Tag 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.

In every country it is a general practice to have monuments representing great national heroes. These monuments act as reminders and inspire the generations to live up to the ideals set by these heroes. Since ours is a spiritual culture, drawing sustenance and strength from the spiritual ideals lived and demonstrated by the avatara, it is our tradition to preserve and cherish the sacred idols of avataras in TEMPLES, for the idols represent the ideals they lived. TEMPLES served as holy halls of retreat for the masses. Their architecture provided an effective medium where the creative arts were fostered, and education for the cultural revival of the country was made available.

As a devotee visits a temple and in true spirit of devotion, kindled by the epics and puranas, is inspired by the vision of the idol he feels a thrill of joy and inner peace, inspite of the prevailing tensions around. It need hardly be emphasized how much more temples are necessary these days. They would serve as “speed-breakers” to soften our hectic blind rush-forward in life. They would also serve as source of inspiration and solace during times of depression and disappointments, which are mostly beyond our control. Building of temples was, therefore, considered as a sacred activity in ancient times, as sacred as any other community service.

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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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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Importance of Temples – 2 Mahadwara and Courtyard

The entire temple complex is an excellent, vast positive energy field. Most of the temples were built near the ocean, rivers or large lakes. Temples were associated with the seat of power. They also functioned as education and art centers, and provided shelter, food and water for travellers.  The main aspects of a temple are as follows: we enter the MAHADWARA (the main entrance) which has the tallest GOPURA and then move further through the smaller DOORWAYS with small GOPURAMS to reach the PRAANGANA or the COURTYARD of the temple. The DHWAJA-STAMBHA along with the BALI-PEETA are located in the courtyard right in front of the sanctum. Next comes the MAHA MANTAPA with its exquisitely carved pillars and then the ARDHA MANTAPA, which is arch-shaped. Finally one arrives at the GARBHA GRIHA or the Sanctum Santorum with the VIMANA or SIKHARA on the top. All of them – mahadwara to the garbha griha with the vimana – are in ONE STRAIGHT LINE and they represent the physical body structure in the horizontal position (lying-down position). 

The mahadwara represents the feet of the Lord, the various prakaras and their doorways represent the various layers of Matter-vestures around an individual. The dhwaja-stambha represents the bottom of the spinal cord, the maha mantapa represents the belly, ardha mantapa the chest and garbha griha the face. Finally the vimana represents the head. The dhwaja-stambha which represents the end of the spinal cord signifies the mooladhara chakra and the vimana signifies the sahasrara chakra. Hence during puja or meditation, an individual is expected to keep the head, neck and back absolutely straight. The lower portion of the body (represented by the dhwaja-stambha upto the mahadwara) is in sitting position – sukhasana or padmasana. This indicates that the extroverted-ness has been contained and the seeker has become introverted. Therefore, entering the temple and reaching the sanctum signifies the spiritual pilgrimage from the lower to the Higher within oneself – an evolutionary process.

The Science of Temple Building – Vastu and Shilpa Sastra were strictly followed in the construction of the temple. The dimensions and architectural design of the temple complex ensured complete harmony between Nature and the temple complex, as well as harmony between the temple and the pilgrims. The height of the deity, the dhwaja-stambha and the main gopura are inter-related. Aestheticism, beauty, symmetry, stability, coherence, astronomy, astrology, art-forms like sculpturing, painting, music, dance and drama, rhythm, inclusiveness, integrity, light-sound-air-flow management through the various structures and temple-tanks were an intrinsic and integral part of the temple-construction.

MAHADWARA represents the feet of the Lord. The main entrance with its high walls and tallest gopuram (many temples have four entrances – one in each direction) denote the boundary within which the electro-magnetic fields are very strong. The entire city is laid out around the temple and hence known as TEMPLE-CITY. In fact, the streets around the temple are known as North Temple Street, East Temple Street etc depending on their direction with respect to the temple. The Main Tower is also known as Maha Gopura, which means: City or Store-House (Pura) of Knowledge (Go). It consists of a specific number of tiers and is inlaid with stories and illustrations from epics and puranas. An odd number of Kalashas made of gold or gold-plated metal adorn the top of the gopuram. The height facilitates the drawing or absorption of the cosmic energy by the kalashas. Not only are they excellent absorbers but good emitters too. They continuously radiate the cosmic energy in all directions for the benefit of all. Hence it was customary not to have any building in the city taller than the gopuram. The kalashas also act as good lightning conductors. In many of the ancient temples, the kalashas are supposed to be connected through unseen metallic strips to the deity in the sanctum. As one crosses the threshold of the Mahadwara, a few seconds right under the vast and spacious Maha Gopura is extremely rejuvenating! One cannot but feel a sense of freshness and liveliness under its umbrella!!

The outermost parikrama (going round the temple) beyond the mahadwara is also known as Nagara Pradakshina. The temple utsavas, collective sankirtan and bhajans are a part of the Nagara Pradakshina.

TEMPLE COURTYARD: On crossing the mahadwara, and the inner prakaras, there is the spacious courtyard of the temple with the dhwaja-stambha right in front of the sanctum. It is customary to perform the Parikrama or Pradakshina starting from the dhwaja-stambha and back. Parikrama means “to put forth steps with the full awareness of the Divine Presence of the Lord”. Pradakshina means “to keep the Lord on our right side” while going round. This is to ensure that we receive the divine vibrations of the deity emanating from all sides of the sanctum. We keep the Lord to our right, because our right side represents Purusha Tattva (Energy Aspect). Pradakshina is undertaken bare-foot. This helps the pressure-points on the feet to get activated. Also in ancient temples, there are metal strips concealed within the ground in the courtyard. This helps absorption of positive energy from the ground below.


Next Post: Significance of Dwaja-stambha, Mantapams and the Sanctum.

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