The true meaning and purpose of a Temple/or any other place of worship
THE MEANING & PURPOSE BEHIND building a TEMPLE : (A truly powerful lecture given by the 21stcentury Scientific Spirituality sage and seer :Pundit Shriram Sharma Acharya) .If you have ever been curious about the genesis of temples, mosques, gurudwara’s or any otherplace of worship, then the following note should answer some of those questions. We’ll use templesas an example of a place of worship and let that be the focus point of the note. However the notecan be extrapolated to mean any place of worship.So let’s start with the question: Why have temples or places of worship in the first place? It iscommonly believed that God is present all around us and his presence can be felt in the magnitudeof his creation,e.g the air we breathe, the plants we can touch and feel , the magnificent lakes andponds that surround us , the sky and stars above us !It is therefore pertinent to ask why is it thatwe need to create a brick and mortar structure in which God resides and we then visit that place tomake offerings and prayers dedicated to him. If God is everywhere then how is it that we can askhim to sit in one place and, light a lamp in a specific place, make offerings in cash and kind(Fruits/Prasad/clothes/jewellery/ cash)at a specific place. What is the purpose of it all? In Indian civilization, Temples were sought to be established at various places and times in historywhen it was felt that the word of God’ needed reviving - i.e. his inspirations and teachings" werebeing lost and therefore it was necessary to build these nerve centre structures to ensure humanawakening and re-awakening. That brings us to the question: Who is God and why should we listento his inspirations and teachings? God is best described as a value system , a repository of goodthoughts and ideals that human beings should live by in order to self evolve as well as live inharmony with other people and the environment.Temples were therefore erected to remind people of "the satta pravitris" and the good values bywhich life should be lived, to give direction to mankind. Temples were established to spread theword of God and to ensure that people remembered and imbibed the value system preached byhim. Today people remember only the different names of God (Shree Krishna, Rama, Shree Vishnu,Shree Hanuman, Jesus Christ, Mohammed Sahib, Lord Buddha, Guru Gobind Singh etc) but almostall of us have forgotten the value systems and teachings that are represented by these names. Allnames are associated with a spirit of sacrifice and a spirit to put the greater good of mankind aheadof selfish aims. Therefore it was believed that as people would pass a temple they would enter topay their respects to God and be reminded that God is everywhere and that his teachings need to befollowed in regular day to day life. For human beings to live happily and follow a progressive life it isimportant to stay connected to God.There was also a larger social reason for the establishment of Temples. Temples were instruments ofsocial change. It was felt that in every village, in every major street of a town, there should be built acentre of excellence that helped propagates good values in people and nudge them towards leadingan achievement oriented life(physically,mentally,spiritually). One of the ways to guide the commonman to understand the power and significance of good deeds was the method of "story telling" or"Katha/short stories)".Katha was therefore a simple way of making the common man understandsignificant messages from God in an understandable way so that the thought could be followedthrough and practiced in day to day life. Kathas had action, drama, and the romance of storytellingbuilt into them and that way complex messages from scriptures were translated into meaningful
short easy to imbibe lessons for common people. Another powerful method was through music "bhajans, keertan, sangeet, satsang/hymns.Temples were established as centres of excellence for all round development of the human mind,spirit and body. Originally temples in India also had schools attached to them and almost alwayshad a library on their premises. In the vicinity of a temple was always a children’s playground and a"vyayamshala" or gymnasium. As every village, major street of a town or city had a temple -can youimagine the social and spiritual transformation that could be achieved across all people living in thevicinity of a temple. A powerful concept and thought.In the olden days temples were able to achieve the objective of social upliftment and mass guidanceas they were staffed with selfless saints and learned masters that had dedicated their lives for theupliftment of the common man. The administration of Mandirs was in the hands of able minded,illustrious and selfless people who had dedicated their lives to the dissemination of good thoughtsand value systems in society. It was important therefore to take care of these noble men and theirphysical day to day needs. Hence came into being the notion of "Prasad and offerings" at a temple.Prasad was a simple way to ensure that the daily food / meal needs of the "temple staff" weremet. Prasad and Offerings’ to God ensured that the dignity of the temple staff as receivers of "foodand donations” was maintained in a respectable way. The giver of "Prasad/ food and donations" attemples felt he was donating/making the offering in appreciation of the benevolence that God hadshowered on him and the receivers of the temple offerings did not feel like they were taking almsfrom people and therefore could live in a dignified way. What a beautiful and creative way of solvingthe larger objective / or the problem of - the elimination of ‘the ego and pride associated with theGiver and the act of giving’ and the elimination of feeling low by the act of receiving. One thalibhog/Prasad/offerring in the morning and one thali bhog in the evening took care of one personoverlooking the temple administration and activities.The temple staff or "lok sevaks" would sometimes travel from one village to another to meet andinteract with "lok sevaks" from other temples in other towns and villages. These lok sevaks becauseof their elevated levels of learning and knowledge coupled with self less dedication to the upliftmenof mankind were also called "sant mahatmas”. Adequate provision was therefore made in alltemples for the stay and shelter of such “lok sevaks". Hence a spare living quarter or a verandah wasconstructed in each temple.Therefore temples were not created to house God , and to give him a place to rest, have a bath ,take Prasad and aarti from people - rather temples were built to spread the message of God byhaving several elevated selfless persons of spiritual and intellectual pre eminence reside in themand provide guidance to every small community (The Pundit) . It is common sensical to believe thatGod does not feel the need for material offerings (clothes, money, jewels, food etc) as he himself isthe creator of this Universe and all the material wealth that it contains. The best offering we can giveto God is to follow the path laid out by him for a happy purposeful life that lives in harmony withnature and others around him.It is important therefore to view Temples as not just as centre’s of customs and rituals but ascentre’s of learning from where we remember God and therefore the values that he stands for andwould like us to live life by.
