Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Info For Non-Hindus Visiting Mandirs For Pujas

Non-Hindus Visiting Mandirs For Pujas

By Jagannatha Prakasa � 05.19.09


    Several non-Hindus will be attending a puja service arranged by dear friend who is Hindu (in support and prayer for his ailing mother).
    We are deeply concerned about specifics of customs and especially dress code (for non-Hindus) within the temple so as not to offend. Do you know of specific details of which we should be aware? Is there a website with the information? Thank you.

Here's my reply. What do you think? Let's discuss this below!


First, don't worry.

Hindus are very easy going in such situations and are used to non-Hindu guests. They will appreciate your presence and happily overlook any faux pas that may be made.

I'd suggest wearing light, comfortable clothing. You will probably be sitting on the floor for at least part of the puja so loose clothing will be more comfortable (not like sweat suit casual but you don't need to 'dress up'), loose fitting, (dresses are not as popular as they once were course but they are a pain to wear to mandirs because of sitting on the floor so I'd wear pants, male or female). If you would wear it to a casual church service you can wear it to a mandir. Modest, simple... leather, furs etc are best avoided if possible of course.

You will be expected to remove your shoes as you enter. Socks can be worn but bare feet is the norm unless its cold. Usually there is an entry way with shelves for shoes (although some mandirs -- temples -- are more casual about it and people just leave them along the walls. You will see others removing their shoes, this will be obvious once you're there, just follow their lead. If the mandir is crowded remember where you put them ;-)

No one will expect you to know the words etc. The best bet is to just hang back and watch. There will probably be a few rites for the attendees to take part in. These are optional for guests but you will be welcome to take part if you wish. These will be obvious as the day goes on.

For instance, someone may roam around with a tray with a ghee lamp or flame on it. You will see people waving one or both hands over the flames and then over their faces and heads. You can do the same if you wish (its a prayer that God will bless and purify you). You may be offered a handful of flowers. If so you can take them and at some point follow the example of others and toss them where directed (maybe at a photo of the woman, around her bed, etc. There may be a priest tossing handfuls of water, usually from the alter, (or using a shaker). Slightly bow your head as the water touches you to show respect (it is 'holy water' and another blessing).

Depending on the mandir, people may be bowing or fully prostrating on the floor at certain points (in front of the guru or deities etc.). You do not have to do this either and no one will be offended or you can follow their lead which will also be fine.

Since this will be a community prayer meeting there may be a fire sacrifice (agni hotra) in which prayers will be offered in Sanskrit followed by people tossing grains into the fire (sort of as 'amens'). As with the flowers, you will probably be offered grains to toss in. It is your decision. Take a handful (preferably with your right hand) and then follow the lead of others. Usually you will toss several times (preferably with your right hand) so a little each time will be best.

Basically, go with an open mind, take part to the degree you are comfortable, and have a good time.

I don't know of any etiquette websites to offer. Most of them are so detailed they bog people down. Again, don't worry. Hindus and their mandirs are mellow places. You will all be welcome and experience a wonderful time.

Write back if you have further questions,

    ~ Jagannatha Prakasa
    ~ John of AllFaith

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I wanted to thank you for such a fabulous answer. Your speedy reply makes all the difference. Your thoroughness is very much appreciated. I will be sharing your insights/advice with others. Thank you again!

Reply: You are most welcome.

Our prayers join with yours for this dear lady's recovery.

    ~ Jagannatha Prakasa
    ~ John of AllFaith

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