A Hindu temple can be a separate structure or a part of a building. A feature of most temples is the presence of murtis of the Hindu deity to whom the temple is dedicated. They are usually dedicated to one primary deity, called the presiding deity, and other subordinate deities associated with the main deity. However, some temples are dedicated to several deities, and some have symbols instead of a murti.
Hindu temples are known by different names in different parts of the world, depending upon the language. The word mandir or mandira is used in many languages, including Hindi, and is derived from a Sanskrit word, mandira, for 'house' (of God by implication). Temples are known as kO-yil - கோயில் (and occasionally, especially in modern formal speech, aalayam - ஆலயம்) in Tamil. The etymology is from kO - கோ, or lord, and il - இல் - home (note that besides meaning God's home, this term could also mean a King's home, since the term kO - கோ is used interchangeably for royalty and divinity). Temples are known as Devasthana or Gudi in Kannada, as Gudi, Devalayam or Kovela in Telugu and Mondir in Bengali, as Kshetram or Ambalam in Malayalam.
Temple construction in India started nearly 2000 years ago. The oldest temples that were built of brick and wood no longer exist. Stone later became the preferred material. Temples marked the transition of Hinduism from the Vedic religion of ritual sacrifices to a religion of Bhakti or love and devotion to a personal deity. Temple construction and mode of worship is governed by ancient sanskrit scriptures called agamas, of which there are several, which deal with individual deities. There are substantial differences in architecture, customs, rituals and traditions in temples in different parts of India. South India is very different from the north. Hundreds, if not thousands, of ancient temples were destroyed during Islamic rule in India (especially in North India) between 12001700 AD. South India therefore has more large temples still standing. AD and
During the ritual consecration of a temple, the presence of the universal all powerful spirit ( God ) or Brahman, is invoked into the main stone deity of the temple, through ritual, thereby making the deity and the temple sacred and divine.
North Indian Temples
Many of the bigger grand ancient temples of north no longer exist. However some ancient beautiful temples still survive in remote places such as Kajuraho, orissa, rajasthan etc. Many new large temples have been built in the last 100 years. Most north indian temples however, are simple small structures meant for the needs of the local people. During the difficult period of islamic rule 12th to 17th centuries, the temples lost their zeal for elaborate and expensive rituals, and in most ordinary temples in north india ritual is very simple in stark contrast to south indian temples which have elaborate ritual. Also north indian temples often tend to be less orthodox and in many cases all and sundry are permitted to enter the innermost sanctum of the deity and worship the deity personally. In such cases, the deity will not be adorned with valuable jewellery. The innermost heart of the temple is the sanctum where the deity (usually of fixed stone) is present, followed by a large hall for lay worshippers to stand in and obtain "darshan" or divine audience. There may or may not be many more surrounding corridors, halls etc. However there will be space for devotees to go around the temple in clock wise fashion circumbulation as a mark of respect. In north indian temples, the tallest towers are built over the sanctum sanctorum.
South Indian Temples
Many large grand stone temples still stand in South India. Ritual tends to be orthodox and elaborate especially in the large vedic brahmincal temples, which follow the pan indian sanskrit agama scriptural traditions. Apart from the main fixed stone deities, processional deities made of panchaloha (an alloy of 5 metals - gold, silver, copper, zinc and tin) are bathed, dressed, decorated with valuables and are taken out in processions for various festivals throughout the year. The richer the temple the more elaborate the festivals. However, sadly, many ancient temples in small villages with great architectural and historical heritage value, languish for want of funds for maintenance and go to ruin. The garbha griha or sanctum houses the deity. The tower above this is usually small. The large towers are usually built over the main mahadwaras or entrances which are often big enough to let elephants through, which have important ritual roles in well off temples. Temples also maintain sacred cows. In front of the sanctum are the large halls for lay worshippers. Large temples are mini complexes and have many halls for feeding people, conducting festivals, weddings, kitchens, stores, for religious schooling etc.
Temples in other parts of India
Temples often vary in their appearance and customs from region to region. Temples in eastern and western india also have their distinctions. In the south, kerala temples are very different from the other three states.
Customs and etiquette
Virupaksha temple, Pattadakal, built in 740 in Dravidian style
The customs and etiquette when visiting Hindu temples have a long history and are filled with symbolism, solemn respect and veneration of God's creation.
