Category Archives: I. The Hindu Temple and Worship Rituals

The Sakta Pithas

The Sakta Pithas are places of worship, created to worship Hindu goddesses and or places of sacred capacity regarded as seats of the Devi (the Great Goddess). Sakti is known as the female principle of Hinduism and means ‘power’. Sakti is worshipped under many different names such as Durga, Ma, Devi and so on. These places of worship are spread throughout India, often with 51 places of worship in total, most of which are in Bengal or Assam (Payne 1). The 51 Pithas or places of worship are first described in the Mahapithanirupana or Pithanirnaya manuscript. (Sircar 3). Although it is not exactly evident when these manuscripts were composed, it is probable that they were prepared in the Medieval period (Sircar 4). However, it was not until later that works were prepared for Saktism to be greater studied and understood (Payne 15).

Related to these places of worship is an ancient myth depicting how these Pithas, or places of pilgrimage, came to be created. This myth involves the goddess Sati who is regarded as the wife of the great god Siva. There are many different legends and stories that go along with the naming and placing of these Pithas, as every author writing on the Sakta Pithas present different lists as to where the body parts fell. This myth is one that can be described as grim and violent, and thus has not received much attention as far as research goes. However, Saktism is a very important religious movement within Hinduism, and there are millions of Saktas or worshippers of Sakti throughout India (Payne 14).  With any religion, the origins of certain myths can vary making it complex to comprehend. In this article, we will examine the well-known myth of the Sakta Pithas, which tells how they came to be created. We shall also examine some of the legends of the Pithas in regards to their placement and names

One of the most ancient myths, which although not directly connected to the Pithas, provides a parallel symbolic motif. It tells a story of incest between a father, the creator god Prajapati and his daughter, the goddess Usas. The gods became disgusted with this act of incest and, requested Rudra to destroy Prajapati. Rudra thus pierced Prajapti with an arrow and Prajapati proceeded to fall to the ground, which is thereafter used in sacrificial rituals. Since Prajapati represents sacrifice his body could not simply be destroyed.  This version of the myth can be found in the Puranas or Tantras (Sircar 5).

Although the above is an ancient tale, with no direct connection to the Pithas, it grows from there into the well-known Daksa-Yajna Story approximately in the fourth century CE (Sircar 5). This tells of the mother goddess, in the form of Sati, who was a daughter of the “great king Daksa”. She took on this form of Sati in order to marry Siva (Courtright 39). After the couple was married, they went to live in Siva’s home at Mt. Kailasa. Following their marriage Sati’s father, Daksa Prajapati, hosted a sacrifice inviting all the gods but excluded his daughter Sati and his son in law, Siva. Dadhici, (Daksa’s priest), warned against the exclusion of Sati and Siva. He stated that without the ‘great God’, Siva, the ritual would be ineffective (Courtright, 39). However, Daksa believed that Siva was a terrible son in law and that he did not deserve to attend the ritual. Sati, enraged that she and her husband were not invited to her father’s sacrifice, decided to attend nonetheless. Upon attending the sacrifice, Sati was greatly mistreated by her father. Due to this mistreatment, Sati is said to have thrown herself into a fire feeling broken hearted and hurt. News of Sati’s death reached Siva, who furiously headed to the sacrifice and completely destroyed the scene. Some versions of the myth say that he beheaded Daksa. Others say that it was Virabhadra who destroyed the sacrificial ritual and beheaded Daksa (Courtright 41).

The further progression of this myth was added in the later part of the Medieval period, to justify the creation of the Pithas. It tells how Siva roamed around mad with despair carrying Sati’s body. Sati’s body was eventually cut piece by piece out of Siva’s hands; each piece was a different body part, which fell to the earth, thereby creating the holy sites of the Sakta Pithas. Some versions of the myth state that it was Brahman, Visnu and Sani that freed Siva from carrying Sati’s body, while others state that it was Visnu alone. As Sati’s body fell to the earth it spread Sakti or power across India. This spreading of Sati’s body, which not only created the Sakta Pithas, but which offers a mythic rationale for why the entire landscape of India is sacred, is the final portion of the myth.

Courtright suggests that there is a link regarding the creation of the Sakta Pithas and the ancient sacrificial ritual of sati practiced by widows upon the death of their husbands. However, different circumstances resulted in the immolation of Sati versus the sacrificial practice of sati performed by Hindu wives. Sati’s immolation was due to the harshness of a father towards a daughter and her husband while sati is a sacrifice performed by widows to accompany their husband after death (Courtright 37).

The locations where Sati’s body parts fell, or the Pithas, are often connected with linga, which represents Siva. Hindus believe that both worship of the linga and yoni should be held in the same high regard (Sircar 7). The locations, names and traditions of the Pithas differ throughout history. Many writers used a great deal of imagination when creating the lists of Pithas, so there is a great deal of variation amongst them (Sircar 32). However, many texts speak of the four Pithas also known as the Adi Pithas. The Adi Pithas are considered the major sites of Sakti worship, associated with the northern, southern, eastern and western regions of India (Sircar, 17). One early tradition, written about in the Catususpithatantra, indicates the four Adi Pithas as “Atmapitha, Parapitha, Yogapitha and Guhyapitha” (Sircar 11). Due to the fact that Saktism and the worship of Sakti and the Sakta Pithas are not strictly linked to Hinduism, and are also worshipped in Buddhism and Jainism, there are various names and traditions of the Sakti Pithas amongst these groups. The Hevajra Tantra, a Buddhist religious text, lists the Adi Pithas as “Jalandhara, Odiyana, Purnagiti and Kamarupa” (Sircar 12).

Popular writings about the Sakta Pithas speak of the Adi Pithas or the four Pithas and also state that there are a total of 51 Pithas. However, A section of the Kalika Purana contributes an account of seven Pithas as opposed to four: Devikuta, where the two feet of Sati fell, Uddiyana, where the two thighs fell, Kamagiri, where the pudendum muliebre fell, the eastern borders of Kamarupa, where the navel fell, Jalandhara, where the two breasts fell, Purnagiri, where the neck and shoulders fell and once again the borders of Kamarupa, where the head fell. The Rudrayamala, a Tantric text, mentions ten holy sites, rather than four. This tradition discusses sites in Kamarupa, Jalandhara, Purnagiri and Uddiyana, similarly to the Kalika Purana.  The Matysa Skanda and Padma Puranas list the large number of 108 Pithas in total. Such variations seem to derive from the writer’s fabrication and the imagination (Sircar 32). Although the list of names for the Sakta Pithas vary and are plentiful, the Kamarupa Pitha is commonly mentioned in many of the lists. Another commonality is a list of countries connected to a high level of Sakti worhip, namely: Gandahara, Uddiyana, Jalandhara and Kashmir (Sircar, 16). Two of the best-known temples that are widely acknowledged as Sakta Pithas by most worshippers today, are Kamakhya and Kalighat.

One of the oldest and most popular sites of goddess worship is Kamakhya temple, located at Guwahati, Assam. The legend of this site, as forwarded by the current temple management, tells of the king of Nepal approaching a sage known as Vatsayana. He was seeking advice on how to convert the popular ritual of human sacrifice to a more socially accepted rite of worship.  Vatsayana suggested the worship of a Tantric goddess named Tara in place of sacrificial rituals. The worship of Tara spread reaching to the Garo Hills where local tribes worshipped a fertility goddess named Kameke. As time went on the Tantric goddess Tara, and the fertility goddess Kameke were linked with the legend of the Sakta Pithas and began to be worshipped as Devi. This site is said to be where Sati would escape to spend time with Siva. It is also said to be the location where her yoni fell (kamakhyadham.com).

The Kalighat is an ancient site located in city of Calcutta (Kolkata), on the bank of the Hooghly river, and said to be where Sati’s toes and right foot fell. A well-known, newer temple, dedicated to the goddess Kali, is now situated there. Legend has it that a devotee’s eye was caught by a ray of light while passing the Bhagirathi river. Upon moving toward the light the devotee found a human toe carved in stone. After discovering this stone foot the devotee immediately began praying to the mother goddess.  The temple was originally a small hut, constructed in the early 16th century. It was founded by Chowringee Natha, son to the king of Bengal. Kalighat was lavishly reconstructed in 1809 by the Chowdhrys family, transforming it from a small hut to a beautiful site. The government of Bengal has taken a great interest in this temple, as it has become a main tourist attraction (kalighattemple.com).

The Sakta Pithas have not been well studied; perhaps this is because scholars in the past have regarded the myth and the tradition of the Pithas negatively instead of attempting to understand their complex origins. However, these sites attract many pilgrims from far and wide, and will continue to serve as an important place of worship for centuries to come.

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Courtright, Paul (2011) “Searching for Sati.” Studying Hinduism in Practice. edited by Hillary Rodrigues. P.37-45. London: Routledge.

Foulston, Lynn (2009) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. London: Oxford University Press.

kalighat Kali Temple.” http://kalighattemple.com/legend.htm

Payne, Ernest (1997) The Saktas: The Introductive and Comparative Studies. New York: Dover Publications.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2007) Hinduism the Ebook: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books

Sircar,D.C. ( 2004) The Sakti Pithas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

The History of Kamakhya Temple Assam.” http://www.kamakhyadham.com/kamakhya-temple-history/

 

Related Topics For Further Investigation

Siva

Sakti

Saktism

Devi

Tantric

Rudra

yoga

Daksa-yajna-nasa

Puranas

Bhariva

Saivism

Kali

Durga

Pravati

Uma

Kumari

Gauri

Jainism

Buddhism

Kalika

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.rxiv.org/pdf/1503.0023v1.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakti_Peetha

http://www.shaktipeethas.org/travel-guide/topic11.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaktism

 

Article written by Sydney Cleland (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

Cidambaram Temple

Cidambaram Temple, also known as the Thillai Natarajah Temple is a sixteen hectare temple complex (Smith 4) located in the center of the city of Cidambaram in Tamil Nadu in south-eastern India, and was built and expanded between the 10th and 14th centuries. The official name of the temple is Sabhanayaka (Lord of the Hall) temple (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). This temple venerates Siva as Nataraja (Lord of Dance) in Sanskrit or Thillai Koothan in Tamil (Spencer).

The temple is famous for the veneration a 3 foot tall bronze statue of Siva (Srinivasan 433) in a dancing position and the local myth that inspired the depiction and the worship of Siva in that form in Cidambaram. The statue is meant to be used as an utsava murti (processional image) in festivals (Cush, Robinson, and York 366), but is usually located in an inner gold-roofed sanctum called the Cit-Sabha or Hall of Consciousness (Srinivasan 433, Smith 5). Siva is also represented in the form of a traditional lingam, and in the form of an empty alcove representing akasa (ether, space, or sky) and transcendence (Srinivasan 433). It is said that the Cit-Sabha embodies Siva as well (Ferro-Luzzi 516). Other deities worshipped at the temple include Sivakamasundari, Ganesa, and Visnu among other deities connected with Siva. The depictions of each deity can be found in alcoves and ambulatories around the edges of the temple.

This temple is one of five temples in south India dedicated to Siva which each represent elements and the supposed geographic locations where Siva has appeared and performed miracles. These temples collectively are called the Panca Bhuta Sthalam, (Spencer 233, Isaac 16, Dey 49) and Cidambaram temple represents the element of akasa.

 

Temple History

The Nataraja temple at Cidambaram was built in the 10th century during the reign of Cola ruler Vira Cola Raja and is among some of the oldest temples in south India (Sullivan 58). Cidambaram temple has been the center for the worship of Siva in a dancing form since the seventh century (Smith 1), however the depiction of Siva as Nataraja was popularized by the Saiva Siddhanta school of orthodox bhakti Saivites sometime later (Cush, Robinson, and York 799).

Cola rulers through the 10th to the 13th centuries considered Siva, especially as Nataraja, to be their family deity and sponsored massive expansions of the Cidambaram temple complex and other Saivite temple complexes in south India. Along with the level of temple construction and renovation, they also made efforts to increase the scale and organization of worship at these temples (Davis 16). Vikrama and his military minister Naralokaviran are credited with renovating and adorning the Cidambaram temple, as well as sponsoring and developing services and facilities to encourage patronage and worship such as grand festivals, lit processional walkways, ocean pavilions, etc. with the goal to secure the Cidambaram Nataraja temple as the capital of Saivite worship in south India (Davis 19).

Cidambaram temple is sometimes simply referred to as “the temple”, and the entire city is sometimes referred to as a temple in literature (Spencer 240). Historically in the Saivite temple culture throughout south India, the main keepers and collectors of information were travelling saint-poets called nayanmars (Spencer 234), who were advocates of bhakti (devotionalism), and whose Tamil (Sullivan 195) devotional hymns are still sung today (Sullivan 211). However, there were multiple schools of thought in place in the area in medieval times who each would have a variation on thought and their own canon. For example, the accepted canon for Saiva Siddhanta philosophy was the Agamas (Srinivasan 432). Numerous nayanmars are remembered and venerated at the temple, and their poems have been passed down orally through generations. Recently, the process has begun of writing the poems and stories down for posterity. The veneration of priests, saints, and poets at Cidambaram is hierarchical with more well-known figures such as Umapati Sivacarya who wrote the poem Kuncitanghristava or “The Hymn of Praise to Nataraja’s Curved Foot” (Ferro-Luzzi 515) being remembered and praised more often than lesser saints which included women and Dalits (Spencer 235). The lineages of Saivite saints, priests, and teachers is hard to decipher because of a patchy record and an initiatory re-naming tradition (Davis 9).

