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.
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.
|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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.
|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.
|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.