Temple in Sanatana Dharma Siddhanta (Hinduism) is one such establishment with a purpose to foster the transformation of a human being by removing the wildness within and help emerge into a pious and humble being. It acts as a measure for an individual to examine oneself and instigate gratitude and devotion. One of many reasons, numerous great souls in the past strive to flourish each street and villages with magnificent temples. This is the reason a visit to temples were addressed as a visit to Kshetra or Teerta. There exists Shastras which define the fundamentals and principles towards the design and architecture of temples, like Agama Shastra and Vastu Shastra, but let’s not go into those details, rather let’s see the purpose of a temple, the concept behind the sculptures, and proper etiquette to be followed in a temple. Also, let’s see how an individual can measure, benefit and uplift one self towards higher conscience, peace and gratitude.
In this article let’s cover the significance of a temple, the reasons why major temples are established around Indian subcontinent? Are all temples the same? The significance of sculptures, the significance of deity within the temples and the etiquette to be followed within a temple.
Shastra has laid out various regiments to foster devotion and uplift conscience, one of them is to perform pooja (puja) with various upacharas. These upacharas are esteemed and royal rituals involving in we addressing Ishwara as one among us (like a physical being) and offer various comforts, luxuries, praises, award honors and more. At home such rituals have limitations, especially when the idols are small (should be no taller than one’s thumb). For example, it’s not easy, nor satisfying to offer cloths and see a tiny idol fully dressed in jewelry at home, but if we have idol with a human like size then it’s easy to dress and decorate and adore. In another example, if you wish to carry Ishwara in a Chariot or palanquin (pallaki), our homes might not be equipped or wide enough to perform such extravagance, but temples are built for such customs. There exist many reasons why older temples in Sanatana Dharma were immense to encompass not just to visit the prime deity but also to perform and participate in various religious events like schooling of vyakaran(am) (Sanskrit or other vocabulary), marriages, cultural events, festivities, pravachanams, storage for grains, asylum for travelers and sages, refuge in times of distress and more.
No matter how much charity we perform, will only help to full fill the bodily needs (which is very important as this will present the opportunity to focus on Ishwara and Shastra, now that their primal necessities are addressed), but what about gyanam (jnana), what about the eradication of dhush:karma? A temple is one such vital establishment in Sanatana Dharma that can help both the physical needs by performing events like anna:danam (in the form of Prasada), and also helps foster gratitude in a human by presenting various means to understand, share and discuss our problems and limitations with Ishwara and perform various karma like upacharas to gain sat:karma.
There are many charitable organizations today that are unparalleled in their service towards providing relief operations towards necessities, like hunger, clothing, and medication. One can undoubtedly agree the greatness of such unconditional organizations that help and uplift humanity. Personalities who run such charities are unmatched, but there are limitations to what many such organizations can do. Why one might ask? Because there is no guaranty that once the physical or bodily desires of the needy are fulfilled, that person will change for the better in character, again not that they should, nor should that be the reason for one to perform charity. Charity is an unconditional act, yet the question remains, how can one provide for the needy, at the same time ensure to solve the misfortune of a man to have reached such a state.
For example, many organizations today help with restoring sight to people by performing cataract surgery. This truly is a great act, however, once the sight has been restored, there is no guaranty, that person will change in character to become a better human being, again, not that one is expected to be, nor should be the reason for a charitable act. However, if the intent is not only to serve the needy but also, be able to uplift a human, not becoming an enabler, then one should ask a simple question, has everyone whose sight was restored became humanitarians or saints or sages?
The significance of a temple was not just limited to providing food and other provisions, but also to constantly remind us of one crucial fact, which is, this very world, this very universe, this reality, this very body we consider to be our own, is not our creation. This earth, water, air, our body temperature is not ours to have been created. Hence the old saying:
“koti vaidyulu kuudi vachina kani, maranam anna vyadi manpareru”
“కోటి వైద్యులు కూడి వచ్చిన కానీ, మరణం అన్న వ్యాధి మాన్పరేరు”
Meaning, even if hundred million doctors work together, cannot cure the disease known as the Death. If one realizes this, then one might learn the importance of their sight, their health, their sense organs and rather than using them only to satisfy momentary pleasures, one can use them to seek Para:matma (the supreme singular conscience) and uplift ourselves and other.
