I came by some information on the appropriate procedure to worship at Siva temples. Much of the principles are the same for other temples also, but there could be some differences based on prescribed procedure, conventions, etc. I thought it might be useful for our readers.
- Dress in a simple manner when going to the temple. Avoid expensive clothes, jewelry, etc.
- The first thing we see when entering a temple is the gopuram / tower, usually called the Raja Gopuram due to its massive size. This should be considered as a form of God, and prayed to, before entering the temple premises.
- For those who are unable to enter the temple for any reason, worshiping the gopuram is considered equivalent to worshiping the deities in the temple. This is the origin of the phrase “கோபுர தரிசனம் கோடி புண்ணியம்”, loosely translated as “worship of the gopuram creates a lot of merit (punniyam)”.
- The first structure is usually the bali peetham (sacrificial altar). Prostrate at the bali peetham, sacrificing (or giving up) one’s desire, anger, greed, attachment, ego. The bali peetham is installed for exactly this purpose. The top portion of the Dhwaja Stambham has three horizontal perches or three branches pointing towards the Sanctum. It symbolizes righteousness, reputation and propriety or the Trimurtis – Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva.
- Next to the bali peetham is usually the dhwaja sthambam or kodi maram / kodi kambam. This is the mast at which the temple’s banner is hoisted during temple festivals, to communicate to the neighbourhood that events are on at the temple.
- Next is Siva’s vehicle, Nandi. Pray to Nandi, requesting permission to proceed and worship Siva.
- Just before entering the main sanctorum, idols of Vinayaka (Ganesha) and Murugan (Subramanian) are usually kept, to the left and right of the doors, respectively. Pray to Vinayaka and perform தோப்புக்கரணம் (toppukkaranam), before entering the sanctorum.
- In Siva’s shrine at the sanctum sanctorum, worship the Lord with single-minded devotion and prayer.
- When receiving and/or applying vibhuti, it is best to chant the Mahamrityunjaya Mantram or Tryambaka Mantram, addressed to Tryambaka (the three-eyed Lord, or Siva).
त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम्
उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान्मृत्योर्मुक्षीय माऽमृतात्
tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭivardhanaṃ
urvārukamiva bandhanānmṛtyormukṣīya mā’mṛtāt
Meaning: Worship to the three-eyed lord who bestows sweetness, fragrance, prosperity
Free me from the fear of death, liberate me, just as as the gourd falls off its vine.
- Around the main sanctorum are usually shrines to Dakshinamurti (facing south), Vinayaka (south-western corner, usually), Lingodhbhavar or Maha Vishnu (facing the direction opposite the main Siva shrine), various lingams (on the western wall, usually), Subramanyar (north-western corner, usually), Durga and/or Ambika (facing north, usually). In addition, there may be other shrines, such as to Bhairava and Brahma. All these gods may be prayed to / worshiped.
- Finally, visit the shrine of Chandikeswarar, who keeps count of the devotees who have come to worship the Lord and of their prayers. Here, indicate in your own personal way that you have had darsanam of the Lord. Most people clap softly, or snap their fingers, thrice. Chandikeswarar is supposed to be in a deep state of meditation, hence this approach to drawing his attention. However, snapping fingers should be avoided. In addition, one may inform him of their visit by softy speaking the words “வந்தேன் வந்தேன் வந்தேன், இறைவனின் தரிசனம் கண்டேன், கண்டேன், கண்டேன்” (I came, I came I came, and I had, I had, I had darsanam of the Lord). Another alternative custom is to wipe ones palms in front of Chandikeswarar, which is a sign of acknowledgement of his presence (without disturbing) and also indicating that one is not taking anything away from the temple (indicated by the clean palms), since Siva is supposed to be an ascetic God, and one is not supposed to take away anything from an ascetic.
- Once out of the sanctorum, there may be other prakarams that devotees may wish to circumambulate, before heading back to the main dhwaja sthambam.
- Here, sit for a moment to mentally pray to the Lord, believing “Lord, I have offered m prayers to you. You know what I require and what I do not. Bestow unto me according to what you deem fit.”
- Then, at the dhwaja sthambam, prostrate (namaskaram) facing north (where Siva resides at Kailasam). Prostration should be done as follows:
- Men: the entire body should touch the ground, including all 8 limbs (saashtangam)
- Women: should kneel and bow down, such that the feet, hands and head touch the ground.
- Devotees may prostrate (ie, do namaskaram) before the previous step of sitting down. Usually, sitting down is the last thing done, due to the belief that Siva, being a ascetic God, should not be deprived by even a smallest speck of dust being taken out of the temple.
- In general, do not touch any of the idols of the deities, since this is supposed to disturb them from their permanent state of meditation.