1. The Hindu Temple is known as `Koyil' or `Kovil' in Tamil. It means the place or residence of God. It is the holy place where the Supreme Lord manifests Himself in divine form.
2. We are souls (Atma). It is to enable us to receive His blessings and attain Him that the Supreme Lord takes on a divine form and is thus worshipped in temples.
3. The formless Supreme Lord assumes form for the sake of His devotees. We are able to perceive His divine form in our temples and thereby worship Him.
4. In Siva temples Siva, Vinayagar, Murugan and others connected with Saivite hierarchy, in Vishnu temples, Vishnu and his incarnations and others connected with Vaishnava hierarchy, and in Shakti temples, Amman and her different forms like Durga, Parvathy, Saraswathy, Lakshmi and others connected with Shakta hierarchy, are established and worshipped. Besides these, temples dedicated to other deities and ishta-devatas were also established by devotees.
5. Regular daily worship at temples enables one to easily enshrine the Divine Form within one's heart. It is because of this that Hindus perform worship before deities who have been ritually installed in various temples, in the form of the devotees' choice. This is a practice that goes back to thousands of years of Hindu worship.
6. Hindu scriptures state that the Supreme Being is present in all things in the universe. However, He is especially manifested in the consecrated deities found in temples, as well as in those who devote their lives to Him (sages, sannyasins, saints).
7. Milk is present in the body of the cow, but we can only obtain it from the udder. Similarly, the blessings of the omnipresent Supreme Being are best obtained through proper, coordinated worship at temples.
8. The Holy Temple provides the proper place and atmosphere for coordinated community worship, as well as catering for individual worship.
9. It is to emphasise this importance of the temple as a proper place of worship that the Tamils have an ancient saying: “Do not live in a place (village/town) that has no temple.” Saint Appar likens a town without a temple to one that has lost its divine property or holy aspect.
10. Worship includes praying, offering respects, presenting offerings, singing praises, meditating, performing pooja.
11. Just as we eat everyday, we should make it a habit to visit the Holy Temple daily and offer prayers there if possible.
12. The method of worship in a typical Devi temple, like our Rasah Sri Mahamariamman Temple is narrated below.
13. When you go to the temple you are expected to:
a. bath and wear clean clothes
b. wear traditional Hindu clothes, for example:-
i. Men — dhoti, shirt; Ladies — saree.
c. exhibit Hindu religious signs, for example:-
i. Thirunooru (Vibhooti or Holy ash) or chandanam
d. have pure thoughts
14. Do not go empty handed. Bring along articles that are used in the pooja, such as coconut, fruits, betel leaf, betel nut, flowers, camphor etc. Place them on a tray (preferably metal) and give them to the priest when you request him to perform pooja on your behalf.
15. As you approach the temple, you will notice the gopuram (gateway) first. Stop and raise your hands in prayer. For temples that do not have a gopuram, the vimanam over the sanctum-sanctorum will do just as well.
16. After entering the temple premises, remove your footwear and leave them in an orderly manner in the allocated place, or near a wall or the steps. Then you must wash your hands and feet. Rinse your mouth with water and sprinkle some water over your head. This symbolizes the cleansing of your body. Men who sport the thundu as part of their apparel, should remove it and tie it around their waists.
17. With your mind filled with pure thoughts of the Supreme Being enter the temple proper. At the sacrificial altar (Bali Peedam) prostrate yourself on the floor with humility and devotion.
18. When a devotee prostrates himself at the altar, he/she should do so in such a way that a number of parts of the body touch the ground, as follows:
a. For a man, 8 parts should touch the ground, viz. head, 2 ears, 2 shoulders, hands, chin. This is known as ‘Ashtanga Namaskaram’.
b. When a lady performs this method of worship, she should do so in such a way that 5 parts of her body touch the ground, as follow: head, 2 hands, 2 knees. This is known as 'Panchanga Namaskaram'.
19. One normally performs such prostrations only before the main deity, and that too only before the sacrificial altar. At other parts of the temple ordinary prayers with folded hands is enough.
20. Such prostrations are normally performed thrice in succession. After that circle the temple at least thrice in a clockwise rotation (pradakshinam).
21. During the pradakshinam, the hands may be clasped in prayer over the head (denoting that the Almighty is beyond our imagination) or over the heart (denoting complete surrender). Devotional poetry such as Thevaram/Thiruvasagam, or the name of God can be chanted in a soft voice (so as not to disturb other devotees).
