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Sanatana Dharma & its Conception of a Temple

Sanatana Dharma has the universal vision to link all humanity together in a recognition of the One Self or Paramatman in all beings – the unitary consciousness behind and beyond all time, space, karma and manifestation, such as the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita proclaim.

The Sanatana Conception of a Temple: The Heart as a Cave-

While the pre-Christian Western civilisations developed temple culture largely as places for public congregation, divination, and augury, Bharatavarsha elevated it in an all-encompassing sense. For instance, the English word, “temple” also means the locations spanning the two sides of the forehead, which is flat, akin to a sacred altar, a Vedhi in the parlance of a Vedic Yajna.

In the Bharatiya conception, the entire body is itself a temple suggested by elevating slokas such as Dehah devalayah proktah jivo devah sanatanah|| hrudya tadvijaaneeyaat vishwasyaayatanam mahat|| and so on. Thus, the feet are the main doors, the reproductive organ the Dhwajasthambha, the stomach the Balipeeta, the heart the Navaranga, the neck the Sukanasi, and the head the Garbhagriha. In short, a temple represents and encompasses all three staras or stages: Adhibhuta, Adhidhaiva, and Adhyatma.

The underlying philosophy of temples is rooted in an attempt to experience the Brahmanda — which is space-time neutral — that is ensconced in the Pindanda, which is subject to the vagaries of space and time.

Temples are built in order to remind the devotee of Parameswara’s creation and the Human Being’s body and the evolution of his Jiva [life, life-force] by carving sculptures and Murtis.

More fundamentally, the earliest conceptions of temples emanated from the Vedic vision of the heart as a cave — for example, nihitam guhaayaam, hrudayam tadvijaaneeyaat as well as the extraordinary Jnana Yagna portion occurring towards the end of the Mahanarayana Upanishad. The summary of these conceptions is a visualisation that in our heart resides the Parameswara (or the highest knowledge) in the form of light and it should be the aim and the end of our life to realise this light. This selfsame vision wells up within us in a deeply primordial fashion when we notice the fact that the Mula-Murti resides in the Garbha Griha (Sanctum Sanctorum), which is the heart of any temple. It is not mere coincidence that when our ancestors realised that the destruction of a temple was imminent at the hands of any given barbaric Islamic horde, the first thing they did was to securely transport this Mula-Murti to safety.

On the physical plane (i.e. Adhibhuta), it is undeniable that temples as we know them originated from Yagna Vedis.

The Devalaya Ecosystem

he foregoing introduction serves to illustrate the sort of the firm foundation which in turn paved the way for the evolution of what can be called as the Devalaya Ecosystem. The Devalaya Ecosystem is a socio-cultural accomplishment and a civilisational summit that is unparalleled anywhere in human history. The fact that even today there is a new temple being built, some old temple being renovated in some corner of Bharatavarsha testifies not only to the endurance and longevity of its roots but is also an eminent proof that as long as Sanatana Dharma survives in the world, it will invariably find its expression in temples.

From the perspective of the Trigunas (basic attributes or qualities of human nature), namely, Sattva (balance, serenity, etc), Rajas (activity, passion, vigour, etc), and Tamas (laziness, indolence, stupor, etc), a Devalaya is the purest architectural, sculptural, and artistic embodiment of the Sattva Guna. By itself, Sattva Guna does nothing, it takes no action. But by its mere existence it inspires, motivates and guides all noble human endeavours in multiple realms. A Devalaya thus becomes the pillar of and the spiritual bower that supports, accommodates, and enables the attainment of Dharma and fulfilling the various duties and activities related to Artha.

In the realm of Dharma, it is the place to perform Acaras (customs, ceremonies, rituals, celebrations) like Namakarana (naming ceremony), aksharabhyasa (initiation ceremony where a child learns to write alphabets), vivaha (wedding), and so on. These ceremonies are part of the individual discharging his/her Dharmic duties. In the realm of the community, the Devalaya is the place for conducting mass marriages, Utsavas, Jatras, Annadanam, and other such celebrations. Indeed, not too long ago, the Devalaya was also the place where justice was dispensed as seen even today in Dharmasthala in Karnataka.

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