 

Temple Mythology

Cidambaram is considered the center of the universe (Smith 2), as well as the place where Siva first performed the anandatandava, or dance of bliss (Srinivasan 432, Smith 1), in the presence of his consort Sivakamasundari, and three sages who were awaiting his arrival in Cidambaram while worshipping a lingam (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). Cidambaram is said to be the sky temple in the series of five temples in south India which represent elemental forms of Siva, the Panca Bhuta Sthalam (Dey 49). Each temple in this collection of temples is said to have a connected story of Siva appearing at that location in the presence of devotees to perform a miracle in a new form. At Cidambaram the miracle was the anandatandava and the form that Siva assumed was that of Nataraja or Lord of Dance (Smith 1). The traditional lingam which would usually stand in the inner sanctum of the temple, the Cit-Sabha, is replaced in this temple by a bronze statue of Siva performing the dance (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). The representation of the figure of Siva performing the anandatandava is steeped in symbolism.

The speed of the dance is said to determine whether it will be creative or destructive, with a slower pace being creative and a faster pace being destructive (Cush, Robinson, and York 143). Siva as Nataraja is depicted with 4 hands, each having a specific meaning. The hand raised up in the abhaya-mudra (Cush, Robinson, and York 799) represents refuge, while the downward-pointing hand represents escape from samsara shown by the surrounding ring of fire (Cush, Robinson, and York 160). The other two hands hold a drum used for keeping time while dancing and a ball of fire, which each represent creation and destruction; fire can be creative in a Vedic sense by creating favor from the gods and the drum can be interpreted as destructive by marking the passage of time (Smith 1, Cush, Robinson, and York 160, Sullivan 148). In the 14th century in Cidambaram, the priest Umapati Sivacarya devoted a poem to the depiction of Siva in anandatandava entitled Kuncitanghristava, “The Hymn of Praise to Nataraja’s Curved Foot” (Ferro-Luzzi 515), the foot on the statue of Siva as Nataraja is said to grant anugraha (blessing) and salvation (Ferro-Luzzi 516). Siva’s other foot steps on a smaller person or demon named Apasmarapurusa in Sanskrit or Muyalaka in Tamil (Nayagam 120) which represents ignorance (Smith 1).

 

Temple Structure

The style of southern Indian temples is distinct from northern Indian temples. In the southern style, the gopuram (main towers) are raised high above the gates of the temple and set into the walls that encircle the inner sanctuaries, the walls are usually highly decorated and ornate (Sullivan 227). Cidambaram temple is one of the largest in south India, with the gopurams measured at 49 meters high (Sullivan 58).

The walls of the Cidambaram temple have been decorated with depictions of 108 Bharata Natyam (traditional Indian dance) poses (Cush, Robinson, and York 160). This style of classical dance is said to have originated in the surrounding area of Tamil Nadu and especially within Saivite temple culture (Tiruvalluvar 1201), and the temple also boasts a large performing arts hall shaped like a chariot called the Nrtta Sabha (Sullivan 58).

The Cidambaram temple is also set apart by the golden roof of the Cit-Sabha, extensive processional routes, and lamped walkways all added on by Cola rulers (Davis 19). Cit-Sabha, the innermost hall or sanctum of the temple contains three alcoves, the main alcove contains the three foot tall bronze statue of Siva Nataraja, with the other two alcoves containing the stone lingam usually representative of Siva and an empty space representative of Siva as the element akasa (Srinivasan 433). Several shrines to other deities are featured in the temple, most of whom have some connection to Siva in Hindu literature (Sullivan 58). All of the elemental Saivite temples are built in the same southern style but differ in their decorations and size.

 

Festivals

The main festival at temples dedicated to Siva is Mahasivaratri (Great Night of Siva) or simply Sivaratri (Sullivan 211). This festival is held yearly on the thirteenth night and fourteenth day in the dark half of Phalguna, the month that takes place in February to March in the Gregorian calendar (Sullivan 130). The festival is widely popular and devotees of many different deities attend. The festival consists of a night vigil at the temple which involves devotional hymns, darsana (auspicious viewing) of images of Siva either in statue or lingam form and highly decorated (Sullivan 130), and puja offerings which include sandalwood paste, flower petals, bilva and bel leaves, milk, curd, ghee, honey, rose water, and vermillion paste (Dwivedi 30, Sullivan 130). A drink made of cannabis, milk, and almonds is also said to be consumed at this festival (Dwivedi 30). The second day of the festival is a celebratory day reserved for feasting rather than solemn worship (Sullivan 130). The Mahasivaratri has many origin stories including Parvati venerating a lingam in Siva’s absence, a hunter accidentally venerating a lingam when out in the wilderness, and the gods Brahma and Visnu finding a pillar of fire which is revealed to be Siva in a different form (Dwivedi 72).

Other festivals include occasional processional temple festivals called mahotsava or brahmotsava in Sanskrit and tiruvila in Tamil. These festivals can last up to two weeks and involve the use of utsava murti (processional images) of deities used in festivals and temple rites (Cush, Robinson, and York 366). The icons are dressed in finery like silk, flowers, and gold ornaments and led down the streets either on the shoulders of followers, or pulled in chariots by devotees holding hemp ropes. There are also animals and musicians involved in these parades, which stop occasionally along the procession to allow people to view the gods and make offerings to them which is seen as very auspicious (Davis 15). Bronze figures and accompanying inscriptions show that this form of festival worship has been taking place in south India since at least the 9th century (Davis 16).

This festival takes place in Cidambaram as well with the obvious addition of the Nataraja statue. Other differences in the Cidambaram mahotsavas are the length and scale of the festival which is always very long, around fifteen days, and features two parades each day with the deities riding on different vahanas (vehicles). This culminates in the ratha-yatra where the deities are paraded on chariots which are much like individual moving shrines (Davis 15). At the beginning of any festival period devoted primarily to Siva, the temple flag is raised with the image of a bull on it which represents Siva’s vahana Nandi (Davis 30). Another practice which sets Cidambaram apart is the practice of applying a black balm to the statues, priests, servants, and lay people in hierarchical order if the festival is venerating Nataraja (Davis 51).

 

Staff and Important Persons

Important persons connected to the temple include the Saiva Siddhanta school of orthodox bhakti Saivites who popularized the veneration of Siva as Nataraja, as well as the other numerous lesser-known philosophical schools which helped inform the literature in medieval south India (Cush, Robinson, and York 799). Also of great importance were the travelling saint-poets called nayanmars (Spencer 234), whose Tamil devotional Saivite hymns recorded the mythology and chronology of the area and whose stories were passed down orally and are still told and sung today creating a rich illustration of the history of the area (Sullivan 211). Some of these poets became priests or teachers or gained fame from their writing which creates a useful image of the social landscape of the time.

The temple staff at Cidambaram are called diksitars because they undergo the initiatory process of diksa. This process involves numerous rites to be performed at different prescribed times before the initiate is accepted. The nitya-karman are the daily rites and show Saivite piety if they are done on one’s own behalf (atmartha), this category includes the nityapuja (veneration of a lingam), nityahoma (a small fire sacrifice), and suryapuja (sun worship). Daily rituals need to be completed before other rituals, they are the prerequisites. Naimittikarman, or occasional rites include pavitrosava and damanotsava and they are the prerequisites for the last set of rituals. The last set of rituals, on completion, marks the initiation of a diksitar as part of the Saivite community and released of earthly bondage. These rituals are therefore held in high regard as transformative. The initiate is consecrated as either a sadhakadiksa (mantra-adept), or as an acaryadiksa (priest) through a series of upanayana-like rituals including a mock cremation on the receiving of a special mantra (Davis 7).

 

References

Aghorasiva (1157) A Priest’s Guide to the Great Festival. Translation and notes by Richard H. Davis (2010) New York: Oxford University Press.

Cush, Denise, and Catherine Robinson, and Michael York (2008) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Routledge.

Dey, Nando L. (1979) The Geographical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval India. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Dwivedi, Anil K. (2007) Encyclopedia of Indian Customs & Rituals. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.

Ferro-Luzzi, Gabriella E. (1996) “Reviewed Work: The Dance of Siva. Religion, Art and Poetry in South India by David Smith” East and West 46:515–17. Accessed February 5, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29757302.

Isaac, Eric (1960) “Religion, Landscape, and Space” Landscape 9:14-18.

Nayagam, X.S. Thani (1970). Tamil Culture and Civilization. London: Asia Publishing House.

Smith, David (1996) The Dance of Siva: Religion, Art and Poetry in South India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spencer, George W. (1970) “The Sacred Geography of the Tamil Shaivite Hymns.” Numen 17:232–44. Accessed February 5, 2016. doi:10.2307/3269705.

Srinivasan, Sharada (2004) “Shiva as ‘cosmic dancer’: On Pallava origins for the Nataraja bronze.” World Archaeology 36:432-450. Accessed February 5, 2016. doi:10.1080/1468936042000282726821.

Sullivan, Bruce M. (1997) Historical Dictionary of Hinduism. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.

Tiruvalluvar (2000). The Handbook of Tamil Culture and Heritage. Chicago: International Tamil Language Foundation.

 

Related Topics

  • Bhakti
  • Diksa
  • Bharata Natyam
  • Saivitism
  • Viasnavism
  • Cola Dynasy
  • Tamil Poetry
  • Poet-saints
  • South Indian Architecture
  • Processional Festivals

 

Related Websites

http://www.chidambaramnataraja.org/

http://templenet.com/Tamilnadu/panchabhoota.html

http://www.religiousportal.com/Pancha_Bhoota_Temples.html

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/39328

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/south-asia/hindu-art/a/shiva-as-lord-of-the-dance-nataraja

Article written by: Katherine Christianson (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

 

Badami Cave Temples

In India’s southern state of Karnataka lies the town of Badami, an ancient capital of the Chalukya Dynasty. Pulakeshin I was the leader of the Chalukya Dynasty when Badami was constructed; evidence of this was found in an inscription dated 535 A.D (Reddy 58). Badami is famous for its five cave temples carved into the rock, dating as far back as the 6th century. The five temples and their ornate carvings stand frozen in time, making them an excellent example of early Dravidian (southern) temple architecture. Chalukya rule spanned from the 6th to the 12th century. Over this period it is likely that different religious views came into play and this can be seen in the changing temple architecture. The earliest temple motifs are Hindu and later Jain and Buddhist carvings can be seen. These changing religious themes show a degree of tolerance for new ideas and this allowed the region to display a syncretic nature. To the west of Badami is the Malprabha River that brings life to the city. In the center of the cave complex is Agastya Lake and surrounding the complex is a ravine. The red sandstone structure of the temples contrasts beautifully with the lake and surrounding greenery, creating a truly spectacular scene that rivals any of the great archaeological discoveries. Badami has been recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site (Cohn 3).

As you walk through the town you can see a long set of steps carved into the rock that leads to Temple I, close in proximity to the village. Dwarves of Siva (gana) are placed on each side of the steps and serve as guards of the temple and are commonly found in most of the Badami temples. Temple I has a focus on Siva, the God of the Yogis, and the destroyer of the universe. Henotheism is displayed in the temples, where there are multiple gods and goddesses worshipped but one is raised above the rest. A carving of Siva with multiple arms is found in Temple I, which is the most notable of the motifs in the temple. Siva is depicted as dancing and in Hinduism dances are very spiritual and are often dedicated to gods. Some sources indicate that Siva can be worshipped as the God of Dance and use the Dancing Siva at Badami as evidence (Koostria 6). Siva is dancing the tandava, a fierce dance he performs before he is to destroy the world (Russell 9). To the right of the Siva, there is a smaller carving of Ganesa, who is regarded as his son. Dance and the connection to the divine has always been an important theme in Hindu culture, elevating the significance of the carving in understanding early religious practice of the region. Also, within the temple stands a chapel which is supported by two pillars and on the back wall is a depiction of Mahishasura in a battle with a buffalo demon. Decorating the base of the chapel are more dwarves. To the left of Siva is a carving of a bull, which is named Nandi and is regarded as sacred (Mandala 125). On another wall in Temple I, there is a Kartikeya riding a peacock. Kartikeya is the Hindu God of war (Tyomkin 84).

Temple II is dedicated to Visnu, one of the gods responsible for maintaining the order of the universe. Temple II is rectangular in shape and at its entrance are four pillars and below are multiple carvings of the guardian dwarves as seen on the entrance to temple one. Temples I and II are very similar in styles and carving technique, leading scholars to believe they were constructed around the same time (6th century). An interesting carving within the temple is Varaha, the boar, who is an incarnation of Visnu and in his hand is the Goddess Bhudevi. Bhudevi metaphorically represents the earth in this depiction and Visnu is saving her. Traces of frescos that are no longer intact have been found on the side walls of the temple (Reddy 60). On the roof of the temple is a panel made up of a wheel of fish and svastikas. Multiple stories of Krsna and Visnu are also found carved throughout the temple on the roof. The rafters are adorned with elephants and lions.

Temple III is the grandest temple at Badami and one of the most unique and intriguing Brahmanical temples in India. An inscription was left behind in this temple by the Chalukya King Mangalisa, the son of Pulakeshin I. This inscription allowed for the temple to be accurately dated.   As you enter there are beautifully carved symmetrical pillars that line a long aisle. At the end of the aisle there is a large carving of Visnu and similar to Temple II, this temple is primarily devoted to Visnu. Visnu is depicted as having four arms sitting on the cosmic serpent Ananta, which means without end. Visnu is seated cross-legged with his eyes closed and in his two raised hands, Visnu holds a discus (cakra) and a conch shell (sankha). These objects are commonly found in depictions of Visnu (Burgess 408). Visnu is wearing three necklaces and a belt made out of gems. Temple III features a veranda, which is a common feature among a few of the temples. Walking through the veranda and into the temple you encounter a carving of a man and women covered in foliage, most likely depicting a scene from the Kama Sastras. On the roof of the temple there are carvings of Agni, Brahma, Varuna and Deva seated on a ram. On a back wall of the temple there is a large carving of Narasinha, son of Siva (Burgess 411).