22. Enter the temple proper after having circled it thrice, and having requested permission from the guardian spirits (dwara palakas) which are found at the entrance to large modern temples.
a. First make your way to the shrine of Ganesha (Vinayagar) which is found at the right hand side of the sanctum sanctorum, and offer prayers there. One offers prayers to Ganesha first because He is the Controller of obstacles.
b. Men should stand to the right of the deity and ladies to the left in an orderly manner without obstructing the view of others.
23. The worship of Ganesha is normally done as follows: Cross hands over your chest, and knock on forehead three times with fists; then hold ears crosswise with hands while you squat and rise three times. After that clasp your hands in prayer in front while reciting mantras or Songs on Ganesha to yourself. You can also repeat the mantra 'Om Ganeshaya Namaha'.
24. Having worshipped Ganesha you can then worship the main deity after whom the temple is named. This deity is installed in the sanctum-sanctorum.
25. After prayers are offered to the main deity, the priest will then offer prayers to the Vahana (vehicle) which faces the deity.
26. In Siva and Devi temples the deity Murugan is found to the left of the main deity. Prayers are offered to Murugan after the main deity.
27. After this, prayers will be offered to the Navagrahas (9 planetary deities). The shrine of the Navagrahas will be found outside the main temple. The devotee should also visit this shrine and offer prayers there as well. The Navagraha mantra can be repeated.
28. In some temples the forms of lesser deities and local deities and saints are also installed. These, too, should be worshipped in turn.
29. In Siva temples the form of Chandeeswarar (a Saivite saint) will be found. He, too, should be worshipped.
30. The final part of the ceremony is the prayer offered to the sacrificial altar (Bali Peedam) which is found behind the Vahana. The priest will then show the sacred flame (camphor) before the main deity and the devotees will clasp their hands in prayer while chanting sacred mantras or holy songs.
31. The sacred flame is then brought to each devotee from left to right. Each one who is thus presented with the flame should place their palms over it and then place their palms over their eyes. This is symbolic of asking for and receiving Divine Blessings. This is usually done thrice.
32. The prasadam (Thirunooru) is then offered to each devotee after this. To receive it, place right palm over left and receive it reverently and full of devotion. After receiving, place it in your left palm, touch it with three fingers of your right hand, viz. index, middle and ring fingers, and apply it across the forehead. Look upwards while you do this and recite the mantra ‘Om Shakti’, ‘Siva- Siva’, ‘Om Namah Sivaya', or ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’, according to the respective deities being worshipped, while applying the holy ash. The ash should be spread out across the forehead and not applied as a dot or a small square. The remainder of the ash should be applied to your chest, neck or hands and should not be thrown away.
33. The Holy Ash (Thirunooru) is a sacred Saivite symbol. It should be sacrilegious to spill it, blow it away from your palms or wear it in any way you want (as a dot etc). It should be respected and worn properly at all times.
34. After that the priest will offer `theertham' (holy water or milk used during abhishegam). This too is received in the hollow of your palm and drunk with reverence after placing it over each eye in turn.
35. Sandalwood paste and kumkum are also offered after this. Each should be taken by the ring finger and applied in the middle of the forehead. Sandalwood paste is applied first and kumkum is applied on top.
36. Thirunooru, theertham, sandalwood paste and kumkum are offered to all devotees after prayers. For those who make special archanai or pooja the priest will offer a half coconut with bananas, betel leaf, betelnuts, flowers, a little thirunooru and kumkum in packets as a form of prasadam.
37. When receiving this form of prasadam, accept reverently with both hands and place it before the eyes. Then remove a flower and smell it before placing it behind your ear.
38. Sometimes, 'naivedhyam' or food offering consisting of rice, peas etc., paid for by the devotee, is distributed to those attending prayers in the temple. The naivedhyam is first blessed during prayers and returned to the devotee who then distributes it to those present. A small portion can be taken back home for the family.
39. Special archanai (pooja) by individuals can also be done. Each devotee may bring camphor etc. for archanai and give them to the priest. Your name and the star under which you were born (Hindu horoscope) or that of the person for whom the pooja is done, is given to the priest who will proceed to do the pooja. After that the priest will give you the prasadam (coconut etc.) which can be taken home.
40. Having participated in the temple pooja one shouldn't return home or leave the temple immediately. One should sit at a suitable place in sight of the deities and spend some time in silent meditation (dhyana). One can chant holy mantras or concentrate on the form of a favourite deity. Close your eyes and chant holy mantras (Om Namah Sivaya etc.) at least 108 times. Do this in peace and calm before worshipping the main deity once again. Then you can leave the temple for home with a calm frame of mind.