Why so many temples centered in India, and are all temples the same?
The answer is Kshetra. Why?
- The seed of life from Brahma after Pralaya (in a pot shaped vessel) drifted and finally landed in today’s region called Kumbhakona(m). Kumba means pot. The continents of Earth in that time were different so please don’t limit your imagination with today’s map.
- The amrut (elixir of immortality) after KsheraSagara Madanam (an event recorded in Srimad Bhagavatam) was stolen by Garuda and in his haste to get it away, spilled few drops, which landed on four places, one of them being Kumba.
- Himalayas became the abode of so much sadana, anything we say about the magnificence of them is too little.
- The above 3 caused Hind (land between Himalayas and indusagara/Indian Ocean) to become a hub for various swayam:bhu (self manifested) Kshetras like Kashi and more, causing a chain reaction of various Rishis to establish their Kshetras, then asuras established their kshetra, finally the lowest significance kshetras are the ones built by human. This is why each temple/kshestra has Sthala:Purana which explains the unique formula of the location, it’s effects, the significance of the Yantra built in the temple and more. Making each temple UNIQUE with its own formula built for a SPECIFIC type of Sadana (practice) and Karma (act to uplift oneself). Hence, no two temples are the same. Some temples are abode of Shakti, hence has its own procedures. Some are dhuli:linga, meaning the linga that are accessible irrespective of Sowcham (personal hygiene) or Sadhana (practice). Some temples require Sadhana and deeksha (systematic discipline towards health of both body, mind and conscience) towards darshan (to visit or witness) and access. Some temples are abode of Kanya (Feminine Shakti of youth) hence has its own approach towards darshan (to witness or be in the presence), on the other hand some temples are for Kumara (Meaning masculine youth of brahmacharya) hence has its own approach towards its darshan.
- All the above made Hind (today’s India) karma:bhumi. Meaning all the karma towards moksha and mukti and all its formulas are all available here. This is the reason why many scholars and sages don’t cross the oceans. Even if we give them 5-star service many scholars don’t cross the oceans and leave karma:bhumi.
- Finally, an event caused Ganga to come from a different Loka (Swarga Loka) which became the source of life and death of the karmic body and for Yagna/Yaga/Puja.
- Then came gow (cow) which was a being not created by Brahma and not a part of Prakruti. Which also became the source of Yagna/Yaga/Puja and daily livelihood.
What are the different types of Kshetras and the deities within temples?
A deity usually in Sanatana Dharma tradition is stone, there are some exceptions like Vayu, Agni, Jala Linga that are not stone. So, a deity is formed for multiple reasons, they are in the following order (higher significance to lower):
- Swayambhoo: Swayambhoo means self-manifested, hence has no yantra (geometric energy confluence mechanism) embedded into the design of the temple. However, cities like Kashi them self have such geometric energy confluence, making the entire city a yantra. These kshetras are natural phenomenon occurring in nature/Prakruti. The purpose of Swayamboo kshetras are to reside and spend time in these kshestras and be a part of its organic life.
- Yaksha/Gandarva/Deva established : These kshetras have high aspect of beauty towards art, music and others. The primary aspect of such kshetras are worship, cultural events, vyakarana and rituals to attain various higher worlds or please the Devas for Rain, food, health, devotion, marriage, child birth, prosparity and more.
- Rushi/Muni established: These kshetras are built for a very specific purpose and have a significant formula built using a yantra (geometric energy confluence mechanism). In such kshetras, one should dedicate oneself to immense Dhyana in the presence of the deity so as to attain various siddhi (powers) and knowledge.
- Rakshasa (like asura) established: These kshetras mostly involve in rituals to attain siddhi (powers).
- Manusya (human) established: These kshetras are created by human beings and are the least significant compared to the above listed kshetras. Such temples requires prana pratista (to summon life force into the deity) and might or might not have yantras built within. These temples are mostly to perform upachara (king like honors) towards the deity and treat the deity as a king or a father or mother or a family member and surrender to that deity. Primarily, these temples are for bhakti (devotion) approach.
Today in Kaliyuga, most temples and deity worship have become Upachara and ritual oriented and are over run by devotee class.
