Design and Construction
- Sri Minaksi Temple
- Minaksi (Goddess and Temple)
- The Brhadisvara Temple
- The Konarak Sun Temple
- The Sabarimalai Temple and Pilgrimage
Khmer (Cambodian Temples)
Design and Construction
Khmer (Cambodian Temples)
Temples are a central aspect of life in the Hindu community and are sacred places for worship. The Hindu temple is a revered structure where the boundaries between humans and the divine are dissolved, allowing one to release themselves from illusion, or maya, and move towards knowledge and truth (Michell 61). In order for a temple to function properly and achieve its intended symbolic representation, the architect must consider the shape and materials of the temple as well as many complex mathematical and astrological principles. The Vastu-sastras are the general manuals on Hindu architecture and they, along with many other manuals, are consulted to help properly create the sacred temple. According to Volwahsen, “each step which the architect takes is regarded from the angle of ritual purity and magic effect, only rarely from the angle of structural expediency” (173). The temple creator is responsible for properly constructing the structure so that it correctly functions as a link between a person and their God. This is important not only for an individual worshipper, but for the whole community, as “the welfare of the community and the happiness of its members depend upon the correctly proportioned temple” (Michell 73).
The Underlying Grid
All Hindu temples begin with a ground plan, a sacred geometric diagram called the mandala that is representative of the universe. The mandala is a grid, a large square that is divided into smaller squares by intersecting lines. It is considered to be “a symbolic pantheon of the gods” (Michell 71), with the smaller squares representing or housing a particular deity and the central and largest square representing Brahma. Volwahsen explains that the “important gods cover the innermost ring, and in the outer rings there follow the gods of lower rank in the celestial hierarchy” (44). The mandala may also contain the image of the cosmic man, who is arranged diagonally and “is identified with the processes of the creation of the universe and its underlying structure” (Michell 71). This arrangement is known as the vastu-purusha mandala (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Vastu-purusha mandala, http://www.lokvani.com/lokvani/article.php?article_id=4149
There are numerous and varying mandalas used in temples throughout the world. One that is typical in South India differs in that instead of the cosmic man, the architect draws a magic sign, and is referred to as the sthandila mandala. According to Volwahsen, this mandala “visualizes the cosmic order” (56) differently than those previously mentioned. The center is occupied by Brahma, surrounded by the world of gods, who are then encircled by human beings (the terrestrial phenomena), and finally at the bottom are the goblins and demons (Volwahsen 56).
There are specific rules regarding the laying out of the temple mandala. Michell discusses the influence of astronomy and astrology and states that they “provide the basis for determining the appropriate moments when all important activities are undertaken” (72). Observing the cosmos and the heavenly bodies influences the temple building process, determines when the temple plan is to be laid out, and through astronomical calculations, also regulates the mandala. Within texts such as the Brhatsamhita, the Sastras and the Agamas, astrological information is given in reference to temple layout and construction. The importance of astrology expressed in these texts shows “a conscious desire to identify the physical forms of the temple with the laws that govern the movements of heavenly bodies” (Michell 73).
As important as the layout and grid of a Hindu temple are the materials used to build it. There are many Sastras and ancient texts on temple building such as the Mayamata, that discuss and recommend what materials should or should not be used when constructing a temple. Some of these writings suggest that “the materials of the temple are directly related to the classes of Hindu society” (Michell 78). White materials indicate the first, or Brahmin class, red represents the Kshatriya, or warrior class, yellow indicates the Vaishya, or merchant class, and finally black is said to indicate the fourth class, the Sudras (Volwahsen 173). Volwahsen states that “materials are not only co-ordinated with caste but also with sex” (174). A temple that is constructed of stone and brick signifies the male, one built out of brick and wood is deemed female, and if a temple was to be constructed of all three materials would be considered neutral (Volwahsen 174).
Much like the grid choice and layout, astrology and astronomy play a role regarding the materials and construction. For example, Volwahsen states that “the manufacture of bricks was carried out only under certain astrological conditions, which varied according to the purpose for which the bricks were to be used” (174). Rituals were also performed at many stages throughout the construction of the temple to ensure purity and sanctity. By ensuring specific actions are taken at specific auspicious times, the architect is creating a properly functioning and sacred temple.
Michell, George (1977) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meanings and Forms.
New York: Harper & Row.
Volwahsen, Andreas (1969) Living Architecture: Indian. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Astronomy & Astrology and Hindu cosmic principles
Symbolism in Hindu Architecture
Temple Site Preparation
Kollar, L. Peter (2001) Symbolism in Hindu Architecture as Revealed in the Shri
Minakshi Sundareswar. New Delhi: Aryan Books International.
Kramrisch, Stella (1976) The Hindu Temple, 2 vols. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Ramachandra Rao, S. K. (2005) The Agama Encyclopedia, Vol. 9. Delhi: Sri Satguru.
Article written by Laura Anstey (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.
Hindus celebrate a tremendous number of religious festivals; they are frequent and usually joyous. Hindus are known to have the longest calendar of holidays (Walker 351). Great festivals can be seen as times of general worship and are recognized by the provincial government as public holidays (O’Malley 121). Festivals are celebrated for important days, famous incidents in mythology, moon phases, purification, remission of sins, or worship of a certain god or goddess (Walker 352). Festivals may be celebrated by fasting, vigils, bathing, fairs, chanting, lighting of lamps, games, drinking, and gift offering (Walker 352).
One of the most popular of Hindu celebration is the festival of Holi (O’Malley 123). It is a harvest rite to welcome the return of spring (Prior 41). Holi begins about ten days before the full moon in the month of Phalguna (February-March), but it is usually only observed on the last three days (Kapoor 696). It was once a fertility festival, but now it is seen as a time of hilarity and horseplay (O’Malley 123). It is celebrated after the harvest so that everyone is able to freely enjoy themselves (Prior 41). The festival begins with a bonfire celebrating the cremation of the Holika (Marriott 201). Holika was the sister of the evil King Hiranyakasipu, and together they plotted to kill his son Prahlada, a devotee of Visnu. King Hiranyakasipu had tried many times to kill his son; he threw him into a pit of poisonous snakes, and had elephants trample him while he was sleeping, but Vishnu always saved him (Gateshill and Kadodwala 19). Holika was supposedly fireproof so she brought Prahlada into a fire with her. However Visnu came to the rescue, saved Prahlada, and Holika was burned to death. (Sivananda 19). Another legend is that Holika was a child-eating cannibal who was destroyed by Krsna (Sivanada 19). Whichever myth is believed, ultimately they are both stories of good conquering evil. The burning of the Holika image is symbolically a burning all evils. Devotees start collecting wood early so the bonfire is always huge and in some villages it is a rule that everyone must contributed something to the fire (Marriott 201). The fire is usually lit by a Brahmin and holy water is poured onto the wood (Gateshill and Kadodwala 18). Worshippers dance and mothers carry their babies around the bonfire in a clockwise direction to ask Agni, the god of fire, to bless them (Mayled 15). New corn is cooked in the fire and eaten to celebrate the harvest (Mayled 15). Coconuts, popcorn, dates, and lentil are also roasted in the fire and eaten (Mayled 15). People sometimes will take embers from the fire home to rekindle their own fire.
