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Ritual, Religion & Spirituality


Hindu Belief & Practice

Many Hindu practices and beliefs under Chola rule were interwoven with the royal family’s authority. Shiva was the Cholas’ divine state authority. However, local traditions in the Tamil-speaking region and other Chola territories honored a myriad of other deities—including Brahma, Vishnu, and the goddess Devi—reflecting the diversity of beliefs that are understood as Hinduism today.

The central act of Hindu worship is puja, a ritual to engage the senses of both the devotee and the gods. Puja can be performed on an elaborate scale in a temple setting by priests, or on a smaller scale in a family home. A Hindu god is treated like a member of royalty, with all of the accompanying delights. A representation of the deity is bathed in milk, curds, honey, butter, and water; dressed in rich fabrics; adorned with jewelry and flowers; anointed with sandalwood; and offered flowers, food, and water. The ritual also involves the scent of incense; the sound of music, bells, and chants; and the light and warmth of lamps. Preparing the gods for temple processions in this way has been an important part of worship in south India since the sixth century.

Darshan, the act of seeing and being seen by the deity to attain grace, is one of the central aspects of Hindu worship. The eyes of the deity, cut in a special ceremony, are critically important to the devotee’s ability to make direct visual contact. With continued bathing, anointing, and other aspects of worship the eyes are gradually worn down and therefore must sometimes be cut again.

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Top: A priest in a Shiva temple reads a sacred text. Photo: Neil Greentree. Bottom: Nataraja with Parvati being worshiped by sages. Detail of a ceiling painting in the inner first prakara of the Nataraja temple, Chidambaram. © Bharath Ramamrutham.