Visitors and worshipers to Hindu temples are required to remove shoes and other footwear before entering them. Most temples have an area designated to store footwear, sometimes for a small fee.
The Hindu religion teaches that all life-forms are created by God and that humankind needs to share the world with the animal kingdom. It is common to see stray dogs, sacred cows and various species of birds congregated at temples, since often it is their only sanctuary from human persecution. However, on certain occasions and in many (especially rural) parts of India, animal sacrifice is practiced by lay devotees, albeit without the approval or participation of the priests. This is often done inside the temple compound, but outside the building.
Worshipers in major temples typically bring in symbolic offerings for the prayer or 'puja'. This includes fruits, flowers, sweets and other symbols of the bounty of God's natural world. Temples in India are typically surrounded by small mom-and-pop stores called 'dukan' in Hindi which offer them typically wrapped in organic containers such as banana leaves.
When inside the temple, it is typical to keep both hands folded together as a sign of respect. The worshipers approach the inner sanctum, recite sacred Sanskrit verses called 'mantras', follow the instructions of the priest called the 'pujari', meditate & pray called 'puja', and, present the offerings to the feet of the God-form 'the murthy' symbolising total submission and immersion into the All Loving Being. The 'murthy' is typically placed on a 'mandap' or pedestal surrounded by beautiful offerings such as colorful cloths, flowers, incense sticks or 'agarbati' and sounds such as from a conch or large bells.
The mantras you utter are typically words like "Om Nama Vishnu" or "Om Namo Shivaya" which means "Obeisance to Vishnu" or "Salutations to Shiva". These are followed by a series of shlokas or verses from the holy texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads or Vedas. Upon the conclusion of the prayer, devotees get down on their knees or even fall flat on their stomach and bow before the symbol of the All Loving Being and mentally state whatever is felt in their hearts. If a priest or 'pujari' is present, he is likely to provide sacred symbolically-blessed food called 'prasad' to the devotee. He may also apply a holy red mark to the forehead of the devotee symbolising blessings. Visitors to famous temples often feel inner joy, harmony and peace at this point.
Finally the worshiper or visitor would walk clock-wise around the symbolic 'murthy', stop once on each side, close their eyes and pray to the All Loving Being. The worshipper may receive a sprinkling of the water from the holy river Ganges while the 'pujari' states "Om Shanti" which means "peace be unto all".
During religious holidays, temples may be swarmed with devotees chanting and praying loudly. While the initial impression might be a strong reaction to the chaos, it is hard to not get swept into the spiritual energy that surrounds you. There may be facilitators called 'paandaas' who can help you navigate through the crowds and complete the 'puja' or prayer rituals quickly.
Temple management staff typically announce the hours of operation, including timings for special 'pujas'. For example the 'anjali' prayers are in the early-to-mid morning while 'arati' prayers are in the evening. There are also timings for devotional songs or music called 'bhajans'. There are also dates and times for devotional dances such as the classical Bharata Natyam dance performed by accomplished dance performers.
The Hindu religion teaches compassion and tolerance towards the poor and weak. The exit areas of the temples are often lined with emaciated beggars, mentally or physically challenged individuals, and destitute women and children. While it is possible to ignore them and walk out, devotees often provide spare change.
In the end the visitor exits the temple experience with 'prasad' in their hands and a changed mental make-up.
The Archeological Survey of India has control of most ancient temples of archaeological importance in India.
In India, theoretically, a temple is managed by a temple board committee that administers its finances, management and events.
However since independence, the autonomy of individual Hindu religious denominations to manage their own affairs with respect to temples of their own denomination have been severely eroded. State governments of many states in India (and especially all the states in South India) have gradually increased their control over all Hindu temples. Over decades, by enacting various laws which have been fought both successfully and unsuccessfully up to the Supreme court of India, politicians of the ruling parties especially in the southern states control every aspect of temple management and functioning.
