‘Anaa-yaasam athyantha phalam’ – maximum results with minimum effort. This is how Hindu books describe the benefits of worshipping God. We all prefer smart work over hard work. We go to temples and seek immediate resolving of our problems. We want to get peace of mind by visiting temples. Is temple a mere grievance cell ? Is it a counseling center to de-stress? What is a temple?
Reason for a Temple:
God can be attained by only four methods- Japa (chanting), Dhyaana( meditation), Homa (fire rituals) and Worship (pooja to idols). The first three methods require strict conditions for the practiser. The Worship method is the easiest of all, and it includes the features of the other three methods also. Temples practise this method perfectly, through which we can connect to God.
Another reason is : God has five forms. The Supreme ‘Para’ form, which is beyond this world. The second form is ‘Vyuha ‘, which is taken by God to create and maintain the world. The third form is ‘Vibhava’ which are the avataaras of God like Rama, Krishna,etc. The fourth form is ‘Archaa’ , which is the idol present in temples and homes. The fifth form is ‘Antaaryami’ which is present within our hearts.
Our spiritual goal in life is to reach the highest ‘Para’ form of God, which is called as Moksha or salvation. We have to travel to this destination, from the lowest form realizing each form of God one by one. But, the ‘Archa’ form is a direct Visa to the highest form, by-passing all other forms.
This “Archa’ form is what is being worshipped in temples.
All the rules for temple construction and worship are in a book called ‘Agama Shaastras’ . The daily pooja and festivals that we do, be in temple or at home, are from the Aagamas. Aagamas are not present in the Vedas. But some scholars say that Aagamas were part of the Ekaayana section of Vedas, which are now deemed to be lost. But all agree that the Aagams were preached by the God himself
There are 5 types of Aagamas for the five major Gods- Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti /Devi, Ganapathy, Subramanya / Kaarthikeya
Vishnu is worshipped by Pancharaatra and Vaikhaanasa Aagamas. Shiva is worshipped by 28 Aagamas. Shakti is worshipped by 64 Aagamas. All Aagamas preach the same procedures, but with minor variations in mantras and rituals.
We are greeted by a colourful Rangoli at the entrance. Rangoli is a powerful Yantra. Yantra is a diagram consisting of Mandalas or sections, with powerful mantras embedded within it. It is like a metal detector, stopping bad elements from entering our minds. But the present day Rangolis do not follow any Yantra technique, but still create positive vibrations around us.
Then we bow down to touch the steps of the main gate. There are 2 reasons for this. One is- Temple is seen as a Universe held by the God .It is our first step into that Universe, and we show our respect to God by bowing down. Another reason is- We bow down to the door-keepers or Dwaara-Paalakas of the temple and seek their permission mentally to enter the abode of God.
The guards for the outer gate in Vishnu temples are – Dhaatra and Vidhaatra. In Shiva temples it is – Vimala and Subahu. In Devi temples it is – Sangha Nidhi and Padma Nidhi. In Ganapathy temples it is – Vikata and Bheema. In Subramanya/Kaartikeya temples it is – Jaya , Vijaya, Suteha and Subaahu.
Dhwajasthambha or Flag Pole:
Dhwajasthambha or the Flag pole has at least 20 Gods and their weapons residing in it, from top to bottom. The main Gods present in the Flag pole are: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Saraswathi, Lakshmi and all the weapons of God. That is why we touch and bow to the Flag Pole. A Flag pole has on it’s flag the image of the God’s vehicle. Vishnu temples have Garuda, Shiva’s has Nandi the bull, Devi temples have Lion. The Flag pole is symbolic of proclaiming God’s presence and supremacy to the surroundings.
To the front of the Dhwajasthambha is a lotus shaped pedestal called as Bali Peetha. This place is reserved for offering food to the Bhoothas or a class of invisible beings. Temples are not just for humans, but also take care of micro organisms.
Usually, a square and rectangular shaped layout is used for temples. There are totally 81 cells or units, with specific dimensions within the temple complex. Each compartment is for a specific purpose and diety. A temple must and should have a well or water-tank, a Tulasi or flower garden and a cow.
