Can I visit a Hindu temple or anything like that?

Gee, I feel dumb asking this. OK, so. I’ve always been very big on religious literacy; IMO people, in order to be properly educated and ready to act as American citizens, should be familiar with the Bible and its influence in history, culture, law, and literature. We should know the difference between a Methodist and a Catholic. And of course we should know something about the world’s major religions–at least the basics, preferably a lot more. (If Americans had any idea of what Islam is about, we probably could have avoided a few problems over the last 40 years.) And we should be able to tell a Sikh from a Muslim (yes, I have a personal story about that). That fact that most Americans know diddly about any of this stuff is terrible.

So now that my older daughter is 8, it’s time to start properly. I have of course tried to teach her something about various religions and taken her to a few different church services. Christian services are no problem, I can handle those, and we even have a Benedictine monastery somewhere nearby, so I want to go hear Compline or something soon. And I can do Judaism.

But what about some other religions? There’s a sizeable Indian population in a city near here; there are a lot of Sikhs as well as Hindus. There’s a gurdwara and a Hindu temple (much newer; the gurdwara is 40 years old). But how in the world do I go about doing something like that? I can’t just show up on the doorstep and beg for someone to tell us about the place (I don’t think, can I?). So what do I do if I want to show up with my kid and learn stuff?

See, in my church, you could just show up on the doorstep and get a tour. It might not be very exciting actually, but everyone would be very happy to see you and answer any questions. But I’m pretty sure a lot of other folks don’t feel the same way, and I just don’t know how to go about this sort of thing. And I know I’d be completely overcome with self-consciousness if I tried it. I’d go all pink and speechless. I guess I need a Hindu friend, really, only we suffer from a dearth here because everyone lives over there, so I haven’t got one.

Yeah, OK, I’m an idiot. Help me! Or tell me to mind my own business and stay home.

Why not? You might call first, maybe find out when a service or whatever is being held so you can attend one, rather than showing up at a potentially inconvenient time unannounced. I would be rather surprised if there was any objection to visitors interested in learning about Hinduism though.

Dangermom, do you have any Hindu friends? It might be easier if you ask them to let you accompany them to their next visit as a “guide” of sorts. I have been raised Hindu and still don’t really understand a lot of the temple aspects. There’s not really “services,” on a regular basis, per se, as far as I know. Also, everything is in sanskrit. The whole organization is really different from a church, actually. The temple is set up more like a sanctuary where people can come and pray privately, and if you arrange for the priests to do a special puja (kind of like a blessing-oriented service, like if you bought a new house or are going to name your kid), they can do that but it’s not on a regular schedule.

So, yeah, I think a friend guide would be good. Or, you could just go and look at the statues of the gods whenever you want . . . no one would look at you weird or anything (just don’t wear shoes!!!).


There’s a book you might find useful, not just for Hinduism but for visiting other religious services as well. It’s called How to Be a Perfect Stranger, and has etiquette advice on stuff like whether non-members of a religion are welcome at a service, and what they should and shouldn’ t do while they are there. It covers regular services as well as events like weddings and funerals. My parents found it helpful when they were getting ready for me to be married in a Jewish ceremony, which they were not familiar with.

I would also recommend looking for the temple’s Web site. They might say something about tours there, or at least have a number for someone at the temple that you could call to ask about them.

Despite my being a rabid atheist, the Op sounds like a very good idea. And given you have a kid who needs to learn, you also have a truly innocent cover by which you can learn yourself, which I envy. I vote for finding a decent person on the phone at your local mosque and asking them about it.

Oh yeah- I forgot to say that I think it is a great idea too. The world would probably be a better place if more parents did that sort of thing for their kids.

You probably aren’t interested in going into enough detail with your daughter to make this relevant, but it’s relevant to note that Hindu doctrine and practices vary really, really heavily compared to many mainstream religions. Historically, the term that eventually became “Hindu” originated as a geographical descriptor, and under the British raj eventually grew to encompass everyone who didn’t actively identify with Sikhism, Jainism, or one of the Abrahamic religions.

