Customs and Rituals
Are there rituals associated with dedicating a new temple?
Multiple festivities typically attend the formal consecration of a new temple and its sacred icons. It begins with the careful choice of a site on which the building can be aligned on an east-west axis with all interior shrines facing east. After the structure is completed, temple staff and devotees install permanent images of the deities in an elaborate three- or four-day ceremony named Kumbhabhishekam (sprinkling of water from pots filled at sacred rivers), after one specific moment in the lengthy ceremony.
Rituals begin with purification of the images with various substances (milk and clarified butter called ghee). Before fixing each image to its pedestal with ritually prepared adhesives, celebrants immerse it in water, grain, and flower petals. Vedic chants accompany an offering of ghee to a sacred fire to make up for any imperfection in the image. Then officiants pour water over the finial atop the womb chamber of each image and over the images themselves in the actual ritual called kumbhabhishekam. Since the images need eyes with which to “see” devotees, priests place eyes of semiprecious stones into the statues and pray that they be opened. To call the images to life they then perform a ritual that instills breath in them. Before engaging further in the ordinary forms of daily worship, officiants symbolize the great sanctity of the images so dedicated by turning their backs to the images and looking at their reflection in a mirror. Thereafter devotees may gaze directly on the images.
These festivities proceed all day long for as many as four days (perhaps more in some places), giving even devotees who live at a distance plenty of opportunity to participate. It is a most joyous occasion and a celebration of community to which (in most cases) any interested party is welcome. Many temples also celebrate the anniversary of their foundations or dedications.