Hinduism: Sacred Spaces and Places

A Hindu place of worship is called a mandir or temple. A temple is dedicated to a particular god or goddess (deity). The temple is the god's home on earth. The most holy part of the temple is an inner shrine called a garbhargriha with a statue to the god or goddess. This inner shrine is under a towering roof called a sikhara. The four corners of the temple then have smaller shrines. The temple is entered through the ardhamandapa or entrance porch. Hindu temples are often decorated with the figures of gods and goddesses. Outside Hindu temples you can often buy gifts or prasad to give the deity honored in the temple.

There is no set schedule for visits to a temple. Worshippers go when they want. When entering a temple, visitors must take off their shoes and women cover their heads to show respect. The ceremony that follows is called puja. It includes prayer and a viewing of the statue of the god or goddess honored. Offerings of fruit, flowers and incense are made to a priest who presents them to the deity. After the deity blesses the gifts they are returned to the worshipper and their heads are marked with a red dot or blessing called a tilaka. Worshippers then circle the inner shrine with their right hand raised in respect to the deity.

It is also very common for Hindus to worship at a home shrine, often as a whole family. There might be a statue or just a picture of the god or goddess. The shrine also contains things which represent the five senses. The idea is to draw the whole person into worship through the image or statue and the senses. The goal is to get beyond self to Brahmin. A bell is also often rung to help focus the mind.

The Ganges River is a very sacred place to Hindus. It is a place to go on pilgrimage to bathe in sacred waters. Hindus also like to have their ashes scattered in the Ganges after cremation.