Temple number IV is dedicated to Jainism. While the first three temples are Brahmanical, Temple IV was the last to be constructed and displays the religious tolerance of the Chalukya dynasty. Temple IV is the highest of the four and is located east of Temple III. Similar to other temples, you enter the temple from a set of steps leading to a veranda propped up by pillars. Temple IV features a carving of Mahavira sitting in a meditative position on a throne.  Mahavira is a spiritual teacher who teaches students about Dharma. Accompanying Mahavira are two smaller figures holding fans (chauri) (Burgess 491). Adjacent to the row of pillars is a tall carving of The Tirthankara Parshvanatha, the first Jain spiritual leader featuring cobras surrounding his head. Another carving shows Guatama Swami surrounded by four snakes. Temple IV is believed to be constructed in the late 7th century or early 8th CE (Burgess 492).

References

Burgess, James (2013) The Cave Temples of India. Cambridge­­: Cambridge University Press.

Russell, Jesse, and Ronald Cohn (2012) Badami Cave Temples. Stoughton WI: Books On Demand.

Tartakov, Gary Michael. “The Beginning of Dravidian Temple Architecture in Stone.” Artibus Asiae, Vol. 42, No. 1. (1980), pp. 39-99.

Chavda, Jagdish (2011) The Badami Cave Temples Supporting Cultural Differences. Orlando: University of Central Florida.

Koostria, Orser, Emma Jayne and Prithvi Chandra (2014): The connection between dance and the divine. Sackville: Bharata Natyam­­­.

Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya (2003) Dancing with Siva: Hinduism’s contemporary catechism. Delhi: Himalayan Academy Publications.

Reddy, VV Subba (2009) Temples of South India. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.

 

Related Topics

Chalukya Dynasty

Pulakesin I

Pattadakal Temple

Virupaksa Temple

Mahadeva Temple

Karnataka

Jainism

Siva

Ganesa

Kama Sastras

Ramayana

Aihole Temple

 

Related Websites

http://earthsky.org/human-world/indias-rock-cut-cave-temples-of-badami

http://www.cultureholidays.com/Temples/badami.htm

http://www.bagalkot.nic.in/badami.htm

http://www.karnataka.com/badami/

http://www.culturalindia.net/indian-temples/badami-cave-temples.html

Article written by: Sam Adams (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

The Dravidian Style of Hindu Temple

Among the massive amount of Hindu temples in India there are two main types of temple styles, a specific temple style seen in the north and one in the south. Temples in India have had a distinct difference in style since the very first temples were built in the fifth and sixth centuries CE. Geographically, the northern temples can be found from the Himalayas to the Deccan, from Gujarat to Orissa and Bengal in the east. However, the southern temples are found almost exclusively in the southern part of the subcontinent.  The main purpose of the Hindu temple was to create a link between persons and gods, and gave a site for gods to be seen by human beings; both southern and northern temples do this. However, the structural make up of these temples is what sets them apart from one another (Michell 61-86).

Southern style temples tend to be constructed with individual cells/layers that are typically identical and are stacked in a pyramid form (Trivedi 256). Northern temples, in contrast, have walls with a curved incline, unlike the pyramidal southern style temples. Additionally, southern temples rise in a much steeper fashion than north temples. Southern temples tend to have a distinctive moulded base, different from the northern style (Hardy 2009:46). Additionally, southern temples frequently have an octagonal overall shape to them, something not seen in northern temples. Also, the Dravidian style temples usually have a small top concave dome whereas the top of the northern style temple tends to be more complex and elaborate (Michell 89-93).

The start of Dravidian temples was created by the Pallavas dynasty. This dynasty ruled from about 550CE to about 890CE in the Tamil region or southern region of India. Historical remains of more than sixty Dravidian style temples can be traced back to this dynasty. Early in this rule, King Mahendra produced many rock cut temples in the south of India. Rock cut temples were found throughout the early builds of Hindu temples. Additionally at this time many depictions of Gods, semi-divine, and royal figures were seen in the architecture of the temples, which became an integral part of the Hindu temple. Towards the end of this era, temple building moved from rock cut temples to temples being their own physical structure, not relying on rock faces to build the temples. Some of the most extensive temples produced in this era were the rathas, which translates into chariots. These rathas temples are considered monolithic (carved from one rock structure), or rock-cut, and began to solidify the unique southern style. These rathas are considered the first known structures to fit the entire mold of the southern style. A well known rathas is the shore temple in Mahabalipuram, which shows key Dravidian style characteristics in steep rising superstructures and repetitions in the wall scheme, along with images of the god Visnu (Michell 131-132).

The Dravidian temple style of the Pallavas ended up bleeding into the Chalukya society due to the conflict between these two powers in the seventh and eighth centuries (Michell 136). Early Chalukya temples were mainly rock cut temples.  However, later in the Chalukya’s rule, they produced some of the oldest known stone Hindu temples.  At this time, a distinctive split in the two types of southern styles Karnatak and Tamil is seen (Tartakov 39-41). Due to this bleeding there is some overlap between the temple styles in some northern sites. One unique aspect of temples built in this era is the use of two gateways and two separate hallways in the temples. However, both the Chalukya and the Pavalla temples shared many of the same key characteristics of the southern style temples, even with their small physical differences and geographical differences (Michell 136).

After the Pallavas and Chalukyas’ eras of southern temples, the Rashtrakutas started to further develop the southern style from the eighth to tenth century. The use of rock cut temples grew in popularity again in this era, whereas the Pallavas began to step away from this type of architecture during the end of their reign. One of the most impressive temples built in this era is the Kailasa, which stands 30 meters high. This temple and others like it built in this era have the  defining southern features “of moulded base, plastered wall, overhanging eave and parapet, which when combined in diminishing superimposition, create the superstructure” (Michell 143).

During the tenth to eleventh century the Dravidian style temple shifted again under the south’s new rule.  During this time of turmoil and war in the south, the Cholas became the ruling power. However, during this time there was not a lot of architectural growth, as seen in the previous eras. Many of the new temples built in this era followed the old Pallava southern temple style, notably using the Pallava octagonal towers. However, the Cholas did have a couple of their own unique characteristics for temple buildings. These included an increase in the amount of sculpture used on the side of temples, along with “multifaceted column projecting square capitals” (Michell 145).

Throughout these different time periods of temple development, the Hindus used sacred texts as a way to orchestrate these magnificent temples. The main genre of text used to build these temples are the Vastusastras, and were thought to be composed by Brahmins over the years. In the vast Vastusasras there are some parts which refer to the northern temple style and some to the southern form. One sub text of the Vastusastras, the Samaranganasutradhara, deals with both northern and southern temples. The chapters of the text devoted to the designs of the temples are very specific, and outline a sophisticated measurement system. One specific Dravidian temple that was prescribed by this text was the Bhojpur temple, which still remains unfinished to this day. Even within the Samaranganasutradhara, there is some overlap between the two temple styles, showing the interconnection between the two styles. The uses of texts like the Samaranganasutrahara show how complex the building of these temples was and how specific these temples were actually made (Hardy 2009:41-46).

Even within the division of southern temple style there are two different types of styles. These two different sub type temples can be classified into Karnatak (Vesara) and Tamil. Tamil southern style reflects the southernmost temple designs, often referred to as the “True Dravidian” temples. The Karnatak mainly developed from the Dravidian style, but has some north style characteristics; some scholars address the Karnatak as its own hybrid temple style. The Karnatak developed in the early Chalukya dynasty; at this point the subtle differences in the two southern temple styles can be seen. Some of the major differences between the two southern sub temples are the height of the temples, differences in moulded bases, and the small amount of northern characteristics seen in the Karnatak style. Almost never are Karnatak temples above four stories, whereas Tamil style temples are known to be over four stories. Also, Tamil temples have a structurally distinctive moulded base, which is not found in Karnatak temples.  One of the northern temple elements found in the Karnatak temple style is in some cases curved northern spires were used, which were not used in Tamil temple styles. Ultimately, the north and south styles both have influence on the build of the Karnatak to varying degrees (Hardy 2001:181-191).

The southern temples are extraordinary architectural feats, but they were built to serve as the spiritual link between the gods and humans. Inside the Hindu temples people had the ability to draw closer to the gods through the use of rituals and ceremonies. Religious symbols are found throughout the Hindu temples architecture, which reinforce the spiritual link. Many ideas from the epics and the Puranas, along with symbolically representing the religion’s ultimate goal of moksa, are seen in the temples. Additionally the Hindu temple was seen as the house of the gods where one would have the ability to see the gods, through rituals and being pure. Specifically, temples were dedicated to certain gods and goddesses and each temple had a womb chamber which was a small shrine to honor the specific god the temple was devoted to (Michell 61-62).

The temple is the site of many religious rituals, where the movement of devotees and priests in the temple is of the utmost importance.  Rituals practiced in temples can be placed into two distinct groups: Pujas, which are daily rituals and urvalams which are festivals practiced at different times of the year (Treada 120). Certain parts of the temples are seen as the specific sites where deities can be met. An example of structural meaning is the doors of the temple that signify the movement from the temporal to the spiritual. Another example of the symbolic structural meaning in the temples is the womb of the temple, which was the place where energy radiates from. The womb of the temple is such a sacred place that only priests are able to enter, even when devotees are bringing sacrifices to the room, they are not allowed in (Michell 66).

The soaring gopuram (gateway) and bathing tank, which is characteristic of Dravida temples (Cidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India)
The soaring gopuram (gateway) and bathing tank, which is characteristic of Dravida temples (Cidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India)

Temples are seen as cultural centres. At these temples people experienced music and dance throughout their history. The daily rituals and yearly festivals which took place in temples often had music as a key component.  Music and dance varied based on the geographical regions, even among yearly practiced festivals. Even sculptors in temples often depicted music and dance. The Periya Melam was in charge of music in the temples and performed the music in rituals. The job of musician was passed down through hereditary lines. These musicians often lived within walking distance of the temples and performed almost every day.  However, music in temples today seems to be disappearing, something lamented upon by many (Treada 128-139).

Another interesting element of the Hindu religion seen in their temples is they believe the gods are attracted to mountains and caves. For this reason a lot of temples were built on the side of mountains, or using caves, as seen in the early southern Pallava’s temple design and other eras. The temples that were not built on rock faces were made to reflect the visual nature of mountains because of the believed attraction of the gods to caves and mountains. Both the curved temple towers of the northern temple style and the pyramid style of the south style are different attempts to create a mountain like structure, ultimately trying to end at the same goal (Michell 69).

Besides the cave like temple designs, Hindu temples also were designed in regard to the cosmic man (Michell 72). The cosmic man is developed in a square form which helps to also symbolically design the temple, with the creator god being represented at the centre of the temple and the edges of the square being dedicated to guardian gods and goddesses. The notion of a temple being designed with the cosmos in mind can be traced back to in text writing as far back as 3000 years, and in actual temple building to more than 1000 years ago. Throughout the Vastusastras the temple designs keep the square in mind, as it symbolically represents the manifestation of the world (Trivedi 245-258). This cosmic man is mainly based on deities but also is designed in part with astrology in mind (Michell 72).

These amazing architectural feats and spiritual houses are seen throughout India and the eventual British rule created legislation to preserve them. Under the colonial rule of the British the Hindu temples became protected under the Ancient monuments act of 1904. Prior to the act British rule controlled around 150 temples in India, however after the act they controlled over 700 Hindu temples. Under this act, the British government greatly limited the use of the temples for Hindus and created problems between the practicing Hindus and the ruling power. The British viewed temples as antique but to orthodox Hindus the temples are still to this day very much a part of their religion. Some accounts of British rule have them taking down parts of temples and moving the inside contents of the temples to artificial buildings for the Hindus to practice rituals in. British rule, did however, rebuild and restore damaged temples during the Act (Sutton 135-137).

Today Dravidian temples (along with Northern Temples) are still used for religious festivals and also act as tourist destinations. Some of the biggest southern temples seen in India today are: the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Thillai Nataraja Temple, Golden Temple of Sripuram, to name a few. Also, in the now culturally diverse world, the spread of religion in general is a more common thing. As a result, many Hindu temples are being built around the world outside of India, some of which have Dravidian characteristics (King 151).

 

References And Further Recommended Readings

Baumann, Martin “Hindu temples.” Internationales Asien Forum, Vol. 6, No. 3/4: p.231.

Hardy, Adam (2009) “Dravida Temples in the Samaranganasutradhara.” South Asian Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1: p.41-62.

Hardy, Adam (2001) “Tradition and Transformation: Continuity and Ingenuity in the Temples of Karnatak.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 60, No. 2: p.180-199.

Michell, George (1977) The Hindu temple: an introduction to its meaning and forms. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers.

King, Anna (2007) “Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-class World Waghorne, Joanne Punzo” Material religion, Vol. 3, No. 1: p.150-152.

Kramrisch, Stella (1976) The Hindu Temple II. Delhi, India: Shri Jainendra Press.

Sutton, Deborah (2013) “Devotion, Antiquity, and Colonial Custody of the Hindu Temple in British Indian.” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 47, No. 1: p.135-166.

Tartakov, Gary Michael (1980) “The Beginning of Dravidian Temple Architecture in Stone.” Artibus Asiae ,Vol. 42, No. 1: p.39-99.

