Path to Siva: A Catechism for Youth

61 How Do We Visit the Temple?§


A Siva bhaktar takes his granddaughter to the Sri Ponnambala Vaneswarar Siva temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He will teach her the meaningful protocols for approaching this holy abode.§


We go to the temple to be close to God. Though Siva is everywhere, it is in the holy temple that we can most easily feel His presence. Knowing that Siva and the devas can see us, we want to look our best. Before our visit, we bathe and put on clean, traditional clothing. We bring an offering, such as fruits, milk and incense or a lovely garland of flowers. The act of giving makes us receptive to blessings. Outside, we remove our shoes and wash our hands, feet and mouth and seek blessings at Lord Ganesha’s shrine. Next we walk clockwise around the temple or the central chamber, then pay respects to each Deity. If it is puja time, we sit quietly and enjoy the ceremony being performed by the priest. Through his chants, gestures, visualizations and offerings, he purifies himself and honors the Deity with choice offerings, as one would receive a king. He calls upon God to come and shower blessings on all. During the puja we focus on the acts of worship, not allowing our mind to wander. Over time, we learn the meaning of the priest’s chants and rituals and mentally follow along. After the arati we prostrate and rise to receive the flame, blessed water, holy ash and other sacraments, receiving each item with the right hand. Then we sit quietly and meditate, or just feel the blessings wash over us. This is also a good time for japa. Worship takes many forms in a temple. Devotees can be immersed in the joys of devotion, lost in prayerful communion, seeking consolation for a loss, singing devotional songs, chanting mantras or celebrating a rite of passage. Arriving home, we light a lamp in our shrine room to bring the devas from the temple into that sacred space. Pujas and rituals give us a chance to pause, look inward and concentrate on something more meaningful and profound than the mundane matters of life. Puja is holy communion, full of wonder and tender affections. The indispensable part of any puja is devotion. Without love in the heart, outer performance is of limited value. But with true devotion, even simple gestures are sacred ritual.§


GURUDEVA: In our religion there are altars in temples all over the world inhabited by the devas and the great Gods. When you enter these holy places, you can sense their sanctity.§