Puja at the Local Hindu Temple
Two days ago I went to a local Hindu temple with my new friend, Chaitra, the owner of the library I frequent in Koramangala, Bangalore. My original intent was to simply interview the Brahman priest about the Hindu marriage ceremony for my project. There were two problems with that assumption: 1) the temple is in and of itself something to write about and 2) there is nothing ‘simple’ about the Hindu wedding ceremony (as you will see in a future post).
As we approached the temple and took off our shoes, Chaitra purchased a handful of white jasmine flowers and touched a stone representing “the feet of the god” before we entered and stood before a statue of Hanuman. A Brahman priest greeted us in a white toga-like robe trimmed with colorful embroidered ribbon while Chaitra gave him the flowers.
The priest immediately began the puja, a ritualized prayer given to people who come to the temple. Chaitra said that almost everyone does pujas at home, but people come to the temples for “additional blessings and to request auspicious dates and times for their upcoming events.”
During the puja, the priest first presented us with a candle on a round tin tray. I followed Chaitra’s lead and held my palms to the flame, waving the fumes back towards my face several times.
Next the priest took a large silver bowl and placed in on each of our heads. After that he poured some water in our hands called the tirtha, which you are supposed to accept with your right hand cupped over your left. The tirtha is made from a substance left over from the offerings made to the god earlier that morning (milk, honey, ghee, and other kinds of substances are offered, but never onion or garlic, since they “arouse passion in the body”). This water represents your offering to the god. I did as Chaitra did and pulled the tirtha to my lips to drink, then threw the rest on and over the back of my head.
Following the tirtha the priest used his finger ghee to touch the mouth of Hanuman before placing an orange dot on our foreheads made of vermillion, water, and ghee (“to help it stick”). After this the priest presented us each with a jasmine flower, a tangible takeaway to show god’s blessing. I watched Chaitra tuck the flower into her long black braid and I did the same.
Only after the puja did Chaitra translate my interest and research to the priest in Kannada, the local language of this area. The temple was busy though, the bells and puja singing filling the room with vibrating, visceral energy. While the priest was busy we sat with legs crossed on the floor and Chaitra taught me more about the elements of the temple. For example, she said “temples are constructed on areas with large amounts of electromagnetic energy.” People ring the bells to alert the god to their presence, and you should “never turn your back to a god” while in the temple. Chaitra also taught me about nine planets gods, which were represented in the temple near where we waited.
After some time Chaitra got up and joined another group puja and beckoned me to follow. After the puja we did a pradakshina, where we circumnavigated the god through a marble tunnel three times. Chaitra said this should only be done in multiples of “three, nine, sixteen, etc.”
Once the crowds died down the priest joined us on the floor and answered me and Chaitra’s questions about the marriage ceremony for almost an hour. Stay tuned for that upcoming article.