Treada, Yoshitaka (2008) “Temple Music Traditions in Hindu South India: Periya Melam and Its Performance Practice” Asian Music, Vol. 39, No. 2: p. 108-151.

Trivedi, Kirti (1989) “Hindu temples: models of a fractal universe.” The Visual Computer, Vol. 5, No. 4: p.243-258.

Related Topics For Further Investigation

Dravidian

Nagara

Tamil Nadu

Karnatak

Samaranganasutradhara

Vastusastras

Pallavas

Chaluky’as

Rashtrakutas

Cholas

Rathas

Sri Raganasthaswamy Temple

Thillai Nataraja Temple

Golden Temple of Sripuram

Ancient monuments act of 1904

Cosmic Man

King Mahendra

Bhojpur temple

womb chamber

Kailasa

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to Topic

http://calgarymandir.ca/

http://blessingsonthenet.com/index.php?url=indianculture/sections/82/dravidian-temple-architecture

https://hindutemplesindia.wordpress.com/tag/dravidian-style-temple-architecture/

http://srirangam.org/

https://cybertravelinc.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/thillai-nataraja-temple-chidambaram/

http://www.sripuram.org/Pages/Golden-Temple

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_large_Hindu_temples

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dravidian_architecture

 

Article written by: Josh Toth (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Vastu Tradition in Hinduism

The vastu tradition is said to be the ancient science of designing and constructing buildings and houses with a corresponding plot of land. The root word vas in vastu means to dwell, live, stay, and reside (Gautum 17) (Kramrisch 82). The vastu-shastra is the manual used for the architecture on how sacred or domestic building must be constructed. The vastu-purusa-mandala is a metaphorical expression of the plan of the Universe and depicts the link between people, buildings and nature it is used to position a building on potential plots of land (Patra 2006:215-216). This mandala is so universal that it can be applied to an altar, a temple, a house, and a city.  Hindu temples are meant to bring humans and gods together.

The vastu shastra is found originating in the Vedas the most ancient of sacred Indian text, tracing back to at least 3,000 B.C.E., if not earlier. The knowledge of constructing and designing a building is found specifically in the Sthapatya Veda, which is a sub heading in the Artharva Veda which is the fourth Veda. Principles of vastu-shastra can be found in several other ancient texts such as Kasyapa Silpa Sastra, Brhat Samhita, Visvakarma Vastu Sastra, Samarangana Sutradhara, Visnu Dharmodhare, Purana Manjari, Mayamata, Aparajitaprccha, Silparatna Vastu Vidya (Patra 2006:215). Hindu literature also cites that the knowledge of sacred architectural construction of buildings was present in the oral traditions since before the Vedic Period. According to Indian experts the vastu is possibly the oldest sacred architectural construction in the world up to date (Osborn 85-86). The oldest master known for vastu is Maya Danava, acknowledged as the founder of this ancient sacred Indian architectural tradition (Osborn 87). It is said that “man can improve his conditions by properly designing and understanding the location, direction, and disposition of a building that have a direct bearing on a human being” (Patra 2014:44). Based on the experience of several generations it has proved that the building and arrangement of villages and capitals in ancient India gave health and peacefulness. The principles regarding the construction of buildings that are in the vastu-shastra are used to please the vastu-purusa; they are explained by the mandala vastu-purusa-shastra. 

There are five basic principles of the sacred science of sacred architecture, the first of which is the doctrine of orientation (diknirnaya), which related to the cardinal directions: north, east, south, west. Second is site planning which uses the vastu-purusa-mandala and is the examination of the soil through categories such as taste, color, etc. Third is the proportionate measurement of the building (mana, hastalakshana), which is divided into six sections: measurement of height, breadth, width or circumference, measurement along plumb lines, thickness, and measurement of inter-space. Fourth there are the six canons of Vedic architecture (ayadi, sadvarga), base (aadhistaana), column (paada or stambha), entablature (prastaara), ear or wings (karna), roof (shikara) and dome (stupi). Fifth is the aesthetics of the building (patakadi, sadschandas) which deals with the nature of beauty such as principles of texture, color, flow, the interaction of sunlight and shadows, these are some principles of aesthetics (Patra 2014:44). The most important requirement in the manual is that the site of a new building must be placed where the gods are at play (King 69). If the temple is unable to be built by a tirtha (a sacred ford or a crossing place that must be by sacred water) then another suitable site should be found. This can be a riverbank, a river junction, a lake, or a seashore. It can even be mountains, hilltops, or forests/gardens. It can also be placed in populated areas like towns, villages, and cities (King 69 and Osborn 87). Water was said to be a fundamental part of the gods’ play, therefore a sacred temple must be near water but if no water was present then man-made a water source. Directions also hold a particular significance (north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest) they help to clarify the principles of the vastu-shastra.

Once the land has been chosen with appropriate knowledge the ground is then prepared properly using the geometrical design known as vastu-purusa-mandala. Then before the mandala is placed a Priest must perform a number of mantras a sacred utterance that urges all living creatures in the plot to leave so that the new land for the building will not kill any living things (King 69). The soil in the desired area of land must undergo some tests to show whether it is suitable or not. One test that occurs is a pit is dug in the ground and then is filled with water, and the soils strength is then judged by how much water is remaining when the next day arrives. Of course with this in mind before these tests can be done the soil must be examined in the following categories: smell, taste (whether it is sweet, pungent, bitter, astringent), color (white for brahmanas, red for kshatriyas, yellow for vaisyas, black for sudras, the color of the soil and the caste correspond with each other), sound, shape or consistency. After all that is done and if the soil is suitable, then the fertility of the soil must also be tested by plowing the ground and planting seed and recording the growth at 3, 5, and 7 nights. Then according to the success of growth, it is decided whether the soil is fertile and helps decide if this is a good place to build using the mandala (Kramrisch 13-14).

It does not matter whether the building is going to be a house, office, or a school the knowledge from the vastu-shastra must be taken into consideration in order for the execution to be successful. The walls that strengthen the temple are known as prakaras and they may vary in size and number in regards to the size of the temple. When building larger temples like the one in Srirangam they are occasionally surrounded by seven concrete walls that represent the seven layers of matter: earth, water, fire, air, either, mind, and intelligence.

 

The geometry and measurements of the vastu (blueprint) planned site is a very complex science. The shape must be a square that is a fundamental form of Indian architecture; its full name is vastu-purusa-mandala [the sacred diagram by which a temple is configured (Rodrigues 2006:568)] consisting of three parts vastu, purusa, and mandala. Purusa is a universal essence, a cosmic man representing pure energy, soul, and consciousness whose sacrifice by the gods was said to be the creation of all life. Purusa is the reason that buildings must be created using a mandala of him, which means a diagram relating to orientation. A mandala can also be referred to as a yantra (a cosmological diagram). The vastu-purusa-mandala adopts the shape of the land it is set on so it can fit suitably wherever it is placed. The mandala therefore accepts transformation into a triangle, hexagon, octagon, and circle if the area is consistent and it will maintain its symbolism. Even though the ideal shape is a square, its acceptance of transformation in shape shows the inherent flexibility of the vastu-purusa-mandala (Kramrisch 21 and Patra 2014:47). When configuring a temple they use this mandala of purusa to enable them to place the proper things in the proper directions and proper places (i.e. north, west, etc.) such as where the worship places or bedrooms must be and so forth. If the rooms in these buildings are appropriately placed this will keep the building healthy and keep the people in it happy (Patra 2014:47).

Another thing that the vastu-shastra states is that the layout for residences be placed based on caste; the brahmins (priestly class) are placed in the north, the kshatriyas (the warrior class) in the east, the vaishyas (the merchant class) in the south, and the sudras (the lower class) in the west.  When the land is purified and sanctified the vastu-purusa-mandala is drawn on the site with all the subdivisions helping to indicate the form of the building. The mandala is divided into 64 (8×8) squares and is meant for construction of shrines and for worship by brahmins, or 81 (9×9) squares and is meant for the construction of other buildings and for worship of kshastriyas (kings). These squares (nakshatras) are said to be the seats of 45 divinities that all surround a central open space that is ruled by Brahma (Chakrabarti 6-7 and Kramrisch 46). The square is occupied by the vastu-purusa his very shape of his body. His body with its parts, limbs, and apertures is interpreted as having the same boundaries or extent in space, time, or meaning and is therefore one with the 81 squares of the plan. The mandala is filled with magical effectiveness and meanwhile the body of man is the place of insight by the practice of the discipline of yoga (Kramrisch 49). The vastu-purusa-mandala is the vastu-purusa, his body is together with the presence and actions of the divinities located in the mandala, which is their yantra, the center is the brahmasthana and designates the center point of a building (it is a giant skylight) and its superstructure is the temple (Kramrisch 63).

The brahmasthana is the principle location in the temple because this is where the seat of the godhead will eventually be placed. A ritual is performed at this space in the vastu-purusa-mandala called garbhadhana, which invites the soul of the temple to enter the radius of the building. In this ritual a brahmin and a priest place a gold box in the earth during the ceremony of the first ground breaking. The interior of this box is an exact replica of the mandala squares and each square is filled with dirt. The priest then places the correct mantra in writing to call on the presence of the matching deity. When the base is complete the external features of the temple are brought to life through meticulously sculpted figures and paintings, these arts are generally conveyed as the forms of the divine entities (Osborn 90-91).     

It is said that the vastu-shastra is a very powerful ongoing tradition in India today and is in no threat of becoming extinct. The post secondary schools in India have classes to teach students about the variation of skills and techniques required in the science of sacred architecture. In these classes the literature is all written in Sanskrit, therefore in order for the students to learn the correct knowledge they must know how to read Sanskrit. They are taught everything required for vastu-shastra such as geometry, drafting, stone sculpture, bronze casting, woodcarving, painting, and so much more. When the students gain the correct knowledge and skills to be an architect in India they then graduate with a degree and then receive the title sthapati [(temple architect and builder) this title is named after Sri. M. Vaidyantha Sthapati a master architect, he was the designer and architect of some very popular temples and other Hindu buildings]. India has the most examples of sacred architecture that exist compared to all other countries in the world combined (Osborn 87). One of the more important requirements for vastu-shastra that is used today is the orientation of where parts of the buildings needs to be situated based on the points on the vastu-purusa-mandala. Hindu temples back in the nineteenth century were located at the heart of the city.  With that in mind today if one desires to go to a temple the most important temples are now all found in the suburbs, but they still have the same purpose, to bring human beings and gods closer together.

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Boner, Alice (1966) Slipa Prakasa Medieval Orissan Sanskrit Text on Temple Architecture. Leiden: Brill Archive.

Chakrabarti, Vibhuti (2013) Indian Architectural Theory and Practice: Contemporary Uses of Vastu Vidya. New York: Routledge.

Gautum, Jagdish (2006) Latest Vastu Shastra (Some Secrets). New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

King, Anthony D. (ed.) (2003) Building and Society. New York: Routledge.

Kramrisch, Stella (1976) The Hindu Temple, Vol 1. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Meister, Michael (1976) Mandala and Practice in Nagagra Architecture in North India.” Artibus Asiae, Vol.99, No.2: p.204-219.

Meister, Michael (1983) Geometry and Measure in Indian Temple Plans: Rectangular Temples. Artibus Asiae. Vol.44, No.4: p.266-296.

Michell, George (1977) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meanings and Forms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Osborn, David (2010) Science of the Sacred. Raleigh: Lulu Press Inc.

Patra, Reena (2006) Asian Philosophy: A Comparative Study on Vaastu Shastra and Heidegger’s Building, Dwelling and Thinking. New York: Routledge, Vol.16, No.3: p.199-218.

Patra, Reena (2014) Town Planning in Ancient India: In Moral Perspective. Chandigarh: The International Journal of Humanities and Social Studies, Vol.2,  No.6: p.44-51.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2006) Introducing Hinduism-The eBook. Pennsylvania: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, LTD.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (ed.) (2011) Studying Hinduism in Practice. New York: Routledge.

Trivedi, Kirti (1989) Hindu Temples: Models of a Fractal Universe. Bombay: Springer-Verlag.

Vasudev, Gayatri D. (Editor) (1998) Vastu, Astrology, and Architecture: Papers Presented at the First All India Symposium on Vastu, Bangalore. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Mandala

Vedic Period

Vedas

Tirtha

Caste System

Brahmanas

Kshatriyas

Vaisyas

Sudras

Vedic Gods (divinities)

Purusa Legend

Brahmasthana

Yantra

Sthapati

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://architectureideas.info/2008/10/vastu-purusha-mandala/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vastu_shastra

http://www.vastushastraguru.com/vastu-purusha-mandala/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V._Ganapati_Sthapati

http://www.vaastu-shastra.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yantra

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandala

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_temple

 

Article written by: Brandon Simon (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kanchipuram (City of a Thousand Temples)

The city of Kanchipuram is located in the state of Tamil Nadu on the banks of the Vegavathi River, thirty-one miles from the city of Madras (Schellinger 435). It is known as Siva Visnu Kanchi, or simply as Kanchi (Schellinger 435). In the Hindu culture, there are seven cities that are held as sacred, Kanchipuram being one of them. Although the city has earned the name “The City of a Thousand Temples,” it does not actually have a thousand temples located within the city. The city does however have a sizeable amount of religious sites and monuments that are used for worship. Centuries of Indian history can be seen when one travels to this holy city. Kanchipuram was established by the Pallava Dynasty and was named the capital of their empire (Schellinger 435).  After the reign of the Pallava Dynasty the history of this city is very vague. It was controlled by many other dynasties none of which lasted any substantial amount of years.

