The culture of Tamil Nadu may come as confusing to those of other countries. Here is a quick (but not complete) summary that will help you respect the local ashrams, temples and shrines.
Do’s and dont’s for visiting temples and shrines:
- Do not go inside a temple structure enclosing a shrine (especially the innermost structure housing the deity, called the sanctum sanctorum) without being invited by a priest.
- Do not touch anything without permission from a priest.
- Do not take pictures of any deities without permission from a priest.
- Do not carry your shoes inside a temple or shrine. Often there is a designated place for you to leave shoes outside, with someone who will watch them for a small fee.
- If you are sitting and a priest walks in, or the bells ring during a puja ceremony (signaling that a connection to the deity has been made), stand up.
- During a puja, do not walk (in Pradakshina worship or otherwise) around the shrine where the puja is taking place. This is especially important while the curtain (if there is one) in front of the deity is closed.
- Avoid pointing the bottoms of your feet towards anyone while you are sitting.
- Observe silence while inside temples or shrines, including keeping your cell phone silent.
- There may be other rules depending on where you are. The best way to handle this is to watch and copy what others do.
To receive the blessing of the deity, pranam (bow) in one of the following positions:
- Standing with hands clasped in front of you
- On your knees (this is the preferred method for women)
- With your body outstretched on the ground and arms stretched out in front of you (this is the preferred method for men)
If there is camphor burning in front of the shrine, gently wave your hands over it towards your head to “take in the light”, touching your eyes with eyelids closed.
If there is vibhouti (sacred ash) and kumkum (red powder) available in a tray, take some vibhouti WITH YOUR RIGHT HAND ONLY and smear it across your forehead. Put a dot of kumkum on your forehead between your eyebrows. It is customary but not required to leave a small amount of money on the tray.
If a priest is there, he may offer to do an archana to invoke personal guidance and blessings for you. An archana is a special brief puja (ceremony). To do this, he may ask you a few personal details like date of birth, family name. After the archana, it is customary to leave some money in the tray the priest will be holding.
You can do a form of Pradakshina (walking worship) by either walking clockwise around the shrine that houses the deity, or stand in one spot in front of it and turn your body all the way around clockwise.
If you are in front of a depiction of Lord Shiva (picture or statue) and want to meet His gaze for maximum blessing, look in his eyes while coming up from a pranam (bow), not upon initial approach.
It is Indian tradition to show respect to a holy place by wearing appropriate clothes and behaving in a respectful manner. The Holy Hill of Arunachala and Town of Tiruvannamalai, including all its various large and small Temples, Shrines, and Ashrams deserve this respect and consideration.
Before entering any holy place, please leave shoes and sandals outside. The Ashram has a Shoe/ Sandal Stall near the entrance. (Do NOT carry your shoes in your bag within the holy places. This is as offensive as wearing them.)
Ladies If not wearing a sari, salwar-kameez or other appropriate Indian clothes please wear western clothing that it is loose, sleeved and not transparent. The chest, shoulders and legs should be covered.
Men: If not wearing a dhoti, kurta or other appropriate Indian clothes, please wear a sleeved shirt (not an under-shirt/sleeveless baniyan) over long pants. (Wearing shorts/jatti and other beach-like wear are signs of disrespect.)
Code of Conduct at the Ashram
As this is an Ashram, one needs to be sensitive to the needs of the devotees; therefore please act respectfully and follow the few traditional and customary rules. We trust that devotees come for a period of quiet study, reflection, and meditation only. Please find alternative places for sightseeing, meeting relatives and friends, of transacting other personal business.
Please, SWITCH OFF or at least “SILENCE” your Mobile Phones at all times when within the Ashram.
Please maintain silence and refrain from social interactions. Any visitors coming to Tiruvannamalai to attend satsangs or meetings with one or more of the various gurus, teachers or for other reasons, and are not here for the sole purpose of deepening in their own experience and understanding of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, are requested to seek accommodation elsewhere.
Quote from Bhagavan
Just as the elephant’s trunk which is otherwise restless, will become steady if it is made to hold an iron chain, so that the elephant goes its way without reaching out for any other object, so also the ever-restless mind, which is trained and accustomed to a name or form through meditation or invocation, will steadily hold on to that alone.