Category Archives: Temples

Temple: A Place to “fine-tune” the Mind ~ Swami Chinmayananda

[Excerpts from letters and articles by Swami Chinmayananda]

God, the Lord is All-pervading, but to invoke Him we need an Altar. Even though Narayana pervades everywhere, He can directly be contacted in a TEMPLE. The Temple is a place conducive to ‘fine-tune’ your mental equipment in order to receive the Divine Message.

Temples are the monuments of our Culture. Temple is a social centre and must become the place of cultural revival. A temple is a place of reverence (Sangam) where the love of the mind and respect of the intellect (Ganga and Jamuna) join together. Temples should function as the very heart of the community, responding most sensitively to all the changing needs of the society. The “Houses of God” in the past stood as intelligent guards protecting the needs of the community and therefore, they were extremely respected and revered and very devotedly served by the grateful members of the community. The love and care and the enormous sacrifice that they had made in building these edifices of beauty and grandeur eloquently speak volumes of their loyalty and gratitude. These are to be generated in their hearts by the service, both secular and sacred, rendered by the temples.

A Temple becomes famous not because of its elaborate architectural beauty nor its dimensions. When a large number of devotees continue to visit year after year, day by day, the center gathers a growing glory of divine presence. Within a community, such temples declare the beauty and culture possessed by the society. Temples are where large masses of people congregate and thereby develop in their thoughts and actions a RHYTHM, at once loving and divine. For centuries, temples and worship of the Deities held the Hindu society together, providing a common bond of love and devotion, creating among them a great sense of pride and brotherhood. Temples: community inspiration centres from where spiritual ideas and thoughts are spread out into the community.

To revive a true interest in the Temples, we must gain a clearer understanding of what are the significance of their “Divine Representations” (Deities) and in what way each one of them is suggesting some aspect of the Infinite Self within. No piece of stone in any temple can provide for the devotee his life’s goal of achieving happiness and peace. But, without an idol self-improvement ‘is impossible’. The method of superimposing a meaning upon an object is the technique called IDOL-WORSHIP. The idol is the means; self-discovery is the goal. To confuse the means with the goal is the Grand Trunk Road leading to sorrow. The idol serves the spiritual aspirant as a spring-board to heave himself out of samsara and plunge into himself. The IDOLS in temples are to remind the devotee of the IDEAL, the Supreme. To the earnest devotee, the idol appears as a living embodiment of his Lord.  All “poojas” are techniques by which you learn the art of putting the mind where the hand is working. However, it is necessary to remember that the idol is NOT God, but represents God.

TEMPLES are only places to discipline one’s mind. The mind must be perfectly tuned to receive the message of the Divine. The temple visits and worship should elevate the mind of the seeker and help him to keep his mind in a higher plane. A temple fulfils itself successfully in a “bhakta” when he comes to enquire into the nature of Godhood, the nature of himself, the structure of the world and the relationship between these three. At “this” moment the integrated personality of the “bhakta” though physically standing in front of the “sanctum sanctorum”, has grown to such a stature that he no longer can be contained within the confines of any Gopuram….

Just as a gymnasium is for the science of health, the temple is for the science of Reality. Temples are gymnasiums for the mind. You have to go there and apply your mind in it. Remember that it is a mental gymnasium. Surrender the mind in devotion unto Him. He will purify it and return it back to you immediately. You must go to the temple, and tune up yourself in order to get the message of the Divine.

In India, we don’t build a temple because we have money or we can collect money. It is always ordered or commanded by an Acharya. When an Acharya decides what deity or deities should be installed in the temple, thereafter there is no difference of opinion amongst the public. Temples are built by the members of the community, through a temple building committee. But every such temple committee is fulfilling the wishes of a Guru, or of an Acharya. The Guru accepts the plan, sanctions the administrative set up, decides upon the altar to be raised, and generally lays down the tradition to be followed by that DEVASTHANA. He watches over its conduct and appoints one or two of his people into the Executive Committee to be his eyes and ears in the day-to-day affairs and conduct of the temple.

