This is the post, in hindsight, I should have written first.
So you’ve been toying with the idea of visiting a Hindu temple but haven’t got up the nerve yet.
Hopefully after reading this you’ll feel a little more at ease and much more likely to visit a temple real soon.
To begin with:
Attire– conservative attire is best. Long Sleeved Shirts and long pants is good. Exposed Cleavage is frowned upon. If you dress for church you will be safe.
Shoes- most people know, but don’t forget, shoes must be left in the appropriate area outside the temple.
If you don’t see a designated area the to the side of the doors should be good. As long as devotees aren’t going to fall over them.
Behaviour– if you treat a temple as you would a really old historical church where people are trying to pray you should be in the right frame of mind. As long as other devotees can see you are treating their temple with respect they are much more likely to answer any questions you might have.
When to go– The temples I go to in the states and uk have services on a Sunday much like churches. Have a look on the temple website if they have one and find out when services are. On the one hand if you are nervous you could go when there is no service and few people are there but there might also be less people who might be able to answer your questions.
Sundays tend to be the busiest times with the exception of religious holidays. If you want answers to your questions my advice would be to find a receptive teenager they are more likely to speak english. Many temples bring in priests from india on a short term basis and their english might not be so good. This is particularly important when dealing with unfamiliar concepts or parts of the religious service.
ServicesAs far as how services are conducted this varies wildly but a typical Sunday service if you analyse it is similar in structure to a traditional western church service. There will probably be singing of prayers, a priest may well give a sermon often in English. Generally people sit on the floor, though their may be seating for those that require it. Avoid showing you back or soles of your feet to the deities as this is offensive.
What else to expect
Depending on the time of day you may see the deities clothing changes. This is done behind closed curtains but the results are often very beautiful.
You could see deities being bathed in various items water milk, honey, etc
You will most likely see Arati/Arotik/ Aarti/Arthi (yes there are a lot of spelling variations in Hinduism) during a service. The individual devotees will take a ghee lamp and wave it in a circular motion in front of the deities. This is done to offer our souls to God. It is also said that in doing this the devotee is given enlightenment from God. If you visit the videos link you can hear the hymn traditionally sung during Arati.
You may see devotees and a priest sitting around a fire pit. This is a Homam/ Hovan. A service(Pooja) conducted here includes offering Ghee, rice,spices,etc
You should hopefully be given a food item from the priest or Swami this is called Prasad (or MahaPrasad) and is food that has been offered to God and in turn has been blessed by God.
You are also likely to be invited to the Hindu equivalent of a pot luck lunch after services.
‘Just do what the other devotees do’ would be good advice for how best to get the best experience from your first visit.
There is more I could add and I probably will. I hope to also do a post on traditional temple architecture at some time.