Social etiquette with Priests and temple workers


As a matter of etiquette and hygiene, we never touch the priest and temple workers / servants in any Hindu temple – including the haveli.

Priests have to constantly move in and out of the inner sanctum and prepare various things for the deity (food, drinks, paan, garlands etc).  To serve the divine, they have to bathe and wear fresh / clean clothes everytime.  To maintain this ritual "purity", they don’t touch anyone while they are “on-duty”.  Others in the haveli that are serving God (cooking etc) would have bathed in the temple as well and would be wearing silk or pure cotton.  They wont touch anyone either. 

If they touch anyone, they have to shower. 
If they go to the toilet, they have to have to take a shower again.....
They are not allowed to eat, drink or sleep while “on-duty”.  If they do, it requires various levels of absolutions and showering to cleanse themselves again.
When we talk to priests, we make sure we do not accidently cough on them or their clothes.  If our spit or cough touches them - they have to shower again.
When talking to heard priests of heads of the sect, people sometimes place a hand in front of their mouth to avoid accidently spitting on their clothes for the same reason - it would necessitate a full shower.

So for that reason, we just do a nameste (palms together and slight bow or nod of the head) and never touch each other.  Even in social life, Hindus prefer nameste to a handshake.  Ofcourse, in business life, they know it’s a "must" and so shake hands regularly.  But, even now, many Indians of the older generation Hindus find that an awkward moment and hence fumble with hand shakes.  Its not because they don’t know how to shake hands – but it’s a cultural no no.  Indian women of the older generation particularly (Hindu & Muslim) do not like hand shakes either – particularly if its with the opposite gender.  They would prefer nameste or some form of non-contact greeting.

These are “social niceties”.  In practical life, they can’t be maintained.

India is a crowded nation and we are constantly jostling each other.  So its impossible to avoid touching each other.  In the temple, the laity are often crushed into tiny area as they attempt to have a glimpse of the deity.  They are forced to “touch” each other.  But still, people try to keep their “hands as untouched as possible”.

So when you next visit a temple or a haveli, please don’t touch the priest without his permission. 

Even with revered gurus, we would only touch their feet with their permission – you never know if they have just "stepped out" of seva and are intending to return or not.  Not touching them without permission saves everyone a lot of embaressment and time wasted in going for a shower.



Bhagwat Shah © 


Return to the Introduction index

Return to main courtyard of the Haveli


[email protected]