The Temple In Our Surroundings
You might possibly have already seen distinct kind of temples. From a little temple with a single statue under a banyan tree at the corner of the street or on the bank of a river to large temple having huge Gopura (tower), there are so many different types we can get across.
A basic temple under a tree at a river bank
Even in temple architecture, you may get to see different types between North India, South India as well as Sri Lanka.
World’s Largest Hindu Temple of Lord Vishnu: Ankor Wat, Cambodia
However, the essential idea of the temples is to be a bridge between God and the human being and connect them together.
We can worship the God in our mind. We can even worship the image or the idol of the god in our home in whatever way as well as whenever we require.
However it is always superior to worship the God in a temple. There are ssome sayings which are below, that make us grasp the importance of this.
“Do not live in a place where there is actually no existence of a temple”
“Worshiping in a temple is always superior”
The God is omnipresent and there is actually no place without him. The blood of a cow is running all over its body and assists in the production of milk. However this milk is actually obtainable only from the udder of the cow.
Likewise, to receive the grace along with blessings of the God we must go to a temple. Temple is a spiritual place which is actually filled with God’s grace as well as kindness.
The saiva temples are constructed according to the rules of an ancient scripts ‘sivahamam’. This is why all temples that we worship are almost similar to each other.
However, the temples of other sub sects of Hinduism, such as vaishnava temples are slightly different from saiva temples.
The Saiva temples are constructed according to the rules of an ancient scripts ‘sivahamam’. This is why all the temples that we worship are almost similar to each other.
However, the temples of other sub-sects of Hinduism, such as Vaishnava temples are slightly different from Saiva temples.
A Temple in North Sri Lanka: Nallur, Jaffna
A Temple in North India: Varanasi
Somarnath (Shiva) Temple: Gujarat
A structure of a temple is quite similar to the structure of a human body.
Let us now explore the key features of a temple.
The tower is simply one of the key features of a temple. It is constructed above the main entrance of the temple and its sky rising structure is actually set in such a way so that it can be simply observed from long distance in any direction.
There can be numerous tiers in a temple tower. Gorgeous carvings of various idols can be observed prominently in this tower. The carvings of deities, human forms, birds, pets, devas, fairies as well as gate keepers (Duwara palakarkal) along with other figures are also mounted magnificently on these tiers of the tower.
The significance of this is to make us understand the fact that all the living beings in this universe are simply converging into the god.
The holy tower of a temple is also known as ‘sthoola-lingam’.
There is a place called Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu in South India. Almost 1000 years back, the Chola emperor ‘Raaja Raaja Cholan’ had built a magnificent temple for Lord Shiva utilizing only granite stones. The tower of this temple is 66 meters long and considered the most high temple tower.
The tower of this most magnificent temple that draws numerous pilgrims from around the entire world owns numerous special features. At the top of the tower, a casket weighing 339.5 kg can be seen mounted. The casket is gold coated having 1902 sovereign.
It is still a surprising aspect to the modern engineers who could not really figure out yet of the tactics by which this heavy casket could possibly have been taken to that height and placed on top of the tower especially when contemporary hardware like cranes were actually not really available 1000 years back.
In every temple, we can observe a ‘chariot’. It is also called ‘ratha’ or ‘thear’. The chariot is also constructed magnificently and also high enough like the tower. There will be four massive wooden wheels fixed to the chariot.
During the annual temple festival days, the ‘chariot festival’ that takes place in one of the last few days of the festival is a very popular event. On this ‘chariot festival’ day, the idol of the main deity of the temple is placed in the central part of the chariot. The devotees pull the chariot in clockwise direction utilizing the two lengthy ropes attached to it.
Devotees ready to pull the ropes attached
The devotees believe that by pulling the chariot with the God in it, they are going to be blessed as well as receive the grace of the God in abundance. There are devotees who travel thousands of miles away from other parts of the globe to get hold of the rope and pull the chariot on the ‘chariot festival’ of their favourite God.
In Tamil Nadu, the ‘Chariot Festival’ at the Lord Shiva temple at Thiruvaarur, draws more than half a million devotees. Similar amount gather at the ‘Chariot Festival’ of the Jagannathar temple in Puri, in the state of Orissa in India.
