Shiva Ratri

Shivaratri or Maha Shivaratri is the “Great Night of Shiva,” the year’s most important celebration of Shiva. It was on this night, they say, that Shiva burst forth from the earth as a shaft of sheer light so that the gods and people could worship the Divine radiance in the form of the linga. According to legend, those who stay awake through the night to worship Shiva are released from many lifetimes of sin. Shivaratri is observed in most American Hindu temples, falling on the 14th day of the waning fortnight of the lunar month of February/March.


In the Hindu tradition, Ayyappa is popular pilgrimage deity of the mountain-top shrine of Sabarimalai Kerala, said to be a son of Vishnu and Shiva.


A haveli is a stately house or palace, a Pushti Marga temple. In this devotional sect founded by the teacher (acharya) Vallabha, Krishna dwells in the household of the teachers. In the Swaminarayan tradition, a haveli is the residence for female ascetics.

Satyanarayana Vratam

Satyanarayana Vratam is one of the most popular of today’s vratas, which are religious observances done in fulfillment of a vow. Vratas are usually rites of well-being, which involve fasting, ritual, and the recitation of the paradigmatic story. They are done with particular aims in mind, such as health or family well-being. The Satyanarayana Vratam is today gaining much popularity in America’s Hindu temples.


Archana is a short form of puja (worship) offered on behalf of a individual or family, in the Hindu tradition. It often involves the chanting of the names of the deity.


A gurukulam is a residential school or training center where a guru teaches; literally, it means the family (kulam) of the guru.

Rig Veda

The Rig Veda is a collection of more than 1,000 hymns dating in its oral form to at least 1,200 B.C.E. The hymns are addressed to a variety of Vedic gods, with many invoking Agni, the sacred fire. It is the oldest of the four samhitas, “collections,” which also include the Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas.

Yogoda Satsang Society

Yogoda Satsang Society was founded in India by Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952). During the 1920s when Yogananda settled in Los Angeles, the American organization became known as the Self-Realization Fellowship. Yogananda was the first Hindu teacher of yoga to settle in the United States for an extended period. The organization he founded has more than 400 centers in 44 countries. Since 1925, the organization’s international headquarters has been atop Mt. Washington, five miles from downtown Los Angeles.


Abhishekam is the Hindu “ritual shower” of water, milk, honey, yogurt, and sandalwood paste that is poured over a murti (sacred image) as part of daily, weekly, or festival rites. The term was used in ancient India to mean the ritual anointing of a king and these royal meanings still attend the abhisheka rites as they are offered to the Divine.

fire altar

Fire altars have played a central role in both Hindu and Zoroastrian religious rituals. In the Hindu tradition, fire altars were central to ancient Vedic religious life as the place where many yajnas or rituals were performed. The kindling of sacred fire at a fire altar continues to be central for many Hindu domestic rites, including marriage, and for public rites such as the consecration of a temple. In the ancient Zoroastrian tradition, the central rites called yasna were and are still performed in the presence of the purifying fire. In a fire temple the Afargan or fire vase... Read more about fire altar


(also: Minakshi) The material form of Goddess Meenakshi is best known as the reigning goddess of the popular South Indian temple town of Madurai, where her large temple complex is at center of town built in concentric square processional streets around the temple. She is the bride of Shiva called Sundareshvara, the “beautiful Lord,” but is also worshipped in her own right. In the U.S., her first and largest temple is in Houston.


Ramakrishna (1836-86) was a Bengali mystic, a devotee of the Goddess Kali, who also venerated his wife, Sarada Devi, as Holy Mother. In his spiritual experience, he claimed to have had the supreme mystical “God-realization” of many religious traditions and affirmed their unity. His disciple Vivekananda (1863-1902) was very different in temperament, more an activist and intellectual. After Vivekananda’s success at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, he founded both the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society in America and the Ramakrishna Mission in India in the name of his spiritual master.


Venkateshvara, also known as Balaji, is a form of Vishnu or Krishna. The hilltop temple dedicated to him at Tirupati in southern Andhra Pradesh is one of the most popular of all Hindu pilgrimage destinations and the stories of powerful blessings received by pilgrims to this site abound.

Laws of Manu

The Laws of Manu constitute one of the classic sources of teaching about Dharma in the Hindu tradition. Dating to the period from about 200 BCE to 200 CE, this articulation of law or dharma begins with the story of creation and then covers such subjects as the duties and responsibilities of each of the castes (varnas) and each of the stages of life (ashramas), the special responsibilities of kings and of women, and the consequences of infractions against dharma.

Pushti Margiya Vaishnava

The Pushti Marga is the “Path of Grace,” a Hindu tradition of Krishna worship focused on the child Krishna especially known as Shri Nathji. It was launched by Vallabhacharya (1479-1531) and includes lineages of teachers called goswamis, who continue his tradition to the present day. Its most important Indian haveli (palace-temple) is at Nathdvara in Rajasthan. In the U.S. there are Pushti Marga temples or havelis in Vraj, Pennsylvania and Sayreville, New Jersey.