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Inside a Hindu Temple

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    The Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple, located in Lanham, Maryland, is unique in that it houses both an icon to Shiva and an icon to Vishnu. Shiva is represented with a stone lingam and Vishnu is portrayed lying upon a bed of snakes. These two icons are the center of the temple and are housed in inner shrines.

    About twenty other gods are also represented in icons ringing the temple. These icons were dressed in saris and jewelry. Placed in front of many of these icons were offerings of fruit and rice, as well as the red powder kunkumma. These offerings were likely placed privately by families during worship.

    The visitor is struck by the bright colors of the ornately decorated interior, tje smells of burning incense and the sound of ringing bells. When we arrived, a puja was being conducted for Vishnu by two temple priests. A puja is a Hindu act of devotion to a deity. Though they may vary considerably, a puja typically is directed towards an icon of the god being worshipped. The icon is bathed, typically with water and milk. The icon is then dressed in a sari and jewelry, and often shown his own image in a mirror. A food offering is made to the icon, accompanied by the ringing of bells.

    The puja being conducted at the Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple was being conducted by two priests, dressed only in dotis, cloth wrapped around their lower bodies, and wore their sacred thread bandalier-style on their upper bodies. A small congregation was present, reciting from prayer books. The priests rang bells and bathed Vishnu. First they poured water over the icon. Next they bathed him with milk, one of the “five nectars.” Finally they bathed him with water again. All the while they recited mantras, inviting Vishnu to come down and join them. After bathing Vishnu, the priests closed the curtain to the inner shrine.

    The puja was to conclude later in the evening, a very lengthy ceremony in contrast to Western Christian services, which only last about as long as several time slots on prime time television. The priests at the Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple reside at the temple, and are Brahmins who have studied the Vedas. They are men who’s lives are committed to the worship of the gods, and one marvels at their devotion.

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