Attending a Hindu Ritual Essay

Whether it takes the form of a luxurious palace, temple, basic structure, halls, or rustic warehouse, Hindu temples have a sense of mystery that make people curious. Despite the presence of these places of worship all over the world, the events that happen inside remain a mystery especially to people who are not Hindu. Personally, I have always wanted to know what happens in Hindu temples and how they look like. This paper will describe my experience within a Hindu temple and specifically Laxmi Narayan Mandir Temple in Sacramento CA.
My desire to visit a Hindu religious event or ritual may be attributed to my approach towards life. I believe that to fully understand people, one has to first understand their beliefs, preferences, cultural beliefs, social norms among other issues that distinguish people. As such, considering that I have interacted with Hindus in the past, I found this assignment as the ideal opportunity for me to explore different aspects of Hindu religion. With little knowledge about Hindu religion, before starting my experience, I decided to consult an individual familiar with Hindu religion. PERSON 1 is my neighbor and a committed Hindu believer. As such, I decided to consult him about visiting a Hindu temple or an event associated with Hindu religion. PERSON 1 was very helpful. Immediately after explaining my intentions to him, he quickly said “I will take you to a puja ritual.” According to PERSON 1, puja is a prayer ritual or a form of devotional worship to the Hindu deities, but can also be performed to celebrate and honor the deceased. In our case, the puja was to celebrate and honor deceased person. One of PERSON 1’s friends has lost his father a few weeks ago and this ritual was to celebrate his life.
However, before going for the event, I needed to understand several basic things regarding order and procedures involved, such as dress code. PERSON 1 told me that while there was no specific dress code, I should dress modestly and remember to remove my shoes before entering the temple. Additionally, he told me that if I needed to enter any shrine in the compound, I should not enter without an invitation. Similarly, I was reminded that while seating, it is important to make sure that my feet were not directed towards any of the deities or other people around. I was also told that I should make sure that my phone is on mute and that I should remember men and women seat in different sections of the temple. This information was crucial to my visit as it prepared me and gave me an orientation for the whole experience.
The puja was to be conducted at Laxmi Narayan Mandir Temple in Sacramento CA from 8.a.m, and therefore, we had to be at the temple in time. We arrived at the temple around 7:30 in the morning and found a group of about 30 people waiting for us. Walking into the temple’s compound, I noticed how much work had been made to maintain the place. The vicinity was elegant, clean with green vegetation all round. The structural depiction of the temple is based on ancient architecture and to the observer; the view comes with a sense of blissfulness and peace. As I looked around, I noticed how different aspects of Hindu religion had been represented in the compound with different portraits of different Hindu gods and deities clearly visible. The portrait and images of the gods and deities almost made divinity visible to me. As I continued with my visual tour of the compound, I could feel that this was a special place. The atmosphere was filled with a mixed scent of flowers and other exotic scents that I could not recognize. The mood in the compound was solemn and this was reflected in how people interacted with each other or moved around.
We walked and joined the waiting group and among these people, there were only two non-Hindu individuals who included me and Caucasian lady. As we waited for the event to start, I felt that this would be a good moment enquire more about the upcoming event and its relevance. However, before I could ask anything, the presiding priest arrived and asked who was sponsoring the puja. One of the men in the congregation identified himself as the elder son to the deceased and said he was the sponsor. He later left with the presiding priest to what looked like an office. As they left, the sponsor of the event carried a bag full of different items, mostly grocery. I assumed that these would be offered as sacrifice to the deities.
As the priest left, I noticed something different about him. I have watched and interacted with different religious leaders in the society. I have watched on television how famous religious leaders such as the Pope and Delai Lama interact with people from their congregations and from other beliefs. In most cases, religious leaders are humble and people-centric. They tend to freely talk and interact with all people regardless of their beliefs, race, or other factors. However, on this day, while the arrival of the presiding priest generated a sense of awareness in the group, the priest did not seem interested about the group. As a matter of fact, the priest did not even great us and seemed occupied on his phone. I did not understand the reason behind this attitude and it equally appeared weird to the rest of the people in the group.
After about ten minutes, the sponsor of the event came back and looked a little disappointed or stressed. He then informed us that the puja would not be conducted in the temple since it was honoring the dead. Most of the people in the group looked confused until PERSON 3 clarified the situation by saying “I told you. Such as ritual cannot be conducted in the temple because it will taint shauch.” Therefore, the ritual would be conducted outside the temple. We were directed to a different area within the compound, which looked like a place of sacrifice. We approached the area for the ritual and removed our shoes since the place had a mat. The setup of the area included burning candles of different colors; there were several portraits of Hindu gods and deities, with flowers all over the mat. Shortly after we had settled down, the sponsor of the ritual distributed flowers to the group, which we would hold throughout the ritual process. A few minutes later, the presiding priest came and asked the family members of the diseased to take the front space.
The ritual began with the priest performing different rites. The priest recited several mantras in Hindu language and I could not understand what he was saying. The family members who sat at the front seat were actively involved in the ritual. In three different occasions, they repeated the mantras recited by the priest and as they did this, I noticed that it was an emotional experience for PERSON 1’s friend. At a distance, I could see tears lingering in his eyes but looking down on his face, I noted a gentle smile. At this point, I was equally feeling emotional and the essence of puja became clear to me. The emotional connection in the group was evident. I could hear a couple of people trying to control their cries in the group. The non-Hindu Caucasian lady who had sat next to me held my hands strongly as she tried to compose herself. After a few practices, including lighting of candles by the family members, the priest called the sponsor of the ritual at the front area and asked him to recite his father’s name as well as his name seven times. Shortly after this, the event came to an end. The whole event lasted for approximately 20 minutes. After the ritual, the sponsor of the ritual was asked to go to the temple and make payments/donation for the ritual which in total was $152. He also carried with him the bag of groceries.
At this point, I had a series of questions to ask but I was careful not to go against the customs and practices of the place. Regardless, I decided to talk to one of the men who had also come to the ritual. While I had so many questions, I decided to summarize my questions by asking PERSON 3 about the significance of the temple considering that massive financial investment had been made to build and maintain the temple. At first, his response was simply “Look around. God is here.” His response was not satisfactory and he noticed that I was waiting for further clarification. As such, he explained to me that, while it is generally accepted that God is omnipresent, His omnipresence operates at a relatively subtle level for a majority of people to feel or experience it. As such, the temple acts as an agent for people to experience God particularly through meditation, rituals, and worship. This explanation was not necessarily sufficient but still explained to me the basic logic behind designating a special place for worship. At this point, most of people who had come for puja had already left and my friend was already waiting for me at the gate. The experience has given me new perspectives about religion, religious practices, afterlife, and the essence of honoring and remembering our loved ones even after they die.

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