During the next day, normally forbidden behaviour is allowed (Pastva 79) and barriers of caste and rank are forgotten (Bahree 30). Women beat men with stout canes “just as the milkmaids loved Lord Krsna” (Marriott 205), and washmen, tailors and Brahman priests sing together (Marriott 211). In the past throwing mud, refuse, and even excreta at others was not uncommon (Walker 354), but today coloured powers (gulal) and liquids are playfully thrown at others (Prior 21). People run through the streets and water is thrown either directly from a pot or squirted from plastic containers or balloons sold especially for the festival (Vickery 221). Powders of different hues are also thrown on each other. This is why the festival is referred to as the festival of colors. Parties of boys and men dance in the street impersonating Krsna and people can be heard singing lewd songs and shouting obscenities; this is supposed to drive away devils or evil spirits. The street celebrations and practical joking may remind a Westerner of Mardi Gras (Pastva 79).
Some powder is also smeared on the faces of the deities, especially Krsna and Radha. Youthful Krsna is remembered during this time since he is known for playing tricks. Many worshippers say it is Krsna who taught them how to celebrate the festival of Holi (Marriott 207). The colored water and powders are associated with Krsna and the story about him, Radha and the other gopis (milkmaids) walking by the river on a nice spring day. Krsna threw colored power on Radha and she threw some back on him; pretty soon the milkmaids and the cowherd were all dancing together to Krsnas flute, while they threw red powder all over one another (Mayled 15). To some this may seem like a weird reason to celebrate, but it has a deeper meaning; it shows that Krsna, who is God, wants a special, close relationship with those who worship him (Gateshill and Kadodwala 17).
At noon time, there is a state of truce and every one goes home to bathe and put on fresh clothes (Marriott 203). In the evening, people visit with each other and exchange sweets (Bahree 30). Friends embrace each other three times to wish one another good luck. Devotees are found indulging in all sorts of vices in the name of the Holi festival. Some drink intoxicating liquor, like the festival drink, a sweet and mild, thick, green liquid made up of almonds, sugar, curds of milk, anise, and half a cup of bhnag (juice from the hemp leaf) (Marriott 205), and others bet money and gamble (Sivananda 19). Holi is more popularly celebrated in Northern India. In the South India, Holi celebrations include dolayatra (swing ritual), where images of a deity are placed on decorated swings and swung back and forth by devotees.
Holi is known as the festival of love, as well as the festival of colors. It is a time where two stories are remembered: one about Prahlada and the other about Krsna. Both stories promote the worship of Visnu; Prahlada is a devotee of Visnu and Krsna is one of Visnu’s avataras. Prahlada’s tale shows good winning over evil and Krsna’s story is the basis for the fun and frolic observed during Holi. It is a great festival where every one of all ages and castes participates and “for a moment may experience the role of his opposite” (Marriott 212).
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS
Bahree, Patricia (1985) The Hindu World. New York: Silver Burdett Company.
Freed, Stanley A., and Ruth S. Freed (1998) Hindu Festivals in a North Indian Village. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Gateshill, Paul and Dilip Kadodwala (1997) Celebrate Hindu Festivals. Illinois: Reed Heinemann Library.
Kapoor, Suboah (2000) The Hindus Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.
Marriott, McKim (1966) “The Feast of Love.” From Milton Singer ed., Krishna: Myths,Rites and Attitudes. Honolulu: East-West Press, 200-212.
Mayled, John (1987) Religious Festivals. England: Wayward Publishers Limited.
O’Malley, L.S.S. (1970) Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Pastva, Loretta (1986) Great Religions of the World. Minnesota: Saint Mary’s Press.
Prior, Katherine (1999) World Religions Hinduism. New York: Franklin Watts.
Sivananda, Sri Swami (1997) Hindu Fasts and Festivals. Himalayas: The Divine Life Society.
Vickery, Roy A. (1974) “Holi Celebrations in Kathmandu.” Folklore, Vol 87, No. 2 .pp.220-222
Walker, Benjamin (1983) Hindu World. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publisher Pvt. Ltd.
Related Topics For Further Investigation
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
Article written by Whitney Walsh (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.
The Kumbha Mela is a pilgrimage festival in contemporary India, which attracts millions of Hindus to various sites to bathe in scarred waters. Hindus believe the Kumbha Mela (or Kumbh Mela) is a time when all forces of creation are collected into one vessel (Kumbha) and celebration (Mela) ensues. It has been estimated that up to 70 million people attended the last Kumbh Mela in Prayaga. The mythological beginnings of the Kumbh mela are a central focus of the pilgrimage and festival in contemporary India, though economic and political factors also influence the religious festival.
The Kumbh Mela has textual, mythical, and historical roots. It is believed that at the beginning of creation the gods were under a curse that made them weak. Brahma the creator god, advised them to churn the oceans in search of the nectar of immortality (amrta) from the primordial ocean of milk (Ksira sagara) and share the nectar equally. The gods sought help from the demons, and together churned the primordial ocean to bring up the nectar. However when the nectar was gathered up in the Kumbh (pot, vessel) the demons ran away with it, and the gods chased them. The battle for the nectar lasted twelve days and nights (the equivalent of twelve earth years). Drops of the nectar fell to earth during the battle in four locations Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik (Hebner, 1990:viii).
Historically the origins of the festival are difficult to identify. Rivers such as the Ganges have long been considered givers of life, often seen as bridges between the imortal heavens and mortal humans. Evidence exists of the Kumbh Mela dating back as far as the sixth century but its date of orgin is inconclusive. The Kumbha is mentioned in the Vedas although no specific reference to the event itself, as well in the Ramayana (see Rai Subhas chapter two) .
The Kumbh Mela is celebrated every three years, rotating between the four sacred places completing a cycle every twelve years. The central focus is a tale of mythological life arising from the ocean. This life, once born, needed help to grow which was provided by both the Devas and Asuras. It is believed that bathing in these spots will cleanse your soul and help a person reach immortality.
