Being a tourist is an incredible adventure! Many of us embark on journeys across continents to marvel at gargantuan structures, foreign to our homeland. Many of these beautiful places plastered across social media are that of religious sites. Places such as La Sagrada Familia Basilica of Barcelona or Singapore’s own Sri Mariamman Temple are incredibly famous because of their heritage.
Be it religious or otherwise, visiting these areas of interests can be incredibly fascinating to visitors and touring religious sites are often some of the most popular activities out there. However, with the great privilege of visiting these places also comes the great responsibility of being respectful. Even the most subtle nuances can distinguish an embraced tourists from a disrespectful and unwanted guest.
In this feature, we are presenting some tips for travellers to stay on the right side of the line when in another country!
1. Adhere to the Dress Code
Respect underpins this very tip! Major religions usually dictate appropriate attire to don when visiting religious sites and the most common rule is- don’t arrive scantily-clad! Shorts, short skirts and exposure of the shoulders are often deemed inappropriate but apart from these general rules, each religion has its own specifications.
More often than not, these are clearly stated at the entrances of places of worship and, if required, garments are provided for tourists so that they can enter the temple in a respectful manner. For example, the Hindu Temples have long clothes provided at the entrances to draped across the shoulders and/or wrapped around the waist.
Even if you are not religious, it is important to adhere to the rules as you are visiting someone else’s sacred space that they let you in with open arms.
2. Minimise your photo taking
Naturally, as tourists, we enjoy taking photos to commemorate visiting a location. However, photography is not permitted just anywhere. Photography can come across as rude to the patrons of the religious site. Photography within the temple could be viewed as an act that diminishes the sanctity of the location as it strips the location of its religious nature, reducing to simply another tourist hotspot. Furthermore, boisterous photographers that come in hordes can be distracting to those who are there for religious purposes.
Some sites do have clear signs indicating whether photography is permitted on the premises and in other sites, there are guides to inform you about where photography is allowed and where it is not.
Even if there are no signs plastered around, do check with a temple official as you would not want to disrespect someone else’s sanctuary. Very importantly, honour their decision to either allow or disallow photography in the location. Do not attempt to take photos if disallowed as caretakers are often trying to preserve the sanctity of the building and its original purpose- worship.
3. Do your Research
Before heading off to any religious sites, it is important to do your research and learn about different facets of the religion. Knowing some background about the religion of the site you are visiting will magnify your experience as you can better appreciate and understand why sites are erected the way they are, recognise deities and appreciate processions.
Moreover being informed keeps you aware of the people around you. In other words, avoid offending worshippers who frequent the site and other visitors, know whether to keep your footwear on or off and if it is appropriate for you to burn incense sticks at an altar.
Knowing a little about religious history is not only fascinating but educational as it teaches us to open ourselves up to other beliefs in the world.