Religion is to bring out the best in man by helping him to shed his animal passions still lingering in his mind which has evolved through the animal stage. This self purification is gained through devotion to the Lord, by everyone, through meeting and interacting in a common place like a TEMPLE, which serves more than the modern concept of a community Hall. Temple has to serve as a total schooling for the growing children. MAY WE USE THE TEMPLE IN THE CREATIVE FIELDS OF MOULDING THE CHILDREN AND THE YOUTH OF OUR COUNTRY.

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Venkatadri Swami & the Lord’s Diamond Crown!

Alluri Venkatadri Swami (1806-1877) was born to a pious couple in Alluru in Andhra Pradesh. He was devoted to Lord Narasimha of Alluru. He obtained mantra deeksha from his Guru, Narasimha Dasa and took to Hari Nama Sankeerthana. Venkatadri Swami travelled to many pilgrim centres and temples and offered his services to the various Deities in the form of keerthanas – Naadopaasana. At Bhadrachala, along with sangeeta seva, he completed one crore Rama Nama and had the divine vision of the Lord. He then travelled to Tirumala and offered his services to Lord Venkateswara. 

Sriranganatha, Srirangam, Kanchi, Namperumal, Vaikunta Ekadashi, Lord Venkateshwara, Ranganatha,
Alluri Venkatadri Swami

From Tirumala, Venkatadri Swami reached Kanchipuram and stayed in a room on the banks of the Brahmateertha pond which is even today known as “Venkatadri room”. Lord Varadaraja of Kanchi would physically be present to enjoy the beautiful keerthanas while an overwhelmed Venkatadri Swami sang for him! Venkatadri Swami was different from other renunciates. He accepted donations from devotees and utilised it completely for the Lord’s daily seva. He contributed to renovation and construction works related to various temples. Inscriptions are available for the same in the temples. Along with Veda-abhyas program for children, he started various seva projects and to make sure that all the projects continued without any hindrance, he set up a permanent charity and bought dry and wet lands to generate revenue for the same.

One day, Lord Varadaraja appeared in Venkatadri’s dream and asked for a diamond crown for himself! In search of resources, Venkatadri Swami came to Chennai. Amidst hardships, he reached the famous Sri Parthasarathi temple in Triplicane and sang, “Parthasarathi pada bhajana cheyave manasa (O mind! sing the glories of Lord Parthasarathi)”. By Lord’s Grace, the devoted people volunteered and contributed for the diamond crown. The beautiful diamond crown was completed in time. The devotees carried the crown in a procession through the streets of Chennai, accompanied by umbrella (chhatra), dhwaja (flag) and sangeeta (music). The crown reached Kanchi Sri Varadaraja temple. On the Vaishaka full-moon day, during the Garuda Seva, the Lord (utsava murthi) was adorned with the crown which came to be known as “Venkatadri Crown!” An overwhelmed Venkatadri Swami poured out his devotion to Lord Varadaraja in the form of beautiful keerthanas. Even today, on special occasions the Lord’s utsava murthi is adorned with the “Venkatadri Crown”. He then proceeded to make crowns studded with diamonds and other precious gems for the Lord’s consorts, Sridevi and Bhudevi. 

At the behest of the Lord’s divine will, Venkatadri Swami had a precious crown made for the utsava murthi (known as Namperumal) of Srirangam to replace the old damaged Pandian Crown. Unaware of the actual measurements, a model crown was made, and yet the crown fitted the deity perfectly! It is said that Lord Ranganatha Himself provided the measurements for His crown! The diamond crown needed a ONE INCH SQUARE EMERALD for completion. Not knowing what to do, Venkatadri Swami invoked the Lord to show him the way. The Lord appeared in his dream and told him that the required emerald was available with a diamond merchant, Madhav Seth in Kolkata. When the merchant was approached, he cheated them by providing an ordinary green stone. However the Lord forewarned and the merchant was confronted. Finally, the real and big emerald was obtained and the Pandian Crown was completed. The Utsava murthi, Namperumal was adorned with the new Pandian Kondai (Crown) on Margashirsha Vaikunta Ekadashi day!