The Kumbh Mela at Prayag (Allahabad) is the most holy of the four fairs, and takes place every twelfth year. Three sacred rivers converge at Allahabad: the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythological Saraswati. The Ganges and the Yamuna both have physical origins in the Himalayan Mountains, while the Saraswati is a mythic river that does not exist in a physical form, but is said to join the Yamuna and the Ganges at Prayag. Bathing at any of the sites where the nectar was dropped is believed to have purifying effects. This place where the three rivers join is regarded as particularly beneficial. Purification is increased one hundred times, and when bathing during the Kumbh Mela purification is thought increased one thousand times. Bathing here is thought to be an act of great absolution of ones sins.
The Kumbh Mela begins on Makar Sankranti, an auspicious day when the moon and sun enters Capricorn and Jupiter enters Aries. Astrology plays a role in the festival as it is said that during this time the passage from earth to higher planets is open allowing earthly souls to enter the celestial world. According to Subhas Rai, the cosmic alignments associated with the festival are chosen so as to increase the efficacy of the pilgrims’ bathing. The combined power of river Ganges and the auspicious planetary positions creates a unique purifying power ( see Rai Subhas 1-2 )
During the Kumbha Mela, the Hindu Sastras ordain particular bathing norms to pilgrims. Observance of these rituals and baths are greatly eulogized are said to aid in the liberation from the cycle of life and death as well as earn praise from the gods. Akharas have exclusive rights to the most holy bathing areas, and the procession of royal baths are known as Shahi Snans. Akharas are sects or religious orders, however in the instance of the kumbh Akhara refers to the great congregation of sadhus, and members of mostly celibate religious communities. Each Akhara will have a large compound with many tents to hold thousands of members. The Akharas hold weapons and banners symbolizing royal authority, and are highly scripted. Before 1800 the bathing order reflected the individual’s status in relation to one another (Lochtefeld 103-126). Shanhi-Snan is the royal bath, in which members of various akharas are given priority access in a prearranged order for bathing. When Akharas are bathing ordinary pilgrims are not allowed to bathe. The procession of the Akharas is an elaborate ritual and one of the most colorful events of the Kumbh Mela. After the eulogies and first rights to bathe in the Ganges, the crowds of millions are allowed to walk in and perform the sacred ritual bath.
A temporary city is erected as a result of the crowds. Often during the Kumbh Mela tents are erected as hospitals for the pilgrims, offering free health care which is not offered in India normally. State governments have implemented sanitary arrangements, roads, and food shops. In the main festival area a wide variety of entertainment is available, and Indian culture and history is put on display. Images from the Ramayana and Mahabharata can be seen, traditional plays and songs are performed, and elaborate paintings are sold. The gathering of a vast amount of people provides an opportunity for merchants to capitalize on tourism and religious fervor.
The magnitude of the gathering also provides an opportunity to gain exposure and prestige for political organizations, activists and religious teachers. Economic and political pressures alter the tone of Kumbh Mela, Because of these pressures the Kumbh Mela at times becomes a stage for military power and government control, and a footing for economic and social change. In recent years the government has used the Mela to promote its own agenda such as family planning and environmental concerns, tourism and economic development. At times the festival also becomes a center in which a nationalistic identity is expressed through religious festival on an international stage (Lochtefeld 103-126).
The crowds of the festival can also have disastrous results when many families get separated, and children are often lost. Stories tell of families that were caring for a member of the family, such as an elderly person, who being a burden was left at the festival. Political tensions if high have sometimes boiled over with deadly results, and anxious rushes of pilgrims to the river have resulted in people being trampled. Despite these tragic stories we must keep in mind that the festival centers on purification and liberation. Although there are small pockets of tragedy and uprising the majority of the people come for a beautiful religious experience. Holy men are on every corner giving inspiration, people give of themselves to help strangers, and a culture is being celebrated through joyous festivities.
Bathing during the time of Kumbh mela is thought by Hindus to be of immeasurable significance. It also becomes a time in which people of different sects resolve their differences to bathe in holy waters, to resolve sins that all share in. Millions of people gather in the world’s largest pilgrimage during an astrologically auspicious time to absolve their sins. Mythology, literature and history become one as a culture and a religion is celebrated. Class and caste although carefully defined come together in a world renowned event. This can become a stage in which politics and economics is acted out, which in turn redefines the Kumbh mela.
Govind, Swarup (2003) Nashik Kumbha Mela : a spiritual sojourn. India Book House.
Ghosh, Ashim (2001) Kumbh Mela. Rupa & Co
Hebner, Jack (1990) Kumbha Mela: The world’s largest act of faith. Ganesh Editions
Lochtefeld, James G (Oct 2004) The construction of the kumbh mela. Vol.2 Issue 2, p103-126
Nandan, Jiwesh (2002) Mahakumbha: a spiritual journy. Rupa & co.
Rai, Subas. (1994) Kumbha Mela: History and religion, astronomy and cosmology Rupa & Co.
Vedas and astrology
Hindu caste system
Maurizio Benazzo Nick Day (2004), Shortcut to Nirvana.
Nadeem Uddin (2001) Kumbh mela: Songs of the river.
Hebner, Jack and Osborn, David. (04/10/2006) Kumbha Mela the world’s most massive act of faith, http://www.archaeologyonline.net/artifacts/kumbha-mela.html
The experience of a life time begins here http://www.divinerevelation.org/KumbhMela.html
Brown, Doug Kumbh Mela 2001 http://www.asianart.com/exhibitions/dbrown/index.html
Written by Lori Van Sevenant (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.
The city of Banaras is considered to be the holiest city in the Hindu tradition. Millions of people make pilgrimages to the holy city every year in hopes of fulfilling their spiritual desires. The religious importance of the city is not only recognized by the people of India but also by scholars, anthropologists, sociologists and the likes from all over the world. Many come to study the city while others come to bask in its spiritual and cultural offerings (Kapur 209). The city itself is actually considered by believers to be the dwelling place of all Hindu deities (Hertel and Humes 1). For pious Hindus this grants enormous importance to many of the city’s major festivals. It can be said that Banaras is most proclaimed for its festivals and traditions, one of the most notable of which is the Ramnagar Ramlila. The Ramlila at Ramnagar is an event that takes place every year and is the celebrated victory of Ram over Ravana, from the epic Ramayana.
There are many Ramlilas in Banaras. Ramlilas (play) are a way in which a Hindu tales are recreated for audiences in the city. The during the Ramila season there can be up to sixty neighbourhoods that participate by hosting the play on their block (Parkhill 104). The importance of these plays is immense because it sets out to recreate the “epic story of Lord Rama” (Eck 269). Rama is a highly regarded figure in Hinduism. He is considered to be the reincarnation of the deity Visnu. Visnu is one of the highly regarded deities and is widely worshipped across Hindi speaking northern India. This makes the Ramlilas an important and integral element of the city. Many of the roles in the Ramlilas are played by children (specifically boys). This also has an underlying spiritual connection because when the children are playing the role of Rama, or his wife Sita or Hanuman his devotee [For more information on Hindu deities, see Hertel (1998)], they are said to become temporary residence for the deities, during the presentation of the Ramlila (Parkhill 104). During this time there are many pilgrims who also come to the city hoping for a chance to view a Ramlila. Their visits add to the reputation of Banaras as a site of pilgrimage, which already attracts many because of its large number of deities and their temples.