What is the significance of sculptures and the architecture of temples?
A jiva in this creation (especially on Earth/Bhumi) as a human being is a bundle of emotions and desires which have immense influence on the human body and mind. The purpose of jiva to have taken up this physical body is to shed its paapa and punya (karma Phala). In this process, a jiva goes thought various influencing aspects presented by prakruti (nature), which can either make the jiva dwell in maya (illusion or samsara) or become a means to evolve to higher conscience. Please note, higher conscience and peace are inherent nature of the atma, they are not something external that a human must strive to attain. A jiva dwelling in this human body should realize its atma and recognize its true nature to be an extension of Para:matma. This happens by shedding its paapa & punya and the very source of desire which is ahankara (also referred as self identification leading to selfishness, ego and pride). In this process when a human being walks through various gates (passage ways called gopuram) filled with sculptures depicting the endless maya and illusions of the physical world which incorporate various stories, facts and more, help convey concepts, messages and also help reveal the state of a person’s sadhana (practice) in life. A person in upasana (one in practice to move closer to Ishwara) when passes through these passages can measure oneself on where one’s desires align or get fixated, or rather get distracted. In this process one passes through various gates to finally reach the last gate to enter a place called the Garbhalaya (Garbha:layam) (garbha meaning womb, and alaya meaning residence) beyond which there exists no further passage, making it the final destiny. It’s in this Garbha:laya(m) that Ishwara resides, meaning the final destination of a jiva is jivabrahmaikya siddhi (jiva:brahma:ikya siddhi) meaning unification of a jiva with Ishwara or Brahman.
“Neither did I create these sense organs, nor am I the creator of its energy that enables them to perform, through which I enjoy the beauty of this world around me”, this notion when acknowledged, shouldn’t one use their vision to search its Giver, shouldn’t one use this voice to speak of the One, use this touch to worship that divine entity, use this hearing to hear and understand the One’s greatness? When such realization arises, one does not have to chant the praises of the Almighty, one does not need to recite the slokas or hymns. Rather, one can simply put one hand and its five fingers representing five sense organs (Karmendriya: eyes, nose, tongue, ears and skin) and the other hand with its five fingers representing their respective energies activating these physical organs (Gyanendriya: Sight, smell, taste, hear and feel the touch) held together against the forehead, representing the eleventh aspect of human, the buddhi (knowledge) and bow down to the establishment known as The Temple. Thus, conveying our realization of gratitude for all that we enjoy with these organs, and the world around, which is not ours to have been created or owned. Along with an understanding that no other species among the eight million that inherit Bhumi (Earth), only a human can do this, hence I bow to you, and show my gratitude. Does undoubtedly concluding the aspect of the Temple to bestow this change in our character. (Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.1-3)
Proper etiquette to be followed in a temple
In a Shivalaya, never walk between Nanadishwara and Shiva Linga. Only the purohit involved in a upachara can do it during the course of the ritual.
There are various type of namaskara representing various salutations of respect and gratitude. It can we read on this portal in the namaskar topic.
Pradhkshana (pra:dhakshana) means to circle around the garbhalaya (garbha:laya) with our right shoulder always towards the garbhalaya. One should walk very slowly, Shastra for this gave an analogy saying one should walk like a pregnant woman walking slowly on a wet floor holding a tumbler full of water. Usually one need to perform at least three circles, each circle representing various requests, however the number depends on the deity of the temple.
One should wear proper two-piece dress recommended by Shastra. A gruhast should never forget to wear his uttariyam (cloth) on the left shoulder.
Teertha(m) is the water used for various upacharas for Ishwara and should be taken in the right palm three separate times and never to wipe the wet hand on the head.
One should never stand facing the deity of the temple, always stand or sit on the side perpendicular the deity with face tilted towards the deity.
Personal hygiene is very vital to enter such locations.
One should not skip all other deities in a temple and only visit the desired deity or the primary deity of the temple.
One should be very conservative about the prasadam given in the temple.
One should not soil the temple premises and should always try to keep it clean.
One should refrain oneself from involving in useless gossip with others.
Only people with upasana should touch the idols of deities.
