Why do we touch the steps of the temple before entering?

Why do we touch the steps of the temple before entering?

 

Most of the Indian homes have a prayer room or altar. It is considered as the abode of deities in the home. On the other hand, there are also some social or public worship places which are common edifices for Hindu worship. Such places are known as temples or Mandira.

A temple

Temple is the home of the deity. People believe that, the pujas, hawans and yajnas make a temple much pious for the deity to reside in. Hence, temple is considered as a purest and holiest place of worship on the earth. People visit temples to see the virtuous idol of deity; to confess one’s mistakes or misdoings; and return with a pure and devotional mind.

Parts of temple

Agni Purana mentions that a temple is not just a home to deity, but rather it is a sort of holy body to deity. The following verse would make the idea more clear.

Evamesha harih sakshat prasadatvena sansthitah

Similar concept is expanded by Agni Purana and stated as,

Shikharam shira ityahurgarbhageham galastatha mandapam kukshirityahuh prakaram janujanghakam  gopuram pada ithyahurdhvajo jivanamuchyate

(Shikhra is the head, sanctum is the neck, mandap is the waist, gopura is the legs and flag is the life of the temple.)

In the above phrase, various body parts are attributed to the architectural parts of the temple, horizontally.

While, the vertical view of the temple is as follows;

  • Kalasa – Head
  • Shikhara – Upper part
  • Walls – Body
  • Plinth – Legs
  • Steps – Feet

Here the top view graphics of the temple is depicted, and the architectural parts of the temple are personified body parts of the deity.

Custom of touching steps before entering the temple

There is a general custom of touching the steps of the temple before entering into it. Normally people bow down before entering into the temple and touch the very first step or all the steps (in some cases) of the temple.

The custom is deeply imbibed in the Hindu religion. The children and elders alike pay their obeisance to God before stepping into His spiritual abode.

Reason behind the custom   

Various reasons can be suggested for this custom. Those are,

  • Meeting the deity with a modest and humble mind is the most important reason behind touching the temple steps, before getting into it.
  • In the Hindu religious system, a temple is the spiritual abode of the deity and hence said to be extremely sacred and virtuous in stature. While entering the temple one’s leg touches this holy place. Hence, by bowing down to God one begs His pardon for this inevitable act.
  • Touching the temple steps before entering into it is symbolic to asking deity’s permission and the act is performed out of one’s respect and devotion for the deity.
  • Temple is also a replica of the deity. Various temple divisions personify various body parts of the deity such as head, limbs etc. The step of a temple is considered as the feet of the deity. Hence, people touch steps of temple symbolically touching the feet of the deity.
  • Normally a tortoise replica is placed on the temple steps. It is a philosophical symbol. As tortoise contracts all his limbs under a shell, similarly a person should contract all his Vishayas (worldly wishes) before getting into the temple. Hence, touching the step near the tortoise replica is symbolic to contraction of all worldly wishes before entering into this spiritual abode.
  • Usually temples are constructed on an elevated area and the steps act as a link between the plain land and the temple. Steps here work as a ‘connecting parameter’ between the ground level and the temple land. Hence, steps are the beginning of the territory of the temple as well as the kingdom of deity. Before entering into the deity’s kingdom people generally touch its steps out of their respect for the deity.

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