Visiting India – Temple etiquettes to know


No trip to India would be complete without visits to temples. Temples are as much a part of tourism as they are a part of religion and culture. The Indian temple tours can be a soul-searching experience. But, what are the rules and things to keep in mind when entering a temple? Let this article guide you on how to conduct yourself in a temple.

Religious beliefs and traditions of the Hindus in India are starkly different from people of other religious beliefs, across the world. As an outsider, it is an obligation that you respect their traditions and beliefs, no matter how absurd they might appear to you. Faith is a very personal matter; it is also a very touchy matter and a little inadvertent show of disrespect can hurt the sentiments of people, and you don't want that to happen. Keeping this in mind you must pick up the little, but significant practices relevant to places of worship in India.

Temple offerings


A visit darshan to an Indian temple starts with an offering to the presiding deity. Offerings usually consist of a garland made of fresh flowers or a few loose flowers, a coconut, a few betel leaves, betel nut, camphor, an earthen oil lamp, some fruits maybe, vermillion and turmeric, a sacred thread and of course money. Offerings can be bought outside the temple. They are laid out on a plate, ready to use.



The offerings are given to the temple priest pandit/pujari/panda, present inside the shrine. He will chant a few mantras/shlokas, the equivalent of a prayer and give you some prasadam, usually something sweet, blessed by the deity. You need to stretch out your palm and receive it in your right hand.

You might find more temple priests inside the inner sanctum and they might also attempt to bless you, by putting vermilion on your forehead. During this time you need to place your right hand over your head, touching the crown. You may choose to make donations – INR10 – INR50 is a suitable amount unless you are offering prayers or watching proceedings of a religious ritual.

Footwear is taboo


Indians enter the temple barefoot. Temples that have a large footfall usually have a dedicated place where shoes are removed. You'll receive a token for the shoes you deposit there, and you can collect the same after you've finished the visit.

However, if you are visiting a small temple you'll need to remove your footwear outside the temple, before stepping in. Shoes can disappear from outside the temple (my husband once lost a pair). Either leave your footwear in the car, if you are travelling by one, or ask the vendor you buy the offerings from to keep them for you. Indians, at large, are helpful, and they will oblige, without expecting a favour.

Sound decibels


You might want to carry ear plugs because the noise in the temples can sometimes be deafening. It can be noisy and chaotic inside the temple premises, especially during aarti, when prayers are offered.

The cymbals and the pealing of the bells can create quite a din. Add to that the singing and all the other noises. Ear plugs can dull the sound considerably, yet let you soak in the experience.

Dress appropriately


Dress conservatively when visiting a temple. Better still wear Indian clothes. A kurta-pyjama, which is a long shirt worn with drawstring pants or a dhoti-kurta, which can best be described as a piece of fabric, worn like a loincloth, paired with a long shirt. Certain temples in the South expect men to be shirtless, within the temple premises. Ladies can dress in a sari or in churidaar/salwar-kameez, which are tight-fitting pants or flared drawstring pants, worn with a long top. A scarf, known as dupatta or chunni akin to a stole, is a must for women within the temple; it,s used to cover the head.

Leather goods are not permitted within the temples, so avoid carrying leather purses, wallets or belts etcetera.

Stay calm


You'll encounter chaos, people jostling, vendors trying to get your attention, beggars tugging at your clothes and arms. Take a deep breath and keep your calm. Don't make eye contact, also don't get trapped into giving alms, for if you give money to one beggar, you'll soon be surrounded by a few more. The same goes for buying stuff from hawkers.

Special prayers


Known as the Abhishek, this is a special darshan, where you get to see the presiding deity, who is generally kept inside the inner sanctum. Getting a darshanequates to getting divine grace. The Abhishek is nothing but a special prayer ritual, where the priest bathes the statue of the deity in milk and showers it with flowers. Not everyone is allowed to view this ceremony. Some temples do not allow foreigners and/or non-Hindus to participate.

You will need to pay for the special honour. The cost can be anywhere between INR500 to INR1000 or more. Payments are usually done at the temple office and this will allow you special privileges that will include skipping the serpentine queues and perhaps a chance to perform part of the puja. You also get to experience the entire proceedings at close quarters.

Temple guide


If it is a big temple that you are visiting then you'll find plenty of guides just outside or within the temple complex. You won't have to look for them, they will find you. It is better to have a guide with you as they can help you keep abreast with the prayer proceedings as well as tell you the history and legends associated with the temple.

Do not fail to fix a price for the guide's services, before the tour commences. Do not fall for the 'pay me whatever you want' trap. Temple guides can cheat you and charge you an astronomical amount for their services. Agree on a price and stick to it, as there are instances when they expect money over and above to what had been agreed upon – as a tip!

