Temple (Mandir, Gudi, kṣhetra) in Sanātana Ḍharma Siddhānta (Hinduism) is a profound place of consecration, established to foster the transformation of a human being. Fundamentally, it’s not a place of prayer, nor is the Purohit/Pujari designated to perform prayers. The procedures and rituals involved in a temple might be many, and differ from one establishment to another, but they are not for praying, they are designed for us to sync with the energies built into them. This is the very reason why one must soak themselves wet, enter the temple and sit in the presence of the deity, not for prayers, but to embrace the energies build into the Yantras (mechanisms) of the temple. Just by sitting in the proximity of such Yantras various levels of awareness arise within us. As Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev profoundly said:
“There is certain energy created within a certain deity. Each one is created with different purposes, and you go there to soak in this energy. You soak in best when you body is reasonably wet, at least the head region is somewhat wet. This is why in every ancient temple at-least, there was ‘kund’ (pond/pool). It’s not just for cleanness, which you could do it at home, because in that state your ability to grasp this energy, or be influenced by it is much higher”
(Sadhguru. 2017, S.J.V.E.I)
It allows conscience to emerge within as by removing the wildness within. It acts as a measure for an individual to examine oneself and instigate awareness, gratitude, and devotion. For 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 was addressed as a visit to Kshetra or Teerta. There exists Śāstra which define the fundamentals and principles towards the design and architecture of temples, like Agama Shastra (Śāstra) (Śāstra) and Vastu Śāstra, 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 oneself 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 the 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 (Śāstra) (Śāstra) has laid out various regiments to foster devotion and uplift conscience, one of them is to perform pooja (Pūjā) (pūjā) with various upacharas. These upacharas are esteemed and royal rituals involving in we addressing Iśvara (Iśvara) as one among us (like a physical being) and offer various comforts, luxuries, praises, awards 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 clothes and see a tiny idol fully dressed in jewelry at home, but if we have an idol with a human-like size then it’s easy to dress and decorate and adore. In another example, if you wish to carry Iśvara (Iśvara) 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 Sanātana Ḍharma 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 another vocabulary), marriages, cultural events, festivities, pravachanams, storage for grains, an 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 Iśvara (Iśvara) and Śāstra, now that their primal necessities are addressed), but what about gyanam (jnana), what about the eradication of dhush:karmā? A temple is one such vital establishment in Sanātana Ḍharma 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 Iśvara (Iśvara) and perform various karmā like upacharas to gain sat:karmā.
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 with 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 a hundred million doctors work together, they 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:mĀtman (the supreme singular conscience) and uplift ourselves and other.
Why so many temples centered around the Indian subcontinent, and are all temples the same?
The answer is Kshetra. Why?
- The seed of life from Brahmā 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.
- The Himalayas became the abode of so much sādhanā, anything we say about the magnificence of them is too little.
- The above 3 caused Hind (land between the 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:Puráńas which explains the unique formula of the location, it effects, the significance of the Yantra built in the temple, and more. Making each temple UNIQUE with its formula built for a SPECIFIC type of Sādhanā (practice) and Karmā (act to uplift oneself). Hence, no two temples are the same. Some temples are the abode of Shakti (śakti) (śakti), hence has its 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 the health of both body, mind, and conscience) towards darshan (to visit or witness) and access. Some temples are the abode of Kanya (Feminine śakti of youth) hence has its 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 approach towards its darshan.
- All the above-made Hind (today’s India) karmā:bhumi. Meaning all the karmā towards mokṣa 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 karmā: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 Yajñá/Yaga/Pūjā.
- Then came gow (cow) which was a being not created by Brahmā and not a part of Prakrutu (Prakṛti). Which also became the source of Yajñá/Yaga/Pūjā and daily livelihood.
What are the different types of Kshetras and the deities within temples?
A deity usually in Sanātana Ḍharma tradition in 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 it 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 phenomena occurring in nature/Prakrutu (Prakṛti). The purpose of Swayamboo kshetras is to reside and spend time in these kshestras and be a part of its organic life.
- Yaksha/Gandarva/Deva established: These kshetras have a high aspect of beauty towards art, music, and others. The primary aspect of such kshetras is worship, cultural events, vyakarana, and rituals to attain various higher worlds or please the Devas for Rain, food, health, devotion, marriage, childbirth, prosperity, 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 Dhyāna in the presence of the deity so as to attain various siddhi (higher abilities) and knowledge.
- Rakshasa (like asura) established: These kshetras mostly involve in rituals to attain siddhi (higher abilities).
- Manusya (human) established: These kshetras are created by human beings and are the least significant compared to the above-listed kshetras. Such temples require prāṇa 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 overrun by devotee class.
What is the significance of sculptures and the architecture of temples?
A Jīva in this creation (especially on Earth/Bhumi) as a human being is a bundle of emotions and desires which have an immense influence on the human body and mind. The purpose of Jīva to have taken up this physical body is to shed its pápa and puńya (karmā Phala). In this process, a Jīva goes thought various influencing aspects presented by prakruti (nature), which can either make the Jīva dwell in māyā (illusion or samsara) or become a means to evolve to higher conscience. Please note, higher conscience and peace are inherent nature of the Ātman, they are not something external that a human must strive to attain. A Jīva dwelling in this human body should realize its Ātman and recognize its true nature to be an extension of Para:mĀtman. This happens by shedding its pápa & puńya and the very source of desire which is ahankara (also referred to as self-identification leading to selfishness, ego, and pride). In this process when a human being walks through various gates (passageways called gopuram) filled with sculptures depicting the endless māyā 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 upāsanā (one in practice to move closer to Iśvara) 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 means womb, and alaya means residence) beyond which there exists no further passage, making it the final destination. It’s in this Garbha:laya(m) that Iśvararesides, meaning the final destination of a Jīva is Jīvabrahmaikya siddhi (Jīva:brahma:ikya siddhi) meaning unification of Jīva with Iśvaraor 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 Śivalaya, never walk between Nanadishwara and Shiva (Śiva) (Śiva) Linga. Only the purohit involved in a upachara can do it during the ritual.
There is 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 the garbhalaya (garbha:laya) with our right shoulder always towards the garbhalaya. One should walk very slowly, Śāstra 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 needs to perform at least three circles, each circle representing various requests, however, the number depends on the deity of the temple.
One should wear a proper two-piece dress recommended by Śāstra. A gruhast should never forget to wear his uttariyam (cloth) on the left shoulder.
Teertha(m) is the water used for various upacharas for Iśvara 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 to the deity with the 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 upāsanā 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, Dhyāna (meditation), and for a person to strive in one’s upāsanā towards Iśvara.
The above-mentioned aspects are not commandments, rather they are common sense to preserve the sanctity of the premises to create a pleasant atmosphere for oneself and others.
REFERENCE ENTRY (APA Style citing)
Śrī Chaganti Koteshwar Rao (Orator). (n.d.). Kanaka Dhara Stotram [Audio Part 1-19, Recorded by Srichaganti.net]. Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India. Retrieved from http://www.english.srichaganti.net/KanakaDharaStrotram.aspx
Sadhguru (Orator). (March 12, 2017). Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev Exclusive Interview | Adiyogi by Shilpa Reddy | TV5 News. Isha Center Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/2DeLMeQV7OM
Desai, Amit. (2017). Temples [Photograph].