The overall mood in temple environs causes and motivates an ardent and a psychological conviction that this is the abode of God
by Promod Puri
An accepted convention among Hindus is to have home shrines, but a temple aside from a place of worship offers a visible embodiment of identity to the religion.
The instinct vibe of the divine spirit in murti itself is the prime invitation to the temple. In this invite, a temple is graced as a pilgrimage too.
The overall mood in temple environs causes and motivates an ardent and a psychological conviction that this is the abode of God. It is a place for reflection and rumination under His perceptive companionship to study the true self and institute guidance.
“Temple-Hinduism” is an expression introduced by Vasudha Narayanan, Professor of Religion, University of Florida. The terminology is not an academic phrasing, nor does it reflect a new sect in Hinduism. It is an interpretation of Hinduism related to the devotional practices of rituals and prayers in the temple’s iconological environment.
As we know, Hinduism, in its liberal and diverse traditions, offers a range of options for worshipping and contemplation where temple-Hinduism is the dominant and popular choice of devout Hindus.
Temple-Hinduism involves routine visits to a temple for ceremonial, religious, and contemplative purposes in a dedicated and disciplined setting.
The services at the temple customarily and generally are congregational. These are elaborate and formal as per ritualistic guidelines and local traditions. But within that liturgy or public worship, a devotee can also find a quiet space for seeking benediction and personal invocation.
A prominent service performed in a Hindu temple is Aarti. It is a holy ritual enacted more than once daily. Aarti originates from the Sanskrit word ‘Aratika.’ The latter denotes the clearance of ‘Ratri’ which means darkness.
The symbolic service of Aarti offers the use of ghee-soaked lighted wicks and some flower petals placed on a brass or silver plate. Devotees in standing posture extend the sanctified plate in circular moves of arms toward murti while singing a song or prayer in praise of the deity.
Aarti and several other elaborate adorations generate a spiritually-charged atmosphere of reverence and sacredness.
Moreover, the tradition of humility and total submission by devotees further contribute to the consecration and holiness of the temple environment.
Taking off shoes before entering the sacred premises, kneeling in front of revered idols’ sanctum, sitting on the floor and below the level of murtis, observing silence, are some the fundamentals and observed customs of Hindu worship etiquettes.
In this spiritual abode, the smell of incense, the sight of lighted Diya (clay oil lamp), the ring of the temple bell, the singing of prayers, the reciting and hum of mantras, all create an environment of divine feel and resonance to have moments with the divinity. The divinity of the place is thus defined.
However, technically speaking, it is the architecture of a temple as laid out by specific rules in the Hindu scriptures from where the sanctity of the temple begins. Architecture approves its location, design and engineering, and certifies the structure as a sacred place ready for divine services.
Hindu temple architecture is an institution in itself.
The history of Hindu temple blueprinting and construction is over 2000 years old. Over this long period, it has evolved itself in presenting quite an impressive and alluring diversification to bestow upon a temple its shape and embodiment.
The structural engineering involved in temple building is a feat in itself.
Most of the centuries-old worship monuments are still very much functional. These countless shrines have imbedded into the surrounding soil and have become part of the local landscape. Ancient Hindu shrines offer an archaeological marvel in temple building that often merge with adjoining environs
Many of the historic and pre-historic sacred Hindu monuments now get recognition as world heritage sites.
Selection of requisite location, the measurements and the mathematical calculations, the drafting of the structure and the craftsmanship involved had been the fundamentals in Hindu temple building since antiquity.
It is an extraordinary demonstration of skills and professionalism of ancient times to build stable structures to withstand hundreds of years. Most of such bygone era temples may look aged, but these are treasured and revered construction. Many of them are still entirely operative in providing the services.
An essential aspect of temple architecture, both from ancient times to the present, is to provide cultural and social space besides meeting the religious needs of a community.
A temple could be a sprawling place or a one-structure shrine. The former is more secular as an edifice for social rituals and community celebrations. It is a venue to hold events related to marriages, births and deaths, exhibitions and festivals, politics and campaigns.
