Some Interesting Questions about Hinduism…(Part 7)
Largest Hindu Temple – Akshardhaam, Delhi
Temple is a place of worship for followers of Hinduism.
Basic characteristic of most Hindu Temples is the presence of Murtis (statues) of the Hindu deity to whom the temple is dedicated. They are usually dedicated to one primary deity, the presiding deity, and other deities associated with the main deity. However, some temples are dedicated to several deities, and others are dedicated to murtis in an iconic form.
Many temples are in key geographical points, such as a hill top, near waterfalls, caves and rivers, as these are, according to Hinduism, worship places and make it easier to contemplate God. The oldest temples, built of brick and wood, no longer exist. Stone later became the preferred material.
An early description of the temple plan is in the Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira. In the standard square plan, a vastu-purusa-mandala of 64 or 81 squares was first drawn.
Temple construction and mode of worship is governed by several Sanskrit scriptures called agamas, which deal with individual deities. There are substantial differences in architecture, customs, rituals and traditions in temples in different parts of India. During the consecration of a temple the presence of Brahman is invoked into the main deity of the temple, making the deity and temple sacred.
Hindu temples have a long history and are filled with symbolism.
- A bell hangs at the gate of many Hindu temples, which is rung at the moment one enters the temple.
- Worshipers in temples generally bring in symbolic offerings, which may includes fruits, flowers, sweets and other symbols of the bounty of the natural world.
- Temples in India are usually surrounded by small stores which sell these offerings to the worshipers. A part of these offerings is kept in front of the deity and the rest is given back to the worshiper as blessings (prasad) from the God.
- When inside the temple, it is typical to keep both hands folded together as a sign of respect and bow down to the deity.
- The inner sanctuary, where the deity/statues reside, is known as the garbhagriha (Sanctum sanctorum). It symbolizes the birthplace of the universe, the meeting place of the gods and mankind, and ‘the threshold between the transcendental and the phenomenal worlds’. It is in this inner shrine that devotees offer prayers and salutations to the presiding deities. Devotees may or may not be able to personally present their offerings at the feet of the deity.
- In most South Indian temples, only the pujaris are allowed to enter into the garbhagruh. In North Indian temples, however, it is more common for devotees to be allowed entrance.
- The mantras spoken are typically remembering the deity and requesting their blessings. These are followed by a series of shlokas or verses from the holy texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads or Vedas.
- Upon the conclusion of prayer, devotees get down on their knees or even fall flat on their stomach and bow before the symbol of the deity.
- If a pujari is present, they are likely to provide sacred symbolically blessed food, prasad to the devotee, apply a holy mark called ’tilak’ (generally red) to the forehead of the devotee symbolizing blessings from the god in terms of opening of the third eye (the intelligence or inner consciousness).
- The worshiper then walks clockwise around the innermost sanctum, or garbhagriha, stop once on each side, close their eyes and offers prayers to all deities.
- The worshiper may receive a sprinkling of the water from the holy river Ganges while the ‘pujari’ invokes the god’s blessing towards all.
- The timings in the temple are differ, due to the vast diversity in Hinduism, from temple to temple.For example, some temples may perform aarti once or twice per day, while other temples, may perform aarti five times per day.
- Worshipers to Hindu temples are required to remove shoes and other footwear before entering. Most temples have an area designated to store footwear.
- Since the Hindu religion teaches that all life-forms are created by Brahma and that humankind needs to share the world with the animal kingdom, it is common to see stray dogs, cows, monkeys, birds, etc. congregated at temples.
The old temples that were built of brick and wood no longer exist. Stone later became the preferred material.
Temples marked the transition of Hinduism from the Vedic religion of ritual sacrifices to a religion of Bhakti or love and devotion to a personal deity.
Temple construction and mode of worship is governed by ancient sanskrit scriptures called agamas, of which there are several, which deal with individual deities. Vastushastra required that a sanctum should have a roof without any support or pillars. To achieve this, brick arch creating a circular dome was evolved in north India creating temples at Gaya, Ujjain and somnath.
There are substantial differences in architecture, customs, rituals and traditions in temples in different parts of India. South India is very different from the north. Thousands, of ancient temples structure were destroyed or converted into mosques during Islamic rule in India (especially in North India) between 1200 AD and 1700 AD. Some places in South India was spared this tragedy and therefore some big temples are still standing there. The stone temples in South India which survived the foreign invaders, showcase themselves as unique creations as abodes of God. Unlike South India, it is rare to come across an ancient temple in north India that has not been reconstructed. In south India , experience with cave temples created a special expertise and all the elements such as a garbhagriha mandapa, antaral were created at Ellora and other places. What remained was shikhara for which experiments were made at Mahabalipuram.
The study of Hindu temple that physical exist today in India, shows that the artists created a sanctum with pyramid like stone roof with a capstone and a canopy around A.D. 150 the technique spread towards north via Parashurameshwar temple at Bhubaneswar , replacement of brick temples at Bodh Gaya, Ujjain and Somnath. In South India the famous sculptors of Kanchipuram gave lead to Tamilnadu.
The 2004 tsunami off the coast of Tamilnadu scoured away the sands near Mahabalipuram near Chennai and left uncovered two temples which expert thing are two old temples, belonging to the times of Pallava Dynasty on the top and beneath it, a much older temple around 2,000 years old.
In the western state of Gujarat, there is a fascinating and extremely beautiful Jagatmandir temple bordered on one side by the ocean coast and on the other side by the town of Dwarka.
One of India’s most venerated pilgrimage sites, expert confirm that the oldest parts of the Jagatmandir temple may date to the reconstructions carried out during the Gupta period in 413 AD.
If one were to look out for the oldest Hindu temple functioning today, and not in ruins, it is the Ma Mundeshwari Temple in Kaimur District of Bihar, and it is one of the oldest Hindu temples in the world. It has been restored by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and its construction date is ascribed to 108 AD. Since then rituals and worship have been taking place at this temple without a break. Thus making it the oldest functional Hindu temple, in fact any place of worship, in the world. Apart from Shiva and Shakti, this temple also has idols of other popular gods in the Hindu pantheon including Ganesha, Surya, Vishnu and Mother Goddess.