The grandest Ramlila is the one that takes place at Ramnagar. It is a thirty one day theatrical event that attracts hundreds of people from all across the country (Schechner 20). The immensity of this Ramlila is greater than any other in terms of the crowds is attracts and its longevity. Despite its popularity the Ramlila is not strictly meant for entertainment purposes, as we in the west might go and see a theatrical event. It has significant spiritual importance that is not compromised, because all Ramlilas especially those of Ramnagar are “celebratory performances tracing the footsteps of Vishnu” (Schechner 20). The Ramlilas typically enact how Rama suffered when Ravana the demon kidnapped his wife Sita and took her away in hopes of wooing her into marriage. The Ramlilas use ritual and drama to demonstrate how Rama rid the world of Ravana and finally returned to Ayodhya [The city or kingdom to which Ram returns after his victory. See Schechner (1998) for more information] in triumphant victory (Schechner 41). The significance of the story and victory is displayed not only by its performers but also by the spectators who take part in their own rituals that they deem an important part of the Ramlilas. For example, some spectators will not walk on the ground where the Ramlilas are being held in their shoes, because they consider those sites to be like temples, and one would not walk into a temple with shoes on (Schechner 32). The Ramlilas therefore are not merely plays put on by the town people simply for entertainment. They have a strong religious significance for most Hindus. Particularly because Rama, who is regarded as an incarnation of Visnu, is held in high regard. As one scholar remarked, the Ramlilas are “carefully crafted enactments of a narrative transmitting information and values concerning sacred history and geography, social hierarchy, ethics and the personalities of god, heroes, and demons” (Schechner 22).
The epic story and the Ramlilas are significant because of their importance in the Hindu tradition. However they have also been significant in the shaping of Indian life and culture. The Ramnagar Ramlila has been shaped by many years of influence from the Maharajas [Maharajas were the ruling royalty in India until its Independence in 1947; they still exist but have no ruling power. See Schechner (1998)] of Banaras who gathered scholars, poets and theatre practitioners and guided the Ramlila (Schechner 24). The first of these was Maharaja Balwant Singh who ruled in the seventeenth century. Later on Maharaja Ishavari Prasad Narain Singh who ruled in the eighteenth century also played a significant role (Schechner 24). The present Maharaja of Banaras has had no political power in India since its independence in 1947. However he is highly active in his role and participation in the Ramnagar Ramlila because it has been such a tradition for previous kings that his royal identity is now dependent on his involvement in the festival drama (Schechner 37).
Since the kings’ roles in the Ramlila have evolved, it raises the question of how the Ramlila itself has evolved through the ages? Of course the text from which the Ramlilas’ performance is derived has been mostly unchanged for centuries. However, there are some significant changes that have occurred in India culturally and structurally. For one, the power and grandeur of the Maharaja has declined which has led to far less glamorous shows, with only half the materials once used in previous Ramlilas (Schechner 51). There are also some more obvious changes that have occurred as well. The most significant of these is the growth in population of India. This has limited the theatre space available for the Ramnagar Ramlila; in an area where there were once trees and grass, there are now vast amounts of housing and people. Another shift has been in some of the innovative advances that have been introduced in staging the drama. Circumstances now allow production officials to use electrical lighting and other technical innovations (Parkhill 108). However, this creates a spilt between those who want to keep the Ramlila traditional and those interested in using modern innovations. The issue is emotionally charged; many consider the innovations improvements while others see them as tools for corruption (Parkhill 111). Still some feel that the message and value is in the rituals and practice themselves and not the aesthetics of the presentation.
Even with such changes over the centuries in the Ramnagar Ramlila, the sheer magnitude and importance it enjoys today has still not diminished. The story of Rama and Sita is one that has been told for centuries by Brahmins [Brahmins are the priestly caste in Hindu society. See Parkhill (1998)], scholars, and parents to children and will certainly continue. The Ramnagar Ramlila is an event that can only grow in stature. No matter what elements are introduced to enhance its performance the ritual enactments will continue as they have for centuries. As one scholar notes the “Ramlila is not reducible to single meanings or experiences” (Schechner 48). Rather it is an event that can offer something to everybody, from the performers to spectators and even the poor of the city who benefit from offerings by the Maharaja.
Eck, D. L (1982) Banaras the City of Lights. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hertel, R. Bradley., and Humes, Ann Cynthia (eds.) (1998) Introduction. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Kapur, Anuranha (1990) Actors, Pilgrims, Kins and Gods: The Ramlila at Ramnagar. Calcutta: Seagull Books.
Parkhill, Thomas (1998) Whats Taking Place: Neighborhood Ramlilas in Banaras. Eds. Bradley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Schechner, Richard (1998) Crossing the Water: Pilgrimage, Movement, and Environmental Scenography of the Ramlila of Ramnagar. Eds. Bradley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Gods and Goddess:
Written by Osman Shah (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.
Divali, known as the Festival of Lights or Lamps “is one of the most prominent and widely celebrated Hindu festivals” (Schomer 8), and “…in the most limited sense refers to the illuminations made on the [festivals] new-moon night…” (Schomer 13). There are several variations in the Divali festival, its name, rituals, and celebratory meaning. Hence, it is not a festival easily defined or described. Much like any celebration its significance and ritual practice has evolved to meet an individual’s perception of what it should be. The variances in Divali exist locally, regionally, and globally, based on its historical significance, tradition, and individual interpretation. Schomer states that “certain variations in the stories and rituals related to Divali can be traced to regional historical events” (13), thus supporting the realization that Divali is a complex festival. Schomer also explains that there are six principal stories connected to Divali: Bali story, Story of King Hema’s son, Narakasura story, Govardhan story, Shiva-Parvati story, and Yama-Yamuna story, which are all closely related (28) and may share common rituals. Other factors complicating our understanding of the festival are its globalization and evolution. The global movement of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs allow festivals such as Divali to be shared, directly or indirectly, with new cultures resulting in an increased popularity. It is believed that Sikh’s originally celebrated Divali to honour their sixth Guru or the establishment of the Golden Temple in Amritsar (Schomer 25). Jains are said to celebrate Divali to mark the death of Mahavira and that the lighting of lamps compensate for the darkness left after his passing (Schomer 25).