Aside of the above – Temples have also protected communities from external enemy invasions .Atmany times in Indian history temples have helped garner armies, material wealth, weapons to helpprotect the common man and Indian kingdoms from external invaders and their atrocities. This jobwas done by both temples and Gurudwaras as they protected the common man with both " goodadvice ,strategy and weapons(the Kripan) to deal with invaders.Saint Ramdass established 700 Mahavir temples to give direction and backing to Chatrapati Shivajito fight the wars of Independence. The Mahavir temples were not centre’s to offer "churma laddos "to Hanuman but were centre’s that garnered illustrious, brave and wise common village men thatled Chatrapati Shivaji to victory against external invaders. The 700 temples created an awakening inMaharashtra state, in the common man on the street and helped gather an army of men ready tofight for their country with their resources. It is the temples that helped garner weapons and moneyto equip the army to fight the battle. As the temples were spread out and scattered all across thestate their activiy of garnering an army and ammunition to back Shivaji went un noticed by theenemy. If this was a single big factory providing arms, ammunition, courageous warriors, grains andfood to Shivaji’s army perhaps the enemy would have known of his plans .Such was the act of a noble and wise preacher- Sant Ramdass, a true Pujari, a self less lok sevak.Lord Hanuman himself was a "pujari" of Lord Rama . Brave , courageous, knowledgeable, wise ,healthy and self less. The Pujaris of all 700 temples established by Sant Ramdass were true followersof Lord Mahavir/ Hanumanji and can be called true Pujaris/ Pandits/Priests.Today Temples /Churches/Mosques have become commercial establishments and the Pujaris worke not for the upliftment of the masses but to fulfill their own avarice and greed.Crores of rupeesare spent in making large idols for worship and vast temples that serve no purpose other than tofulfill the commercial greed and ego of their builders. Temples should be the treasury andrepository of the common mans assets and therefore should be utilized for the common mans good.The real aim and objectives of a temple have been lost and ignored. The full temple and its vastspace is dedicated only to idols of God -with a place for him to rest, sleep, eat bathe etc. Expensivematerials are used and grand structures are created. This is an absolute waste of temple space andresources. Temples should have only a small area dedicated to the Gods idol and the rest of thespace should be used for activities that help uplift and guide the common man. Imagine if the sametemple spaces had been used nationally to provide for a library, sangeet kirtan, a centre formedicine, a childrens playground -how transformed the lives of this countrys citizens would be. Somuch wealth put to use in constructing such big structures could be used for common good soeffectively.If you see a Church , it has also been designed keeping in mind a small space dedicated for Godsworship and the rest of the Church building is used for other activities, playground, library, a placefor community service, social ceremonies and a centre to spread the message and teachings of God.This is the true objective of a temple too.
An attempt should therefore be made by all of us to give Mandirs/temples and their Pujaris/Priests anew direction. We should discuss with them the real purpose of a temple. Pujaris should be leadingsimple , wise , dedicated lives as true messengers of God and should not be using temple wealth tolead lavish corrupt lives. A Pujari should dedicate only an hour or two of his day to do the aarti, bhogand all other rituals and customs that accompany the worship of God. The rest of the Pujaris timeshould be dedicated in spreading the true message of God and in enriching and uplifting the lives ofthe people that live in the vicinity of the temple. Today many Mandirs have Pujaris doing Aarti/fanning the God’s idol / opening and closing temple doors frequently with the excuse that nowGod is resting and now he is awake. This is all meaningless stuff as God cannot sleep , if he did theworld would come to a halt. These are just rituals to fool the common public and take away theirwealth for the Pandits own selfish usage. The act of doing a temple aarti, and other temple ritualsdoes not make a Pujari.Only a small portions of the temples earnings should be used to take care of the Pujaris( messengersof God" -the rest should be used for the common good and upliftment of society.Pujaris should bemessengers of transformation , upliftment and change in society.The only true temple and the only true pujari is the one which dedicates the temple space , itsofferrings, and the Pujari his time and life to spread the message and teachings of the love of God. Alibrary , a medicine centre, a gymanasium, a playground for children, a centre to learn Sangeetwould all help the upliftment of the physical and spiritual lives of the common man and garner hismind , body and spirit to lead a fulfilled and meaningful life.God is one and his names are many. Gayatri TapoBhoomi has been modeled as a model modernTemple. There is a small space dedicated for God and his Idol - but the rest of the temple is used formultiple good- The creation of a library, a school, a health centre, a sangeet kendra etc.Dharma liesin not "following rituals" , Dharma lies in changing / transforming ones own life and the lives ofseveral around him. - The above essay is translated and adapted from a lecture given by Pandit Shri Ram Sharma Acharya,on the meaning and purpose of Temples/Places of worship.