You may have been asked several times by your foreign friends – Why Hindus visit temples? We went deep into this thought. After researching and talking to a few experts, here is our take. Apart from spiritual need, people went to the temple for social and scientific reasons.
Darshana: We visit the temple for Darshana or see the ‘sight’ of the supreme lord. This helps the devotee to connect to the god mentally and emotionally. It also helps in concentrating on god and forgetting the rest of the universe around us. This Dhyana or mediation creates a vacuum in our continuous flow of thoughts that facilitate to attain peace.
Idol: God is personified in the form of ‘idol’ that helps the devotee to concentrate on an object. It gives a definite shape or form to our imaginary thoughts. In addition, every god or supreme power has a certain characteristic to his/her personality and we ultimately wish to have them or improve in those areas.
Rituals: Rituals in Hinduism are different from one sect to different and has a sense of flexibility. One set of rules are for temples and another for the personal life.
Temple rituals revolve around Pranpratishtha or installing the idol of a deity in the temple with proper rituals of invoking god/goddess with Sanskrit chanting, bathing the idol with milk, water, honey, clarified butter and yogurt (panchamrut i.e. 5 nectars or liquids), dressing up with cloth, flowers, ornaments, offering food and singing bhajan (devotional songs).
Every ritual invokes five human senses – touch (touching the deity), see (seeing the deity), taste (panchamrut, the holy mix of honey, liquid jaggery, milk, yogurt and ghee), smelling (flowers, camphor, dhoop etc), hearing (the chanting, arti, bhajan). On daily basis, the same process is followed at home at much smaller scale.
There are other rituals in Hinduism are meant for social occasions such as birth, marriage, and death and so on. Having them in our custom signifies the life and meaning we have for every part of the life and the way we accept and respect it. The rituals associated with the special occasions reminds us of our duty or role or Dharma during that part. Most of them are beneficial and scientifically proven. For example, the silver toe rings are part of acupuncture therapy that regulates uterus function in women and avoids diseases associated with.
The concept of Brahma: This concept reminds us of the value of oneself. I am Brahma. So do others. The temple may have one or more deities whom we worship or devote ourselves to the concept of I am one part of the universe. I am also God. The devotion teaches us to let go off ‘I’ that is the main cause of stress and conflict in the personal and professional life. The concept leads us to the supreme existence and absolute reality.
Architecture: Most ancient temples have a magnificent architecture that has scientific as well as spiritual significance. The scientific meaning of the temple architecture is associated with the scientific construction that includes the decor, angles, lights, the environment and the other settings.
The common features of a Hindu temple are:
- Central sanctum enshrines the main deity of that particular temple. Secondary sanctums are for other deities.
- Space for the trained priest to perform rituals.
- Space in-front of the main deity is for devotees to stand/sit to worship or attend the Arti.
- The outside areas either within the temple premises or outside the temple premises meant for the public for attending social functions or discourse.
- There is additional space for devotees for pradkshana or parikrama or walk around the garbha graham or the sanctum sanctorum, but this is within the premises/external boundaries of the temple.
Pradaksihina or Parikrama: The reasons behind pradkshana (Circumambulation) is – we consider god is the central part of our action, our thought and our world. When we go around, we keep the deity at the centre of the gravity and consider it as the main focus of our existence. This concept usually helps devotees to consider to take life as it comes or considers this is devoted to the god /universe and we all are part of it. This is one of the ways to keep our mind balanced and peaceful by removing the focus from ‘self’ or ‘I’.
The role of temples in Society: Temples, in general, played a larger role in the society that provided educational support (as Gurukul), social support as to provide shelter to the needy, emotional and spiritual support in ancient times. It was a centre for the social gathering in the evening. The additional space within the temple is provided to people to perform social rituals and ceremonies.
The spiritual guru in modern days uses the same space to give the discourse that is taught most to stay away from materialistic, physical or emotional vices. The environment helps to inculcate the basic virtue through friendship, forgiveness, humility, tolerance, courage, guidance and more thus improving overall improvement.