Diwali, Dipavali (dip = lamp, avali = row), Dipotsavi, Deepavali and Dipapratipad are alternative names or titles for Divali, mainly dependant upon what region of India or the world the festival is being celebrated. Variations in the festival’s duration are also observed based on the location of the festival, and can range from one to five days. Divali is celebrated for five days and in accordance with lunar calendars. It begins in late Asvina (August – September) and ends in early Karttika (October – November). The festival begins on Dhan Teras, the 13th day of the dark half of Asvina, and ends on Yama Dvitiya, the 2nd day of the light half of Karttika, each day marking a day of celebration for one of the six principle stories in which Divali is linked (please refer to Chart 3 for details). Divali is sometimes viewed as a cluster of holidays, earmarked for the worship of all three principal goddesses: Laksmi (Goddess of Wealth), Kali (Goddess of Destruction), and Saraswati (Goddess of Learning) (Bezbaruah 21). Divali is also seen a festival to mark the change of seasons, the end of harvest, the end of monsoon season, a new business year and a new calendar year (Bezbaruah 15, Schomer 10). It is believed that Divali is most important to the farmers and merchants (the vaisya class); however, according to Bezbaruah, Divali “is celebrated in full force in Delhi” and “is a universal festival” (20).
The most common or mainstream interpretation of the Divali festival is that it is in honour of the Goddess Laksmi, the Goddess of Wealth & Prosperity. After the monsoons people clean, white-wash, and decorate their homes in order to receive Laksmi into their home during the festival. Her visit brings the hope of prosperity for the new year. Lights and rangoli are used to decorate homes and welcome Laksmi [(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangoli) “Rangoli is one of the most popular art forms in India. It is a form of decoration that uses finely ground white powder and colours, and is used commonly outside homes in India. Rangoli can be wall art as well as floor art. The term rangoli is derived from words rang (colour) and aavalli (‘coloured creepers’ or ‘row of colours’)”]. Each day a new rangoli design is drawn, and in addition to lamps inviting Laksmi into homes lamps are also lit and set afloat on the Ganga or other nearby rivers. The floating lamps are seen as indicators of prosperity in the new year, meaning if they float a long distance and remain lit then prosperity will greet the individual and his/her family in the upcoming year. In addition to lamp lighting some people prepare sweets and other delicacies, others clear debts and close accounts and open new ones in the New Year hoping that Laksmi will bless them with prosperity and others purchase new clothing and jewellery. Divali rituals vary between people based on what they can afford, what region of the world they live, and what the significance of the festival represents to them.
Globalization of Divali has led various groups and individuals to compare the festival to other existing festivals and celebrations such as the Anglo-pagan Halloween. The comparison of Halloween to Divali is in part due to certain beliefs that “the lighting of lamps at the Divali festival is intended to scare away evil spirits” (O’Malley 133), and Hospital supports this view of commonality between Divali and Halloween through this statement:
“It is intriguing that in both Europe and India this period of transition is linked with the dead, that at both Hallowe’en and Divali (that is, immediately preceding New Year Day) evil and inauspicious forces on one hand, and the dead on the other, were thought to be let loose. Such similarities, of course, again raise the question of a possible common historical background to these practices (Hospital 249).
Although there may be some commonality between Divali and other festivals (local or global), differences exist because of history, translation, and significance.
Divali Stories As Charters For Ritual (Schomer 29)
Time: Dhan Teras (13th of dark half of Asvina)
Ritual: lighting rows of lamps
Story: Yama’s boon to his emissaries
Time: Narak chaudas (14th of dark half of Asvina)
Ritual: ceremonial baths
Story: Krishna’s boon to Narakasura
Time: Bari Divali (15th of dark half of Asvina)
Ritual: cleaning homes/Laksmi Puja
Story: Lakshmi freed from Bali’s jail
Time: All three days of the “triplet” (13th-15th of dark half of Āśvina)
Ritual: lighting rows of lamps
Story: Vishnu’s boon to Bali
Time: Govardhan (1st of bright half of Karttika)
Ritual: worship of Govardhan
Story: Krishna’s starts Govardhan worship
Ritual: saving the land
Story: gambling Parvati’s boon to Shiva
Time: Yama Dvitīya (2nd of bright half of Karttika)
Ritual: sisters entertaining brothers
Story: Yama’s boon to Yamuna
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Babb, Lawrence A. (1975) The Divine Hierarchy: Popular Hinduism in Central India. New York: Columbia University Press.
Bezbauah, M.P. (2003) Fairs and Festivals of India Vol. III. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.
Dhal, Upendra Nath (1978) Goddess Laksmi: Origin and Development. New Delhi: Oriental
Dogra, R.C., Dogra, U. (2000) Hindu and Sikh Wedding Ceremonies: with salient features of Hindu and Sikh rituals. New Delhi: Star Publications Pvt. Ltd.
Fuller, C.J. (1992) The Camphor Flame: popular Hinduism and society in India. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Gregory, Ruth W. (1975) Anniversaries and Holidays Third Edition. Chicago: The American Library Association.
Havell, E.B. (2000) Benares, the Sacred City: sketches of Hindu life & religion. New Delhi: Book Faith India.
O’Malley, L.S.S. (1970) Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation. (Original print 1935 at Cambridge University Press).
Pattanaik, Devdutt (2003, c2002) Laksmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune: an introduction.
Mumbai: Vakils, Feffer & Simons.
Schomer, Karine (Spring 1999) Divali: The Study of a Hindu Festival. Journal of Vaisnava Studies.
Vineeth, Vadakethala F. (1987) Religio-cultural festival of India. Journal of Dharma.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangoli April 9, 2006.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
Article written by Lisa Shaw (March 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.
Known to natives as Gharapuri, the Elephanta Cave Island is located in the Bombay harbour (on the northerly west coast of the Indian subcontinent). The island was named by the Portuguese, who, upon arrival to the island in 1534 found a large stone elephant sculpture on entry into the bay. Evidence suggests that even before the Portuguese arrival, there had been foreign visitors to the island since the 5th century (see Collins 16-17). Measuring approximately three kilometers long (Knapp 352), the island houses massive temples excavated from the island’s great rock composition. The most extraordinary (in size and seeming importance) of these caves is solely dedicated to the Hindu deity Siva. This cave houses large stone relief sculptures depicting many forms of the deity. Suggested chronological placement for the construction of the caves is sometime during the 6th CE, during the great Gupta Dynasty rule in India. The Gupta Dynasty is widely recognized for striving to unite Indian states, and encourage all cultural pursuits including Indian art (Knapp 352).
