Hinduism does not mandate that its followers should visit temples regularly. Most Hindu homes have a small room for ‘puja’ and prayers. Therefore, Hindus only visit temples on festival days or auspicious occasions. Hindu temples also do not have a major role in funerals and marriages. They are more of a place for religious discourses and devotional concerts.
History of Temples
Temples did not exist in the vedic period. Fire was worshipped as god then. A holy fire was lit in the open and prayers were offered to it. There is no record of when Hindus started building temples, which may have happened due to the emphasis on idol worship.
Locations of Temples
Hindus have built major temples in picturesque places, river banks, on hill tops, and on sea shores. Smaller temples can crop up anywhere – under a tree or even by the roadside. Pilgrimage towns in India are known for their wonderful temples.
There is tremendous variety in temple architecture. Hindu temples have been built in various sizes and shapes – semicircular, octagonal and rectangular – with varying types of gates and domes. South Indian temples sport a different style compared to north Indian ones. Though the architecture may differ, Hindu temples have many common features.
The six parts of a temple:
The Steeple and Dome:
The steeple of the temple is the summit, representing mount Meru, a mythological mountain peak. The dome shape varies with region and the steeple is often constructed in the form of Shiva’s trident.
The Inner Chamber:
This portion is called the ‘garbhagriha’ meaning ‘womb-chamber’. The idol is placed here. Visitors are not allowed here, only the temple priests.
The Temple Hall:
Many large temples have a hall where devotees pray, chant or meditate. This hall is decorated with paintings of various gods and goddesses.
The Front Porch:
This portion hosts a huge metallic bell. Devotees ring this bell while entering and leaving the premises.
Many temples play host to a water reservoir. The water is utilized for rituals, and to keep the premises clean. Many devotees also take a holy dip in the reservoir before entering the temple.
Most temples sport a walkway so that devotees can walk around the temple deity as a mark of respect.