The multi-layered features of a temple have made it both a religious and cultural hub of a town or community.
Most contemporary temples, specially built by Hindu diasporas in their respective adopted lands, reflect the diversified facilities offered by Hindu temple. A spacious hall within its precincts for communal dining or other functions caters to the secular and social aspects of temple activities.
HOME AND SMALL PUBLIC TEMPLES
Whereas, temples offer symbolic entities and contributing to the portrayal of Hinduism, home or small public shrines have their significance as well in Hindu worship customs and practices.
For ceremonial, devotional and meditative purposes, a Hindu doesn’t need to have routine visits to a temple. Congregational participation is not essential. Rather an individual worshipping of deity or deities mostly at home is quite a norm among Hindus.
Most of the venerations and idolatries in the temple are the same as in-home worshipping. But the latter also have some marked variations based on family traditions and an individual’s inspired preferences. That is one of the reasons home adoration is a personal devoutness to one deity or more deities.
Prayers in private do away the formal presence of a priest. But on special occasions, priests are often invited to conduct services and get paid with money and some gifts.
The home shrine has its uniqueness as deities’ presence becomes part of the divine dwelling that forges a pious ambience at home. Family traditions, beliefs and social behaviours are observed or new ones established in this environment. Moreover, the home shrine does influence in developing a spiritual cast in which moral values begets.
There are no fixed regulations or customs in setting up a home shrine. It can be an elaborate and beautiful arrangement of murtis in some dedicated area or just a modest and elegant niche in the corner of a room or wall. Where the space is limited, pictures of gods or goddesses or divine calendars on the wall become a shrine too.
In the home shrine, Hindu religious protocols are quite liberal.
Another accessible mode of Hindu worshipping is a shrine in public places. A mini temple is often a common site of the installed murti of a deity under an old landmark tree, a niche created in some street corner or a crossroad, bank of a sacred river, a cave, mountain or a rock.
These public shrines, besides their easy accessibility for the locals, enjoy the same sentiments and sanctity as any temple or home shrines. Mostly there is no priest on duty or caretaker. Regular devotees volunteer for maintenance and keeping the sanctity of these shrines.
Sometimes public places of Hindu worshipping over a period become celebrated pilgrimage sanctuaries, and spacious temples get built around them.
Besides the devotional practices at dedicated places like temples, home, or public shrines, a striking and environmental sensitive and gratifying feature of Hindu worshipping practices and reverence is the deification of natural landmarks. Rivers, lakes, mountains, plants, and animals get personified with gods and goddesses from the Hindu iconological variance.
There is divinity in all elements of nature. The belief is that gods and goddesses manifest in them. And their adoration in the image and reverence as in temples is part of Hindu ritualistic practices.
MEDITATION, YOGA AND KARMA HINDUISM
Temple-Hinduism, public or home shrines or worshiping the elements of nature; all of them embody ceremonial and spiritual practices. But these are not mandatory or the listed choices for a devout Hindu for worshipping rituals. Meditative Hinduism and spiritual yoga disciplines are the entitlements in the multi-disciplinary religious order of Hinduism that create or evoke the same feelings.
Still, there are Hindus who don’t do meditation and yoga either as part of their spiritual pursuits. Neither they go to temples or other modes of worship.
Their Hinduism lies in an order often referred to as “a way of life.” Here the Hindu theology is induced with divinity in thoughts, words, and deeds based on knowledge and good sense. Involvement in all the righteous living constitutes an ambience of a ritual-free temple.
“My heart is my temple,” or in Hindi, “Dil Eak Mandir Hai” is a common expression among Hindus, who seek awareness and guidance from the purity of their conscious minds.
In this regime, which I would call Karma temple, ethical and conscientious thoughts and actions guide the management of the self and its divinity. Nonetheless, temple visits, public or home shrine, elements of nature, meditation, and yoga remain complimentary to Karma temple.