Because of Siva’s significance as one of the major Hindu deities, the great cave at Elephanta has become a large pilgrimage site for Hindus today. Known as the cosmic creator, preserver, and destroyer Siva is regarded in the Shaiva Puranas as the supreme or absolute (Shattuck 47) . Architecturally, the temple considers the cosmic associations of Siva, as the construction allows for space, light, and movement. Interestingly, the journey to the shrine is an integral part of the pilgrimage experience. Reaching the temple is a symbolic removal of self from the physical world (across water, up a mountain, then entering the cave), transcending from the human realm into the divine realm (Berkson 17).
The cave temple has three entrances, from the north, west, and east – all leading into the main interior hall. Both the east and west wing entrances have their own sculptures associated with Siva. Sixteen sculptures in total are present in and around the temple cave, nine of which are housed within main hall of the temple. Either in relief or as standalone sculptures, they are carved directly from the hill’s rock composition. Each of these nine works depicts a form of Siva or a figure associated with the deity (see Berkson 17-18). The two most significant of these sculptures are the linga sculpture contained within a chamber (completely separate from the rock walls) near the west entrance, and a massive bust sculpture of the five-headed (with only three being visible) Sadashiva (the Eternal Siva form) protruding from the southern wall in the temple. Travelling along the directional axes and through the center of the temple would lead one to encounter either the linga chamber (east to west) or the Eternal Siva bust (north to south). This suggests even more attention to the specific construction of the temple, and a possible geometric link between the two sculptures for ritual movement purposes (see Berkson 19-21).
The square chamber enclosing the linga form has an opening on each side, with each also being guarded by large dvarapalas (Berkson 20-24). The symbolic association of doorkeepers to Siva is debated in interpreting Hindu mythology, but their purpose can be generalized, as either to prevent or preserve sexual contact (see Berkson 29). The presence of doorkeepers around the housed linga serves to promote the exclusiveness to Siva and symbolically, to serve the shrine as guardians. The linga form of Siva represents the phallic nature, and exudes the energy associated with its nature of creation (Knapp 363). The energy radiated from the linga is considered, as it is allowed to travel outward through the four open doorways surrounding its enclosure and outward in all directions, auspiciously affecting any devotees in or near the temple (see Berkson 25).
The large bust sculpture depicting Sadashiva reveals three of its implied four headed figure. The implied fourth face at the back and fifth face on the top, noted as being Sadyojata (the first manifestation of Siva) and Ishana (the highest manifestation of Siva) respectively (Berkson xv). Each of the visible faces describes a part of Siva’s nature and embodies specific features to allude to those qualities. Siva’s right face portrays the masculine/destructive nature of the deity (aghora – fierce) (Berkson 13). The face is rugged and aggressive looking, and carries a moustache along with a snake being held near the face to further emphasize the phsyical, and philosophical masculine nature. The sculpture’s left face offers the duality of this and embodies a feminine (vamadeva – graceful) form of Siva (Berkson 13). The face looks tranquil and pure, with a lotus held near the face to help to convey the creator nature of the deity. The center face of Siva is an embodiment of both male and female forms (tatpurusha – transcendent) (Berkson 13). Aligned together, and transcending both forms, this face is serene and tranquil. Siva’s eyes are closed suggesting deep meditation and inward thought while still remaining ever present; allowing for the presentation of the dichotomies he represents (active yet passive, finite and infinite, energetic yet ascetic, etc.) (Knapp 363).
The remaining seven sculptures are relief panels carved into the walls surrounding the interior of the temple and embody depictions of Siva. The placement and relation between each set of relief sculptures also represents the dual natures of the deity. Below is a diagram depicting the location of each of the sculptures within the main temple, as well as accompanying descriptions derived from Berkson (18, 23-24):
West Wing Entrance East Wing Entrance
1. Ravana 5. Marriage 9. Linga Shrine
2. Gambling Scene 6. Andhaka 10. Eternal Siva
3. Ardhanarishvara 7. Siva Dancing
4. Ganga 8. Lord of Yogis
Located on either side of the eastern entrance to the shrine and facing each other on opposing walls:
Mt. Kailasa is mythically believed to be situated precisely where the Siva cave at Elephanta is carved. Simply, the contrast between the two images here is Siva at home and at rest in the gambling scene, and on guard or defence at his home.
Located on panels on either side of the Eternal Siva Shrine, both facing north:
As the Ganga is sometimes regarded as the wife to Siva, these two panels play off each other; they present the symbolisms of husband-wife and male-female, while connecting these to the Eternal Siva figure who separates the two. The rising three heads of the Eternal Siva sculpture contrasts with the falling three-bodied Ganges relief depiction and further suggests a calculated placement of the sculptures.
Located on either side of the western entrance to the shrine and facing each other on opposing walls:
This dichotomy is more evident and represents two moods being experienced. Siva is angered, aggressive, and dangerous fighting Andhaka; but is calm, at peace, and joyous marrying Parvati.
Located on either side of the northern entrance, both facing the Eternal Shrine to the south:
Contrasting energies between these two images are evident. Siva, while dancing, presents outflowing, active, dynamic energy; where, as the yogi the energy is inward flowing, passive, and static. Although seemingly different, it is suggested that the energies of the images are identical just executed in different manners.
As the Elephanta caves are not one of India’s major tourist destinations, the majority of visitors to the caves are Siva devotees. This heavy traffic (being upward of tens of thousands each year) requires the caves to be protected and maintained. UNESCO appoints the Indian government to maintain the cave temple at Elephanta, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 (see UNESCO).
Berkson, Carmel, O’ Flaherty, W., & Michell, G. (1983) Elephanta the Cave of Shiva. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Collins, Charles D. (1988) The Iconography and Ritual of Siva at Elephanta. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Knapp, B. L. (1978) “The Dance of Siva: Malraux, Motion and Multiplicity”. Twentieth Century Literature: 24(3), 358-372.
Shattuck, C. (1999) Religions of the World: Hinduism. London, Great Britain: Routledge.
UNESCO (2002) Periodic Reporting Section ii. Retrieved Mar. 31, 2006, from
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(This link provides a 360-panorama view from inside the main hall)
Written by Brett Ferster (March 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.
The Preparation of the Temple Site
In both ancient and modern times the temple has been a sacred and important place of Hindu worship. It is within the holy sanctuary of the temple that communion between the realm of the worshiper and the realm of the gods occurs. Here “the gods appear to man” (Michell 61). The temple is referred to as: “a seat or platform of god, a house of god, a residence of god or a waiting or abiding place” (Michell 61-62). With the importance and significance of the temple, it is interesting to study the work and effort that goes into preparing a site for the potential shrine. There are several stipulations as to potential building sites as well as a wide range of rituals and tests that are conducted on the site to ensure that the site is suitable for the link between the gods and men.
