Customs and Rituals

What rites do Hindus practice at home?

In their homes many Hindus engage in a smaller-scale version of temple puja, morning, noon, and evening. Miniature shrines often occupy a special corner, where all the necessary materials and implements for worship are kept. Puja begins with entering into the proper frame of mind and with invocations. Placing flower petals on the image, along with water and other elements (ghee, honey, milk), reminds devotees of the intimacy of their relationship with God. They symbolize that intimacy with actions and materials that communicate deep affection and warmth. Both in the home and in the temple, God is the guest whom the host and hostess strive to make perfectly welcome. Making the deity beautiful often means clothing the images in elaborate garments as well. People sometimes invite a priest to come to their homes to pray, but generally the head of the household leads the home puja.

Many Hindu householders regularly perform the individual morning prayer before sunrise. Facing east with the sacred thread over the left shoulder, worshippers take a sip of water, pronounce mantras over ashes, and place them on their foreheads, arms, ribs and knees. To be purified of sin, they pray the gayatri mantra, a lovely short hymn to the Light of the Sun. Several different forms of prayer might include facing the various cardinal directions while performing slightly different ritual actions. Other domestic rituals can include celebrations associated with building and entering a new home for the first time. Other occasions marked with religious rituals at home include especially the various rites of passage associated with birth and early infancy.

Hindu ritual specialist performing a rite of passage or initiation for a young girl. (Photo courtesy of Beata Grant.)


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