Thiruvaarur Chariot Festival
சாதாரண காலங்களில் தேர், கோயிலின் முன்னால் அமைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் தரிப்பிடம் ஒன்றில் நிறுத்தி வைக்கப் பட்டு இருக்கும்.
தேர் மனித உடலையும் அதன் உள்ளே வைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் இறைவன் ஆத்மாவையும் குறிக்கும்.
A tree (sthala-virudsham) can be seen specially grown in every temple. In Lord Shiva temples the ‘mango tree’ or ‘bael tree’ (vilva or bilva) can certainly be seen as the sthala-virudsham (tree of the temple).
Devotees go around a temple tree
There is a magnificent temple of Lord Shiva in Kanchipuram of Tamil Nadu, South India. Lord Shiva, known there as ‘Eehampara Eswar’ gracing the devotees along with Umadevi (Bharathi Devi) who is known there as ‘Kamadchi’.
According to the ‘sthla purana’, ‘Kamadchi’, who was born as an incarnation of Umadevi, worried of being separated from Lord Shiva, observed penance under a mango tree by creating a ‘Sivalinga’ out of clay in order to get back to him.
The huge mango tree at the renowned ‘Sri Ekambara Eswarar temple in Kanchipuram, that branching out in all 4 direction can be seen as the testimony of this. The Saiva scholars confirmed that this tree is likely to more than 3000 years old.
The fruits of the tree display four distinct kinds of tastes and so it is believed it represents four ancient Hindu Vedas (scripts).
The temple bell is usually seen inside the temple. It can also be seen in a mini tower. The bells toll when the pooja begins and additionally when the prime event ‘deepa arthy’ takes place towards the end of the pooja. The rope added to the bell is pulled by the devotees to make the tolling sound.
This magnificent, pleasant sound will be heard by the people living on all sides of the temple.
Realizing that the pooja is about to start, the devotees rush to the temple to worship. The sound is simply thought of as the voice of God calling upon the devotees to the temple.
The Temple Bell towers stand as the major extraordinary variation between the Hindu temples in Sri Lanka and that of South India where temple bells can be actually observed in a corner of the temple without much prominence.
During the Portuguese colonial period in Sri Lanka, almost all Hindu temples were destroyed and the practice of Hindu religion was actually banned.
Many Catholic churches were built in the meantime with towers for the bell.
Many years later when threatened by the British invaders, the Dutch rulers, who substituted the Portuguese, permitted the temples to be rebuilt to have the support of the locals. The rebuilt temples delivered prominence to the bell towers like those of the churches. This practice went on during the British time and also to this day when establishing a new temple.
Temples in East and North Sri Lanka with prominent towers for temple bell
A holy pond can be seen just outside but close to the temple. This is also be called as the ‘pond of theertha’ (pond of holy water).
The pilgrims to the temple bathe or wash their face, hand, legs and feet before entering the temple. For the devotees to reach the water in the pond comfortably there are steps in all four directions.
In some ponds, we can see water plants like lily, lotus etc, the flowers of which are used during the temple poojas.
The renowned ‘Gold Lotus Pond’ of Madurai Meenadchi Temple with its four towers in the background.
During the annual ‘Festival Days’, the ‘Theeretha Festival’ (holy water festival) follows the day after the ‘Chariot Festival day. On this day, the statue of the main God of the temple is taken to the pond and given a dip.
Since it is being used exclusively for divine purposes, the water from this well is never used by the
devotees for other purposes such as bathing etc.
Just remember that nonetheless, we are living in an age of tap water and so a temple well might not really be needed unless of course, the temple is in a remote village.
There exists usually a garden in a further side of the temple. The backyard garden is simply an essential aspect of a temple. The range of trees bearing fruits and berries and flower trees are grown in this holy garden.
Devotees working in a garden
Extremely fragrant flowers like jasmine rose etc, as well as fruits or berries like oranges, banana, lime, mango, and jack, are obtained from the trees grown there.