Case Study- Tamilnadu State in South India
States like Tamil Nadu have an entire ministry of " Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments " led by a Cabinet rank Minister, even though the State is supposed to be "secular". Tamilnadu has a state level committee chaired by the Chief minster himself ( Mr.Karunanidhi in 2008 ) who is a famous atheist and has frequently opposed all forms of religion. For instance, the ruling political party in Tamilnadu (the DMK as of 2008, which has a core atheist idealogy ) is currently in the process of imposing its views on all the temples . The rights of individual denominations to conduct the worship as per their denominational traditions, by a priest of their denomination, which is a fundamental religious right ,is being taken away by the present Tamilnadu Government, on the pretext of social equality . Temple trusts and committees , especially the richer temples , are packed with politicians of the ruling party and their friends , who often have no real understanding , loyalty or devotion to the denominational traditions of the temple they are supposed to be administering. However, interestingly ,the govt and politicians will not impose themselves as trustees and committee members in the administration of any church or mosque.
The Government and the ruling party similarly does not interfere in the priesthood affairs of any church or mosque. For example, the Tamilnadu government will not compel the Catholic church to appoint a woman as a priest even though that is gender discriminatory. Nor will they force the catholic church to appoint a priest who was born baptist or methodist, or vice versa . Neither can they force a Sunni mosque to appoint a Shia born priest. However, in the case of temples, the Govt wishes to train any Hindu regardless of their denominational background to become a priest in any hindu temple, regardless of that temple's denominational connections. The Govt also wants to eliminate Sanskrit from worship, which has been in use for for over a thousand years ) and use only Tamil instead. They also want to introduce a new form of worship and remove all the old ritual traditions.
The official argument goes that all temples have brahmins as priests, which position should be open to others.This assertion is in itself false. For example , two of the richest and most popular temples in tamilnadu namely Palani and Melmaruvathur do not have brahmin priests. They also do not use sanskrit , they use tamil . There are numerous other examples available .
The ruling political parties wish to create a cadre of government employees as tmeple priests who will be transferable at whim and who will follow a state stipulated simplified code of worship in tamil . These priests who will be recruited from all communities will be trained by the govt and appointed to any temple regardless of its denominational background ( refer the Tamilnadu Govt's Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Ministry's official web site ).Seperate schools have been set up to train priests for Vaishnava and Saiva Temples . Whether such govt employed priests coming from different backgrounds would have the same committment and devotion to denominational deities of the temples, or whether they come forward only for employment , is open to question . Currently the proposal trains only men which is gender discriminatory . Why not women ? If women are also trained to be priests in hindu temples , will the govt then compel the catholic church and islamic mosques also to do so ? Therefore , it is best left to individual denominations to run their own trusts transparently and reform at their own pace .The State should not be administering religion .
There are many false assumptions and myths that are propagated by the ruling DMK party in the state .
Myth 1 - All temples have only Brahmin priests.
Fact - More than half the temples in tmailnadu state are small local village vernacular temples who have non-brahmin priests or pujaris of various other denominations. Brahmins have no claim to priesthood in such temples of other denominations. There are many rich temples such as Palani and Melmaruvathur which do not have brahmin priests .
Myth 2 - Only Aryan Sanskrit is used in temple worship.
Fact - The temples which use the vedic Brahminical traditions and agamas use both Sanskrit and Tamil, the vernacular temples use only Tamil. Incidentally in other states, Sanskrit is usually the only language used, and not local languages, since Sanskrit is the Pan Indian language of Hinduism.
Myth 3 - Caste is the only factor in eligibility.
Fact - Birth and training in a particular denomination is the real factor . A Vaishnava brahmin, even if well versed in the necessary scriptures, and even though a brahmin, cannot become a priest in a Shiva Temple and vice versa.
Further, even among the Vaishnava brahmins, a priest of the Vadagalai sect cannot officiate in a Tengalai temple and vice versa. Nor can a Vaishnava priest belonging to the Vaikhanasa Agama tradition officiate in temples of the Pancharatra Agama tradition (ie in Vadagalai and Tengalai temples), and vice versa.
Myth 4 - Social equality is being achieved.
Fact - Diversity and religious freedom of individual denominations to manage and worship in their own temples is being systematically destroyed. While all Hindus are free to enter all temples, the management of temples should rest not with politicians, but with committees of members, and independent commissions of eminent citizens, of appropriate denomination, who have the requisite faith, loyalty, devotion and commitment to that denominational tradition; with transparent and accountable administrative practices. After all, only Catholics will run catholic churches, and Sunni Muslims will run Sunni mosques.