Why do we go to Temple?
God exists everywhere. So, a question may be asked why there should be any temples built for Him. We know that God exists everywhere, but still the idea does not get firmly established in our mind. It does not get reflected in our daily actions. If one remembers God all the time, how can one utter any falsehood or commit evil acts?
If God is merely omnipresent (Being present everywhere at once), how can He help us? We all long for His grace somehow. So, we have to worship Him and get His grace. But the agama-shastras tell us how this should be done. The sun's rays contain a lot of heat energy. If we keep a piece of cloth in the sun, it does not catch fire by itself. But if we place a lens and focus the sun's heat rays on that piece of cloth, after some time, we find that the cloth catches fire.
Similarly, electrical energy is everywhere, but in order to bring it to our daily use, we need to have generators to channel that energy and transmission systems to distribute it at the places where we need it. In the same way, in order to get the grace of the Omnipresent Lord, we have to build temples, where we can focus the power of the Lord in a consecrated idol for our benefit in an easy way.
In our temple, a huge temple bell is rung at the time of puja. This is done so that the evil spirits may go away from temple premises, and all abuses or other bad sounds may be stifled from being heard. In our houses, we do not have such a huge bell, but we ring only a small bell at the time of puja. But we do not offer musical instruments and other upacharas to the deity, but only akshata or unbroken rice.
The puja that we do in our houses is for our own welfare. We do it according to our convenience and, according to our mental frame of mind. But the puja done in the temples is for the whole of society and therefore, there is so much of fanfare, and sounding of musical instruments and singing of auspicious tunes; the deity is taken out in a procession during festival days and there is display of fireworks.
We consider God as Rajadiraja or the king of all kings and so we offer him many upacharas such as umbrella, musical instruments, vahana and so on, which are all due to a king. The divine presence in our idols, when we worship them, helps us to banish poverty as well as evil. Thus, the idol with divinity which we see in our temples is an object of beauty for us, and worthy of meditation.
If our thoughts are of a high order, then we worship the deity in the above manner, so that we may get supreme happiness. It is with this idea that we perform abhisheka and decorate the idol with ornaments etc. Thus we worship God in these various ways by doing so many upacharas. This kind of worship is possible only in the Hindu religion.
Idol worship is very important in our religion, for the ordinary people. When we bow before an idol or pray before the deity consecrated in the idol, we never think that it is only a piece of stone, but we think that the deity in the idol is the protector and the root cause of the whole world.
Thus, temples help to increase the devotion of a person to God and this devotion helps him to overcome or reduce his sufferings.
Ordinary people may not have the capacity, and strength of mind to bear their sufferings. But with bhakti or devotion to Ishwara, they can face them, and get also the mental strength to bear them. It is for this purpose that an ordinary person goes to the temple. He goes there, offers some prayers and then he feels all right. If one person talks about his sufferings to another, the other man will listen to him for some time, but after some time he will start narrating his own sufferings and say that he is having more sufferings than other individuals. So, sharing one's sufferings with another person, who is also suffering, will not result in the removal of the sufferings.
Therefore, we go to temple and pray to Him, and we pour out before Him our tale of woe and sufferings.
Saguna worship has got this capacity to give peace of mind because there is chaitanya in the idol installed in the temple and after pouring out our suffering before God in the temple, we get some peace of mind. That is why we have the habit of going to the temples.
Of course, some people do not go to a temple at all, but they go to a river or a lonely place and weep there for some time and they then come back with peace of mind. People get peace of mind wherever there is no reaction to what they say. So, a suffering man goes only to those places where there is no reaction to what he says.
In ancient days, besides fulfilling the spiritual needs of a person, the temple was a place for secular learning, for lectures, dedication of music and dance. The temples of those days were like the community centres of today. Renovation and preservation of temples are rooted in our culture. They are symbols of faith which fetch peace and have given our country, a distinct identity.Another significance of the temple is its structural representation of the human body. The temple represents the physical body and the heart is the Sanctum Sanctorum where we experience the Lord’s presence.
In South Indian temples, eventhough the temple may be large, the main idol is kept in a small dark place. Only by offering a camphor light, the form of the Lord can be seen. The significance is thus explained. God who is seated in our heart is covered by the darkness of our ignorance. We do not see or know Him.The camphor burns all the negative tendencies and impressions in our minds.The fire of knowledge is kindled within us and the ego gets burnt. In the light of that Knowledge, we behold the Lord. Whatever we see with our eyes, goes into the heart. So now we have this new vision of Lord everywhere, in whatever we behold.
These temples are the great heritage of our country. Our country being a poor country, the needs of our people were very small, and therefore, they had built great structures like temples and temple gopurams to help people in their spiritual development.
Some people have a doubt whether they should go to temples daily, or not. Of course, it is absolutely necessary to do so. If one feels that daily it is not possible, atleast doing Gopuram darshan is a must. In the olden days, people never used to have their food in their houses unless they heard the temple bell ringing at the time of the morning, noon, evening and night pujas to the Lord.
It is up to us therefore to nurture the divinity in the temples by ensuring that the pujas are performed properly and that the temple rituals are observed with diligence. We should see that the temple premises are kept clean and the deepa is lit every day. We should also see that the cloth that we offer to Lord is washed daily. If only we could ensure these things, automatically we shall be able to derive as much benefit, if not more, than what we get by the establishment of hospitals and other social welfare institutions.
The food that has been offered to the Lord becomes prasada, and our partaking this prasada indicates the blissful peace that we experience upon realization of God. Prasada means purity, cheerfulness, bliss and peace. That is what we gain after looking at the idol and experiencing peace in our hearts.
Since a temple is a place of divinity, of course we have to observe certain rules while we are in the precincts of the temple. All these rules have been prescribed only for our welfare and to preserve the sanctity of the temples. It is up to us all to observe these rules, protect and nurture the sanctity of our temples, which have been the greatest heritage.