It probably doesn’t matter in your case, but since there isn’t any single, authoritative set of doctrines or principals that encompass Hindu beliefs it might be worth a footnote or two. :slight_smile:

Call up and ask or drop them an email. I bet most people would welcome the opportunity to educate people a bit more about their religions.

I believe gurdwaras specificially encourage non-Sikh visitors. Traditionally they serve meals and even sleeping space to all comers, and the Golden Temple in Amritsar is designed with four sides to represent welcoming people from the four directions (and the four major castes). If I recall correctly, you might be asked to cover your heads- this doesn’t have to be a big thing, just a bandanna or something. As when visiting any religious site, it’s a good idea to keep knees and shoulders covered and be generally modest.

Hindu temples vary. Some will let you in for everything. Others don’t allow non-Hindus in the inner sanctums. Some ban non-Hindus all together (usually because someone acted like a jerk in that temple.) I’ve spent times in Hindu temples in America where I was able to sit in on things like youth groups and even given lunch.

IANAHindu or Sikh, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Woo, I got replies! To answer some things:

Gestalt, I only wish I had a Hindu friend. (Or Sikh. This is getting awkward, talking about two different religions from India at once. You know what I mean, right?) I used to have Hindu friends, in college and in Silicon Valley, but as I said in my post, everyone lives over in that city and not here. We’ve only gotten an Indian restaurant or two in the last couple of years here, and it wasn’t for lack of demand!

I did look up the two websites, but they aren’t actually all that helpful. They each have nice photographs and directions, but almost nothing else. The Sikh one has a nice little history of the area, and the Hindu one says “Daily Aarti 8:00 a.m. and 6:45 p.m.” but it hasn’t been updated in months.

Yeah, I know Hinduism is this huge, varied thing–I took a college course in ancient Sanskrit literature for my major (comparative lit), so I do at least know that you could study for a lifetime and still be missing a lot. I’m mostly clueless, despite my little collection of Amar Chitra Katha comics from when I was a kid. :stuck_out_tongue: However, we’re doing kid-level world religion 101 here, it’s true.

Dress is a question–modesty is no problem as we belong to a pretty modest religion ourselves, but we generally wear dresses to church (and ties for men) and I wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to wear. Maybe something like I would wear to work, nice pants and top. I promise I won’t show up in my daily mommy-wear of crop pants and t-shirt!

I’m glad some of you think it’s a good idea–it’s a bit of a family tradition, since my dad used to take me around to different churches when I was a kid.

My main problem is that I’m shy! I’m convinced that people will think I’m a weirdo barging in where I have no business. Then I get tongue-tied and start blushing.

Do they have a phone number that you can call and at least leave a message.

I think this sounds like an excellent idea. Good luck. If it works out, please start a thread to tell us how it went!


You’re too far from me! Or I would most definitely take you. Do you have salwar kameez? That always helps. If not, you can definitely just show up in Western clothes, god knows I’ve done it. People will stare, but generally people are surprised and gratified when someone outside is interested, and a kid is like currency in a Hindu temple.

I would call, definitely. Aarthi means prayer. Things you should remember:

If the priest gives you a bit of food, like an apple, or some halvah, this is prasad, holy food. You don’t have to eat it, but don’t throw it away - you can bring it home and give it to someone else. It’s best to eat it if you can, though, after you touch it to your forehead.

If they bring a flame on a plate to you, wave your hands over it like you’re trying to get the smoke and touch your hands to your forehead. Generally this plate is also the donation plate, so I would bring a buck or two to put in. Give one to your daughter, it will make her happy to put in some money. Quarters are kind of a PITA to the carried; I’ve done that job before.

It’s not quite like a Catholic church - you don’t have to bow at prescribed times or anything. Generally they have some form of prayer or songs, then maybe a havan (sacrificial fire) depending on your sect, or perhaps a bit of the Gita or even some Sanskrit prayers. I was lucky; my temple was very liberal and so we had prayers in Hindi. Then they will sing the Aarti, everyone sings for that, and joins their hands.

