Ask my mother, and she will tell you how disgusted she feels that her daughter doesnot believe in visiting temples or doing Pooja (prayer) at home and worse she doesnot have a little temple or a place for pooja at her home.
I've grown up seeing a highly religious mother who would wake up at 4 am to get ready and walk down to Kalka temple on weekly basis despite her being a working woman. She would spend a lot of time in the home Pooja room ( a small room for prayer) every evening. Her salutation would be no less than the name of the deity she is devoted to. Come Navratras and her visits to temple would increase and her time of prayer (including Aarati singing) would increase manifold. She would come out of the prayer room, offering us, the poor children with some 'Charnamrit' (Literally meaning - holy water which has washed the God's feet) and some prasad ( sweet which was offered to God first).
She would take me along to the temple, which has a huge following in New Delhi. As a kid, it was tough for me, as I had to wake up at 4 or 5 am, take bath and get ready in winter mornings to go to the temple. And mind you, we were not supposed to eat anything.... means just anything. We must pray with a pure mouth, must not consume anything before that. After offering water, tilak, flowers, lighting a diya (earthen lamp), prasad (sweets or fruit offered to God) and head bow or else prostrating before all idols (and hope u know there are 330 million Hindu dieties and a big and established temple would have idols of around 10-12 deities minimum). By the time, all the offerings have been made to all the Gods and Goddesses, it would be the time to do the collective Aarati.
All this would take around 1 to 2 hours, and I would be dead hungry by then. Needless to say that if i complained, that would elicit the wrath of my mother, so I would keep my mouth shut!
Today, at 36 years of age, and being a mother of two, I have still not imbibed the religious ways of my mother, and for that matter of my mother-in-law and my sister and my neighbour and my colleague. I am a misfit here. My mother had been telling me again and again how important it is to have a small temple in home, and how equally important it is to light a diya (lamp) every day. Initially, I felt terribly guilty for not being able to do all this, not even to pacify all the old ladies of my house. But now, I just know I cannot and have no regrets.
For me religion is not lighting that diya, it's not singing that Aarati, it's not fasting for the diety, it's not visiting a temple, it's not going on a pilgrimage, it's not even placing the photo of your diety on your kitchen, or your car, or your study table or your home temple. It's beyond all this. These are just the rituals, just the method to remind yourself of the power.
I don't think there is any point visiting a temple through the VIP pass, VIP gate or VIP ticket (u can buy them by paying some Rs 1000-2000 in big temples). I don't think God would be happy with you when you haggle with the poor rickshaw puller for 2 or 5 rupees after giving donation of 100-200 or 500 rupees. I don't think it's worth getting pushed and manhandled just to stand and pray in front of the big idol of your God. There are long, really very long queues outside the well established temples all over India and people wait for hours altogether to get a glimpse of their deity. Having faith is something pious and I respect it, but simply following a ritual without giving any thought to it... is somehow beyond me.
I'm not saying that people who throng the temples go there only to see the idol of the deity, but there are people who go to experience the immense power, to feel the collective energy of thousands of people's devotion. Some go to meditate in peaceful temples. If we begin to segregate the mere ritual from the real devotion and real connectivity with God, we will begin to see the worthlessness in the temple thronging act of our countrymen. Every year, we read about people dying in stampedes in religious processions, or temples or in queues leading to temples. Is it worth losing your life only to visit a place of worship, while God resides within us... around us.......in the human beings He created? I wonder.
My Observation on Religion And Society : There is something strange which i had been noticing for a few years about the co-relation of a person's financial status and the religious practices he follows.
I realized that the poor section of the Indian society spend more money on buying pooja articles, giving money (dakshina) to priests for the rituals. They spend a big amount from their earnings on festivals and marriage/birth/death in the name of religion giving out money or food or clothes to others (mostly priests). People working in cities go back to their states or villages for such religious and ritualistic practices thereby spending money on commuting and buying new clothes etc.
In contrast to that, middle class or upper middle class strata of Indian society (especially urban population) won't care much about the ritual which makes them spend money. In most cases, we have found some short cuts to rituals. Now, more often than not, the short cuts are there because we don't care enough for them anymore rather than reasoning out as to why should we follow or not follow it.
So, the meaning of being religious is different for different people. What's your way of being religious? Do u light a diya, or a dhoop or incense stick, hum some mantra and begin your day feeling pious? Do you visit temples each time you go for holidays to any place seeking blessings of all the Gods? Have you ever questioned the ritual? Have you ever asked the meaning and significance of a ritual and then felt a disconnect in your heart? Have you ever asked yourself 'does God reside in the place of worship'? What's your way? Do share....
Aarathi - (Aarati - is a kind of a religious song, sung in the praise of that deity. It tells about the various powers held, the many accomplishments made and thus praises the greatness of the diety) It is normally sung aloud together, with the priest taking the lead. It's accompanied by loud ringing of bells ( the bigger the temple, the more the bells), and rotating a big plate on which an oil lamp, flowers, fruits, sweets and incense has been placed. It is rotated in front of the idol of the deity, offering all the holy things to them. Later, the same sweets are distributed to all the people as prasad.