Temples : A Journey






TEMPLE CULTURE


The temples of India are cornerstones of the rich Vedic Heritage. The Vedic culture has been nurtured in these temples for thousands of years.


The temple literature, known as Aagama-shastra, prescribes details of temple construction, including temple towers, sanctum towers, flag posts, halls and the sanctum; provides descriptions of temple worship.The very structure and architecture of the temples represent the entire creation and symbolise truth. The vaastu-shaastra compares the temple to creation. The Lord enshrined in the sanctum of the temple, is the intelligent cause of the Creation, while various parts of the temple which represent the Lord's limbs, symbolise the material cause of creation.

The Agni-Purana describes the features of the temple as aspects of the Lord. The sanctum tower is seen as His head and the door of the sanctum is seen as His mouth.The temple structure and mode of worship also symbolise the discovery of truth in a person's journey through life. The entrance tower(gopura dwaara), with its innumerable sculptures of deities, kings, celestial beings, demons, dancers and animals represent the manifold of universe.

Sculptures on Temple Tower




Stepping into the temple through this entrance signifies one's inclination to turn away from the external world. 

Gopura dwaara- Temple entrance
After entering the first gate, one comes to a Bali-peeta, an altar where offerings are made to the Lord. Here devotee prostrates, signifying surrender to the Lord.


Bali peeta
Bali peeta
As one proceeds further into the temple, it becomes progressively darker. Approaching the sanctum(garbhagriha), one finds an idol made of black stone ( In south Indian temples) in total darkness. An oil lamp barely reveals the outline of the form of the Lord through his glittering ornaments. The darkness symbolises one's ignorance about the Lord.

Garbhagriha
Dharmasthala Manjunatha, Karnataka
To have darshana, a clearer vision of the Lord, one requires more light, like the light of the burning camphor. When one stands before the Lord and the priest shows the aarathi, one sees the Lord clearly in the camphor light. What was a vague impression of the Lord is now compelling vision. Similarly, in life, the seeker comes to discover the truth when the guru unfolds the words of the scriptures and reveals the truth. 

Aarathi 
The light of knowledge, like the light of camphor, removes the darkness of ignorance completely, and all that remains is the vision of the self, free from any sense of limitation.
Camphor Burning

Brihadeeshwara Temple, Tanjore, Tamilnadu

Indian architects, craftsmen and masons achieved excellence in temple building. Though their work was in keeping with tradition, their ingenuity and originality are seen in the art and design of great temples. Great works of art done in bronze and copper are also found in temples of India. Images of Gods, goddesses, saints, apsaraas(celestial maidens) and kings and queens paying homage to the god were cast by skilled craftsmen.

Wooden Sculpture

Bronze idol

Carved pillars
Temple painting was another highly developed art. Colourful, delicate paintings, with themes from the various Purana's and ithihaasas(history), adorned the temple walls and ceilings. Paintings graphically depicted panoramas of life in ancient India.These talented artisans of ancient India built majestic temples as their offering to the Lord. As they silently dedicated their lives to Temple building, their names remain unknown today.

Paintings on temple walls and ceilings



Ceiling - Carving
The arrival of the Lord in the newly built temple has been celebrated in a popular picturesque ritual known as kumbhabhisheka, the temple consecration ceremony. For ages people have congregated in large numbers to witness this ceremony.
Kumbhabishekam

Waters from the holy rivers are collected, kept in decorated kalashaas, pots and worshipped with mantras. On the day of consecration, the sanctified waters are poured over the sanctum tower.This ceremony signifies the consummation of the temple building endeavour.
Kalasham with holy river water

Sahasra Kalasha with holy water  

 Annual temple festivals, such as the consecration anniversary and the car festival
(rath-yatra), are also times of great festivity and celebartion in the lives of the people.

Pillaiyar patti Temple Car, Tamilnadu
Temple Car in Jaffna
Dharmasthala Laksha Deepotsava
Saudatti Yellamma Jaathre, Belgaum, Karnataka




Thrissur Pooram, Kerala
Subramanya Theppotsava, Kukke, Karnataka
Jagannath Rath-Yaathra, Puri, Orissa
In addition to being centres of community worship, temples were the centres for all religious and cultural activities, including prayers, rituals, painting, sculpture, music, dance and drama. They were also cultural centres and places of learning. Halls for the study of language, known as  'Vyakarana-daana-mandapa', were built in temples.
Mantapa
Mantapa
Sanskrit Veda Paata, Sringeri, Karnataka




Murugha Mata, Chitradurga, Karnataka

Temples served as inspiration for great devotional literature in many regions. Musicians and dancers used to perform in the dance hall of the temples.       


Natyanjali at Chidambaram, Tamilnadu
Hampi Utsav, karnataka


Thyagaraja Aradhana, Thiruvaiyur, Tanjavur

In addition to cultural and festival events, daily life has always been intimately connected with temple activities in India. Even today, the people in villages do not begin their meals until the temple bells announce the daily offerings of food to the Lord.

Even though the Lord may be worshipped in one's heart or in one's home, temples provide a natural atmosphere of sanctitiy and purity. They not only reveal the devotion of generations of people, they stand as majestic symbols of the religious culture of the people of ancient India.

