I had a Hindu friend in high school and took a college class about Indian art that focused heavily on Hinduism, so I felt pretty knowledgeable about the faith and was really excited to step into my first temple. The temple was right next door to a Spanish speaking Christian church, and as I walked in I was prompted to take my shoes off before entering the meeting space. In the main room, there were rows and rows of people in saris and other attire typical of Indian culture sitting on the floor and facing a wall of statues.
The statues in the front of the temple were truly remarkable. In Hinduism, the belief is that statues, or idols, of their gods can become the gods themselves when welcomed with prayer and offerings. I had heard a lot about these idols, but never saw them myself. The amount of detail and care that goes into these is admirable. The day I arrived was celebrating Shiva, the god of destruction. The idol of Shiva and his wife, Parvati, were adorned with flowers and surrounded by decorations for the celebration. I got to watch the priest meticulously clean all of the decorations the next day, which gave me an interesting perspective of the work that goes into adorning these deities.
One fascinating tradition I hadn’t heard of was the practice of lighting candles on a dish to carry blessings. The priest would take the dish and wave it up and down as he spun in slow circles while chanting in front of the idols. He would then hold the plate of burning candles in front of each person in the temple and they would wave the smoke from the dish onto their faces. This was seen as a method of carrying blessings from the gods through the flames. Another form of blessing I got to participate in was the ceremony of Holi, more commonly known as the festival of colors, which celebrates springtime and new life. I haven’t been able to find anything about some Hindu groups only using red powders during this usually colorful holiday, but that was what they did at this temple. I was really honored when I was also offered the plate to receive blessings and the red powder – they made me feel part of their celebrations rather than an outsider.
Another form of blessing I got to participate in was the ceremony of Holi, more commonly known as the festival of colors, which celebrates springtime and new life. I haven’t been able to find anything about some Hindu groups only using red powders during this usually colorful holiday, but that was the case at this temple. The people lined up to get smudges of the red powder placed on their faces and they cheerily walked around belssing one another with the stuff. I was honored when I was also offered the plate and the red powder as blessings – they made me feel part of their celebrations rather than an outsider.
Another way the Hindu temple welcomed me was with how willing they were to speak to me. One of the priests sat down with me and explained any question I had – from the roles of the many gods to the meanings behind things they do during the service. One thing that struck me was how long their meetings were. I had been to a Bharatnatyam dance recital many years ago, which lasted about nine hours (I have to admit, I didn’t stay the whole time), and this seems to be a trend within Hinduism. The night of the ceremony for Shiva lasted from five pm to late into the night!
I really appreciate the dedication ingrained in this religion. The people were so dedicated to worshipping their gods (and trust me, it takes dedication to remember that many gods!) and to taking care of their space. They were persistent in their want to worship the gods to the point that other things they could be doing did not compare – they would rather spend hours in the presence of these idols. I was really encouraged by and admired the dedication shown here and the thoroughness of giving honor to and respecting each of the many gods.