Circumambulation

Circumambulation (latin circum + ambulation is the movement around a holy object, or of a holy object. The completion of a circle of protection, or of community, creates an integrity that is otherwise difficult to obtain in this world.

The application of this in religions is diverse, examples include:

  • the Hajj (the Muslim Circumambulation of the Kaaba); the Prayer Wheel in Tibet;
  • the stupa and Bo tree in Buddhism;
  • the respect shown to the Adi Granth on entering a gurdwara;
  • Lavan;
  • the Hindu «following the sun» around the sacred fire and,
  • in the temple (and, in pradaksina, to go around any sacred object, person, or place, including the whole of India;
  • the seven circuits (hakkafot) around a cemetery before a burial by Sephardi and Hasidic Jews.
  • In Hinduism, some Hindu temples have ambulatory passageways.
  • In Christianism, the priest sometimes move in circles in the altar. Also, there are some rituals to circumambulate around a saint, a relic or an image.
  • In Islam, as mentioned before, the muslim circumambulate around the Kaaba.
  • In Judaism during the ritual of Hakafot there is some circumambulation, also during a wedding celebration.
  • In Witchcraft the magic circle would be a circumambulation. 

 

Definition and Meanings

Circumambulation, the act of moving around a sacred object or space, is a widespread ritual practice in various religious traditions. It symbolizes respect, protection, and spiritual connection. Here’s a closer look at how different religions incorporate circumambulation:

  • Islam – Hajj and Kaaba: During the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Muslims perform Tawaf, the circumambulation of the Kaaba. This act, which involves walking around the Kaaba seven times, is a central rite of the Hajj and signifies the unity of believers in worshiping one God.
  • Buddhism – Stupa and Bo Tree: In Buddhism, circumambulation is practiced around stupas (sacred reliquary monuments) and sacred trees like the Bo Tree, under which Buddha attained enlightenment. This act symbolizes the turning of the wheel of Dharma (Buddhist teachings).
  • Tibetan Buddhism – Prayer Wheel: In Tibetan Buddhism, the use of prayer wheels, often spun in a circumambulatory motion, is a form of spiritual practice. Spinning the wheel is believed to have the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.
  • Sikhism – Adi Granth and Lavan: Upon entering a gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), Sikhs show respect to the Adi Granth (holy scripture) by walking around it. During the marriage ceremony (Anand Karaj), the ritual of Lavan involves circumambulating the Guru Granth Sahib.
  • Hinduism – Sacred Fire and Temples: In Hinduism, circumambulation (Pradakshina) is a common practice in various rituals, including weddings where the couple circles around the sacred fire. Circumambulation of temples and other sacred objects is also common, reflecting a journey with the divine at the center.
  • Judaism – Hakafot and Weddings: In Sephardi and Hasidic Jewish funerals, there are traditions of circumambulating the cemetery. During Simchat Torah, the celebration involves Hakafot, where Torah scrolls are carried around the synagogue. Additionally, in Jewish weddings, the bride often circumambulates the groom.
  • Christianity – Altar and Relics: In some Christian liturgical traditions, the priest may circumambulate the altar during certain rituals. There are also practices of circumambulating relics, images, or statues of saints during specific celebrations or processions.
  • Witchcraft – Magic Circle: In various witchcraft traditions, casting a magic circle often involves circumambulation. This act is seen as creating a sacred and protected space for conducting rituals.
  • Jainism – Temples and Images: Circumambulation is also prevalent in Jainism, where devotees walk around temples and images of Tirthankaras in a clockwise direction.

Source:

Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 224