The Sanskrit word ‘Pradakshinam’ means ‘circumambulation’, or walking around in a ‘circle.’ This is a part of worship in Hindu ceremonies. The devotee walks around the garbha griha, which is the innermost chamber of the shrine that houses the temple deity. Hindus also do it around a sacred fire (Agni), the Tulsi plant, and the Peepal tree. It is also called Parikrama.
Literally, Pradakshinam means ‘to the right’ (‘dakshina’ denotes ‘right’). So when doing Pradakshinam, we go to the left side to keep the deity on our right side. Usually, people do Pradakshina after completing the traditional worship (pooja) and after paying their respects to the deity. Devotees must do Pradakshinam in a meditative mood.
The Rig Vedic verses say that the adjective ‘Pra’ means ‘very much’. It is also a prefix to verbs and means ‘onward’ or ‘forward’. Onward to Dakshinam (south) is Pradakshinam. So, one’s right side faces the deity inside the garbha griha. The circumambulation is, therefore, Dakshinacharam or auspicious.
As per the Skanda Purana, ‘Pra’ dispels sin, ‘Da’ bestows what is desired, ‘Ksi’ destroys Karma, and ‘Na’ bestows salvation.
Hindus go around the temple’s sanctum sanctorum and also the deities at home (when doing Poojas or yajnas) in a clockwise direction. God is the center of our existence. He is omnipresent. So when we do Pradakshinam, we acknowledge that our actions and thoughts are centered around God.
The center point is fixed and stays the same, irrespective of the distance at which we do the Pradakshina. This reminds us of the eternal truth that God is the main focus of human existence and the center of gravity. This is the principle behind Pradakshinam.
Every point on the circumference of a circle is the same distance from the center. So, wherever we are, or whoever we may be, we are all equally close to God. He dispenses his grace without any bias or favor.
Adi Sankaracharya has said that real Pradakshinam is the meditation that thousands of universes are revolving around God, who is the unmoving center of all forms.
In the solar system, the sun is at the center, and the planets revolve around it. Similarly, in Pradakshinam, God is at the center. We must do the Pradakshinam slowly and never in a hurry, and our thoughts and actions must be focused on God. Pradakshinam is always in the clockwise direction, as we assume that God is on our right side. It reminds us to lead a righteous life.
Skanda Purana says that the sins committed by the mind are destroyed by the first step (of Pradakshinam), the sins committed in speech by the second step, and the sins performed by the body by the third step. So, the number of Pradakshinams is – one for Ganesha, two for Surya (Sun), three for Shiva, four for Devi and Vishnu, and seven for Peepal (sacred fig).
Pradakshinam in Shiva Temples
Usually, one goes around the whole temple during a Pradakshinam, but in Shiva temples, devotees begin the Pradakshinam from the front and go clockwise till they reach the Gomukhi (the outlet for Abisheka water) from the sanctum sanctorum. One should not cross the drainage outlet under any circumstance, as it is supposedly a sign of disrespect to the deity. Hence, the worshippers must return in the anti-clockwise direction till they reach the other side of the drainage outlet and complete the circle.
Benefits of Pradakshinam
The first Pradakshinam destroys all sins, including the sin of Brahmahathya (the sin of killing Brahmins), the second makes one an adhikaari (person who is qualified for material and spiritual pursuits), while the third helps one to obtain naindra-sampaada (pleasures of life that lead to salvation). Twenty-one Pradakshinams per day is most beneficial. Knowingly or unknowingly, they can eliminate one’s ego. One important purpose of visiting temples is to shed the ego.
To draw a circle, there has to be a center point. God is the center, source, and essence of our lives. Pradakshinam acknowledges this truth. Recognizing God as the focal point in our lives, we perform our daily chores. Herein lies the significance of Pradakshinam.
Legend behind Pradakshinam
There is a well-known legend about the significance of Pradakshina. Once Shiva told Ganesha and Muruga (his sons) to gain “worldly experience” by touring the universe. Muruga spent many years traveling all over the world on his peacock, but Ganesha simply went around his mother and father once. His explanation was that his parents contained the entire universe, so he had already gone around it!
Significance of Pradakshinam
Pradakshinam in Hinduism is one of the aspects of Shodashopachara, or the worship of a deity done in sixteen steps. As there is regular chanting of Veda Mantras in the temple precincts, positive vibrations accumulate around the idol/temple. So when one does Pradakshinam, the mind becomes pure, and one absorbs the positive energy and divine aura that surround the deity.
Pradakshinam is also a kind of Prayaschitta (expiation). One must perform it with utter humility and devotion in a meditative mood and also focus on the concerned deity. Pradakshina is a way of showing respect and obeisance and also a state of total surrender before the deity. It should be performed slowly and with folded hands.
Types of Pradakshinam
There are many kinds of Pradakshinam:
Atma Pradakshinam – Circumambulating around oneself, thereby acknowledging the Atma within oneself. Giri Valam – Circumambulating around a hill. Adi Pradakshinam – Circumambulating with very short steps; the heel of the foot touches the toes of the other foot as one walks forward. Anga Pradakshinam – After bathing in the temple’s pond or well, one rolls around the temple in wet clothes chanting the name of the deity. Mutti Poduthal: Circumambulating the temple on one’s knees.
Parikrama is done around the following: The sacred fire (Agni – the fire God) Tulsi plant Peepal tree Sacred Cow (Gho Pradakshinam)
Sometimes, the outermost parikrama path may cover the entire village/town/city. Many devotees take vows to perform Pradakshinam if their prayers are answered. So people may perform 10, 108, or 1000 rounds after a wedding, childbirth, or successful surgery. Each step of a pradakshinam supposedly eliminates sins committed in one’s present and past lives. The Pradakshina need not be restricted to temples.
How to Perform It
Kalika Purana describes the method of doing Pradakshinam: Prasarya dakshinamhastam svayamnamrashirahpunah Dakshinam darshayanparshvamanasapi cha dakshinah (By spreading the right hand in the front, by bending head and by showing our right part of the body to the God and also by being modest, one should make Pradakshinam.)
Our Scriptures say: Matrudevo bhava, Pitrudevo bhava, Acharyadevo bhava.
Meaning: May you consider your Parents and Teachers as you would the Lord. So, people also do Pradakshinam around their parents and eminent persons like Gurus and teachers.