While visiting a famous Hindu temple in Udaipur, Rajasthan I witnessed some foreign tourists standing inside. They were observing things but seemed a bit confused about which way to move and where to go?
India is a beautiful country, but it can often seem overwhelming due to the chaos, noise, crowds, too many different languages, rituals and cultures.
It feels more complicated while visiting religious places as one wants to be careful of not offending local religious sentiments.
Along with being a place of worship, temples in India can be a place for learning and insight into the local religious rituals for the travelers.
In this post, I am sharing some very useful tips that would make visiting temples in India an easy, enriching and beautiful experience for you.
How to dress while visiting a temple?
While visiting any religious place in India, you ought to dress conservatively. Cover your shoulders, legs and avoid displaying too much skin. For women, traditional Indian outfit like Salwar Kameez ( baggy pants with knee length tunic) is very comfortable and appropriate. You can choose to wear Jeans and T-shirt or long skirt with top. Basically anything that keeps your shoulders, cleavage, midriff and legs covered. Covering your head is compulsory for everyone while visiting a sikh temple.
A stole comes handy at such times. Cloth to cover your head is provided at the entrance of the sikh temples.
For more click to read: What should tourists wear in India.
Keep some change/small currency notes
Often you would find many people in and around religious places looking for foreigners/ tourists as an opportunity to make some money.
Avoid anyone who approaches you for special pooja for donation (unless you are actually interested).
Donating money is not a compulsion at any religious place in India. It is completely your choice but it is good to carry some small currency notes just in case you feel obliged to give any.
Click to read How much should you tip in India.
Remove your shoes and leather items
You must remove your shoes before entering a temple. You would find stalls or racks placed outside the temple for keeping your shoes. Many temples have staff or volunteers working at such counter and would give you a token when you leave your shoes with them.
On your way back, you return this token and take your shoes. At some temples, leather is not allowed inside.
If you are carrying a leather belt, bag etc, you may have to leave it outside. It is common sense to remove your socks along with your shoes if you think those may stink.
I once noticed a sign board outside a sikh temple that clearly stated removal of shoes and socks before entering.
Click to read: 11 awesome things you should not miss to visit in Varanasi.
You would find a water-tap or wash basin inside most of the temple premises. Some also have small shallow water pools for cleansing your feet.
Wash your hands before entering as it helps keeping you and the temple clean and you would probably get ‘prasad’ inside.
It also has a symbolic meaning of making yourself clean of any malice or bad thoughts before entering the God’s abode.
Click to read: Essential guide to Indian’s Surreal Pushkar.
Offerings to God
There are often many stalls, vendors and shops outside the temple selling flowers, garlands, sweets and such other stuff that is usually offered to the Gods inside the temple.
You may or may not buy this. It is completely up to you and not a compulsion.
But often when you carry these things as offerings, you have better chances to get an opportunity to perform the pooja yourself with the help of the priest.
Click to read: 15 most popular Indian Festivals.
Stay cautious of touts and pickpockets
Temples are an easy target for pickpockets due to crowd. Many incidents of pickpocketing and stealing often happen inside and around temples and religious places.
Don’t carry expensive things and avoid wearing expensive jewelry while visiting. Stay aware of your belongings all the time. This does not happen at all the places but at some famous or big temples, one may come across people trying to fool tourtists.
They ask for some amount of money for donation or for performing some pooja on their behalf. Steer clear of such people.
Click to read: An awesome guide on having Bhang in India.
Rituals in the temple
There are many rituals that are carried inside the temple which may vary depending upon the place and temple.
Circumambulation or ‘Parikrama’ in hindi means moving in a circular path around the temple. Some people do it around the inner sanctum and some around the main temple structure in the premises.
If there is a tree in the temple premises, you may notice red colored thread tied around its trunk.
It is considered auspicious and people do it often seeking something specific from the almighty. ‘Aarti’ is a ritual when all the devotees sing praises of God together often with music and offerings to God.
How to pray inside the temple?
Every hindu temple has an idol of one or more deities inside the sanctum sanctorum.
When you reach there, join your hands and bow your head. Many people kneel down and bow their heads while praying. If you want to offer something at the temple, you put it inside a donation box.
If there is a priest, you go to him who would put a mark on your forehead with red vermillion or sandalwood. You may be offered a little amount of holy water which you are supposed to accept on the palm of your right hand and drink.
He would also give you ‘prasad’ (in the form of some sweet or fruit etc.)
Click to read: the Best areas to stay in Jaipur.
Temples are a great place for photography but you should check beforehand that it is not prohibited. Most of the temples do not allow photographing the idols or photography inside the temple.
Ask for permission before clicking pictures of people and avoid disturbing anyone who is praying or worshiping.
Click to read about the Religious places in Goa.
Stay for a while, notice and experience
I’d suggest you to have some time on hand while you decide to visit a temple. Though many times, temples in India can be crowded, noisy and chaotic, there are many that would help you experience peace and calm inside.
Find a suitable corner or place for you, sit there, close your eyes and listen to the sounds around.
Click to read: Practical tips on how to travel in Indian trains.
Know about the temple you are visiting
If you are interested in religion, Hindu Gods, architecture and history, it is good to gather some information about the temple you are visiting.
Ask your host or locals about the deity of the temple, timings for aarti etc. This would make your experience more enriching.
You can talk to the priest and get to know more about the temple.
Click to read about the Architectural Marvel Temple of Ranakpur in Rajasthan.
Observe and follow others
In case there is something that you are confused about, just observe other people around you. People are usually very kind and eager to help the tourists. If there is something you want to know, you can ask politely.
Whatever your reason is for visiting a temple- spiritual, religious, educational or just for travel, we hope you keep these tips in mind and follow them. It would definitely make things easier and enhance your experience of visiting temples in India.