Hindu temple figuresThis is often a normal part of daily life designed to meet daily needs e.g. requests for good health. It may also precede important events. Before new buildings are opened or new enterprises begun puja (ritual worship) is usually made to Ganesha (the elephant god) the bringer of prosperity and the clearer of obstacles.

Places of worship
Hindu Temples (Mandhirs), which are dedicated to different gods, are the focus of religious life. There is neither however any strong tradition of communal worship nor any obligation to worship in a Temple.

There are simple shrines in streets and villages and most Hindu homes have their own where they undertake Puja at home, they will make offerings to their chosen god in the morning and the evening as a minimum. The shrine may be no more than a corner of a room, with a picture or statue of one or more gods.

There is no obligation on a Hindu to go on pilgrimage, but many do. There are many places sacred to Hindus. These cover mountains, rivers and towns. Many Hindus try to bathe in the River Ganges, as it is said to wash away sins. Seven cities are considered particularly holy. These are known as tirthas. They are centres of pilgrimage. They include Ayodha, the birthplace of Rama, and Varanasi. They are looked upon as good places to die plus to be cremated as they are believed to link the world of earthly suffering to the divine plane.

Forms of worship
Any Hindu can worship but a priest normally carries out the more important acts.

Worship may take several forms such as meditation, performing yoga (exercises aimed at controlling mind and body), reading holy texts or use of prayer beads

Alternatively Puja may be performed. This must comply with forms laid down in holy texts (e.g. the Shastras and Agamas). Usually it involves an offering to the image of a god. It usually commences with the purification of the shrine. This is done by singing hymns and mantras (sacred psalms or words or phrases designed to aid concentration. These include the “om ” creation symbol. The god is then awoken by the use of cymbals or bells. Rituals, which follow those of daily or yearly life cycles, may then be carried out. These can include washing or dressing the image. Finally gifts of money food or flowers are given and silent prayers offered. If performed in a Temple the Priest will mark the worshipper’s forehead with red paste (a tika) as a sign of blessing. At the end of the ceremony the food which has been offered to the god is given out to those attending, this is called Prasad (Holy food).

In special cases worship may include a procession. Each Temple will have a special festival. Festivals can range from simple village affairs to those that draw millions. There are also ceremonies that mark important life events.