During the reign of Asoka (who was an adamant supporter of Buddhism and actively worked to spread the religion throughout India), the city fell under the control of his empire and had Buddhist stupas built within it. Records of various pilgrimages suggest that the Buddha himself may have visited Kanchipuram, which explains the flourishing of the Buddhist tradition within the city, however, there are many other reasons for the city’s popularity that are based on fact and not on religious speculation. The first king to rule over Kanchipuram was Sivaskandavarman, who ruled in the middle of the third century BCE (Schellinger 436). His status as the first king of Kanchipuram has been disputed, though there is a certain mythological story of how a man named Virakurcha married the daughter of a naga (a serpentine type creature) and became the first king of the Pallava Dynasty (Schellinger 435). This story is purely mythological but still raises the question about Sivaskandavarman really being the first king. During the Pallava Dynasty, temple building in India turned from using wood as a primary source for building temples, to stone, a material that is much stronger and adds greater strength to the structure – this is why the temples in Kanchipuram have withstood weathering for centuries (Schellinger 437). Education grew during the Pallava Dynasty, particularly in the religious studies of Buddhism and Hinduism; Kanchipuram now has several colleges affiliated with the University of Madras (Schellinger 438). Over the centuries temples dedicated to Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism have been constructed by the followers of these religions (Schellinger 436). The fame Kanchipuram has gained as a holy city is undoubtedly due to the fact that it has been the site for visits from great spiritual teachers and the many magnificent temples that have been constructed to various gods and goddesses. Another factor is the religious teachings and enhanced sense of spirituality that one gains from venturing into the city, which is a major factor in the pilgrimages that the people of India make to Kanchipuram.

Kanchipuram has some of India’s most beautiful temples; one such temple is the Kanchi Kailasanathar temple. The emperor Rajasimha of the Pallava Dynasty is credited with commissioning the temples’ construction from 685 to 705 CE and dedicating it to the God Siva (Hudson 50), although there are other gods for whom the temple is also dedicated. It is the oldest temple in Kanchipuram and is famous for its architecture. An example of the famed architecture is one of the depictions of the god Siva carved into the temple as a begging ascetic on the south wall (Hudson 51), other carvings accompany this one and tell various stories that relate to Siva. This great temple was built in the 8th century by the architect Rajasimha and his son Mehendra (Dobbie 111), and is surrounded by smaller shrines. It is dedicated to the gods Visnu, Siva, Devi, Surya, Ganapathi and Kartikey, and its name means “Lord of the Cosmic Mountain” (Narasimha 96).  Another temple situated in the northern part of Kanchipuram is Ekambareswarar, which is the largest temple in the city and one of the main tourist attractions. It is dedicated to the god Siva; the temple is one of five major monuments built specifically to worship the god, each temple representing a different element (Ninan 132).  The legend behind this temple and one of the main reasons for its popularity is the story of Parvati. The legend states that Parvati, who was a companion of Siva, was praying underneath the temple’s mango tree, In order to test her faith and dedication, Siva set her on fire. Even while on fire, Parvati continued to pray and passed Siva’s test. She then constructed a Siva Linga (a mark used to worship Siva) out of sand to unite herself with Siva and the god came to be known as Ekambareswarar or “Lord of the Mango Trees” (Ayyar 71-72). There are many other legends pertaining to how this temple became one of the most revered places to worship Siva and a place of peace and spirituality but this is just one such example.

The Vaikuntha Perumal is the second imperial city built by Nandivarman II Pallavamalla, who was one of the emperors of the Pallava Dynasty (Hudson 52). It has many architectural marvels such as the massive vimana or towered sanctuary that rises above the temple and is said to be the place that the god of the temple dwells (Hudson 52). This structure has carvings depicting the establishment and history of the Pallava Dynasty, from its founding to the construction of the Vaikuntha Perumal (Hudson 52). Inside, a huge carving of Visnu is depicted as a god king and is facing west. On the outside of the temple there are three other sculptures facing the remaining cardinal directions (Hudson 53).

Rituals and ceremonies are a part of daily life in Kanchipuram. Various temples, sometimes share the same rituals. For example, a ritual performed at the Ekamra temple is also performed at the Varadaraja temple. The ceremony features priests of the temple making offerings to Varadaraja five times a day (Hudson 58). Yet, before the offerings are made, the Brahmins (priests) must summon Visnu’s presence within the temple through the uttering of mantras (Hudson 58). This praying to Visnu essentially wakes up the god and sets into motion all other rituals that are to take place that day. Along with the daily rituals and ceremonies are festivals that take place throughout the year. Festivals are conducted according to solstices and equinoxes. They are timed to coordinate with a day in the life of a god, where the winter solstice is the sunrise and the summer solstice is the sunset (Hudson 60). The year is also divided into different sections of months in which various festivals are to be performed. The beginning of the year, January, is a time to be thankful for the sun and a time to renew friendships (Hudson 61). The end of a year is called Margali and is from December to January and is the time of the year for meditation at the temples of Kanchipuram and reflection on the new knowledge one has gained throughout the year (Hudson 62).

Kanchipuram silk weavers are credited with producing the finest saris not just in South East Asia but also in the entire world. One factor that sets Kanchi saris above other saris is the silk that these garments are made from. Hand-woven, they are designed for auspiciousness. This means that the saris are meant to bring good fortune and happiness to the women who wear them and is directly related to the auspiciousness of events and persons the wearer may encounter (Kawlra 62); this quality of the saris gives them a religious appeal to their buyers. Also considered a part of the stages of life for women, various designs and patterns of the cloth can indicate the women’s different statuses – for instance, whether or not they are married (Kwalra 62). The makers of the clothing are called Padma Saliyars, and along with being skillfully trained in the art of weaving, they also have to have great knowledge of auspiciousness and inauspiciousness. The weavers also conduct their lives and work with good practice so as to heighten their own auspiciousness and allow them to transfer this into their weaving (Kwalra 64). The weavers of raasi saris consult constellations in an effort to remain in accordance with the cosmos and avoid inauspiciousness. Failure to avoid weaving during certain times of the year is said to result in “bad luck” for anybody involved in its selling, weaving or even wearing (Kwalra 64). The shop that produces the saris is regarded as an auspicious shop and purchases made there have to follow an almost ritualistic transaction. This means that when a customer purchases from the shop the sari has to be exchanged in front of the shop deity and wrapped in white cloth to ensure purity and auspiciousness (Kwalra 65). This concept of auspiciousness is not a factual reason for the saris’ high value; a more concrete reason is likely the quality of the product and its importance in religious rituals and wedding ceremonies that take place within the city.

The city of Kanchipuram is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and spiritual cities in India. Its history is permeated in mythology and mysticism and can inspire a sense of wonder in the visitor or researcher. The large number of temples offers an interesting view into the Hindu religion and its practices. They have been the sites of many pilgrimages for the ascetic traveler and the aspiring scholar. Famous religious figures have been said to have traveled to the city and worshipped there. This has added to the fame of Kanchipuram, as well as its revered status as a “sacred city.” Depictions of various gods and the beautiful architecture of the city shed light on a not-so-distant Hindu past that has influenced many religious followers. The rituals and ceremonies that are daily occurrences in Kanchipuram give the city a sacred appeal to the outsider. Along with a very prominent religious appeal, some of the residents profit from the production of the city’s famed saris and offer potential auspiciousness for the person that owns one. Kanchipuram will undoubtedly remain a place where worship and spiritual teaching of the Hindu religion can occur and will hold its place as one of the most sacred cities in India.
References and Further Recommended Reading

Ayyar P.V. Jagadisa (1993) South Indian Shrines: Illustrated. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Dobbie, Aline (2006) India: The Elephants Blessing. Cambridgeshire: Melrose Book Press Limited.

Gopal, Madan (1990) India through the ages. K.S. Gautam, (ed). Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.

Hudson, D. Dennis, and Stratton Hawley John (2010) Krishna’s Mandala: Bhagavata Religion and Beyond. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Kawlra, Aarti (2005) Kanchipuram Sari: Design for Auspiciousness. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Narasimha Rao, P.V.L (2008) Kanchipuram: Land of Legends, Saints and Temples. New Delhi: Readworthy Publications.

Ninan, M.M. (2008) The Development of Hinduism. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Padman, Kaimal (2005) Learning to See the Goddess Once Again: Male and Female in Balance at the Kailāsanāth Temple in Kāñcīpuram. Oxford University Press

Schellinger, Paul E (1996) International dictionary of historic places: Asia and Oceania. Singapore: Toppan Co.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Siva

Visnu

Asurya

5 sacred cities

Tamil Nadu

Ascetics

Auspiciousness

Inauspiciousness

Naga

Dharma

Cosmos

Siva Linga

Buddhism

Jainism

Sari

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.kanchi.tn.nic.in/

http://www.sudarshansilk.com

http://www.kanchi-project.sai.uni-heidelberg.de/

http://www.kanchi.nic.in/temples.htm

http://www.kanchikamakshi.com/

http://www.transindiatravels.com/tamil-nadu/kanchipuram/tourist-places-to-visit-in-kanchipuram

 

Article Written By: Josh Prefontaine (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Karva Chauth Vrata

Of the various duties of a women (stridharma) the most important is a religious observance (vrata), which has fasting as a central element (Denton 24-31). Usually lasting from a day or two to a couple of weeks, vratas may involve group chanting, recitation of religious stories and or the creation of elaborate designs using colorful, powdered rice, but the most important element of the vrata is the fasting component (Denton 30-31). Dharma tends to elevate one feature of stridharma above all else and that is pativrata, the worshipful service of one’s husband (Denton 32). Vratas are mostly carried out by women for their husbands (suhag), the right to preserve their auspicious married state (saubhagya), or for their children (Pearson 78).

Although it may seem as if women are performing these vratas for the well-being of their family, that is not typically the case. According to the Manusmrti, being born a woman is considered the result of sins committed in one’s past life or lives. Being born sinful, a women is thought to be weak and impure, thus women should be “protected” at all stages of her life by male guidance who play an authoritative role in their lives. For example, when a girl is born, she is protected by her father and when she is married she is protected by her husband. Therefore, the Manusmrti declared that no sacrifice, vrata, and fast should be performed by a woman without her husband (Pearson 79-80). Nevertheless, women are considered ardhangani, or “half the body” of a male. The three goals of a householder dharma, artha, and kama are incomplete without the cooperation of one’s wife and therefore a women is essential to the welfare and dharmic duties of the male householder (Pearson 80). After marriage, women are considered to be responsible to perform all types of special vratas for the welfare of one’s husbands.

Taking place during the fall, Karva Chauth is an important observance followed by married Hindu women of Northern India. On this day, prayers are offered to Siva, Parvati, Ganesa and to Chandrama (God of the Moon) in return for the welfare, prosperity and longevity of their husbands. This vrata consists of a daylong fast obtained by the woman, where one is not allowed to consume water nor food (Melton 497). Over the years, this vrata is being recognized as a joyous occasion celebrated by all members of the family, as opposed to a duty forced upon women. Every year, on the fourth day of the waning moon in the Indian Hindu month of Kartika (October in the Western/Gregorian Calendar), the Karva Chauth festival is held. Women wake up early in the morning, before dawn, and enjoy a bite to eat with the other women of the household. Throughout the day, more preparations are made for the evening (Melton 497-498).

Henna is an important factor of this vrata. In some societies, henna is considered to be a very sensual, beautifying agent. Throughout this vrata, moments of one’s wedding day are reminisced. On wedding days, brides’ arms and feet are decorated with henna. Henna is said to bring good luck. In some societies henna is also seen as a cleanser to ritually “clean” the bride during the week of celebrations prior to the wedding. In the old days, henna was said to be emblematic of the blood stained sheets of the virgin bride after the consummation of her marriage (Monger 150). Amidst the preparations for the evening, applying henna to your arms is of significance to this vrata. It has been passed down for generations that the longer the henna stays on the girl’s hands, the longer her husband will love her (Monger 150).

Among these preparations, gift-giving among family members, especially the spouses, has become a common gesture. Mothers of wedded women will give gifts known as “Baya” (Melton 498). A husband giving a piece of jewellery or some kind of other gift to his wife is also common nowadays. The Karva Chauth vrata becomes a celebration by the evening. Women from neighboring homes and families related to the household come over and together the rest of the activities are carried out. Women adorn themselves in their finest jewellery and either dress up in their wedding dresses or in a new dress that is comparable to their wedding dress. After everybody is ready, before the moon comes out, women gather in a circle around the storyteller, who recites the story behind the vrata of Karva Chauth.

The Karva Chauth vrata is associated with many myths. The most popular myth is called The Kings Daughter (Beck and Claus 48-49). This myth consists of betrayal, repent, and sorrow. There was once a king with seven sons and the youngest of them all was a daughter who was very dear to everyone, especially her brothers. As would happen to any individual, the daughter grew up and got married. When the day came to keep a vrata for her husband, the daughter did as any other married women was to do, but the daughter was very delicate and weak and soon she became pale. This sight was unbearable to her brothers, so they hatched a plan to help their sister out of her misery. The brothers managed to create a fake moon, and the trick their sister into thinking it was the real moon so that she would break her fast and eat. The princess, unfortunately, believed her brothers and broke the fast by completing all the necessary rituals, but as fate has it, the next day her husband fell very ill. As days passed on his health got worse and no medication was effective. When she had no choice, the princess called the priests and asked what else could be done. The pandita (religious priests) informed the princess of how she had broken her fast before the moon had arose and therefore, her husband fell ill and has been waning since. Before leaving, the pundits advised the princess to wait until the next fourth day of the waning moon in the month of Kartika. They informed her to complete the vrata this time, fully. The princess did as she was told. She kept the fast until the moon was up and her husband’s health started getting better. The princess and her prince then lived happily ever after. [There are many interpretations of this myth depending on the region in India. One version, different from the one provided can be found in Melton (2011)].

