The Posture of Prayer: A Look at How Hindus Pray

Priya* was a Hindu before putting her faith in Christ as her Savior. Most of her family is still Hindu, so she continues to see regular Hindu prayer and worship in their homes. Priya also remembers well the postures and rituals from her twenty years as a Hindu. I asked her to describe Hindu prayer, and she graciously agreed.

The methodology of Hindu prayer is hundreds of years old, and some pieces are very common and agreed upon by the majority of Hindus. Yet there is a lot of fluidity across cultures and even allowances for each individual’s desires and preferences. To complicate matters more, there are multitudes of special religious ceremonies and events that call for their own postures and rituals. So Priya’s experience with Hinduism may differ from someone else’s. I tried to keep that in mind as her memories of her life before Christ flooded back to her and she moved from her chair to demonstrate the steps of Hindu prayer.

Preparing for Prayer

Millions of Hindus pray at a temple on a regular basis. When they arrive, they must be barefoot to enter. Shoes are considered dirty and are removed even when entering your own home, so how much more so for a temple that is considered holy. Priya said her family has another reason for bare feet: “The more pain you have before god, the happier he is.” This belief compels many Hindus to crawl on their hands and knees or pull themselves on their bellies through the temple, or to walk barefoot for hours or days to try to please their gods.

In a demonstration of piety, a Hindu woman climbs 272 steps to Batu Cave on her knees carrying a jug of milk for her offering. Photo by Luke In.

When Hindus reach the temple entrance, they often touch the floor with their right hand (the left hand is considered unclean), then touch their forehead and their chest. This indicates their request for forgiveness for any sins that may have been committed.

Calling the Gods

Hindus chant during an evening worship service in the neighborhood Hindu temple in Delhi, India. Photo from IMB Photo Library.

Upon entering the temple, Hindus go to the idol first. Whether the temple has one idol or many, each idol typically has a hanging bell nearby for the worshiper to ring as a greeting. Afterward, the worshiper can touch the feet of the idol, then touch their own chest and head to symbolize a connection of their head and heart to god.

A Hindu man worships at a Malaysian Hindu temple in celebration of the Thaipusam festival. Photo by Luke In.

On auspicious occasions, Hindus bring a round, metal plate for puja (Hindu idol worship) to use from this point forward. They will have carefully prepared several edible and decorative elements for appeasing and pleasing the idol they intend to beseech. Worshipers touch the food—maybe a dessert or fruit—to the mouth of the idol as an act of service to the deity.

A Hindu in Nepal brings a plate of goods to offer the idol in front of her. Photo by Caroline Anderson.

They adorn the idol’s neck with a flower necklace of marigolds and light a candle because they believe it dispels negative energy and focuses the worshiper’s attention. Sometimes they burn incense because they believe the idols like the fragrance. The worshiper may chant prescribed mantras or voice their own personal prayers of petition before leaving the idol.

Listen to worship at a Hindu temple in Kathmandu, Nepal

A woman in Nepal waves incense in a circular motion in front of an idol she’s come to worship. Photo by Caroline Anderson.

If a worshiper didn’t bring a special plate, then they go through the temple and greet the god(s), putting their hands together and bowing in what is known as a reverent form of the Indian Namaste pose. Some may prostrate themselves before each deity to demonstrate the lengths they will go to in order to show devotion.

Circumambulation

Hindu practices for prayer often symbolize a deeply held belief, even if the practice looks as normal as walking. Circumambulation, or walking around the deities, is a common part of Hindu puja. To Priya’s family, it symbolizes that the worshiper is moving through the different stages of life as they go around and around, transitioning from normal human daily existence towards the eternal, then back again. Another purpose is to reflect that the deity is central and that the devotee is focused on that centrality during their life and worship.

To the Priest

After praying to the idols, the worshiper goes to the priest. The priest takes a pitcher of what’s believed to be holy water from the Ganges River and pours it in the worshiper’s right hand. The worshiper drinks the water and puts the remaining droplets on their head as a blessing.

A woman receives what she believes is holy water as a blessing from her temple’s religious leader. Photo from IMB Library.

They lean over in front of the priest and pull back the hair from their forehead, allowing the priest to put the tika on their forehead. This is most often a red sandalwood or vermillion powder as a visible sign of blessing.

A man’s tika demonstrates that he has been to the temple for worship earlier in the day. Photo from IMB Photo Library.

The priest ties a red-yellow string to the worshiper’s wrist as a symbol that its bearer is seeking the protection of the idol worshiped. The priest will then give food that has been offered to the idol for the worshiper to consume. The worshiper takes the food with the right hand over the left and eats it or takes it home to bless others.

Let’s Pray

I’ve spent years learning how to pray for Hindus I love and desire to see know Christ. Let me share some specific ways I often pray when I see a Hindu barefoot and holding a plate of flowers and food, about to offer prayers to an idol that neither sees nor hears them. And as we pray, let us remember that before we met Christ, we were walking through life posturing our days for personal gain and avoidance of pain and loss. Sometimes we still do. Hindus are no different. They need Jesus just like we do—most, tragically, haven’t met him yet.

“The more pain you have before god, the happier he is.”

  • Pray for Hindus to come to know the one true God.
    God formed them in the womb and knows all their thoughts and all their ways. Pray that Hindus will believe that the same God who created the universe created them with a purpose that he will bring into fruition as they place their faith in him (Ps. 139; Ps. 57:2–3).
  • Pray that Hindus will see God for who he is.
    The idols Hindus worship cannot hear them, see them, or speak to them (Ps. 115). They cannot give hope, cannot give peace, and cannot save (Isa. 46:5–10). Pray that Hindus will know that the God of the Bible is the only God who can not only interact with them but can save them (John 3:16).
  • Pray for God to send laborers to share the gospel with them.
    More than 900 million of them are unreached with the gospel. Pray that he will give you opportunities to share the hope you have with Hindus you encounter (Matt. 9:37–38). There are more than 1 billion Hindus living in 53 countries, and 27 million belong to groups that are completely unengaged—meaning no one has a strategy to get the good news to them. Pray for laborers. Be that bearer of good news in a Hindu’s life.
  • Pray for Hindu-background believers.
    Pray that former Hindus, like my friend, Priya, will lovingly and consistently share their faith. Pray that God will strengthen and encourage them as they tell others of the hope they have in Jesus.

*Name changed

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series entitled The Posture of Prayer, which takes a look at how people of different faiths pray. Read The Posture of Prayer: A Look at How Muslims Pray here.


Madison Strauder lives with her family in South Asia.