From the humble home-shrine to a myriad of vast and exquisitely sculpted temples, it’s clear that religion and the sacred binds India. With such copious beautiful holy places in and around Rajasthan – including the intricately-carved Jain temples in Ranakpur and the revered ‘rat temple‘ in Bikaner – it would be a shame not to explore at least one or two on your visit.
Locals are, in general, very forgiving toward visitors who aren’t always aware of the temple etiquette in Rajasthan. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to know a few of the most important dos and don’ts before you venture inside. Here are our top 10 tips on temple etiquette in Rajasthan, and how to be respectful when visiting:
1. Take off your shoes
Removing footwear is a prerequisite for visiting any holy place in India; including temples, mosques, monasteries and even churches. Entering shoeless displays humility and respect, and marks the site as entirely distinct from the bustle beyond its walls. Indians observe this tradition in the home, too.
Every Indian temple has a designated shoe rack outside, and often there’s a lady or gent to keep watch. At your discretion, you may wish to tip this individual ₹10 or ₹20 ($0.25) as a small gesture of thanks.
Locals typically enter barefoot, but it is acceptable to wear a clean pair of socks. The marble floor of a temple can otherwise be uncomfortably hot on naked feet in the afternoon sun.
2. Dress appropriately
Indians adopt a conservative sense of dress, especially so in places of worship. It indicates respect for the sacred place and other attendees. Temple etiquette in Rajasthan dictates that visitors should dress modestly in full-length trousers or skirts. Avoid shorts or anything strapless. If your shoulders are exposed, you’ll need to carry a shawl to drape over them. When visiting a Sikh gurudwara (including the Golden Temple in Amritsar) both men and women are required to cover their head. Scarves are generally available for complimentary hire, or you can carry your own.
Stricter temples and temples of the Jain-religion prohibit all leather; including belts, wallets and bags. It’s because of the religion’s reverence for cows, but wearing animal skin of any kind could be offensive to practising Hindus and Jains. You can leave any leather items safely with your Indian Excursions’ driver.
3. Don’t take your camera
India is a photographers dream, and a plethora of incredible photo opportunities will no doubt occur naturally throughout your visit. However, the temple is one place to leave your camera in the car. Most have a ‘no photography’ policy as a means of preserving the tranquillity of the temple (the clicks and flashes may distract worshippers and make it feel more like a tourist hotspot than a holy site).
We’re referring to the inner sanctum; you can take photographs of the temple’s exterior. If in doubt, check with your guide or the priest.
4. Be squeaky clean
Cleanliness is next to godliness for most Indians, and you should be clean when stepping foot in any place of worship. It’s traditional to bathe before attending a temple or a mosque. At some sacred sites – particularly Sikh gurudwaras – you’ll be asked to wash your feet before entering (they provide such a facility).
5. Walk clockwise
Worshippers will always move around the inner sanctum in a clockwise direction. To Hindus, this practice is known as pradakshina. It affords devotees the opportunity for quiet reflection as they greet their gods, and they believe it puts them in tune with the planet’s natural energy. It’ll be obvious which way to go (just follow everyone else!), and your guide will make it clear to you at the time.
6. Greet the gods, but don’t touch
A Hindu temple will rarely house just the one god. More often, they’re devoted to several colourful deities. While you’re circumnavigating the inner sanctum in a clockwise fashion, etiquette calls that you stop at each statue and bring your palms together in a respectful ‘namaste‘ gesture. If you’ve taken an offering for the god(s), now’s the time to give it to the priest. It is inappropriate and seen as disrespectful to try and touch any of the statues; only the priest can do that.
7. Bring offerings
Stalls piled high with fresh flowers and sweets typically line the lanes around temples and mosques in India. These are to present as offerings to the god(s). It’s not imperative, but offering a garland of fragrant marigolds is respectful and certainly adds a memorable note to the experience.
8. Accept prasad
You will notice the priest offering prasad (blessed food) to devotees. You should accept anything the priest provides you with your right hand and not your left (the left hand is considered unclean by Indians as they use it for matters associated with going to the bathroom). Wait until you’re outside the temple before you eat your prasad. If you don’t want to eat your prasad, please let your guide know; he or she may consume it themself or offer it to your driver. You should never throw prasad on the floor or in the trash.
9. Be quiet
A place of worship is a sacred, holy space where you should exhibit polite and constrained behaviour. You’re allowed to speak but should do so as quietly as possible; avoid loud conversations or bursts of laughter. Switch your phone off or on silent mode as a sign of respect.
10. Consider making a small donation
Most temples have a donation box. It’s not a prerequisite; it’s entirely at your discretion if you’d like to contribute. If you do feel like donating, ₹10 – ₹100 ($0.15 – $1.30) is appropriate. Remember to put the bill(s) in the box with your right hand, not your left.
If you’d like to visit a temple or two on your upcoming trip to Rajasthan and are looking for more first-hand advice where this came from, please get in touch. We specialise in private, bespoke tours of Rajasthan and offer a wealth of experience.0