Site Selection Based on Geographical Formations
Selection of the temple site follows strict guidelines. For example, temples are to be build near water, in forests and gardens, on mountaintops and in valleys, and especially in caves (Kramrisch 5). The Brhat Samhitā outlines:
The gods always play where lakes are, where the sun’s rays are warded off by umbrellas of lotus leaf clusters, and where clear waterpaths are made by swans whose breasts toss the white lotuses hither and thither; where swans, ducks, curleys and paddy-birds are heard and animals rest in the shade of Nicula trees on the river bank.
The gods always play where groves are near, rivers, mountains, and springs, and in towns with pleasure gardens (Kramrisch 4).
“Play” is clarified for us by stating, “Play is the modality in which the Supreme Spirit displays his presence in the world” (Kramrisch 5). By situating temples near locations and geographical landforms that are already associated with the gods, these structures become a residence for the gods.
Water is required for the temple rituals and is also seen as a symbol for cleansing, renewal and enlightenment (Michell 68). The Visnudharmattara teaches that when temples are located on islands they are considered to be auspicious because they are surrounded by water. It also suggests that temples should be built with “…a pond on the left, or in front, not otherwise” (Kramrisch 5). If a potential temple site is not located near any natural water, then a tank or cistern could be used to store the water needed for ceremonies (Michell 68).
Geographical landforms such as groves, forests, mountains and caves also have significant symbolism and importance. “…every village and town has its sacred tree or grove,” and groves have often been considered as places of meditation (Michell 68). George Michell continues by saying, “The gods of Hinduism have always been attracted to mountains and caves” (Michell 69). This idea that mountains can be holy or sacred may not be limited to Hinduism. In the Old Testament, which is believed to be true by Christianity, Judaism and Islam, God conversed with Moses on Mount Sinai, an account of which is found in Exodus 19:16-25. In addition to Moses, the prophet Isaiah said in Isaish 2:3 that “…the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains and shall be exalted above all the hills.”
Hinduism also views caves as a place of refuge and a location in which the gods may live (Michell 69). With the sanctity of these landforms, it would be most auspicious to build a temple near mountains or caves. However, the temple is also symbolic of both mountains and caves through its unique architectural structure (Michell 69). As one walks farther into a Hindu temple it is as if one is walking into a cave. At the point in which the individual is confronted with the image of the deity, the individual is also directly below the highest point or the tallest point of the temple. Thus, the temple represents both a cave and a mountain through its architecture (Michell 70).
Testing and Preparing the Site
Once a suitable geographical location is selected and the land is purchased, the site must go through a series of tests and rituals to ensure its purity. In the first test, as the Brhat-Samhita indicates, a pit is dug and the excavated soil is then returned to the pit. “In descending degree of quality, it then either exceeds the pit in quantity, is level with it or lower” (Kramrisch 14). Instead of filling the pit back up with the excavated soil, the pit could be filled with water and left overnight. The soil quality would then be judged according to how much water was remaining in the morning; “or a flame put into the pit burns, or else is extinguished….” (Kramrisch 14). If the quality of the soil is found unsuitable the land may be abandoned (Kramrisch 14). Following these tests for soil quality are procedures to test the sound, the consistency, the taste, and the colour of the soils. “The Matsyapurana prescribes stipulations regarding the colour of the soil, white earth for Brahmanas, red for Ksatriyas, yellow for Vaisyas, black for Sudras” (Kramrisch 14). The soil is also judged and ranked against the caste system based on tastes, “…sweet, pungent, bitter, and astringent,” each representing a different caste (Kramrisch 14). Once suitable ground is found, it is ploughed and seeds are planted in its furrows (Kramrisch 14). Germination tests are conducted on the seeds allowing them “3, 5 or 7 nights” to sprout (Kramrisch 14). The plot of land must also be cleared of any “extraneous” elements such as weeds (Kramrisch 14). Once the land is free of weeds, it must be ploughed repeatedly, with seeds being sown, plants growing to maturity and the grain flowering and ripening (Kramrisch 15). The ground is considered pure and clean once all these ritual tests, ploughing and planting are complete.
Even with the ground being purified, there are still a few rituals that remain before the building of the Hindu temple can even start. Kramrisch claims, “When a house is about to be built, an oblation is poured into the pit to the ‘steady one’, Vastospati” (Kramrisch 12). This is done to make the earth firm. Firm is not a reference to solid or concrete but has more of a reliable or unchanging meaning in this ritual. The earth is traditionally “the ever wandering” and this ritual, once performed, binds the earth so it can no longer wander, but must be firm (Kramrisch 12). Following the ritual the gods and spirits that may be currently abiding on the temple site are asked to vacate and are given offerings for doing so. Now the site is pure, and the divinity for whom the temple is being constructed can now take possession of the site. The last step of the site preparation is to level the ground and prepare the temple floor plan so that the “forecast of the temple will be laid out on the ground” (Kramrisch 14).
Kramrisch, Stella (1976) The Hindu Temple. Volume 1. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,
Michell, George (1977) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to is Meanings and Forms. New York. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.
Gellner, David N. (2001) The Anthropology of Buddhism and Hinduism: Weberian
Themes. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Kollar, L. Peter (2001) Symbolism in Hindu architecture as revealed in the Shri
Minakshi Sundareswar. New Delhi: Aryan Books International.
Sivaraman, Krishna, editor (1995-2003) Hindu Spirituality. Delhi: Motilal Banarsdiass
Related Topics for Further Investigation
1) Lila, or “play” of the Gods.
2) Temple Deities and their worship.
3) Sacred geometry of temple construction – mandala.
4) Symbolism in temple architecture.
Article written by Jordan Mulholland (March 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.
The Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara temple of Madurai is one of the most beautiful examples of Hindu architecture. This temple is dedicated to the god Siva and the goddess Minaksi, and was built to honour their sacred marriage.
Madurai is a city situated on the banks of the Vaigai River in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Madurai’s skyline is principally characterized by the Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara Temple’s four major gopurams (entry towers), since “Madurai Municipal code forbids construction of any building higher than the four temple towers” (Harman 101).
The Minaksi Temple has twelve gopurams in all, four of which are main entrance points into the temple. The four outer gopurams are placed in the cardinal directions and act as portals into the sacred building. The tower portion of a gopuram is built in pyramid like fashion that stretches nine stories high. Each tower is elaborately decorated with carved stucco images and figures of suras (deities).