Make sure you and your daughter wear slip-on shoes that are easily identifiable, as you will have to take them off and then find them again.

You don’t have to wear a veil in a Hindu temple. It couldn’t hurt to wear a little decorative scarf around your neck, like one of those silk ones. In a Gurdvara, you will be required to cover your head, and so will your daughter. They provide veils, so you can just grab one from there. I never liked to, so I always brought one. In a Gurdvara men and women sit separately, but eat together.

Lastly, dangermom, please e-mail me at with your address. I have tons of extra/spare veils, and would like nothing better to mail you one. if you send me your address before midnight, I’ll get it out in the mail tomorrow!

Oh, yay, I was hoping you’d show up since you know things. I do not have salwar kameez, I only wish I did! But although I have tried a few on in the shops, I am built on a different scale than most Indian women. My shoulders are too broad and my arms are too long (and it probably doesn’t help that I need to lose weight). I think I would have to have one made (and if I ever get to India, I will, but by then I will be old). I did actually buy one off the discount rack for my daughter (wasn’t she cute!) but she’s a lot taller now. I guess she could wear the scarf part, though?

And see, here’s where my shyness comes into play. Wouldn’t people just think I was a horrible wannabe poser if I showed up in salwar kameez? Or are Indians just way nicer than that? I’d feel like a poser! :o This is why I need a friend, to tell me I’m not a poser.

I don’t think I have a philosophical problem with eating prasad, but the kid has a bunch of food allergies, oh dear. Apple, good–halvah, very very bad.

Thanks for any tips you can give me! I also put the Perfect Stranger book on hold at the library…

You don’t have to eat ALL the prasad, it just cannot be wasted. There will ALWAYS be fruit. So if you take it, just give your kid the bananas, raisins, apples, etc, and you can have the halvah sorta stuff.

That said, yeah, most Hindu temples here in the states tend to vary, but most I’ve seen are very friendly or curious towards non-Hindus who come by. They usually have prayers around 6pm or around sundown, so that’s a good time to stop by if you want to see some actual activities and such being performed. And some will have priests that if they’re sitting and watching, may welcome questions and such. But it depends on how used to non-Hindu’s they’re used to getting.

That said, I think you’re doing a wonderful thing by exposing your child to different cultures. Sikhs are really cool and REALLY REALLY friendly in my own opinion (in my head, I always view them as with the stereotypes of how people say that Mormons are REALLY Nice and always willing to help out- it’s sorta the same thing in my mind. Heh. But people vary everywhere. But I do know that Sikhs are a bit more conservative when it comes to clothing and such than Hindus, so the headdresses ARE an EXCELLENT idea if you know you’re visiting a Sikh Temple (not a Mosque btw- a nitpick there to another poster), and you would not be seen as a poser, but rather one who is being respectful of the culture. Which would totally give you brownie points. :smiley:

Let us know how it goes!

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! And yes, you’d have to get one made. Yes, she could wear the scarf, though as I said, it’s only necessary in Gurdvara to cover your head.
Gurdvara generally only has halvah for prasad. Mandir (Hindu temple) always has fruit.

OK, thanks. I guess we’ll plan on trying to go to the evening aarti sometime soon, after I call someone.

Bwahaha! I don’t know if you are aware that I’m Mormon myself. I shall now always think of Sikhs as our secret twins. :smiley:

Thanks so much for the replies, everyone; I really appreciate any help you can give me!

“Can I visit a Hindu temple or anything like that?”

Yes, of COURSE you can dear! I won’t tell anyone! :slight_smile:

Though a British agnostic I’ve been inside one in East Africa so there doesn’t seem to be any doctrinal ban on none hindu visitors.

The Jains are an exception here - having been welcomed into Hindu, Muslim and Sikh places of worship in India, we were (very politely) informed that they didn’t do visitors.

Anybody else unable to leave the picture site till you saw all the pics of the girls?
They are freakin’ adorable!

But in Australia you can wander into any Hindu temple you like, and some of them are fascinating. Years ago you often got a free feed at lunchtime (vegetarian of course).