As a kid growing up in Southern Cal there really weren't that many Indians around. Aside from two other kids in school (whom everyone thought I was going to marry and/or was related to), we were the only Indian family in the city that I knew of. The only times I really had to see Indian people/girls was at the Indian part of Cerritos or at a temple. I know this is going to sound sacreligious but this was a big reason that I actually didn't mind the hour long drive to the Malibu temple as a kid. It's like going clubbing...except in the day time...with your parents... without alcohol (or meat), and some of the fun. Temples were my first real foray into the desi social scene.
Now with that allow me to make a wildly unobjective and bold claim, watching Hindus pray is one of the most interesting things to watch. It's not because of everyone does everything in unison like you'll see at churches & mosques, on the contary everyone does everything different. This makes for a rather odd and amusing sight at times. While there are definitely common prayers and common rituals, which in themselves vary from place to place, at the end of the day a lot of it boils down to what you do by yourself.
All Hindus pray differently. The non-theological reason is quite simple: we pray the same way our parents do. Some people will turn around three times before they approach an idol, others will sit quietly. Some people will do a full face-down-laying-your-body-to-the-ground-bowing in front of an idol, others will do a simple namaste (clasping your hands together) without bending over. Some people will make sure to ring one of the temple bells as they walk in, others won't even bother. Is one variant better than another? Nope, not at all. You don't become a better Hindu by doing some thing versus another. There really aren't any guidelines about that sorta thing. For me that's the only way I know how to pray that feels natural, which is from seeing what my mom and dad do. This has some weird consequences which I'll pick up on later...
As such one of the the reasons the temple was always enjoyable was because my rather religious dad always felt that after you finished praying and did your rounds past all the idols, there really wasn't much to do and hence you could go home. Going home usually meant that we'd pick up lunch on the way home, which meant McDonalds for the hour car ride back home. The Temple...(badup-bup-bup baaaa) I'm lovin' it!
If all of this sounds like I'm missing terribly the point of going to a place of worship well I would beg to differ. I think I pray more than the next guy and now I like just going and hanging out sometimes. That being said my mind sometimes drifts a little bit and I start thinking of random things. For example, if I could've had one Hindu god in one of your classes in school, who would it be?
The answer of course would have to be based partially on the character profile that emerges from Hindu mythology and not just "I'd like Lord Shiva, because he's the destroyer, breaking things is cool." Krishna would be pretty dope because he would always bedoing some sorta mischief. I mean after all, he is popularly depicted as stealing butter as a child. Ganpati (the elephant god)on the other hand would be the kid who was always kissing up to the teacher. After all, once there was a competition between his brother and him to see who could circle the world the fastest and all Ganapti did was walk around his parents because he claimed that they were his world and as a reward he was given the fruit of knowledge. Sheesh. If you tried to pull off that kinda stunt in my school you'd probably get slapped by someone.
Not having set things that everyone does has strange consequences as I mentioned earlier. For me the problem was that it's almost intimidating going to a temple alone sans parental units for the first time. For me it's always a feeling that everyone knows exactly what they're doing and I don't. When I first started going alone I alwaysfelt like people were going to turn around at any moment and start laughing at me. It's a pretty sucky to feel intimidated about praying. I'm going to venture to say that this may be a common feeling that a lot of people get regardless of religion. The feeling of being lost in the process is almost enough to make you not wanna go back and put yourself through it anymore. Sigh.
But then when you do go there you start to realize that everyone is busy doing their own thing and no one really cares....well no one except the random old uncles and aunties who stare. Also occassionally some little kids point. But as we all know, little kids are dumb and are not to be trusted because they lie and steal and are filled with hatred. They are often times born with evil in their hearts and are only shackled from their devious desires through the application of civil law and getting detention at school.