ⓘ Circumambulation


ⓘ Circumambulation

Circumambulation is the act of moving around a sacred object or idol.

Circumambulation of temples or deity images is an integral part of Hindu and Buddhist devotional practice known in Sanskrit as pradaksinā. It is also present in other religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.


1. Hinduism

In many Hindu temples, the temple structure reflects the symbolism of the Hindu association of the spiritual transition from daily life to spiritual perfection as a journey through stages. Ambulatory passageways for circumambulation are present through which worshipers move in a clockwise direction, starting at the sanctuary doorway and moving inward toward the inner sanctum where the deity is enshrined. This is a translation of the spiritual concept of transition through levels in life into bodily movements by the worshipers as they move inwardly through ambulatory halls to the most sacred centre of spiritual energy of the deity. Circumambulation is done in a clockwise direction and in an odd rather than even number of times. Circumambulatory walking around the shrine, by keeping time, is a common form of Hindu prayer. The circumambulatory pathway made of stone around the shrine is called the Pradakshina path.


2. Christianity

In the Catholic Church, a priest sometimes circumambulates an altar while incensing it with a thurible. Also, at some Catholic shrines, it is a tradition to circumambulate around the cult object of the place, usually relics of a saint or an image of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Often this is performed three times, as a reference to the Trinity.

In Romania, there is an Easter custom to circumambulate the church three times by singing priests leading the people, just before finishing Easter Mass. It symbolizes the funerary procession of the burial of Jesus Christ.

Circumambulation is common in many Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox services. In the Coptic tradition, during the liturgy, the priest circumambulates while an acolyte altar boy holds a cross high on the opposite side of the altar.

This is also a common practice in Roman Catholic churches during Lent when stations of the cross services are celebrated. The priest along with altar servers process around the circumambulate around the interior of the church visiting each of the 14 stations.


3. Islam

Tawaf طواف is one of the Islamic rituals of pilgrimage. During the Hajj and Umrah, Muslims are to circumambulate the Kaaba most sacred site in Islam seven times, in a counter-clockwise direction. The circling is believed to demonstrate the unity of the believers in the worship of the One God, as they move in harmony together around the Kaaba, while supplicating to Allah.


4. Judaism

Judaism uses circumambulation in the Hakafot ritual during the Festival of Sukkot culminating in seven Hakafot on Hoshanah Rabbah, the end of the Festival. The circumambulations are also performed during Hakaphot on Simchat Torah, where Jews dance often by circumambulating the Torah Scrolls. Traditionally, Jewish brides circumambulate their grooms during the wedding ceremony under the chuppah and much Jewish dancing at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs is done by moving in a circle.


5. Buddhism

Also called pradaksina or cankramana in Sanskrit.

In Zen Buddhism, jundō 巡堂 can mean any ritual circuit or circumambulation. At Tassajara each morning, the officiating priest 導師 dōshi visits four different altars on their way to the zendō, to make bows and offerings of incense. This jundō begins with the first rolldown of the han, and ends as the dōshi enters the zendō with the third rolldown. After offering incense and bowing at the altar, the dōshi walks around the zendō behind the meditators, in what is called the kentan 検単, inspection of the sitting platform. As the dōshi passes, each resident raises their hands in gasshō 合掌 without bowing. This joins the dōshi and sitters in mutual acknowledgement.


6. Sikhism

In Lavan Pheras, which is performed during wedding ceremonies, the four rounds of pheras symbolize a sancrosanct bond In the form of circumambulation of a purifying object, in this case the holy book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib.


7. Bahai

Bahais perform circumambulation of both the Shrines of the Bab and Bahaullah during their pilgrimage to Haifa and Bahji, in Israel. While circumambulating, observance of these Manifestations of God is done in complete silence and also performed on holy days such as the birth and ascension of Bahaullah as well as the birth and martyrdom of the Bab.


8. Bon

The Bonpo in the Tibet traditionally circumambulate generally in a counter-clockwise direction, that is a direction that runs counter to the apparent movement of the Sun.


9. Freemasonry

Candidates for the three principle degrees of Freemasonry circumambulate the altar in the lodge room. It is done in a clock-wise fashion. The number of times which candidates ambulate around the altar depends on which degree is being presented.

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