Variety of temples


You'll probably find temples at every nook and corner of India. You'll also find small shrines under trees and on places of interest such as caves, hills, hot water springs etcetera. Every region has a different presiding deity. The temples in South India have different deities than the ones in the North. Not all South temples have the same deity, they vary.

Indians have thousands of gods and goddesses. All god and goddesses in India have more than one name. For instance, Ganesha the elephant god is known as Vinayak, Balchandra, Gajanand, Ganapati, Gadadhara, Kapila etcetera.

Temple architecture too varies from place to place. Some temples are carved out of rock, some inside caves. All said and done, Indian temples have a beautiful construction with hundreds of statuettes adorning the edifice.

Boarding & lodging


If the purpose of your visit to India is mainly spiritual and you're here to only see temples, offer prayers and meditate then it is best that you choose an accommodation close to the temple premises. This allows you to be in time for the various rituals that are performed at the temple.

However, choose your accommodation wisely. Ensure that it is safe and clean. No bedbugs, clean water, 24/7 water supply, hot water for a shower, a western style toilet, and a place that serves wholesome, hygienic food.



As a tourist in India you might also want more information about the country. Read through these informative articles which cover various aspects of India travels -


Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

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Comments

Author: K Mohan18 Mar 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 2

While I do appreciate the author for creating this article as to how to enter Indian Hindu temples, what are the dress code and how to be calm and behave well inside the temple, I dislike the mention of sound decibels. In big temples daily pooja or rituals would be held and for that the archanas or the priests would say the prayers in a loud voice as loud speakers are not allowed inside the traditional temples. The Archanas being recited by the priests are to be heard by the devotees and we should not shut our ears with ear plugs. One thing - those who have faith in religion need only enter, others may refrain and pray to the God from outside.

Author: Juana18 Mar 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 2

I respect your sentiments, but please understand that this article is written for foreign travellers whose cultures are way different than ours. Sound decibels are acceptable to us because it is part of our culture and we as a people are loud even in our interactions.

Not everyone entering a temple is a devotee. Some enter for the experience, to learn about a new culture and traditions, of a people, of a different faith. This was not meant to offend anyone but is meant as sound advice to people who are not used to loud sounds. The reference is more to the sound of the cymbals and the bells. I do not think it is appropriate to suggest that people should not enter the premises.

Author: Swati Sarnobat24 Mar 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 4

One should take Pradakshina (circumambulation)to the Lord in a clock-wise direction. When you enter the temple, you must ring the bells to the Lord, but do not ring them when you are leaving. You can sit in the temple for hours, but do not make it a place to lie down.

In Hindu culture, mantras of shlokas are recited in a louder manner with a devotional feeling from heart. The Sanskrit shlokas or prayers are effective only if they are recited in a louder manner because the body is filled with positive vibrations. Also, loud chanting with devotional feeling in mind has been scientifically proved positive as the blood circulates smoothly in the body. Anybody who enters the temple should respect the culture of the temples and also the priests because they are highly learned people who have sound knowledge of spirituality.

Yes, if somebody is simply screaming loudly otherwise or speaking loudly with anger, then they are not right.

Author: Venkiteswaran22 May 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 8

A very useful article for pilgrim-tourists.
I would like to add one or two points which the author did not mention in this article.
In Kerala, men are generally not allowed to the inner precincts of the temples with shirts, banyans etc. The upper garment allowed is 'angavastram' or simple plain shawl. With shirts and banyans(vests) men are allowed only to a certain boundary area . In many temples you cannot see deity from that borderline.
It is still more strict in temples like Sree Padmanabha swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. There men have to wear only white Dhoti or Mundu. Even women were not allowed wearing Churidar. There came a small relaxation in this but still people mostly follow the earlier guidelines.

One should also be aware that in certain temples foreigners and those not practicing Hindu faith are not allowed inside. Usually in such places notice will be exhibited outside the gates.
Those not familiar with Hindu temple procedures and rituals should ask what to do with the prasad (prasadam)given. Certain prasad (like the sandal paste, turmeric paste, kumkum etc.in south Indian temples) are to be smeared on forehead. There are prasad like theerth jal (sacred water) which have to be sprayed on head and also to be tasted; Flower petals have to be worn on hair by females and kept behind ears by men.

Author: umesh30 Jun 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 3

An exhaustive article on temple visits. I think it will be very useful for us as well as foreign tourists.
I have visited some temples and from my experience I want to add that there are some temples where you will be in queue and it may take unusually long time due to crowd, festival time and other reasons, for you to reach the sanctum sanctorum (place where the main deity or idol is placed). So, if someone in your group is not well or can not exert, he can postpone his visit or wait on the same day for some suitable time when the crowd is minimal.
This precaution will be very helpful as I have some bitter experiences in this regard.



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