Pandian Crown with the green emerald

Sri Azhagiya Manavala Jeeyar of Kanchi initiated Venkatadri Swami into the Pancha Samskaras of the Sri Vaishnava tradition. Later on, he was initiated into the sanyas order by Sri Ranga Narayana Jeeyar and came to be known as Thiru Venkata Ramanuja Jeeyar. Venkatadri Swami was well known for his socio-religious services. In recognition of his seva, apart from scholars, high-ranking officials and businessmen, the then Governor of Chennai, Lord Francis Napier also came to Srirangam and paid his respects to Venkatadri Swami. 
In 1877, Venkatadri Swami left his mortal body and attained to the Lord’s feet. His memorial is situated on the banks of the river Kaveri. Venkatadri Swami was a great Composer-Musician-Saint as well as a Karma Yogi. His compositions are simple yet profound in their message. None of his keerthanas which are overflowing with devotion carry his signature-name which speaks of his extreme humility and dispassion. Various Bhajan Mandali-s have been carrying forward his rich musical legacy even to this day.

Om Namo Narayanaya!

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Amongst the Months, I am Margashirsha ~ Lord Krishna

Amongst the Months, I am Margashirsha, says Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Geeta. Margashirsha is the ninth month in the Hindu Lunar Calendar Year. According to the Solar Calendar, it is known as Margazhi. It is also called as Dhanur (or Shunya) Maasa because it starts on the day of Dhanur-sankramana. The entire month is conducive for spiritual practices and is therefore dedicated to the worship of the Lord. Social and family celebrations like marriage, gruha pravesha etc., are avoided during this month. The benefits of any religious and spiritual sadhana undertaken this month gets multiplied – manifold times. The Gopis performed the Katyayani Vrata during this month to invoke Sri Krishna’s grace and blessings. Sri Andal undertook the same Vrata seeking union with Lord Ranganatha. Each day, one verse of TIRUPPAVAI composed by Andal are rendered at homes and in temples early in the morning during the Margazhi month. In almost all the temples, during the Margashirsha/Margazhi month, devotees take a dip in the river or the temple tank and offer pujas very early in the morning during the auspicious Brahma Muhurtha. Japa and Dhyana are also undertaken during the Brahma Muhurtha. In many places, Nagara Sankeerthana is undertaken. With harmonium, tambura and tala (cymbals), devotees go round the streets of the village or town singing the Lord’s bhajans or kirtans to wake up the people who are sleeping. They are also encouraged to join the music or bhajan group. The Nagara Sankeerthana usually concludes in the temple. 

One human year is equivalent to one day of the devatas. Six months of Uttarayana Punyakala or Summer Solstice denotes day-time and six months of Dakshinayana Punyakala or Winter Solstice denotes night-time for the devatas. Margashirsha comes almost at the end of Dakshinayana and hence signifies the time just before sunrise for the devatas. Margashirsha denotes the Brahma Muhurtha of the Gods. Therefore to perform our religious and spiritual sadhana during our Brahma Muhurtha in the month of Margashirsha is to align it with the celestial Brahma Muhurtha during this auspicious month. This is extremely significant and immensely beneficial. During this month, to benefit from the cosmic energy, we are encouraged to wake up early, open the main door, clean the front porch and draw rangoli patterns (Margazhi kolam). By doing so, we are not only exposing ourselves to the healthy positive environment but allowing the pure fresh air to enter our homes. This is followed by puja and other religious and spiritual sadhana at home and in the temples. 

Margashirsha is auspicious for Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. In the Vaishnavite temples, Vaikunta or Mokshada Ekadashi and Mukkoti Dwadashi are celebrated in the bright fortnight of the month. The beautifully decorated deity is taken through the Vaikunta Dwara on the northern side of the temple or the parikrama closest to the sanctum which is opened on this auspicious day. The devotees also enter the Vaikunta Dwara along with the Lord. Vaikunta Ekadashi is also known as Geeta Jayanti – the day on which Lord Krishna gave His message in the form of the Bhagavad Geeta to his disciple-devotee, Arjuna. In some parts of the country, especially in the South, Hanuman Jayanti is observed on Shukla Trayodashi day of this month. It is significant to note that Lakshmi Vrata is observed on every Margashirsha Guruvara (Thursday). 

