The Shrine

A simple village shrine.

The shrine is the sacred centre of the mandir. It houses the temple deities and is usually situated at one end of the main hall.To the side or close by is a room in which the priests prepare for worship according to a fixed daily schedule. Often only the priests, freshly bathed and wearing clean clothes, are allowed to enter these sacred areas.

Many Hindus live in villages, where the mode of worship is quite different from that in the sophisticated temples we find in Indian towns, or outside of India. Worship takes place outside, often without an elaborate murti or an aesthetically decorated shrine. Worship may be at a particular tree (such as the Pippal), a group of stones, or a symbol, such as a trident. In some places, the procedures are related to one of the major denominations but in others have little obvious connection. It is most often linked with Shaktism, and worship of various goddesses. Each village has a shrine to its own gramyadevata – guardian deity – whom the villagers approach for material benefits such as good crops and protection of children.

Most Hindu homes contain a shrine, often simplified versions of those found in temples. Usually the large temple deities will be replaced with smaller murtis, or with framed pictures.

One of the two shrines at Bhaktivedanta Manor Temple in Hertfordshire. It is dedicated to Sita and Rama, who are accompanied by Rama’s favourite brother, Lakshman, and by the monkey warrior, Hanuman.

Many temples not only have a main altar, but feature many smaller, adjacent shrines dedicated to other deities and saints. It is common to have a shrine of Ganesh who is worshipped first to remove any impediments before approaching the main deity or deities.

Puja itself is an intricate and sophisticated art form. The backdrop in this picture was sewn by craftsmen in the ancient town of Vrindavana. This temple grows its own flowers for the vases and for the garlands which are made and offered each day with a change of costume. In some temples the colour of the daily costume will correspond to the ruling planet of day of the week (e.g. gold on Sunday, silver or white on Monday, red on Tuesday, etc.).

In this temple, the deities (murtis) wear two outfits each day – one for the day and one at night.

Glossary Terms

Garba-griha – the inner sanctum of the temple (Garba literally means “womb,” and griha means “house”)