Visiting hindu temples
May 7, 2006 1:36 AM   Subscribe

Some questions about visiting hindu temples.

A friend of mine is visiting the San Francisco bay area. Sometime in the last decade she converted to hinduism. She lives in Italy half of the year. As far as I can determine there isn't a large hindu population in Italy so I thought as long as we were in San Francisco and I had a car she might want to go visit a temple. Also, I want my friend to know that while I'm hostile to religion in general I respect her choices. One of the ways I want to enact that attitude, if she's interested, is to visit a temple with her. I found two hindu temples in San Francisco; the Palani Swami and Vendata temples. From what litle I can find on the web neither temple seems to function as actual temple anymore so I assume that we'll have to head to the South Bay or over to the East Bay.

I know that hinduism is a diverse relegion with many different sects but otherwise I'm completely ignorant. I assume that a temple serves some of the same functions as a christian church; a social center for a relegious community, possibly as a social center for communities that are not specifically religous, and a place to worship.

What is the relationship of a hindu adherent to their temple? If you are hindu, do you consider it important to regualarly visit a temple? Would you consider it important to visit a particular temple dedicated to a particular set of gods? Obviously, I can talk to my friend but before I do I'm asking would a visit to a random temple in a strange city be likely to have any meaning to her? I know that not every temple is the same, not every believer is the same, and that meaning is dependent on context and is never fixed but I'm just asking for guesses and personal experiences.

Are there bits of protocol that I should know about visiting a temple?
posted by rdr to Religion & Philosophy (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Wow -- big question and in probably any other religion you'd get a straight answer. Hinduism is strange in that temples are indeed very important, very holy places -- but it's not at all required for you to go. You can live a great "Hindu" life and achieve nirvana (an end to the cycle of reincarnation) by living according to Hindu philosophy (which I would sum as being ethical and acting age appropriate) and respecting (not necessarily worshipping even) God.

Many Hindu families have areas in their own home where they will have pictures of various Gods and they might do "puja" (a prayer to God there). So, they in essence create mini-temples in their own home.

As to whether a visit to other temples in stranger cities would have any meaning to her, I would say yes. Another cool thing about Hindu temples is that none are really the same. For one thing, each major temple usually chooses one God from this nominally polytheistic religion to build the temple around.

So, one temple might be a "Vishnu" temple and people would go there to achieve blessings from the deity who is responsible for the elimination of evil from society and its maintainence.

Another temple might celebrate "Ganesh" (the half man/half elephant God) who is the "remover of obstacles" and a God that helps one self-actualize.

Yet another would celebrate Satynaryana who is sort of the God of humility an charity. That temple in Tampa, Florida just recently officially opened and has pictures so you can see how big of a deal going to a temple can be.

Now, each of these temples will have idols of other Gods, but the largest idol will be the one of the main God.

Ok -- so you can probably tell I'm from a Hindu background. As for your question of going to temple, I find it good as I go 2-4 times a year. The one wierd thing is that I can't understand Sanskrit so pretty much everything the priest says is incomprehensible to me. Still, I like to go for one particular prayer called "Abishekam" -- that's where the priests do their weekly washing of the idol. It's no small affair. They wash it wish everything from banana to butter to honey to milk to yogury to water. Then, temple-goers usually sing songs as the priests put some elaborate garb on the idol. The curtains open and the God looks amazing dressed to the nines.

It's just such an ancient procedure and it symbolizes the sort of cleansing feeling that going to temple will give me. Another nice tradition that most Hindu families will have is that they sit together after puja or getting their food and simply talk. I know my Mom would never let us go until we did that.....

One more source to look at this book which does a photographic survey of temples in this country. If anything, you can go for some different architecture......

I hope that helped.
posted by skepticallypleased at 6:07 AM on May 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Here are some protocols for visiting the Malibu Hindu Temple:

Enter the temple with an absolute sense of devotion to the Lord.
Not enter the temple if you have been requested so in accordance with your customs and traditions.
Not enter the temple wearing footwear.
Dress appropriately as mark of a reverence.
Not be under the influence of intoxicants including tobacco, when you enter.
Not smoke or consumes any intoxicants including tobacco inside the premises.
Not spit in the temple premises.
Not bring any non-vegetarian food inside the premises.
Not photograph or videograph the deities. However, you are allowed take photograhs or shoot video of the Utsava murthis during festivals and other public gatherings.
Turn off (or switch to silent mode) all cell phones and pagers before entering the temple.
Concentrate on the Lord and chant the name of the Lord or that of your Ishta Devata or Kula Devata.
Maintain absolute silence when you are in the inner santum sanctorum.
Not eat prasadam inside the temple. There is provision in the kitchen hall for food consumption.
Pay for Arachana, Abhishekam or any other pooja in the temple office or to the cashier present and obtain your receipt.
Do as the priests advice during the pooja.
Maintain decorum during festivities and other celebrations.
posted by forallmankind at 8:17 AM on May 7, 2006

I've accompanied Hindu friends to Hindu temples. For one, I just went to the cafeteria--people donated a bit of cash for a meal and ate together.

At the other, my friend assured me it would not be disrespectful to walk with her through the devotional area with all the statues of gods, so I did. I walked with her as she made the rounds of the statues. There was little bowls of water at each one, and you could touch some of the water, then meditate for a while. (I cannot remember, exactly, but I think she touched the water to the base of the statues?)

She brought some food to donate (a bag of almonds iirc), and there was a larger statue in an alcove where people handed over food to a priest. He sang a prayer, then came out and poured water on people's hands, handed them some food to eat. Afterwards we went to the cafeteria, as in the other place.

I think we took our shoes off for walking around the temple section.
posted by bleary at 8:19 AM on May 7, 2006

The protocol for visiting Hindu temples is pretty liberal. As mentioned earlier, most allow you to roam around. You should also feel free to ask the priests/other worshippers any questions that you might have about the religion.

You WILL have to take off your shoes outside and walk barefoot everywhere. And check before taking photographs. Some allow it and some do not. Other than that, it's a pretty hassle free affair.

Make sure to visit the cafeteria to taste some Indian food. The temple kitchens tend to tend to make food served much closer to the authetic stuff, unlike some of the ethnic restaurants. There might even be a small shop selling religious books and other holy items.

And yes, I don't think shorts or other such wear would go down well with the authorities, specially if worn by female visitors.

Hope you have a nice experience.
posted by sk381 at 9:30 AM on May 7, 2006

Don't bring cow leather with you.

Leave all leather shoes, brief cases, bags, shoes, belts, etc. at home.

Some Hindu temples in India would not let my prof in because he was wearing a leather belt. Others didn't seem to mind (or notice?).

According to Hindu beliefs, using leather taken from cows that have already died (of natural causes) is acceptable. Killing a cow for its leather, however, is strictly forbidden as cows are holy animals.

I would just leave leather products at home to be on the safe side.
posted by cup at 8:25 PM on May 7, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you everyone.
posted by rdr at 8:38 PM on May 7, 2006

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