In the evening the women of the house gather for the final rituals of the fast. Surrounding them will be a metal urn (karva) filled with water, a mud pot which is symbolic of the deity Ganesa, a statue of Parvati (Gaur Mata) and food items to offer the gods as well as the person selected to tell story (Melton 498). While waiting for the moon to arise, the women will listen to a version of the myth. The myth is told by a chosen older women with experience of the vrata. Upon seeing the moonlight, the women pass around the karva and offer water to Chandrama and ask for his blessings. These women then pray for their husband’s well-being and then worship their husband as if they were worshipping a deity (Melton 498). After worshipping their husbands, the husbands help break their fast, and they then enjoy a meal. During this time, and out of appreciation for their full day’s efforts, husbands tend to gift their wives jewellery or a new article of clothing (Melton 498).

The Karva Chauth vrata is undoubtedly one of the harder vratas due to the no consumption of food or water rule, which lasts from dawn until moonlight. Married Indian women are deemed to be responsible to complete vratas. Completing vratas is considered a way of cleansing one of their sins but according to the Manusmrti, for a women, there is no way to completely purify yourself. According to the Manusmrti the biggest sin is being a women.  (Pearson 79-80). Women were considered completely impure, and bad luck, which explains why in the older days baby girls were immediately disposed of after their birth. Nowadays women are more in power due to the growth of feminist point of views. With this, views on women have changed. Nowadays in bigger cities, women will be less interested in keeping vratas for their husbands. Women of this generation might worry about their body or may not believe in the concept of vrata. As time passes by, the role and rituals of women have changed. There are many women that still live in India that perform this and many other vratas for the well-being and safety of their husbands. Even people who live outside of India perform this vrata as it is not a difficult to perform. Karva Chauth is one of the more important vratas that is to be fulfilled or accomplished by women of an Indian household.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Beck, Brenda E. F (1987) Folktales of India. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Bose, Mandakranta (2010) Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles, and Exceptions. Oxon: Routledge.

Channa, V.C (1984) Hinduism. New Delhi: National Publishing House.

Denton, Lynn Tesky (2004) Female Ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press

Leslie, Julia (1991) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. New Jersey: Associated University Presses.

Monger, George P (2004) Marriage Customs of the World: From Henna to Honeymoons. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Pearson, Anne Mackenzie (1996) Because It Gives Me Peace of Mind: Ritual Fasts in the
Religious Lives of Hindu Women.
Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pintchman, Tracy (2007) Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rinehart, Robin (2004) Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Teej Festival
Siva
Parvati
Ganesa
Chandrama
Manusmrti
Hindu Calendar System
Saivite Community
Ahoi Ashtami
Concept of stridharma
Caturmas
Ekadashi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
http://www.karwachauth.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karva_Chauth

http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/p/karwachauth.htm

http://www.karwachauthgifts.com/karva-chauth-customs.html

Article written by: Nidhi Patel (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Nagara Style of Hindu Temples

The origin of the Hindu temple is said to be the ancient basic circle of stones within which one cherished holy relics, human or divine. It is the Hindu temple where the contact between man and gods take place and it is also where a man progresses from the world of illusion to knowledge and truth and thus, a temple is not only a place to worship but an object to worship as well (Michell 61-62). A Hindu temple not only shows unique architecture but also symbolizes ideas characteristic in its structure, which are usually related to the common practice of people residing around it. A pilgrimage or visit to a temple is undertaken for the purpose of looking at it (darsana) (Kramrisch 8).

The evolution of Hindu temples occurred over many centuries due to differing views between the rulers of the Indian sub-continent. Emperor Asoka is credited with ordering the construction of the first significant stone structures in India around 3rd century, BCE. Religious architecture can be tracked back to the Vedic time (1500 – 700 BCE) and practices of temple worship can be traced back to texts from the Puranas and earlier (Michell 63-64). The construction of the temples however was on a small scale back then, which included materials such as timber, baked clay bricks and mud. Caves were naturally the earliest shrines on record and from the 4th to 7th century, a classical “golden period” of art and architecture emerged in India. It was this period in which temple building activities grew rapidly all over the country (Singh and Sharma 17). When kings conquered other kingdoms for the purpose of expansion, they reintegrated their thoughts into carvings of antique superstructures. Some stages of architectural patterns still survive to the present day.

A Nagara style temple would generally stand on a high platform (jagati) made of stone bricks, with several mouldings. The identification of the temple with a mountain is specific and the superstructure is known as a “mountain peak” [For more information and visuals, see Michell 69, Fig. 62]. The jagati represents the feet of a man. Over jagati, there is a smaller platform of stones (pitha). Over the pitha, there rises an even smaller platform (adhisthana), which is the base of the superstructure of the temple. The pillars and walls of the temple are raised on the adhisthana (Singh and Sharma 18).

The Nagara style is not native to the mountainous region and some believe it was introduced in the late Gupta period. The Nagara, also known as the sikhara (mountain peak) type, can be divided into three sub-groups: The first is the Phamsana Type. This is the earliest known type of sikhara. It is usually a pyramidal structure divided into seven, nine and eleven tiers. The towering sikhara is crowned by an amalaka, which is a stone disk believed to represent the deity of the temple. A kalasam, a finial from which the temple banner is hung, crowns the amalaka itself. Illustrations of the Phamsana Type can be viewed at the Siva temple at Camunda, the Nrshimha temple at Bharmaur and many others (Singh and Sharma 19). The second is the Latina Type. This type represents most of the stone temples of Nagara style in Himachal Pradesh and is believed to have emerged at the beginning of the 8th century. The Latina Type temples are curvilinear in nature, following their trademark triratha plan. “The central bands of the superstructure are tall spines of web patterns cast over receding cornices – the creepers (latas) of the Nagara temple’s Latina formula” (Meister 256). An example of this temple would be the Rudranath (Gopinath) temple in Uttrakhand. The third is the Valabhi Type. These temples have a rectangular ground plan, a doorway on one of its longer sides, and a semi-cylindrical sikhara. No Valabhi Types are found in Himachal Pradesh but there are several examples of this type across India. [See Singh and Sharma (2008) for extensive information on the Valabhi Type].

The Nagara style has 2 basic components. The first is garbhagra, a sanctum with only one entrance, in which the image of the main deity is installed (Singh and Sharma 27). “The garbhagrha consists of 4×4 = 16 squares, which is equivalent to the Brahmasthana” (Thakur 264). The second component is known as mandapa, a porch in front of the garbhagrha, typically exposed from three sides for the worshippers to assemble for worship. [Refer to Singh and Sharma (2008) for more information on this component of the Nagara style]. Various examples of diverse ideologies of different emperors regarding Nagara temple architecture will be explored in the following cases.

The northern style under the Guptas and their successors (400 CE – 600 CE) portrayed a square sanctuary that connected with a pillared porch. The roof of the sanctuary consisted of horizontal stone slabs and this part lacked a tower. A horizontal molding serves as a cornice on the plain wall surfaces. Uprights that margin the doorway are divided into vertical bands, which continue over the lintel.  The porch had columns divided into square, octagonal and sixteen-sided sections with undergrowth centers supporting brackets engraved with pairs of seated animals (Michell 94).

Rock-cut temples were common under the Early Chalukyas, Kalachuris and Rashtrakutas (500 CE – 700 CE). These cave temples contain pillared halls with small chambers cut into the posterior walls. The halls have columnar arrangements, with varieties such as fluted shafts or panels of relief carvings; cushion capitals are also employed (Michell 98, Fig. 41). Together with the doorways, these columns display clear northern stylistic characteristics. The brackets of the outer columns of these caves are fashioned to depict amorous couples beneath trees, a motif considered particularly appropriate for the entrance of a temple (Michell 99, Fig. 42). Another variation of the rock-cut temples places the sanctuary in the middle of the columnar hall instead of the posterior wall. The lack of the external access via a flight of steps, sometimes guarded by lions, is characteristic of these caves. The Elephanta cave near Mumbai resembles this type of architecture and one of the main focal points is a three-headed, major sculpture of Lord Siva, also known as the Great Lord, Mahesha (Michell 98-101). Other carved panels nearby are devoted to scenes from the mythology of Siva.

The northern style under the Kalingas and Eastern Gangas (700 CE – 1200 CE) can be seen in some of the Orissan temples such as the Parashurameshvara temple. “The emphasis on the horizontal courses employed in the superstructure of the sanctuary and roof of the adjoining hall is one of their main characteristics. Another key characteristic is the contrast between the vertical profile of the superstructure, curving only at the very top, and the pyramid-like arrangement of hall roof” (Michell 110). In the Vairal Deul temple in Bhubaneshwar, the sanctuary is rectangular and is positioned on a transverse axis to the adjoining hall. The walls of the sanctuary are divided into projections with carved panels, which lead into the lower parts of the superstructure (Michell 111, Fig. 51). As centuries went by, stylistic developments were occurring in the Indian sub-continent. Further stylistic advances may be detected in the Lingaraja temple in Bhubasneshwar (Michell 113, Fig. 53). “The outer walls are divided by a horizontal molding into two registers, as are the tiers of the hall roof, which is surmounted by an inverted bell-shaped fluted form” (Michell 112). This temple was enlarged by the addition of two more halls along the principal axis of the temple to create a sequence of successive interior spaces that was to be copied in later Orissan temples.

The northern style under the Pratiharas and Chandellas (700 CE – 1000 CE) erected several small temples at various sites, which resembled typical northern stylistic features such as a square sanctuary with projecting niches, carved doorways, and towers with curved profile. Distinct stylistic innovations appeared by the 9th century and one temple built with similar designs is the Telika Mandir at Gwalior (Michell 116, Fig. 57). This temple’s rectangular sanctuary raises the superstructure into a massive dome. The unique expansions on the end of the temple project complex interlocking horseshoe arched designs. These expansions spread onto the horizontal divisions of the tower serving as pediments above the doorways (Michell 116, Fig. 58). When the Chandella kingdom replaced the Pratihara rule, several new temples with unique architectural designs were built in Khajuraho, one of the kingdom’s capital cities. Their tall slender columns characterize the interiors of the Khajuraho temples. Auspicious females support the foliage design that exists on the brackets of these columns. The dome-like ceiling above the central spaces of the porches and halls provides the Khajuraho temples’ chief interest. The ceilings are usually sculptured with cusps that rise in diminishing circles to an overhanging lotus bed. The doorway to this sanctuary is characteristic of a northern manner and the images on the outer walls are floodlit by the lighting from the open balconies (Michell 122, Fig. 63).

The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple at Khajuraho is a classic example of the Nagara temple style produced by the Chandella Dynasty (Khajuraho, India)
The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple at Khajuraho is a classic example of the Nagara temple style produced by the Chandella Dynasty (Khajuraho, India)

The northern style under the Maitrakas and Solankis (700 CE – 1200 CE) erected temples that were small buildings with diminishing stepped mouldings adorned with bold horseshoe arched ‘windows’. The Maitraka rulers built temples near Gujarat after gaining control of the region in the 7th century. Under the Solanki kings, who took over the Maitrakas, Gujarat developed prolific regional architecture style. The Surya temple at Modhera is widely known for its unique two structures and an artificial tank that resides along the east-west axis (Michell 124, Fig. 64). The hall of this temple has its long side positioned towards the principal emphasis of the temple with its plan spreading outwards in a number of different projections. The balcony slabs have panels with attendant figures carved upon and the brackets of the outer columns of the temple support an overhanging cave (Michel 125, Fig. 65). The temple itself consists of a hall and sanctuary surrounded on three sides by an ambulatory passageway.

The earliest stone Hindu temples in Kashmir and other Himalayan valleys (700 CE – modern period) can be traced back to the 8th century when Lalitaditya ruled the region. The lower valleys of the Himalayas mark the most northerly extension of Hindu architecture. The Surya temple at Martand was also erected under his patronage. A trilobe arch that frames the doorway is characteristic of the Kashmir style and is well-illustrated in the Siva temple at Pandrethan. The temple has a square sanctuary with entrances on all four sides. A Kashmir characteristic trilobe arch frames the opening. The sloping roof of this temple is divided into two tiers with horseshoe headed ‘windows’. The ceiling of the temple has lotus designs with attendant figures engraved upon (Michell 128, Fig. 67). In the nearby regions of Kulu, Kangra and Chamba, timber and brick buildings dominate the temple forms. Stone is sometimes retained for the doorways and walls of the shrines in these temples. The characteristic northern style can be found in the decoration of the doorframes in these temples.

Two of the earliest surviving brick temples in North India – the Laksmana temple at Sirpur and the Rajivalocana temple at Rajim in south Kosala – preserve superstructures suggestive as much of “Kutina” forms as of the final Latina formula of North Indian Nagara temples (Meister 277, Figs. 21-23). These structures show large single candrasala (“moon-hall”) windows progressing up the central offset of the sikhara and karna-kutas which, while pulled in to the body of the superstructure, have not been absorbed fully into the mass nor condensed beyond recognition. On both temples, these kutas are full miniature structures, presented as small-pillared pavilions with simple superstructures (Meister 288, Figs. 21, 27). In comparison to the Dravidian style, the Indo-European or Nagara style is a curvilinear, beehive shaped tower rather than a pyramid consisting of smaller storeys of smaller pavilions. The base plan itself is usually square in the northern style compared to the pyramidal vimana put on top of the garbhagrha [For information on the Dravidian style, see Michell 127-137].

