By- Praharsh Mishra
Are Hindu temples just a symbolic body of divinity? Absolutely the answer is no. In a Hindu temple there are all the cosmic elements which create and sustain life. Probably there is no other sacred structure around the globe likewise. It contains fire to water, images of nature to deities, feminine to the masculine, fleeting sounds and incense smells to eternal nothingness. Besides spiritual destination these are the landmarks around which ancient arts, economy, community celebrations have flourished.
The word ‘temple’ comes from the Latin word ‘templum’ which means “building for worship of god.” On the basis of language Hindu temples are known by different names. For example, Mandir in Hindi, Kovil or Devasthanam in Tamil, Gudi in Kannada, Kshteram or Ambalam in Malayalam.
We all know that there are four Yugas, namely Satyayuga, Tretayuga, Dvaparayuga, Kaliyuga. But how many of us have tried to know about the Hindu temples during these Yugas? According to Devi Bhagvata Purana there were temples even in the Satyayuga. In the Satyayuga the Brahmins were always devoted to see the Devi (the Sanskrit word for Goddess). They were devoted to the meditation of Goddess Gayatri along with the recitation of Gayatri mantra and Mayavija mantra silently. In every village, the Brahmins were very eager to erect the temples of Devi Maha Maya Ambika.
In the Tretayuga, Lord Rama established Shivalinga at Rameshvaram. This gives a clear picture that the tradition of worshipping Shivalinga started from this yuga. In this yuga we also see worshipping by Devi Sita for the attainment of a good groom in the Gauri Pujan. So, not only in the Kaliyuga but also in these yugas there was importance of worshipping the Devi and Devta’s.
In the Dvaparyuga, during the escape of Rukmini with Lord Krishna and Subhadra with Arjuna, Rukmini and Subhadra worshipped in the temple of Gauri Mata(Goddess Parvati) situated in the forest. Apart from this, before the beginning of the war of Mahabharata, Krishna along with the Pandavas go to the site of Gauri Mata.
In the Kaliyuga, the oldest Shakti Peetha and Jyotirlingas were only renovated from time to time. In ancient times, the worship and prayers of Yaksha, Nag, Shiva, Durga, Bhairava, Indra and Vishnu were done. Special attention was paid to the construction of temples in the period of the rise of Buddhist and Jain times. In this period temples of Rama and Krishna were also built.
Hindu temples represent the ‘Trayividya’ (triple knowledge) of the Vedic vision by mapping the relationship between the Brahmanda(the cosmos), Pinda(the cell) by a unique plan based on astronomical numbers. Isn’t it a moment of awestruck?
The meaning and purpose of the Hindu temples have extended to social rituals and daily life. It offers a social meaning. These temples serve as a venue to celebrate arts through dance and music, to mark festivals, to get married, commemorate birth of a child or even mark the death of a loved one. These have even served as a venue for the succession within dynasties and landmarks.
Hindu temples are sacred sites to bring human beings and god in a single platform using the symbolism to express the ideas and beliefs of Hinduism. By the specific alignments related to the geography of the place and presumed linkages of the deity and patron it represents recursion and equivalence of the macrocosm and microcosm through astronomical numbers.
Does Hindu temples incorporates all the elements of the Hindu cosmos? Yes, it incorporates so. It presents the good, the evil and the human. It also represents Hindu sense of cyclic time and essence of life(dharma, karma, artha, moksha, kama). It’s ambience and design attempts to condense the ideal belief of Hindu way of life. According to ancient Indian texts, a temple is a place for ‘Tirtha’. It purifies one’s mind, encourages inner realization. The energy vibrating outside and inside can be felt. One feels positive, comfortable, energetic and even zealous. One’s mind becomes calm, one feels like all their prayers are meant to fulfilled here. Let me tell you an experiment, stand under the temple’s bell and ring the temple’s bell. Your mind will be too calm and for few seconds there will be no thoughts in your mind.
The devotees bring fruits, sweets, flowers and other symbols of the natural world as an offering for the puja. One can easily find shops of these outside the temples of India. They light a Diya which signifies goodness, purity, absence of darkness and evil forces. While praying the devotees keep both their hands in the Namaste mudra and bow their heads.
The murtis are in the Garbhagriha(innermost sanctuary of a Hindu temple) which symbolizes the birthplace of the universe. Devotees may or may not be able to personally present their offerings, in large temples the priests do so for the devotees.
Science Behind Hindu Temples
Hindu temples are found at places where abundant positive energy is present from the magnetic and electric waves. Why the idol of the deity is placed at the Garbhagriha? The reason behind it is that the earth’s magnetic waves are extremely radiating from here. The structure of the temple is built after the idol has been placed in a high positive wave.
If you look back then temples were essentially designed so that when one comes his mind moves spontaneously and when one tries to meditate, meditation happens effortlessly.
