by George Subraj

For people who do not practice the Hindu faith or have little acquaintance with its rituals,  entering a Hindu temple, or mandir, can often cause feelings of confusion and being out-of-place. While the Hindu tradition welcomes all who seek enlightenment and peace, it seems natural that a newcomer might wonder if he or she is behaving in according with the practices of the mandir.

In most cases, mandirs devote themselves to a presiding deity and perhaps subordinate deities associated with the lead deity. Some mandirs, however, focus on several deities or even events. While many mandirs in India or Asia trace their roots back hundreds of years, those in the United States serve not only as places of worship but also as cultural gathering spots for the faithful.

Those who are visiting a mandir for the first time often enjoy their experience more if they understand a bit about the etiquette observed by Hindus in their temples. The purpose of these customs involves veneration and respect for the creation of Brahma. Often in the entrance to a mandir, newcomers notice an area set aside for shoes. Most mandirs ask that visitors remove their shoes before entering. In some areas, newcomers express surprise to see birds, stray animals, and even sacred cows in the mandir. This custom reinforces the Hindu belief that humankind must share this temporal world with all members of the animal kingdom. The faithful often bring such offerings as flowers and fruit in homage to the prayer and worship that takes place in the mandir. To show respect for their surroundings, worshippers keep their hands folded while in the mandir or temple.

About the author: Humanitarian George Subraj is the President of the New York real estate company Zara Realty Holding Corp. He recently donated an elevator to the Prem Bhakti Mandir in New York to ensure that those who could not move easily from floor to floor of the mandir could practice their devotions more comfortably.