Friday, August 21, 2009

The evolution of the Temple

THE essence of the philosophic quest in India is the ways and means to lose the ego and attachments to the illusory material world. The journey on the path to enlightenment is often assailed by confusions, created by the Lila, or the dynamic play, of the illusions perceived through one’s limited and subjective sensibilities. These illusions, termed Maya or Mithya, keep one bound by one’s desires to the ephemeral world. The constant aim of the great teachers has been to devise a means and a path to true understanding. This path is sometimes itself diverted and becomes enmeshed in illusions.

The Philosophic quest in India is to lose the ego and attachments to the world. Lila or the dynamic play creates confusions by the illusions by ones limited and subjective sensibilities. While there is a path or a way already available the ‘great’ teachers want to devise their own path to true understanding rejecting the one already provided. The path that man seeks to provide gets enmeshed in illusions.

• Take the Linga representing the formless one, a symbol to meditate upon and be born again in realization of the oneness in creation. Contrast this to the promise of being above creation. The shrines that were built with walls around the garbha-griha (womb chamber) representations of the formless Divine were made. The position of wall niches with deities, their orientation and other details were set out in the texts called the Agamas. By the time of the Cholas in Tamil Nadu, the temple walls had become repositories of a pantheon of deities.

• The role of the temple was also expanded to make it a major cultural and social institution. Arrangements were made and housing colonies were created to accommodate the 400 dancers, musicians and others who were employed for the daily temple ceremonies. Naturally, the architecture of the temple grew in keeping with its expanding role in the life of the community.

• Further developments of the temple complex occurred under the Vijayanagar kings, who ruled from their capital at Hampi, in present-day Karnataka. In the 16th century, monumental temples were constructed under them in a style that became characteristic of Vijayanagar. There were imposing gateway towers, much taller than those above the shrines. These were visible from afar and reflected imperial magnificence as well as the grandeur of the Divine. It was through these portals that the worshipper entered the exalted world of the spirit, leaving the mundane behind. The temple complex expanded horizontally as well to accommodate larger numbers of people. Large and elaborate pillared halls with impressive sculptures reflected the power of the kingdom.

• The grandeur of temples was further enhanced under the Nayakas by the making of prakaras, or enclosed corridors. These connect various parts of the temple and create a most dramatic and impressive effect as the devotee walks through them on the way to worship. The most famous of these is at the Siva temple at Rameswaram. The temple’s corridors, whose breadths range from five to six metres, run for approximately one kilometre. The ceilings are more than 7 m high. Each of the several hundreds of pillars is elaborately sculpted.

• One of the greatest achievements of the Nayaka period was the making of the Meenakshi temple in Madurai. It is one of the largest temples ever made and was created during the reign of Tirumalai Nayaka, in the mid-17th century. The complex is built around two shrines: one dedicated to Siva as Sundaresvara, the Beautiful Lord, and the other to Parvati, his consort, as Meenakshi, the Fish-Eyed One. The vast temple has eight impressive gateways, one rising to almost 200 feet (60 m). Each gateway is covered with several hundreds of sculptures. The temple authorities estimate that there are 33 million sculptures in the Meenakshi complex. Even if that number is not based upon an actual count, the temple does convey such an impression. By the end of the first millennium, a significant change had come into the worship at South Indian temples.

• Temple architecture was expanded to serve the needs of these festivities for which large numbers of worshipers gathered. Every evening at the Madurai temple, the deity Meenakshi is placed in a bed chamber for the night. Siva, symbolized by the image of his feet, is then carried to her. In the morning, they are awakened by the singing of devotional songs.

The search is still for the peace that can only be found within, for the body is the temple. However, the grandeur of the deity is celebrated in all aspects of life.
Original Article from Frontline

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