Please note, a temple is not a museum to visit or to stroll around for leisure, it’s a place for prayer, worship, participation in rituals, Dhyana (meditation), and for a person to strive in one’s upasana towards Ishwara.
The above mentioned aspects are not commandments, rather are common sense so as to preserve the sanctity of the premises to create a pleasant atmosphere for oneself and others.
Namaskar is a gesture that signifies relinquishing pride by surrendering eleven aspects of self proclaimed ownership. It’s performed by placing five fingers of one hand representing five sense organs (Karmendriya: eyes, nose, tongue, ears and skin) and five fingers of the other hand representing the energy activating these physical organs (Gyanendriya: Sight, smell, taste, hear and sense of touch) held together against the forehead representing the eleventh aspect of human, the buddhi and bowing down with gratitude. It’s a fundamental gesture in Sanatana Dharma(Hinduism, also assimilated into Buddhism and other branched religions) symbolizing humility, and has various ways to perform with different meanings. As explained in Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3 of Karma Yoga, sloka 34, Gitacharya says:
इन्द्रियस्येन्द्रियस्यार्थे रागद्वेषौ व्यवस्थितौ।
तयोर्न वशमागच्छेत्तौ ह्यस्य परिपन्थिनौ।।
(Gita Supersite. n.d)
Meaning, Indria (इन्द्रिय) and their objects are the cause of Raaga (राग) meaning longing or liking and also they are the reason for Dwesha (द्वेषौ), meaning detest or dislike. Its through these indria a being experiences and senses both Raaga and Dwesha. Hence, one can’t come under their influence and be dictated by these indria (from its Raaga and Dwesha). One has to break free from their influence and retire oneself into Buddhi or Yoga in this material world.
Its not the intention to suppress or forcefully subjugate ones desires, one has to tie one’s desire with dharma and assimilate it into the wheel of dharma. And slowly evolve to realizing Atma and Ishwara by letting chitta or buddhi as the instructor and the guide. This is why we have to surrender our Indria to Ishwara through a gesture of namaskar and remind ourselves time and again of their influences and seek Ishwara to be the guide by emulating our buddhi.
What are the different forms of Namaskar?
What is Sashtanga Namaskar and Panchanga Namaskar?
How does one perform Namaskar to Guru, Mother, Father, Sanyasi and God (Ishwara)?
Its significance lies in the very name wherein the word ‘Namaha’ in Namaste means to relinquish ownership over what we thought was ours. ‘Nama’ meaning mine, ‘aha’ meaning I relinquish it to you. Hence, when we perform namaskar to Ishwara, it means to express gratitude to have received this existence which is not ours and hence we relinquish our ownership towards these materials and desires, and surrender oneself to You (Ishwara). When we perform namaskar to others, its means to recognize Ishwara in them, hence, in Sanatana Dharma sidhantham (fundamentals of a concept, not philosophy) namaskar is done to all entities in creating, including rocks, mountains, plants, trees, sky, fire, rivers, animals, tools and more.
Sashtanga Namaskar: (pronounced as Sa:asta:anga where in Sa: means ‘along with’ or ‘together’, asta: means number eight, finally anga: means body parts) A gesture performed using eight parts of the body, by lying flat on the ground, face down, with eight parts of the body (legs, stomach, chest, mouth, nose, forehead, hands and ears) touching the floor. Only women have an exception not to touch their chest and stomach to the floor, but rather sit on their knees with elbows and head touching the floor. This is similar to Balasana posture in Yoga but with hands and elbows towards the front. This Namaskar is called as Panchanga Namaskar. It is pronounced as Pancha:anga, where in Pancha: meaning five and Anga: meaning body parts. The reason why women are exempted can be read in the story of Pruthu Maharaj from Srimad Bhagavata(m) (Sri Bhagavata Purana(m)). While performing Sashtanga Namaskaram one should make sure not to point legs to any other deity in or around the temple. This is the reason, Sashtanga Namaskar is only performed to the primary deity beyond the dwajasthambam (tall pillar with a flag and bells placed before the temple entrance linear to the primary deity) to avoid an accidental pointing of legs towards other deities.
