing a devotional song softly.
Once we finish off with these, we can go to the place where the temple ‘prasadams’ such as food items, are distributed to get some.
It may then be time for us to return home.
So far, we have seen the way to worship in a temple. We shall now look into what we should and should not do in a temple.
Temple is a holy place of peace and spirituality. It is not a place for playing. We should not run around here and there in play mode, talking, laughing, and calling others loudly by their name, disturbing others who are in the process of worshipping, spitting, arguing, shouting, etc should be avoided.
We should not also sit in a manner by which our backside faces God. Sleeping, dosing out should also be avoided inside of a temple.
At pooja time when we stand, we should worship in peace while ensuring we are not blocking the view of the other devotees by tilting our head or by leaning our body forward.
Pooja times and frequency
Poojas at temple are conducted as per the ‘aakama’ rules. As per this rules, poojas should be conducted six times daily. However, depending on a temple resources, some temple conduct poojas three times (morning, afternoon, evening) a day while some will have just once a day.
When the pooja time nears, the temple bell will be rung out to alert the devotees in the neighborhood so that they will rush to the temple to view the pooja and to worship.
First the idol at the sanctuary will be showered, which is known as ‘abishek’, with water, coconut water, rose water, milk, yogurt, honey and ‘panchamirtha’ (mixture of five different fruit with honey).
Finally the idol will be showered again with water to clean all.
Then the curtain will be pulled across so that the priests can be decorating the idol with cloths, flowers, flower garland and also adorn with ornaments and various other items.
Once this is completed, the curtain will be drawn back and the priest will do an ‘arthy’ (deepa of ghee or camphor) and at this time the devotees will raise their hands above their head and also joining their palms, worship while uttering the name of the god.
There is a beautiful philosophy of ‘deepa arthy’. First, the priests will start off with ‘arthy’ that have many layers of ‘ghee lamps’. Then in the following ‘arthis’, a number of ‘ghee lamps’ will go down and finally an ‘arthy’ with only one deep or ‘flame’ will be shown in poojas.
‘Even the God is in many different forms, the almighty God is one and only’ is the philosophical message that is being explained by this ‘deepa arthy’ method.
At the world famous “Chitambaram Nadaraja” temple in Tamil Nadu, South India, ‘deepa arthy’ will be conducted very magnificently.
If we burn wood, paper, textiles etc we will be able to see ashes at the end. But if we burn camphor nothing will be left as all will evaporate. Likewise, we also should surrender ourselves fully and wholly to God so that all our ignorance, arrogance and inner darkness will evaporate is the philosophical message given to us by ‘camphor arthy’.
After the arthy (camphor or ghee) the tray with the arthy (or the arthy itself) will be brought out by the priest. As explained earlier, we should pass our palms over it three times and each time the palms should touch our face while the fingers over our eyes. When we do this we should pray to God, ‘asking to remove our inner darkness’.
I want to share with you of another theory that is there on ‘deepa arthy’. ‘Deepa darshan’ is purifying our mind. The darkness that could be in our mind like fear, hatred, jealousy, inferiority complex, anger, fatigue will all be cleared when we see the deepa arthy darshan.
After the arthy, the priest will distribute ‘thiruneeru’ (vipoothy), ‘sandal paste’, and ‘kumkum’ and if Vaishnava temples, then Thulasi Theertham’. We have to receive it by keeping the right palm on top of the left palm and immediately transfer that to the left palm. Then using the middle fingers we should apply thiruneeru to the forehead.
When we apply ‘thiruneeru’ our head should be raised as if we are staring the sky and utter the name of the god.
Sandle paste and kumkum must be taken by the ring finger and apply between the eyebrows.
When we return home, after the worshiping and praying at the temple with pure love and devotion to almighty the God, we will feel happiness and our mind will be filled with some sort of sweet ecstasy.
This will also give us the spiritual power to do all our duties perfectly. The grace of the God will be with us for all our efforts to be successful.
We wish you to be successful in your studies by the grace of God and to have such peace and full of divinely joy all the way through.