Similarly, pujas are offered to Lord Shiva also during the Brahma Muhurtha. Just like the TIRUPPAVAI of the Vaishnavites, the sacred TIRUVEMBAVAI is chanted by the devotees of Lord Shiva. In the famous Nataraja temple at Chidambaram, the Arudra Darshanam is observed on the full moon day of Margazhi with great festivity. Nature is a manifestation of the Lord and the beautiful soothing beams of moon light through the dew (hima) have a profound healing effect on us. The Arudra Nakshatra associated with Lord Shiva signifies the bright golden-red flame. Golden colour represents LIFE-FORCE or the KNOWING PRINCIPLE and red colour represents ACTIVITY. SHIVA TATTVA represents both Life (Energy or Spirit) and Activity (Matter) in each and every particle – micro or macro. Every particle in the Universe resonates the Tandava of the Lord indicating that “activity is the expression of life” which is represented by the icon of the dancing Lord Nataraja. The Divine Dancer also signifies the five great Elements (earth, water, fire, air and space) necessary for creation as well as symbolises the Pancha Kriyas: Srishti (Creation), Sthiti (Sustenance), Samhara (Dissolution), Tirobhava (Veiling) and Anugraha (Showering of Grace).  

Apart from rendering the verses from the sacred texts of great saints and singing bhajans during Margashirsha, there are religious discourses, harikathas, classical music, dance and drama performances also organised extensively during this month. Some of the festivals associated with Margashirsha are: Kalabhairava Jayanti, Dattatreya Jayanti (Purnima), Mitra Saptami, Annapurna Jayanti, Vivaha Panchami (Seeta-Rama Kalyana).

The names of the Hindu calendar months starting from CHAITRA to PHALGUNA, progressively refer to the various stages of spiritual evolution. The New Year in Chaitra represents “newness or change for the better”. From here the spiritual yatra starts for a seeker which ultimately gets fulfilled in “Shiva darshan (Shivaratri)” in the month of Phalguna. In this scheme, MARGASHIRSHA represents a very important stage of spiritual practice. MARGA means “path” and SHIRSHA represents the “head or the Higher”. Therefore, MARGASHIRSHA denotes the “path leading to the Higher”, wherein the seeker in his seat of contemplation, constantly and consistently negates the world of plurality (the unreal) and asserts the One Eternal Truth (the Real) which ultimately leads the seeker to the State of Enlightenment.

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Importance of Temples – 3 Dhwaja-stambha and Sanctum

In the courtyard of the temple, right in front of the sanctum is the DHWAJA-STAMBHA – the flag post. It is perfectly aligned with the deity in the sanctum. It is a tall metallic or metallic coated structure. On the top of the dhwaja-stambha is a flag like structure constituted of three horizontal metallic strips with tiny bells suspended from them. The three prongs (flag) are directed towards the sanctum and represent peace, victory and power. They also represent the Trimurtis. The metallic structure again helps in drawing the energy from the cosmos. During the important utsavas, a ceremonial flag is hoisted (Dhwajaarohana) to indicate to everyone about the utsava event. There are various deities consecrated in the temple complex, in different directions, around the main sanctum. But all of them are well within the area marked by the dhwaja-stambha at the circumference. Hence it is customary to go around (pradakshina) starting from the dhwaja-stambha, keeping the Lord at the centre, in a clockwise direction, come back to the dhwaja-stambha and then offer prostrations to all the deities at the dhwaja-stambha preferably facing East or North. Prostrations are not offered in the sanctum. The dhwaja-stambha represents the base of the spinal cord and the deity represents the face (head) in our physical body-structure – in one line. The bali peetam is where the naivedyam is offered to the presiding deities of the various directions. In its significance, as the name suggests, it represents the platform on which all our negativities are to be sacrificed before entering the sanctum for the Lord’s darshan. The vast courtyard gives sufficient time for a pilgrim to stay within the energy-system and benefit from the same.

