Temples are our places of worship, but not just confined to worship. In the broader sense, they are the bridges which link our soul to the Supreme Being. The temples have not only being the root centres of Indian culture, but also the places of learning and development. Since times immemorial, the temples have been our most important centres connecting us with God within us and also in the Universe.
The temple very closely resembles our human body. The soul is divine in our body, similarly the deity resembles the soul of the temple. The temple teaches a human discipline of self-care. Our body consists of the five sense organs and each of them receives an action from outside which is carried out to the brain and then reacted upon. In the same way, the deity in the temple is given five kinds of offerings namely the sandal paste (which makes one’s mind calm and cool), flowers (which give us sweet fragrance and make our mind delightful), Dhoop (incense which wards of impurities), Deep ( oil lamps, which remove the ignorance in us ) and Naivedya (food offering representing a healthy and a balanced diet). Just as the functioning of the five sense organs gives us a good health, the five offerings made with a pure mind eliminate the ignorance and arrogance of our mind.
The architecture of the temple too is hence constructed in a way similar to the body of a human being. According to the Agamas and the Vaastu Sastra, the Garbhagriha represents the head, the Antarala constitutes the neck, the Mahamantapa represents the body and the Gopuram the feet. While the temple represents the human body, the deity is represented as the soul of the human body. Hence, all offerings and worship should be made with a clean and a pure mind with total faith in God, as we are worshipping not only the deity in the temple, but also the soul within us.
Not only representing an individual, the temples are places of learning too. Through the rituals and customs followed in our temple, we get knowledge about our Vedic scriptures and their significance in defining our lives. Every ritual and a custom have a reason behind and when we get to know the reason behind it, it becomes even more meaningful and important to us. Apart from that, there are many discourses, discussions about our Sastras and great works which help us understand and follow Dharma to lead a purposeful life.
The temples are communities of social development too. The activities of a temple constitute the activities for the welfare of the society too. The donations, contributions and offerings of devotees are collected and are utilised for the benefit of the society and different communities. They are agricultural lands, irrigation tanks, hospitals, trusts, animal welfare services and many more which benefit the society and its all-round development. It also gives a feeling of harmony of togetherness in the society.
The temple for us in our Sanatana Dharma is a way of life. Temples are everywhere in our country and built in places where divine rivers have emerged, on the great shores of the Oceans, where great sages performed penance and divine deities made their presence felt. For us humans, the temples are the centres of our self-realisation and God too.