In modern day India, new temples continue to be erected and older buildings refurbished. Compared to the southern temple style, northern temples are the product of a more discontinuous tradition (Michell 183-184). A temple is a place where one strives for the self-realization, where one finds their true self. It is a place where one may understand their atman/ jiva and possibly, Brahman.

 

Notable websites associated to the discussion:

http://mytemplesindia.com/architecture/

https://hindutemplesindia.wordpress.com/tag/vesara-style-temple-architecture/

http://www.drishtiias.com/upsc-exam-gs-resources-INDIAN-TEMPLE-ARCHITECTURE

http://0-search.proquest.com.darius.uleth.ca/docview/385720691/fulltext?accountid=12063&ticket=ST-6634-hKvKyLgsheKdSVemervh-lot.online.uleth.ca

Related areas for additional research:

Vastupurusha

Mandala

Darsana

Puranas

Jagati

Pitha

Adhisthana

Amalaka

Garbagrha

Siva

Mahesha

Linga

Asoka

Dravidian

Brahman

Atman

Himalayan temple architecture

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Kramrisch, Stella (1976) The Hindu Temple Vol. I. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Meister, Michael W. (1988-1989) Prasada as Palace: Kuṭina Origins of the Nagara Temple. Zurich: Artibus Asiae.

Michell, George (1988) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meaning and Forms. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Singh, K.A., and Shuchita Sharma (eds.) (2008) Temple Architecture of the Western Himalayas – Ravi and Beas Valley. Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan.

Thakur, Laxman S. (1990) Application of Vastupuraṣamaṇḍala in the Indian Temple Architecture: An Analysis of the Nagara Temple Plans of Himachal Pradesh. Zurich: Artibus Asiae.

Article written by: Sidhesh Mohak (April 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

Thaipusam

Thaipusam is a religious festival celebrated by Tamils that originated in South India, but is now particularly popular in Malaysia and Singapore. It is one of the largest festivals in Malaysia, even though Indians make up less than 10% of the population (Ward 317). It begins on the first day with a full moon during the month of Thai in the Tamil calendar (January to February) and lasts for three days. This time of the year is a powerful occasion due to the austerity associated with the astrological signs of the full moon.

There are several versions of how the celebration originated, but the most widely accepted one includes the defeat of the evil demon Surapadma by the god Murugan, son of Parvati and Siva. It was believed that Surapadma victimized and hurt people, so the people asked Parvati to send her son to help them. However, she was unable to grant their request because Murugan was practicing asceticism in isolation. Not deterred by this, the people proceeded to where Murugan was living, who was touched by their journey and decided to help the people. On the day worshippers now celebrate Thaipusam, Parvati had given him a sacred lance to use as a weapon that aided in his defeat of Surapadma (Collins 63). Another, less popular, origin story claims that Murugan was taken away from his place of asceticism to be married in a temple. By accident, the priest polluted the auspicious ceremony by sneezing, so the marriage had to be postponed until the following year (Collins 77). Even though Hindus have differing opinions on how Thaipusam originated, they collectively celebrate it in the same way.

The celebration comprises of a three-day festival and has a particularly busy schedule for followers. Before the sun rises on the first day of Thaipusam, a Pandaram, a non-Brahmin priest, meets other festival committee members at a shop-house, which holds a chariot and a murti (image) of Murugan. The festival usually begins at 4:00AM when the Pandaram performs puja (worship) on the image, anointing and dressing it, and passing flaming lights before the image (arati). At 8:00AM, a chariot procession begins. Behind the chariot, about twenty men and a couple of boys carry wooden arches called kavadis on their shoulders with a pot of milk suspended at either end. They walk without shoes because of the sacred journey they are beginning. Large throngs of worshippers gather around the chariot to make offerings to Murugan and to touch sacred ash to their bodies.

While the chariot, murti, and the garments worn by celebrants are physically and elaborately decorated, the festival is also embellished artistically through dance and music. Along the journey, kavadi dances (kavadi attam) take place, where dancers form in circles and seem to enter a trance as the music intensifies and their dancing becomes more complicated. Sometimes, individuals are seen dropping to the ground in a faint, overcome with the spiritual presence of the god. Fan-bearers follow, along with musicians playing drums and other instruments (Collins 62-68).

The procession is usually finished by 10:00PM and the murti is brought into the innermost chambers of a temple, where it is kept for two days. Immediately after the murti is placed there that night, devotees make a pilgrimage up a large hill or temple steps. In Malaysia, a full night of walking takes Hindus up almost three hundred steps to the Batu Caves, an essential component of Thaipusam.  The caves serve as shrines and relate to the story of how Murugan conquered Surapadma. The second day of the festival is spent at this sacred place, where Murugan is worshipped and vows are received (Ward 319). That night, they make their way back down and the Pandaram, temple committee, musicians, and other worshippers take Murugan’s image out of the temple. They proceed back to the shop-house that holds the chariot, murti, and kavadis where the festival started. There, one last puja is performed before the festival is over and everyone heads home (Collins 88).

Prior to their time in the Batu Caves, Hindus will make vows in anticipation that they will be fulfilled symbolically through the act of the rituals performed throughout the length of the festival. Rituals encourage festival celebrants to leave material pursuits in preference for spiritual devotion and thanksgiving, representative of Murugan’s asceticism. Most Hindus are motivated by these vows, where they make an offering for a specific period of time and in turn, their vows are fulfilled. Thaipusam devotees often ask for requests that involve marriage, health and financial concerns, and educational wishes (Ward 318-319). Asceticism has many expressions, ranging from generic rituals to the more radical rituals. One simple ritual often associated with Thaipusam is head-shaving (pirarttanai mudi), which allows the devotee to become free of sin by removing hair, which acts as a pollutant.  More complex rituals usually include body piercing. Worshippers will sleep on the ground in the temple courtyard the night before the festival, then take a ritual bath and have incense passed before their faces, ensuring that the presence of Murugan is strong. They will go into a trance and have hooks and skewers inserted into their bodies. The power of Murugan is believed to be the reason why blood is rarely shed and celebrants report that they feel little to no pain during mortification of the flesh. The most extreme part of this ritual an individual may perform includes pulling a chariot by the hooks pierced into one’s back, while carrying milk pots from the chest and from a six foot long lance, pierced through the cheeks (Collins 80-82).

The trances can affect humans biologically, psychologically, and physiologically. Similar impacts from trances are seen wherever they are practiced, even across different cultures (Simpson 21). This altered state of consciousness is defined as a change in the typical pattern of how an individual mentally operates (Ward 308). It can occur in many different ways, with forms including religious ecstasy and spirit possession more difficult to study empirically compared to forms like sleep and hypnosis. However, trances are typically demonstrated by changes in facial expressions and posture of the individuals, and there is still a conscious awareness of their surroundings, posing little harm to themselves or others (Kiev 134).

During Thaipusam, trances are strongly induced by sensory stimuli. Sanskrit prayers are heard chanted by religious followers and a pujari (temple priest), while burning incense is in the air. Trances are also aided physiologically by the feeling of light-headedness from fasting before the festival (Ward 320). Field observations suggest that the chanting, music, and dancing stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain and disrupt the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic system will dominate, causing muscle tension and decreases in breathing rates. This is responsible for inducing and maintaining the altered state of consciousness (Ward 312, 323). Individuals often report that after coming out of their altered state of consciousness, which is also associated with feelings of floating and extreme emotions, they experience a sense of exhilaration and rejuvenation (Ward 322). This lack of pain that they feel is suggested to be from the release of endorphins, blockage in the sympathetic nervous system, or modification of the physiological process from previous experience (Prince 310-311).

Positive psychological benefits of trances include prestige and respect paid to the individual by others, in addition to the ability to release emotions that may have been previously held in due to shame.  Interpersonal relationships across different classes that would otherwise be frowned upon can also be formed. On a more encompassing level, these trances can encourage cohesion within a subculture by tightening social structure and interaction between the community and individuals (Ward 316-317). Despite possible pain and bleeding, both individuals and groups of people can benefit from the piercings as a release of emotions and a way for a community to fulfill status needs (Ward 331).

Individuals have had to find different ways to personally worship Murugan because of the politics in Malaysia throughout history. During the colonial period, the British administration banned all Malaysians from celebrating Thaipusam, worried that it could be used as a cover for violent acts. In the 1960s, the ban was retracted because the authorities viewed religion as a way to bring peace (Collins 89). While these celebrations are still banned in India, over the years there has been a significant increase in the number of people celebrating Thaipusam in Malaysia (Ward 324). In a matter of only 20 years, beginning in 1980, the number of people participating at the Batu Caves increased from 500 to over 3 000 (Collins 89). There are several reasons for the increase in number, one being that it provided a more egalitarian aspect. A festival to an Amman (village goddess) was meant for vow fulfillment and celebrated in various Malaysian cities. Everyone had an important role, including the Untouchables, to ensure that the community did not bring disgrace to their goddess. Gradually, as more estate owners discouraged participation in the festival, labourers headed to the Thaipusam festivals for a sense of equality with others (Collins 91-92). In addition, temples eventually became accessible to “Untouchables” and transportation was more widely available, resulting in the resurgence of people worshipping Murugan (Clothey 115-116).

Furthermore, an increase in crowds due to tourism has been observed at Thaipusam festivals. While it can be an attractive tourism activity for foreigners, it is meant to be a sacred religious time for devotees, and the challenge is to balance both of these aspects (Weidenfeld and Ron 358). The possibility of a large amount of profit should not affect the spiritual acts of worship and celebration; however, domestic travel in Malaysia alone has increased just from Hindus travelling to the Batu Caves for a few days every year. While some practitioners report that they do not mind tourists, others think that their presence can be disrespectful, especially when tour operators and foreigners are said to not have the consideration to dress appropriately or to abstain from smoking on temple grounds. Tourists often come to the celebration to witness the remarkable event, and worshippers may feel pressured to meet those requirements, which could lead them to stray away from the authenticity of the festival. Another negative force on the worship from the increase in the festival’s popularity is the large number of crowds in the limited space at the caves. The Batu Caves are particularly popular; followers explain that the environment of being surrounded by people at a splendorous temple, elevated high on a hill, makes them feel closer to their god. In order to alleviate congestion in these temple centres, better management on transport could be implemented, or people could be encouraged to visit the other various temples spread throughout the country (Kasim 444-452).

The festival has generated controversy among different groups of people in today’s society. In recent years, the authorities in Singapore banned music from the festival altogether. Celebrants argue that both music and dance are essential in religious expression (Kong 241-242), and it is noted that the loud beating of drums in the lion dance performed on the streets on Chinese New Year is still allowed. However, people may argue that the Thaipusam ceremonies focus on the ostentatious aspect of body piercing. Some devotees spend up to $300 for kavadis, and there have been regulations put into place in Malaysia, specifically Penang, prohibiting the use of cheek skewers longer than eight feet (Ward 325). Piercing bodies with hooks and skewers also raises questions about the safety of participants. During the 1970s and 1980s, the methods of body mortification became more dangerous, like wearing shoes made out of nails (Jegindo et al. 174). To what extent should the authorities control the acts of religious worshippers for the safety of everyone? Even with these differing opinions, the festival becomes an increasingly popular time of year when over a million Hindus take part in both the joyous and sacred aspects of the festival dedicated to Murugan.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Clothey, Fred (2005) The many faces of Murukan: the history and meaning of a South Indian God. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Collins, Elizabeth (1997) Pierced by Murugan’s Lance: Ritual, Power, and Moral Redemption among Malaysian Hindus. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

Jegindo, Else-Marie, Lene Vase, Jens Jegindo, and Armin Geertz (2013) “Pain and Sacrifice: Experience and Modulation of Pain in a Religious Piercing Ritual.” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Vol. 23, No. 3: 171-187.

Kasim, Azilah (2011) “Balancing Tourism and Religious Experience: Understanding Devotees’ Perspectives on Thaipusam in Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.” Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management, Vol. 20, No. 3-4: 441-456.

Kiev, Ari (1961) “Spirit Possession in Haiti.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 118, No. 2: 133-138.

Kong, Lily (2005) “Religious Processions: Urban Politics and Poetics.” Temenos, Vol. 31, No. 2: 225-249.

Prince, Raymond (1982) “The Endorphins: A Review for Psychological Anthropologists.” Ethos, Vol. 10, No. 4: 303-316.

Simpson, George (1964) “The Acculturative Process in Trinidadian Shango.” Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 1: 16-27.

Ward, Colleen (1984) “Thaipusam in Malaysia: a psycho-anthropological analysis of ritual trance, ceremonial possession and self-mortification practices.” Ethos, Vol. 12, No. 4: 307-344.

Weidenfeld, Adi and Amos Ron (2008) “Religious Needs in the Tourism Industry.” Anatolia, Vol. 19, No. 2: 357-361.

 

Related topics for Further Investigation

Murugan

Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves

Penang

Puja

Yajna

Siva

Parvati

Tamil

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.wonderfulmalaysia.com/malaysia-thaipusam-hindu-festival.htm

http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/malaysia-thaipusam-pp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thaipusam

 

Article written by: Michelle Kwan (April 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Tirthas (Pilgrimage Sites)

The Vedic word tirtha, stemming from ter and tarate, means “ford, steps to a river, place of pilgrimage” (Saraswati 2). In time, the meaning of tirtha has spread to refer to all holy sites and items considered holy. To be considered a tirtha, there will likely be a special natural characteristic of the geography, it will be associated with deities, or it will have been a place where holy sages, yogis and rsis spent time. Thus, a tirtha can refer to a body of water, speech, ritual, trees, time periods, places gods inhabit, and many more important things considered holy by Hindu devotees. Bodies of water are especially considered holy; they represent purity, a characteristic considered essential to Hindu puja and yajna. In the Puranas, tirtha-yatra (pilgrimage) to these holy mountains and bodies of water have become very important to Hindus. Tirtha-yatra is considered action toward absolution of wrongdoing and an attempt to create merit through karma (action) (Saraswati 3). Through these definitions, it is clear that a tirtha can represent many things considered important to a Hindu devotee.

