The temple is the center of Hindu worship. It can vary in size from a small shrine with a simple thatched roof to vast complexes of stone and masonry.
   During most times of the year the temple is devoted to individual or family worship or to greeting of the divinity. Since many houses in India have their own shrines set up for worship, the temple is reserved for special worship or for requests to the divinity, often by people who have made PILGRIMAGES. At festival times temples are given over to group worship, as devotees sing BHAJANS or KIRTANS, or to various rituals that com-memorate special events in the life of the divin-ity, for example, the marriage of MINAKSHI at the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.
   The early worship of the VEDAS took the form of a ceremony around a fire or fires, without any permanent structures or icons. Location was unimportant. As Hinduism developed, it bor-rowed from other modes of worship, and both location and iconography became central features. Often geography determined temple location: high places that jut out from the countryside would usually have at least small temples at their sum-mits, as would river junctions. In addition, places traditionally associated with events in the lives of a deity would often be marked with temples. The temple at RAMESHVARAM, for example, marks the place where RAMA had his monkey armies build a bridge to cross over and fight the demon king Ravana, according to the RAMAYANA.
   Today, ICON worship is central to Indian tem-ple worship. The stone itself is not worshipped. The icon is merely the place the divinity inhabits. A complex ritual must first be performed to install the divinity in the image. Thereafter, the image is treated as the divinity itself would be: it is bathed, dressed, sung to, fed, and feted each day. For SHAIVITES, most often the icon is the SHIVA LINGAM, A typical Hindu temple tower. Shown here is the Krishna temple in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu.
   the erect phallus symbol of Shiva surrounded by the round YONI representing the goddess’s sexual organ. For Vaishnavites the icon is a full represen-tation of VISHNU in one of his forms; for SHAKTAS it is an image of the great GODDESS.
   Often the inner sanctum of the temple, its most holy spot, holds a small, typically modest icon. The more elaborate statues and images are usually located in the larger temple precincts. Large temples often boast a huge array of images of gods and goddesses, usually depicting a particular event in their story. One might see, for instance, NARASIMHA, the man-lion AVATA R of Vishnu, rip-ping apart his demon foe HIRANYAKASHIPU, or see Shiva in his pose as the divine dancer, NATARAJA.
   PUJA, the regular worship service including offerings and rites, is usually performed before the central icon at fixed times during the day. For a donation, devotees can dedicate certain features of a regular puja, such as the recitation of a particular MANTRA. They may also pay for pujas to be conducted by BRAHMIN priests at other times, simple or elaborate at their discretion, in support of certain prayers or pleas to the divinity. A woman might want to have a son, a man might want to gain success in business, or a student might seek success in exams. All worldly and sal-vational requests are taken to the divinity of the temple; popular temples are thronged with people year round.
   The puja consists, at the minimum, of fruit, water, and flower offerings to the divinity, accom-panied by the appropriate mantras. No puja is done without the ARATI, or waving of a lighted lamp before the divinity. At the end of the ritual people may step forward and waft the smoke from the lamp over their head or face to receive the blessing of the divinity. In certain temples one may receive a little of the food that had been offered to the divinity, called PRASADA, which will confer blessing when eaten.
   Most temples in India, including all of the well-known temples, allow only Brahmins to perform the rituals. There are smaller and larger shrines all over the country, however, who have non-Brahmin and even SHUDRA (low-caste) priests. These are usually temples serving a smaller local community. By law, any member of any caste may enter any temple in India. Nevertheless, in practice Dalits (UNTOUCHABLES) are often barred. Certain temples admit only Hindus; Muslims and Christians will be excluded if they are identified. A famous case of temple exclusion took place when Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India, visited the JAGANNATH temple at Puri. She was excluded because she was married to a non-Hindu.
   Many great Hindu temples deserve mention: the VISHVANATHA TEMPLE to Shiva in the holy city BENARES (Varanasi); the famous KALI temple at Kali Ghat in Calcutta (Kolkata); the JAGANNATH TEMPLE to KRISHNA in Puri; the temple for the god-dess Kamakshi at KANCHIPURAM; the BRIHADISHVARA temple to Shiva in Tanjore; the MEENAKSHI TEMPLE to the goddess Minakshi and the Shrirangam temple to VISHNU, both in Tamil Nadu.
   Most Jains also worship at temples. These can be quite elaborate, as at MT. ABU, or smaller buildings. The puja is similar to the Hindu puja in these Jain contexts, but since the TIRTHANKARAS, the exalted personages who are worshipped, are not gods, but human beings, there is no PRASADA or “blessed food” given, and technically no blessing can be given by the image or personage. Instead, worship is aimed largely at instilling values that will lead devotees toward the yogic perfection of the Tirthankara being worshipped.
   Sikhs have only the Golden Temple at AMRIT-SAR, where the holy book of the Sikhs, Granth Sahib, is enshrined. Sikhs also have gurudwaras, or “entranceways to the guru,” all over the world. These meeting places welcome anyone, but there is no iconic worship or puja there.
   Recently many Hindu temples, Jain temples, and Sikh gurudwaras have been established in the West. They often have unusual features, as at the Shiva-Vishnu Temple in Livermore, California, where both Shiva and Vishnu are worshipped side by side. The Western temples are usually built in very traditional fashion, under the guidance of Brahmins and temple experts and artisans from India. However, each has its own unique style.
   Further reading: Vasudeva S. Agrawala, Evolution of the Hindu Temple and Other Essays (Varanasi: Prithivi Prakashan, 1979); R. Champakalakshmi and Usha Kris, The Hindu Temple (New Delhi: Roli Books, 2001); Stella Kramrisch and Raymond Burnier, The Hindu Temple (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1976); George Mitchell, The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988); Malory Nye, Place for Our Gods: The Construction of an Edinburgh Hindu Temple Community (Richmond, England: Curzon Press, 1995); Paul Younger, The Home of Dancing Shiva: The Traditions of the Hindu Temple in Citamparam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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