What Temples Are
"Our temples are not churches or mosques. They are not places of public worship, for, properly speaking, there is no such thing as public worship in India."
Jagadguru K.K. Shankaracharya Swami wrote:"Our temples are not organised as places for meditation, nor for congregational worship. The purpose of temple is different. We enjoy the good things in life such as house, food,clothing, ornaments, music, dance, etc. We pay a tribute in the form of taxes to the king or to the government, for making it possible for us to enjoy them by giving us their protection. Even as we render homage to the king for the enjoyment of these things, we are bound to render our gratitude to God who has primarily given us the good things of life.
We offer a part of these good things as a token of our gratitude to Him in the temple. We first offer to the Lord all that He has given to us in the shape of food, clothing, jewels, music, flowers, light, incense, etc., with the grateful consciousness that they are His gifts to us; and we receive them back from Him as His PRASAAD. The temple is the place where these offerings are made on behalf of the collective community. Even if people do not go to the temple, it is enough if these offerings are made to God on behalf of the community. The duty of the people at the place is to see that these offerings are made in the proper manner."
"Each of the five senses contribute to our joy in life. It is this offering of the objects of the five fold joys that is known as Panchopachaaraas to God, the offerings during puja namely Gandha(Fragrant Sandalwood), Pushpa(flowers), Dhoopa (incense), Deepa (lamps) and Naivaday(Food). If our organs of sense perceptions and their stimuli are reverentially offered to the Lord, then we shall not be inclined to misuse these sense organs. By such dedications to God, we deflect these from evil propensities and sublimate them to a divine goal."
"Besides the requirements which are the minimum sources of material pleasure, there are other things which make for life`s comfort, like house, clothes, conveyance, etc. These too are to be used only after they are offered to God. All such offerings are inclined in what is known as Shodasopacharas (sixteen offerings). All these should also be offered to God and they are included in the 64 or Chatushti Upacharaas.
Temple and Human Body
The main parts of a temple are:
1.Garbhagraha (Sanctum Sanctorum) containing the image of God.
2.The Vimana over the Sanctum. 3.Ardhamandap in front of the Sanctum. 4.Prakaras arond the Sanctum. 5.The Gopura, the main gateway of the temple.
Indian temple is only a reflection of the physical form of the human body. According to the Tirumular "our body is a temple". According to the Kathopanishad "This body of ours is a temple of the Divine."
The macrocosm is reflected in the microcosm. The great cosmos is reflected in the human body.
The parts of a temple are identical with the parts of the human body. The vimana is the head, the Sanctum is the neck, the front mandap is the stomach, the prakara walls are the legs, the gopura is the feet and the Lord in the Sanctum is the Soul or the Jiva of the body. There are several versions regarding the comparison of the parts of a temple with the various centres or parts of a body.
The Sanctum Sanctorum is the most important part of a temple. A battery which is charged with current produces a stream of power. Similarly by concentrating on the image with appropriate mantras, the image becomes a storehouse of spiritual power from which flow a stream of grace to the soul of a devotee. According to the latest scientific theory, the sound once produced never dies. The hymns rendered by our great saints before the idols remain immortal by Divine grace. It is to preserve the sound waves that the Sanctum Sacnctorum of our temples are so cleverly built.
Thus we have seen that idols are not mere toys but symbols of God. The temples are not mere museums but centres of spiritual power. They teach us volumes of wisdom more than any number of books, give us a keener insight into the history of India and make us feel the tranquillity of eternal life.
Temples-From Other Sources
A temple is the house of God, the dwelling place of the Divine, and a place of worship for all. Although God is omnipresent and His worship can be done in all places, still His presence is felt more in a temple than anywhere else. In the world all buildings are constructed for the fulfillment of various desires of men, but the temple is erected solely for man's communion with God. The temple is thus the parlour of the Lord where He receives His devotees and gives audience to all. A temple, in this way, is a bridge between man and God.
The temple provides an environment which helps men to commune with the Divine. By constant and regular worship performed by the devotees of the temple, holy vibrations are created and maintained there which help people. Congregational worship produces a great effect on those who take part in it. If thought has any power, then many hearts and minds tuned to a particular attitude of love and devotion are bound to produce tremendous results.
Man likes to grasp the Infinite in some concrete form. So temples have come into existence to meet his psychological as well as spiritual needs. Thus we find temples everywhere attended by all types of people in all civilisations.
In India temples came into being during the post-Buddhistic period. In the Vedic times when temples were not known, people used to worship fire as the symbol of the Infinite in their prayer rooms. It is only from the Gupta period that we see in India big temples of great architectural beauty coming into existence.
Besides serving as places of worship, temples also stand as centres of learning where the Acharyas preach high philosophies. In temples there are schools to teach the various branches of knowledge like literature, grammar and ethics. Daily recitation and exposition of portions from the Mahabharata and Ramayana are also conducted to impart ethical education to the assembly gathered to listen. Actually it provides an easy way of adult education. Moreover, temples even serve the physical needs of the people by maintaining hospitals and making provisions for medicine.
A temple is also a treasure house of art. A temple designed with majesty, serenity and beauty at once lifts man to a higher realm where his littleness vanishes, unveiling the infinite horizon of the Divine. So the temple impresses on the minds of the people not only a sense of the beautiful in art but also the beautiful in life. Sometimes also act as socio-religious institutions as they provide a way for a vast population to get together. A temple makes people feel that they belong to one great culture and civilisation.
A temple is a spiritual laboratory too, where spiritual truths are realised and are actually practised in society for the elevation of man from the human level to the Divine. Until the stage is reached when a man realises that his heart has become a shrine where the Divine resides, the importance of the temple in his life can never be questioned.
Swami Vivekananda said: "Why should man build churches in which to worship God? Why not worship Him anywhere? Even if He did not know the reason, man found that the place where people worshipped God became full of good Tanmatras. Every day people go there, and more they go the holier they get, and the holier that place becomes. If any man who has not much Sattwa in him goes there, the place will influence him and arouse his Sattwa quality. Here, therefore, is the significance of all temples and holy places.This is the gist of all worship- to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Siva in the poor, in the weak and in the diseased, really worships Siva; and if he sees Siva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary.
Source : http://www.hinduism.co.za/temples.htm