The flowers will be used in poojas and also to make beautiful garlands that adorned the god idol. The fruits will be used for ‘abisek’ and also to prepare the ‘pancharmirtha’.
Thactsanamoorthy and Ganesha statues in the beautiful garden of Iravan Temple, Kauai, Hawai
Having the ‘moolasthana’ (sanctuary) as the focal point, there are ‘inner circle’ as well as ‘outer circle’ that can be observed in a temple.
The inner circle that goes around the sanctuary has an elevated wall on the external edge of it. Beyond the high wall there is one more circle known as outer circle.
While worshipping at the Hindu temple, the devotees walk around clockwise one time or three times (in odd numbers only) in this inner circle, uttering the Lord’s name or singing devotional songs praising the Lord of the temple.
The outer circle is simply for the idol of the deity to go round in festival days. The God statues are either carried by the devotees in their shoulders or in a chariot or even in an elephant in this outer circle clockwise.
Idol carried by devotees in their shoulders
In festival time the idols of the Gods and Goddesses are mounted on the elephant and taken in a procession around the temple’s outer circle.
Idol mounted on an Elephant in a parade
Note that some devotees in order to fulfil their wow (see: wow making) might possibly walk round in the inner circle as many time as per their wow while some others might prostrate (pira-thaddai) in the external circle following the God’s procession.
Devotees fulfiling the wow ‘Pira-thaddai’ (prostate or rooling around)
The city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu is renowned for having the famous ‘Meenadchi Temple’ as the focal point of an enormous outer circle by which the fantastic city was established.
There is another renowned temple for Lord Shiva in ‘Thiruvannamalai’. The temple is at the foot drop of a mountain.
On every full moon day night, the devotees in huge numbers go along in a 14 km prolonged circle.
Devotees in ‘Kirivalam’
They consider the mountain as an enormous ‘sivalinga’ and going around it is considered as going round Lord Shiva himself. ( This occasion is called ‘Kirivalam’ which means going around the mountain.)
Thiruvannamalai Hill and the Temple
The front entrance is located just under the tower. Once we go pass this we can see the sanctuary (moolasthana) that facing directly to the main entrance. In the sanctuary, the main deity of the temple can be seen mounted.
The statue of Lord Shiva or Shivalinga can be seen in a Shiva’s temple. In Vishnu’s temple, it will be Lord Vishnu and in Murugan temple, it will either be ‘vel’ or the statue of Lord Muruga. Likewise, we can see the Lord Ganesh statue in Ganesa temple.
In a different part of the temple, idols of Navagraha, Chandewarar, Durga etc can be found. Further, there will be ‘saba mandap’(Saba hall), ‘artha mandap’ (Artha Hall) in which various artistic programs like music, dance and drama events will take place.
There will also be a banquet hall in which the devotees will have their religious wedding ceremonies.
Just opposite the sanctuary, the vehicle related to the god is mounted as if staring the idol and the sanctuary. Thus Garuda will be in Maha Vishnu temple and Ox in Lord Shiva temple while Peacock in Lord Muruga’s and also the Mouse in Lord Ganesh temple can be seen.
The temple kitchen is located on the side of the temple. This is where the food items for offering (‘neivetia’) to the god are prepared. The milk rice, laddu, chickpeas, sweet puffed rice are all prepared here.
Some temples rear cows. The milk from them are used for ‘abishek’ and additionally for preparing the ‘pirasad’.
In some temples we can observe elephants.
Some temples rear cows. The milk from them are used for ‘abishek’ and additionally for preparing the ‘pirasad’. In some temples we can observe elephants.
Elephant of a Saiva Temple
Elephant of a Vaishnava Temple
In some Muruga’s temple, one can observe gorgeous peacocks.
Beautiful Peacocks can be observed in Murugan Temples
So far we have seen what we can easily see in huge temples in either India or in Sri Lanka. Nonetheless, we can’t see most of the items mentioned above in Hindu temples situated in western countries due to shortage of space as well as different other reasons.
Having said that in all temples, however tiny it might simply be, there are going to be a sanctuary with an idol in it.
We shall next see the way to worship in a temple.