Priya* was a Hindu before putting her faith in Christ as her Savior. Most of her family is still Hindu, so she continues to see regular Hindu prayer and worship in their homes. Priya also remembers well the postures and rituals from her twenty years as a Hindu. I asked her to describe Hindu prayer, and she graciously agreed so we could learn about the posture of prayer.
The methodology of Hindu prayer is hundreds of years old, and some pieces are very common and agreed upon by the majority of Hindus. Yet there is a lot of fluidity across cultures and even allowances for each individual’s desires and preferences. To complicate matters more, there are multitudes of special religious ceremonies and events that call for their own postures and rituals.
What We Can Learn From Hindus About the Posture of Prayer
So Priya’s experience with Hinduism may differ from someone else’s. I tried to keep that in mind as her memories of her life before Christ flooded back to her and she moved from her chair to demonstrate the steps of Hindu prayer.
Posture of Prayer: Preparing for Prayer
Millions of Hindus pray at a temple on a regular basis. When they arrive, they must be barefoot to enter. Shoes are considered dirty and are removed even when entering your own home, so how much more so for a temple that is considered holy. Priya said her family has another reason for bare feet: “The more pain you have before god, the happier he is.” This belief compels many Hindus to crawl on their hands and knees or pull themselves on their bellies through the temple, or to walk barefoot for hours or days to try to please their gods.
When Hindus reach the temple entrance, they often touch the floor with their right hand (the left hand is considered unclean), then touch their forehead and their chest. This indicates their request for forgiveness for any sins that may have been committed.
Posture of Prayer: Calling the Gods
Upon entering the temple, Hindus go to the idol first. Whether the temple has one idol or many, each idol typically has a hanging bell nearby for the worshiper to ring as a greeting. Afterward, the worshiper can touch the feet of the idol, then touch their own chest and head to symbolize a connection of their head and heart to god.
On auspicious occasions, Hindus bring a round, metal plate for puja (Hindu idol worship) to use from this point forward. They will have carefully prepared several edible and decorative elements for appeasing and pleasing the idol they intend to beseech. Worshipers touch the food—maybe a dessert or fruit—to the mouth of the idol as an act of service to the deity.
They adorn the idol’s neck with a flower necklace of marigolds and light a candle because they believe it dispels negative energy and focuses the worshiper’s attention. Sometimes they burn incense because they believe the idols like the fragrance. The worshiper may chant prescribed mantras or voice their own personal prayers of petition before leaving the idol.
If a worshiper didn’t bring a special plate, then they go through the temple and greet the god(s), putting their hands together and bowing in what is known as a reverent form of the Indian Namaste pose. Some may prostrate themselves before each deity to demonstrate the lengths they will go to in order to show devotion.
Posture of Prayer: Circumambulation
Hindu practices for prayer often symbolize a deeply held belief, even if the practice looks as normal as walking. Circumambulation, or walking around the deities, is a common part of Hindu puja. To Priya’s family, it symbolizes that the worshiper is moving through the different stages of life as they go around and around, transitioning from normal human daily existence towards the eternal, then back again. Another purpose is to reflect that the deity is central and that the devotee is focused on that centrality during their life and worship.
Posture of Prayer: To the Priest
After praying to the idols, the worshiper goes to the priest. The priest takes a pitcher of what’s believed to be holy water from the Ganges River and pours it in the worshiper’s right hand. The worshiper drinks the water and puts the remaining droplets on their head as a blessing.
They lean over in front of the priest and pull back the hair from their forehead, allowing the priest to put the tika on their forehead. This is most often a red sandalwood or vermillion powder as a visible sign of blessing.
The priest ties a red-yellow string to the worshiper’s wrist as a symbol that its bearer is seeking the protection of the idol worshiped. The priest will then give food that has been offered to the idol for the worshiper to consume. The worshiper takes the food with the right hand over the left and eats it or takes it home to bless others.