The entire temple is guarded in eight directions by the eight guards or the Ashta Dikk Paalakas. They are – Indra, Agni, Vaayu, Varuna, Yama, Kubera, Ishaana, Nirrithi.
Precise Geometry and architecture are applied in choosing a site for temples and it’s construction. Every design and material is used for only one purpose- To maximize the vibrations from the main idol. Our minds become natural receptors for these vibrations. How can this happen?
In Hinduism, four objects are considered powerful – Fire, Water, Sound, mind. All these have hidden powers which can be realized by a proper medium. Of these, mind is the most powerful.Our thought is the tool and Temples are the medium for us to harvest the mind-power and connect with God.
In temples, all the above four powerful objects are used in some form or the other, connecting us to God.
Mantapa or Assembly Hall:
This is the place for people to assemble and sit after the darshan of the idol.. Worldly talks and bad thoughts should be shunned here. We should engage in meditation and prayer. We should not sit with our legs stretched towards the idol. Nor should our backs be shown to the idol. Prasad should not be consumed in front of the idol.
No person , even if he is elder, should be bowed to, as God is the only one worth being bowed to in a temple. There are about 60 do’s and dont’s in this segment of the Aagamas.
Idol and Garbha Griha:
The main idol is filled with the divine energy of the Supreme Lord by Praana Prathishtaapana. This is a ritual where the idol is given Life and the power of God.
The procedure is- A golden box is embedded inside the Earth, exactly under the spot where the main idol is to be installed. The golden box has small units within it, representing the various divisions of the temple. There are units for the main God to be installed, and units for various dieties. The main deities included are Brahma, the 27 Nakshatras or stars and Anantha – the serpent.
The priest then places a mantra in written form in each unit, corresponding to that particular deity. This is done to invoke the physical presence of each diety.The box is also filled with nine precious gems to invoke the Nava Grahas or nine planets, and nine types of grains or Nava Dhaanya to symbolize prosperity.
A Copper pot is placed over the golden box, and finally is covered with a stone slab. On this stone slab is an idol installed. The Copper pot underneath is the womb, the idol on it is the Life force arising out of the womb, the chamber housing the idol is the body or Griha. Hence it is called as Garbha Griha.
There are mainly four types of idols or forms of God installed. They are:
(a.) Swayam Vyakta or Self-manifested form. In this, God has himself stood in the form of an idol. There are 8 such idols of Vishnu at- Srirangam, Tirupathi, Srimushnam, Vaanamamalai, Salagrama, Badri, Naimishaaranya, Pushkar
The 12 Jyothirlingas of Shiva are seen as actual forms of Shiva. They are Somnath, Srishailam , Mahakaleswar, Omkareshwar, Kedarnath, Bhimashankar, Varanasi, Triambakeshwar, Vaidyanath,Aundha Naganath, Ghrushneshwar .
(b.) Idols installed by Devathas or demi gods. The idol at Guruvayoor is one example.It was installed by Guru and Vaayu. (c.) Idols installed by Rishis. The Parthasarathy idol at Triplicane, Chennai was installed by Sage Atri.
(d.) Idols installed by Humans. These are the countless temples we visit regularly.
Worship to Idol:
This is a 16 step procedure. The basic premise is-Waking up the God in the morning, bathing Him, decorating Him, offering deepam, flowers, dhoop, food, betel leaves and finally putting the God to sleep. All these are done with specific mantras in an organized way.
The Aarathi done to an idol is not just a mere flames of fire. It is supposed to be the Sun, Moon and all the stars in the Universe offering their salutations to the idol.
Doing Pradikshana or circling around the Garbha Griha is symbolic of us circling the entire Universe, with the God at the center.
When we receive the holy Thirtha and Prasad, our trip to the Temple has achieved it’s goal. Temples are the method, goal and result of our spiritual journey. Muslim invaders destroyed about forty thousand temples in India. Yet, lakhs of temples today flourish with crores of devotees visiting them. This is the power of temples, to uphold Dharma and through it, grant us happiness in this world and the next. Come, let us visit a Temple, understanding it’s significance and meanings.