Food - Lord's Grace





FOOD




Food is one of the basic needs of a living organism. A good portion of one's life is devoted to fulfillment of this need through acquiring, preparing, eating and digesting food.
Besides being a physiological necessity for human beings, food also assumes importance on an emotional level. As one grows, food becomes a vehicle for social interactions. Most societies have elaborate etiquette related to eating and sharing food. These customs express a society's attitude towards food.
Naivedya Arpan in ISKCON
Villagers offering food to Gomaatha(cow)
Chinese New Year Food Offering



Naivedyam on Ganesh Chathurthi



















Naivedyam to family Deity 







In the Vedic culture, food is considered to be sacred. In traditional homes, the preparation of food is carried out with a prayerful attitude. Before cooking begins, the lady of the house takes a bath and sanctifies the hearth. Then alone is the ritual of cooking considered kosher. The food is never tasted during cooking. 


Once the cooking is completed, it is offered to the Lord at the altar in one's home. Only then it is looked upon as prasaadam and received with gratitude.




Food is always handled with respect and is never discarded. The attitude towards food and the customs associated with it emphasise the daily reminder of the Lord's grace in one's life.

Food is perceived, not merely as nourishment for the physical body, but also as serving one's inner growth. The scriptures classify food into three types : Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic.

Sattvic foods include rice, wheat, milk, fruits and vegetables. Food is considered sattvic when it isacquired by rightful means, cooked with prayerful attitude and served after being offered to the Lord. Such food alone is considered conducive to gaining the contemplative disposition necessary for self-knowledge.


Sattvic Food   

Rajasic foods are stimulating in nature. Non-vegetarian foods and excessively hot and spicy foods are considered rajasic foods.

Rajasic Food



Tamasic foods evoke lethargy and dullness. Tamasic foods include fermented foods and leftovers. One who is committed to a contemplative life abstains from eating rajasic and tamasic foods as well as foods which are not cooked at home. Unlike in Western society, 'eating out' is not a common practice in traditional Indian homes.
Tamasic Food

The quantity of food eaten must be in keeping with one's age and stage of life. The regulation of food intake helps bring about awareness and discipline in one's day-to-day living. Indian dharma saastra prescribes specific customs and disciplines in consuming food. A verse from Chaandogya Upanishad states "A Sannyaasi(sage) has to limit his food to eight mouthfuls; a Vaanaprastha (a Hindu monk) to sixteen mouthfuls; and a Grihastha ( a householder) to thirty two; where as a Brahmachaari( a student) can eat as much as he desires."


A well known saying in Hindi is, " daane daane pe likha hai khane vale ka naam: - on every grain is written the name of the one who is destined to eat it. As with other gains, the gain of food not only involves effort, but also an element of chance, which may be understood as grace. The food one receives is indeed a result of the Lord's grace and there food has always been revered in the Vedic culture.

Gotra...Rishi Lineage



RISHI LINEAGE



The Vedas are a body of knowledge believed to have been revealed by the Lord to the rishis(Seers), who were capable of receiving and handing over the knowledge to posterity for the benefit of humanity. These rishis came to be known as the mantra-drashtaarah, rishis of the Vedic mantras.

The word GOTRArefers to a clan or lineage of a Hindu family which is traced to one of these rishis and named after him.
There are ten rishis from whom all the gotras are believed to have originated. They are
Mareechi
Bhrugu
Angeeras
Atri
Vasishta
Agastya
Pulastya
Pulaha
Vishvaamitra
Kratu 

There are two hundred and twenty nine gotras, of which approximately forty are common today. These forty include
Vaatula
Aatreya
Garga
Kaundinya
Kaushika
Gautama
Naidhruva-kaashyapa
Harita
Bhaaradvaaja
Shaandilya
Maudgalya and
Shrivatsa

Gotras are further classified into five groups, depending upon the number of rishi descendants in a particular gotra.These groups are 

Ekaarsheya-pravara-gotra, which has one rishi descendant;
Dvayaarsheya-pravara-gotra, having two rishi descendants;
Trayaarsheya-pravara-gotra, having three rishi descendants;
Pancaarsheya-pravara-gotra, having five rishi descendants; and
Saptaarsheya-pravara-gotra, having seven rishi descendants.

One’s gotra is a symbol of one’s connection with the past. It provides an identity with one’s heritage and intimate bond with one’s parents and ancestors. 

Everyone born into the Vedic culture belongs to a gotra whether one does or does not know the name of the rishi of one’s lineage. According to Vedic culture, marriage alliances between two people belonging to the same gotra is customarily prohibited as they become brother-sister having same clan or lineage.

There are many other occasions when one is called upon to state one’s gotra. For instance, when a puja or a ritual is performed for the benefit of a particular individual, his gotra is mentioned besides his name and the star in which he is born. 

In the Vedic tradition there is a form of salutation in which one introduces oneself to elders by narrating one’s name and family lineage. One states one’s gotra, thereby acknowledging one’s ancestral ties. By doing so, one naturally discovers an attitude of reverence and gratitude for all that one has been given by one’s ancestors.