Why footwear is not allowed inside the Hindu temples? During the old days, they were built in such a way that the floor became good conductors of the positive vibration. Thus, when one walked bare footed the positive vibration passed through the feet to the body. The footwear also contains germs and dirt so it can even act as a source of negative energy inside the temple.
When one ring temple’s bell the vibration creates a unity in the left and right parts of our brain. The duration of the vibration activates all the seven healing centres in our body and removes negative thoughts. It activates your hearing sense. The flowers you offer activates your smell sense.
The Tilak is believed to prevent the loss of energy as there is a minor nerve on the forehead, between the two eyebrows. The sound of the conch is believed to be the purest form of sound and it is believed to be associated with the sacred syllable ‘Om’(the first sound of creation). The drinking water that has been stored in the copper vessel for hours are said to have medicinal properties. It activates your taste sense while drinking.
Coconut and Banana have a special place as a sacred fruit because other fruits are tainted fruits. For example, the apple tree grows from the seed of another eaten fruit. Holding together your palms activates your touch sense. Temples are beautifully adorned with Diya’s, lamps to make your sight sense activated.
The incense stick is lit to produce pleasant fragrance and to cleanse the air of negative energy. The ashes represents the sacrifice of one’s self to others. Why some people perform Pradakshina(moving around a sacred object) around the Garbhagriha? Actually the idol inside has absorbed all the positive energy and when one performs Pradakshina, one absorbs all the positive vibrations.
The ancient Sanskrit texts like the Vedas and the Upanishads describes the spiritual principles symbolically represented in a Hindu temple. To know the structural rules then one must go through Brhat Samhita and Vastu Shastra. They come in many styles, situated at diverse locations but almost all of them share certain core ideas.
If we look according to the Agnicanya rite(category of advanced Śrauta rituals) then Hindu temples are representation of the cosmos. Śrauta means belonging to shruti (that which is heard).The architecture may also incorporate themes related to royal power (if it was built at the behest of a king) but this doesn’t mean that the relationship of the Hindu temple is to the physical cosmos alone.
Susan Lewandowski states that the underlying principle in a Hindu temple is built around the belief that all things are one, everything is connected. The temple is welcomed by a 64-grid or a 84-grid. There are mathematically structured spaces, pillars with carvings, network of arts and the most importantly the statues displays four necessary principles of life- artha (prosperity, wealth), dharma(ethical life), moksha(self knowledge), kama(pleasure).
At the centre of the temple (typically below and sometimes above or next to the deity) is mere hollow space with no decoration, symbolically representing Purusa, the Supreme Principle, the sacred Universal, one without form, which is present everywhere, connects everything, and is the essence of everyone.
Hindu temples look like they are embedded in nature. For example, if you look at Brhat Samhita’s a short part taken then it says-
The gods always play where lakes are,
where the sun’s rays are warded off by umbrellas of lotus leaf clusters,
and where clear water paths are made by swans
whose breasts toss the white lotus hither and thither,
where swans, ducks, curleys and paddy birds are heard,
and animals rest nearby in the shade of Nicula trees on the river banks.
Hindu temples are recommended near the water resources. Brhat Samhita and Puranas suggest that it can also be built where there is no water resources. Most common sites are near water bodies like the Rudrahari Mahadev Temple in the Kausani of Almora, Uttarakhand.
The Vishnudharmottara Purana(a Hindu text, encyclopedia on nature) tells that temples can also be built inside caves, on hill tops, inside forests etc.
The Shatpatha Brahmana( Brahmana of one hundred paths, contains detailed explanation of rituals, Vedic sacrifices and a commentary in the ShuklaYajurveda) tells us that the altar represents the mystery of time and it’s dimension represents the earth. It tells that as large as the altar is, so large is the earth. Symbolically it represents the objective of knowledge.
The essay which is a part of a paper originally presented at the Kannada Vrinda Seminar Sangama, 2005 held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on 19 November 2005 by Subhash Kak, as far as my knowledge tells that in a Hindu templethe special yajusmati bricks are placed 98 in the first layer, 41 in the second, 71 in the third, 47 in the fourth, and 138 in the fifth layer. These add up to 395; the earth filling between the bricks is taken to be the 396th brick. The sum of the bricks in the fourth and fifth layers together with one space filling is 186 (half the tithes in the solar year), the number of bricks in the third and the fourth layers equals one third the number of days in the lunar year, and so on.
Clearly, the objective is to represent the fact of the 360 divisions of the year (the additional 36 days represent the intercalary month) as well as other astronomical facts. Some of the ritual directly presents astronomical information as in the arrangement which is described in the Śatapatha as representing the motion of the sun around the earth (the nākasads, ŚB 8.6.1). It is striking that this arrangement sees (accurately) the two halves of the year as being unequal by the use of 29 special bricks in the fifth layer of the altar.
The Vedic philosophy takes the numbers 360 and 108 to be central to the inner cosmos of the individual also. So walking 108 steps to the sanctum, or doing the 108 beads of the rosary, is also a symbolic journey from the body to the heart of consciousness.