The function of the Hindu temple is to convey into it the presence of God and to accommodate the icon representing His image. The icon may be in the form of a statue of the God or in his symbolic image, for example the Linga. Where the icon is housed is the most sacred part of the temple. Darshan, the blessing conferred when seeing or touching or being in the presence of the icon is a central part of worship. In order that worshippers may wash before entering the temple complex, cisterns of water are placed near the gates of the temple. Out of respect, devotees remove their shoes before entering the temple. Rivers are considered to be propitious, so wherever possible, temples are built on or near a river and those sited near the River Ganges are particularly sacred, and on its banks the ancient city of Varanasi, the most sacred place in India, is located. For many Hindus, a daily visit to a Hindu temple is essential for a virtuous life. On entering a temple, the devotee rings a bell to call the attention of the deities. Worshippers not only pray to the gods, they also take care of them, and in many Hindu homes a special place is reserved for the gods to occupy. During the rituals of worship, a lamp is lit and incense burned. Thursday is regarded as the most auspicious day for worship.
In the south, the large ornate gateways and barrel-vaulted conical roofs surmounting the holy chamber, temple hall and mandapa (pillared hall) are famous. In Tamil Nadu and Orissa, temples display the most distinctive regional styles of religious architecture of South India, while the distinguishing feature of the style in north India is a more gently curved tower, the shikara.