The main or MAHA MANTAPA is where the various utsavas are held. Music concerts, Nritya events, Bhajan melas, Discourses on Epics, Puranas, Scriptures are also held in the maha mantapa. Through the ARDHA MANTAPA, we reach the sanctum or the sannidhi of the Lord. In some temples, there is provision for an innermost parikrama also, very close to the deity. 
The SANCTUM (garbha-griha) is small compared to the huge temple complex. To enter the garbha-griha or the space nearest to it, is to enter into the “cave or womb” (garbha) of our own physical body (griha). The doors of the sanctum also are not wide. This is to contain the divine energy of the deity. The deity (vigraha or idol) is sculpted with stone; and the size, form, features and all other minute details are strictly according to the Sastras. The prana-pratishta or the installation of the deity is performed by invoking the powers of the deity through appropriate chants and hymns, rituals and homas. At the base of the idol, along with the various materials, metallic strips, gold, and precious gems are also embedded for enhancement of the energy-system.

The gopuram directly on top of the deity is known as VIMANA. The Kalasha on top of the Vimana helps channelize the cosmic energy and direct it to the deity. In turn the divine vibrations of the deity reaches the pilgrims in the temple complex through the kalasha, which acts both as an absorber and emitter. Vimana means “without maana or without ego”. The Vimana also represents the physical human structure. It indicates that an individual who is able to transcend his ego in the auspicious presence of the Lord surely reaches the Highest State of Mukti. In many of the ancient temples, a straight line from the top of the Mahadwara, inclined downward at an appropriate angle grazes the top of the dwaja-stambha and reaches the centre of the eyebrows of the deity – the spiritual yatra of a seeker from the external materialistic world to the inner spiritual domain!!

It is an all-round spiritual therapy or healing – a detoxifying process for the pilgrim inside the temple complex which culminates in the worship and rituals in the divine presence of the Lord. It is a physio-psycho-spiritual therapy! And there is a drishti-shabda-gandha-sparsha-ruchi (visual-audio-aroma-touch-taste) therapy also!! The entire charged atmosphere within the temple complex energizes the pilgrim totally and completely. The soft breeze, the rustling sound coming from the peepul trees along with the cool and comfortable shade under its canopy, the pleasant tinkling sound of the bells of the dhwaja-stambha – all contribute to the spiritual dimensions of the pilgrim.

The sanctum is dark, and the deity is to be seen only in the light of the ghee lamps. The deity gathers to itself an “aliveness” in the flickering light of the lamps. Whereas in the artificial electric light, the idol seems frozen. Not only this demands more attention and focussing on the part of the pilgrim to have the darshan of the deity, but it has a profound, inexplicable soothing effect on the eyes. The chanting of mantras and hymns, the ringing of the bells, the blowing of the conch take care of the audio/vocal aspect. The fragrance of the ghee from the lamps, the flowers and leaves (patra) used for the Lord, the fragrance of the chandana and bhasma, the camphor, the teertha and prasada contribute to aroma therapy. The teertha and prasada take care of “rasa or taste” therapy as well. The slight and soft movement of the warm air inside the sanctum, the warmth of the arati-flame and the touch of the teertha felt by the hand contribute to the sparsha aspect. All this significantly helps in elevating the bhava or state of the mind. The dress-code and the body posture while walking, sitting or prostrating reinforce the same. And Mudra-therapy is automatically taken care of whilst we fold our hands in prayer and prostrations, or when we offer flowers or accept the teertha or prasada. 

To come out of the sanctum, lift our gaze and have the darshan of the Vimana and offer our prostrations at the dhwaja-stambha is the total and complete fulfillment of our Spiritual Pilgrimage – a Yatra which signifies our inner journey to the Beyond!
“PILGRIMAGE is a very powerful means of self-purification; for, if the pilgrim has eyes and ears to watch and experience the beauty and majesty of Nature, then his capacity to contemplate explodes within himself and he reaches hitherto unknown heights. The TEMPLE is a place conducive to “fine-tune” your mental equipment in order to receive the Divine Message” ~ Swami Chinmayananda

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