It is important to note that tirthas are often considered to have different levels of importance and, thus, unequal merit amounts. Since the Hindu tradition does not have one main holy site, certain places of pilgrimage have been ordered in importance by multiple sources, such as the Mahabharata or the Puranas. These rankings are based on beliefs that more important tirthas will lead a Hindu to a higher level of purity (Jacobsen 122 and Saraswati 6). Some sites, like the Ganga River, are even considered to erase sin or bad karma accumulated over the entirety of a lifetime. This near-hierarchical labeling is seen as important because Hindu devotees wish to visit the sites with the greatest dharmic benefit. Because many tirthas claim to offer higher redemption or purity, it is argued that Hindus will take the tirtha-yatra most beneficial to their dharmic journey (Jacobsen 124). Rating the various tirthas does not necessarily mean to show actual hierarchy of the most important sites. They do, however, highlight the most popular tirthas, showing their sociological and cultural significance to the Hindu tradition. Misrikh, for example, is considered by some to be one of the most important tirthas. The Mahatmyas say that all waters of every tirtha is present at Misrikh, so it is likened to being purified by all tirthas at once (Jacobsen 56). However, others may believe the Ganga river is more powerful in its purifying abilities.

Going on pilgrimage can be seen as a stronger and alternative form of worship to Hindu deities. Pilgrimage to a tirtha is often based on a physical, geographical site. These tirthas are often physical locations where Hindus believe gods and other important persons have come from, and thus are manifest. Historical religious relevance is the main reason for this tradition and it often leads to strong devotion. Several authorities on Hindu tirtha-yatra have classified and analysed present-day tirthas, and have come up with a useful system to observe which sites are considered sociologically, religiously and most culturally relevant to devotees of the tradition. Of the 142 tirthas studied, just under 60% were water associated [see Bhardwaj 87: referring to river banks, river sources, confluences of rivers or coasts]. This emphasizes the importance of proximity to running water as an important characteristic of a holy place in connection to the significance of ritual purity of the soul and a strong connection with bathing (Bhardwaj 88).

Hindu devotees and pilgrims bathe in the sacred waters at Pura Tirta Empul on the island of Bali (Tampaksiring, Bali, Indonesia)
Hindu devotees and pilgrims bathe in the sacred waters at Pura Tirta Empul on the island of Bali (Tampaksiring, Bali, Indonesia)

Tirtha-yatra is considered to be more challenging than visiting a local tirtha or temple, even though travelling methods and transportation have improved with new technology. Hindus believe that participating in a tirtha-yatra with long distances and difficulty allows the pilgrim to reap all the benefits the holy place may offer. Exposure to hardship and austerity are believed to enable the earning of merit and the removal in impurity (Nordin 414). This also influences rankings of the tirthas. The Brahma Purana states that the Ganga River is thought to have come from Visnu, the Saravati River stems from Brahma, and the Narmada River comes from Siva. Bathing in any of these rivers is believed to create huge amounts of merit and relieve the Hindu devotee of all sin (Saraswati 5). Yet a Hindu who lives close to the Ganga River does not have to make great effort to visit this site. Thus, it may be seen as more desirable to travel to a different tirtha that is further away. Simply visiting the Ganga would be easy for this Hindu and thus he may not gain the extra dharmic auspiciousness that tirtha-yatra claims to offer (Jacobsen 21). Anthropologist Victor Turner discusses tirtha-yatra as a spiritually transitional rite of passage for Hindus. Turner’s suggests that devotees psychologically and spiritually prime themselves and change during a tirtha-yatra. By embarking on a pilgrimage, a devotee enters a phase that can be considered a “liminal state” different from daily life. Turner claims that this liminal state allows the “liberation of human capacities of cognition, affect, [and] volition.” (Weber 527) Thus, when a pilgrim enters this “liminal state,” he is considered to be in a phase of fluctuation. Turner argues that this “liminal state” allows a pilgrim to cross over from his ordinary life and experience deeper spirituality and achieve holiness or purity. After ending the pilgrimage and exiting the “liminal stage,” the pilgrim is considered to have experienced “cultural creativity” and become something new.

Other important tirthas include mountains and forests. The Himalayas have become one of the supreme mountain tirthas. Sanctuaries like Badarinath, Kedarnath and Amarnath on the Himalayas are sought out by many of these pilgrims (Eck 335). They also involve a difficult journey, which is often associated with more merit. Forests, too, have come to represent some of the most symbolic tirthas: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, two of the most important epics in Hinduism, have introduced the forests that heroes like Rama and the Pandavas were exiled to. Because these heroes are widely known in Hindu culture, forest tirtha-yatra is often pursued, especially by those in the vanaprastha and samnyasin stages of life when this activity is encouraged. Furthermore, certain religiously significant cities have become tirthas. Among them are Ayodhya, the capital of Rama; Varanasi, the city of Siva on the Ganga; and Dvaraka, the capital of Krshna within Western India (Eck 335). This sacred geography of India is extremely important to Hindu culture: through tirtha-yatra to these holy places, Hindus are able to physically engage in their religious history. [For more information on specific associations between Hindu gods and geography, see Eck 323-344].

While tirtha-yatra is often based on a geographically significant site, the intention is for a visitation to a tirtha to be considered a spiritual “crossing over” by the devotee: these holy places represent characteristics in the Mahabharata and the Puranas that are idealized in order to lead one to become a more dharmic being. It is suggested that Hindu devotees who bathe in earthly tirthas and spiritual tirthas receive “the supreme goal” of greater purity or even enlightenment (Eck 341). Thus, a Hindu devotee does not only physically engage in a tirtha: he aims to spiritually cross over samsara and illusion and draw himself closer to mukti through his pilgrimage.

The tirtha-yatra also functions to reconnect Hindu devotees to the greater tradition they are immersed in. The Mahabharata considers going on pilgrimage to be superior even to sacrifice (Bhardwaj 29). In the first and second dialogues in the Mahabharata over 330 places are mentioned as holy sites intended as tirtha-yatra. Furthermore, a clockwise tour of the India, starting at Pushkara and ending in Prayaga (modern Allahabad) is suggested in this text in order to fully experience the full religious journey (Bhardwaj 43). A long tirtha-yatra is also suggested to give a Hindu devotee a full idea of the vastness of India’s holy land and thus allow an essence of connection and uniformity between devotees. Attending Hindu festivals also allows a devotee to connect with his peers within the tradition. The Allahabad Kumbh Mela is one festival that occurs every twelve years and connects millions of devotees together, encouraging them to engage in tirtha-yatra. This festival stems from the sagar manthan (ocean-churning) story present in the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and several Puranas, and has become a part of orthodox Hindu tradition (MacLean 875).

Interaction between Hindu devotees and a tirtha is especially meaningful as it is one of the only forms of worship that allows the Hindu to interact with their religious traditions outside of gender and caste. Because pilgrimage can be less expensive than elaborate upper-varna rituals, tirthas are more accessible to lower varnas, untouchables, women, widows and those with illness. The village of Mehandipur near the capital of Rajasthan in India is a tirtha site known especially for attracting those with illness (Dwyer 5). Often these ill devotees have sought medical and traditional healing practices already. Thus, those at Mehandipur are often visiting as a last attempt to find healing, but also to erase bad karma. The hope is that the auspiciousness of the tirtha will lead to a supernatural cure (Dwyer 6). Generally, in India, mixing of caste is strictly taboo: it is believed to reduce purity of higher castes and thus interfere with important yajna rituals. For the lower varnas or the untouchable caste, social mobility is not possible (Bhardwaj 151). However, it is suggested that several sacred Hindu tirthas allow social and religious mobility: caste distinction fades away while on tirtha-yatra, especially in regards to necessities. For example, while on tirtha-yatra, food generally cannot be refused by anyone, even if it comes from a member of a lower caste. Food handling, an issue of purity that is usually regulated in the caste system, has its taboos erased and ends up providing a basis of equality for the lower castes, which, in the secular world is typically denied (Bhardwaj 151-152).

While visiting a tirtha, many Hindus participate in different puja or yajna practices in attempts to gain merit. Vows, prayers, holy baths, dana (gift giving), and other worship done at a household shrine is often acceptable (Saraswati 28). Furthermore, certain acts can be done by devotees at certain tirthas to gain that particular god’s attention. For example, worship to Siva can be done at the Ganga River, using the river’s water, milk, honey, or bhanga (Saraswati 29). Analysis on 142 tirthas shows that an estimated 36% of these holy sites focus on chief worship of Siva, while 29% focus on Visnu [see Bhardwaj 90: further breakdown and analysis]. Chief worship of deities is suggested to be a cause of attracting pilgrims to particular tirthas.

Because tirtha-yatra is not guaranteed to be a safe journey, ideas of “good death” are focused upon as further motivation for going on pilgrimage. Hindu pilgrims prepare themselves for possibly dangerous encounters. A pilgrimage may also be done to induce death, or commemorate a recent death (Nordin 403-404). The hardship and effort associated with tirtha-yatra, combined with the absolution of sin is believed to offer the assurance of a “good death” and thus a path to mukti (Nordin 408). The idea of a transfer of divine energy and removal of pollution or evil propagates the belief in supernatural deities capable of this (Nordin 414). “Good death” while on pilgrimage is believed to be a reward for a Hindu believer: 70% of pilgrims studied by Nordin believed death while on pilgrimage was auspicious and beneficial to the self (Nordin 418) and it is a common idea that this “good death” will put a devotee at the feet of Siva or Visnu (Nordin 420).

Some pilgrims desire these “good death” outcomes so greately that their deaths arguably verge on suicide. A portion of pilgrims put themselves in danger purposefully while at a tirtha and believe their fate will be decided by Siva (Nordin 425). Yet by placing themselves in physical illness or subjecting themselves to illness, their actions could be explained as actions toward suicide (atma hatya), which is believed to be a sin as explained through the Dharma Shastras and other Hindu dharma (Nordin 426). Furthermore, 61% of pilgrims studied by Nordin believed ritual suicide while on tirthayatra is a sin (Nordin 418). The difference between “good death” and the sin of suicide is thus very slight but simply perpetuated by hopes of the creation of good karma.

Works Referenced and Further Recommended Reading

Bhardwaj, Surinder Mohan (2003) Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. p 29-152.

Dwyer, Graham (1998) “The Phenomenology of Supernatural Malaise: Attribution, Vulnerability and the Patterns of Affliction at a Hindu Pilgrimage Centre in Rajasthan.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice, Vol. 42, No. 2, p 5-6. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Eck, Diana L. (1981) “India’s ‘Tirthas’: ‘Crossings’ in Sacred Geography.” History of Religions, Vol. 20, No. 4. p 323-344.

Ganguli, Kisari Mohan (trans.) (1896) The Mahabharata Book 13: Anusasana Parva. p. CIII. Calcutta: Bharata Press.

Jacobsen, Knut A. (2013) Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: Salvific Space. New York: Routledge. p 21-124.

Lannoy, Richard (2000/2001) “Benares as Tirtha.” India International Centre Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4. p 6-17. New Delhi: India International Centre.

MacLean, Kama (2003) “Making the Colonial State Work for You: The Modern Beginnings of the Ancient Kumbh Mela in Allahabad.” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 62, No. 3. p 875. Ann Arbor: Association for Asian Studies.

Messerschmidt, Donald A. (1981) “Hindu Pilgrimage in the Nepal Himalayas.” Current Anthropology. Vol. 22, No. 5. p 571-572. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Morinis, Alan E. (1984) Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: A Case Study of West Bengal. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nordin, Andreas (2009) “Good-death Beliefs and Cognition in Himalayan Pilgrimage.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Vol. 21, No. 4. p 403-426. Boston: BRILL.

Saraswati, Baidyanath (1985) Traditions of Tirthas in India: The anthropology of Hindu pilgrimage, Varanasi: NK Bose Memorial Foundation. p 2-29.

Weber, Donald (1995) “From Limen to Border: A Meditation on the Legacy of Victor Turner for American Cultural Studies.” American Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3. p 525-528. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Puja

Siva

Visnu

Good Death

Atma Hatya

Karma

Mukti/Mokti

Samsara

Dana

Household Shrines

Panentheism

Caste

Varna

Untouchables

Mahabharata

Dharma Shastras

Puranas

Atman

Rama

Varanasi

Vanaprastha

Samnyasin

Hardwar

Ganga River

Austerity

Auspiciousness

Mahatmyas

Merit

Rsi

Vedas

 

Related Websites

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/596892/tirtha

http://www.hinduism.co.za/tirtha.htm

http://www.tirthaguru.org/pilgrimage.htm

http://www.ometc.net/2010/02/what-is-the-meaning-of-tirtha.html

http://www.hindutirathyatra.com/

http://www.indianscriptures.com/vedic-lifestyle/beginners-guide/yatra-pilgrimage-in-hinduism

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/sacredscripts/hinduism/dharma/dharma_index.asp

http://larryavisbrown.homestead.com/files/xeno.mahabsynop.htm

 

Article written by: Kate Kovacs (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.