o Parents, only one namaskar should be performed and never to expect or wish anything in return. When love materializes into a human form it’s called parents. Parents don’t expect anything in return for their love from their children, they only pray, struggle and sacrifice to give a better life to their children. Love is to give without condition and expectations. Kama on the other hand is a desire or want, which comes with conditions seeking satisfaction, fulfillment or a sense of accomplishment. Today there is a huge misunderstanding between these two words causing them to be interchangeably used in many situations. A Mother only wishes to give Her best to their children, and a father only struggles for his children to prosper. Parents know only to forgive and neither of them expects anything in return. Hence, when performing namaskar to one’s mother the hands held together should be placed near one’s stomach, representing her nourishing our body by feeding our stomach and quenching its hunger with her hands. To one’s father, one should place hands help together near our mouth, representing that this mouth was fed by one’s father’s struggle.
Guru, like a father, teaches everything to his/her students, but never expects anything in return, hence, the best a student can do, is struggle to safeguard their Guru’s health and wish for his/her long life. As long as the Guru is in the human form, knowledge can be obtained through him/her. When a child or a student conveys gratitude through Namaskar to their parents or Guru, the joy that’s felt by them will also be felt by the Almighty Himself, hence never desire anything in return. Hence, when performing Namaskar to a Guru, one should place hands held together at our forehead, representing wisdom and knowledge.
Three Namaskarams to be performed to Param:Ishwara and it’s from Him we can wish, or ask for our desires to be fulfilled, why? Because this is His creation, and there is nothing we can give that is not already His, and so it’s He who must uplift us from our three gunas (satva, rajas and thamas). This ask to Ishwara to help us understand Him is the very essence of Gayatri Mantra. Its by Urging Ishwara which can lift us from these gunas and bring us into Shudda-Satva guna. It’s He who is making us dwell in these gunas, and it’s He who can get us out of them. He himself has quoted in Srimad Bhagavat Gita, part of Sri Mahabharatha, composed by Rishi Veda Vyasa, Chapter 7, verse 16, as:
“आर्तो जिज्ञासुरर्थार्थी ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ”
“Artho jignAsur arthArthi, gnAni cha bharatarshabha”
(Gita Supersite. n.d., All Glory to Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga. 2005)
Meaning there are four types of people who seek Ishwara, out of them, Artho and JignAsur seek Ishwara to have their wishes fulfilled, which is not wrong. But it’s not recommended to seek Ishwara constantly for material possession alone. Artho is the person who seeks a fulfillment of some desire by prayers and devotion, hence has a surrendered mind, where as JignAsur is the one who also seeks fulfillment but seeks in the form of questioning things and exploring them, hence has a active exploratory mind. (Gita Supersite. n.d., All Glory to Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga. 2005)
Four Namaskaram are to be performed to a Sanyasi by chanting the phrase ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’ because they have crossed the 3 stages of human disciplines, which are Brahma:chairyam, Gruhastu and Vanaprasthu. One should never expect anything from a Sanyasi, not even a blessing because they themselves have left everything to focus their buddhi onto the almighty. When namaskar is performed to one’s kula:daiva(m), meaning the deity primarily worshiped by the family and passed on by forefathers as the family deity, should be performed by placing hands held together near our chest. If there exists a deity other than the kula:daiva(m) that one desires and admires, then namaskar should be performed with hands held together and raise up above the head. Please note that irrespective of which deity one likes or admires, kula:daiva(m) should always be worshiped first as the primary deity, so as to honor one’s ancestor’s efforts to worship and pass on that culture and ritual, which brought forth our existing as a successor to that family.
Note: Namaskar should never be done facing south, since Sri Yama Dharmaraju will be its recipient. Sandhya Vandanam and Dhig-devata Namaskar are exceptions.
Once a poet made a tricky statement to Ishwara in his poem, “I made a mistake in my previous life by not doing Namaskar to you, in the next life I will not be able to do Namaskar to you, which is also a mistake, and so I humbly ask your forgiveness for both”. Ishwara asked why? For this he explained, that the mistake by not performing namaskar in a previous life has costed him to get this life, next life I will not be doing it again which is also a mistake, because I will not be having another life, since I am performing namaskar to you now.
With namaskar when one bow down to Ishwara, one will rise in one’s character and conscience. (Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.3)