At the peak of each gopuram there are four Kirttimukha figures, which are statues carved in the shape of lion-headed demons. The Kirttimukha figure acts as the temple’s spiritual guardian (Kollar 15). The relationship between the Kirttimukha and Siva, and consequently the reason for the Kirttimukha’s instalment as the temple’s guard, is revealed in the following myth as told in L. Peter Kollar’s book, Symbolism in Hindu Architecture. A great titan named Jalandhara had accumulated great power (15). He sent a messenger-demon, Rahu, to challenge Siva to give up his “shining jewel of a bride” to Jalandhara (15). Siva, in his fury, emanated an energetic burst from his spiritual eye, which instantly formed into a demon with the head of a lion (15). In terror, Rahu took refuge in Siva, who told the demon to desist (15). Since the lion-headed demon had an irrepressible hunger, Siva sentenced it to eat its own flesh (15). The demon eventually ate every part of his body except his face (15). Siva “declared [to the creature]: ‘You shall be known, henceforth as Face of Glory (Kirttimukha) and I ordain that you shall abide forever at my door. Whosoever neglects to worship you shall never win my grace’ ” (15).
Hindu temples are constructed with the intention that visitors will circle through the inside in a spiral and eventually make their way to the inner sanctum (garbha-grha). Circulating through the temple prepares one mentally and spiritually for worship (puja) in the garbha-grha. Circulating through the temple towards the garbha-grha represents a journey to the “primordial womb, [and] to the primordial substance, Prakrti” (Kollar 67).
Therefore, in the Minaksi temple, after demonstrating ones respect for the Kirttimukha, and entering from the east gopuram, one encounters the Thousand Pillar Mandapam (a pillared hallway). This hallway has 985 richly chiselled pillars that display the suras that are part of the Saivite family. Some examples of suras found in the Thousand Pillar Mandapam, and the temple’s six other mandapams, are a great statue of Ganesa and Nandi, Siva’s bull mount (vahana).
After circling the inside of the temple, and absorbing the atmosphere and the artistry of the sacred building, one is ready to enter the garbha-grha. The garbha-grha is the essence of the temple, and the abode of the god of the temple’s designation. There are two garbha-grhas in the Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara Temple, one dedicated to Minaksi (the fish eyed goddess), and another dedicated to Siva, who is in the form of Lord Sundaresvara. Each of these sacred rooms is covered by gold roofing in pyramidal form; these golden pyramids symbolize Mount Kailasa, the mythical abode of Siva (Kramrisch 161). The interior of the garbha-grha has four plain walls; the only light that enters these chambers is through the entrance in the front wall (Kramrisch 162). The entrance to both Lord Sundaresvara and Sri Minaksi’s garbha-grhas face east, which indicates orthodoxy. Although it is usually dark, oil lamps are often used during ritual worship (puja). Inside these four plain walls stands a linga-yoni; this statue is the phallic and vulval symbol of Siva and his consort. It represents the erotic half of Siva’s bipolar character, creation, and Prakrti (the primordial substance).
The temple was constructed to honour the sacred marriage of Sri Minaksi and Lord Sundaresvara (Siva). Siva’s appearance, marriage, and exploits in Madurai are “narrated in a document entitled Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam” (The Story of The Sacred Games) (Harman 21). In his book, The Sacred Marriage of a Hindu Goddess, William Harman writes that the Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam describes that Malayadhvaja Pandya, the king of Madurai, has no sons and fathered only a daughter with three breasts (45). The distraught king receives orders from Siva to name his daughter Tatatakai, and to raise her as if she were a son (45). Siva also tells the king that when the woman meets her Lord, her third breast will disappear (45). After her coronation and the death of her father, Tatatakai rules as an unmarried queen, and attempts to conquer as much territory as possible (47). Her army is so impressive that even Indra fled at the sight of it in battle (47). Her army receives no resistance until an attempt to conquer Mount Kailasa goes awry at the appearance of Siva (47). When Tatatakai sees Siva for the first time her third breast disappears and she becomes bashful and passive (47). Her prophecy has come true, and she falls in love with the deity.
Siva orders her to return to Madurai, and await him there to be married; he arrives later with Brahma on his left side, and Visnu on his right. As Tatatakai’s father is dead, Visnu acts as the father of the bride during his absence (48). “Siva, who rules all the worlds, who is supreme among the thousands of deities, takes his place on the throne […] in the town of Madurai” (48).
The marriage changes the city, the Pandya Dynasty, Siva and Tatatakai; yet, “[h]er transformation is the most dramatic” (49). Her third breast disappears and she is deified as Minaksi, the fish eyed goddess (49). Her epithet of the fish eyed goddess is unflattering in western standards yet it is “complimentary in the Indian context: large, unblinking eyes with dark pupils are considered a mark of human beauty” (24).
On a superficial level, it appears that Siva possesses a more important role in Madurai than Minaksi, as his shrine in the Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara temple is larger than Minaksi’s and is located closer to the centre of the temple (23). However, it is important to note, “devotees concentrate their worship on the Goddess” (23). Her shrine is visited before Siva’s; “[i]n a strict sense, the Goddess is closer to the people” (23). “She represents qualities of nurturance, compassion, mercy, affection, and accessibility” (24). She is referred to as Mother, while Siva is addressed in less compassionate terms, as Lord (24). Another example of how Siva is subordinate to Minaksi in Madurai is in the designation of the festivals. There are twelve major parts of the annual Wedding Festival in the city; four of them are exclusively dedicated to Minaksi, while Siva enjoys no such exclusive honour (66).
The Citra Festival is the main annual celebration of Sundaresvara and Minaksi’s marriage. It is titled the Citra Festival because it takes place during Citra, a month which begins in mid-April and ends in mid-May in the Western calendar (64). The three main events of the festival celebrate Minaksi’s coronation, her conquest of the world, and her marriage (67). The celebration of her coronation occurs on the eighth day of the festival; on the ninth day, her conquest of the world is celebrated. The tenth day of the festival marks the commemoration of the wedding (66). This festival is not only the celebration of the sacred wedding; it “brings together deities and mortals, rural and urban, Saiva and Vaisnava in order to celebrate the goddess as royal monarch and the city as a sacred centre” (66).
On Hindu Temples:
Kramrisch, Stella (1946) The Hindu Temple. 2 vols. Calcutta: University of Calcutta.
Michell, George (1997) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meaning and Forms. New York: Harper & Row.
On The Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara Temple:
Harman, William P (1989) The Sacred Marriage of a Hindu Goddess. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Kollar, Peter L (2001) Symbolism In Hindu Architecture: As Revealed in the Shri Meenakshi Sundareswar. New Delhi: Aryan Books International.
On the Goddess Minaksi and Hindu Mythology:
Dowson, John (1979) A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology. London: Roultage & Kegan Paul.
The Goddess Minaksi Hindu Temples
Lord Sundaresvara Madurai
Mount Kailasa, the mythical home of Siva Hindu Marriages
Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam The Citra Festival
Article written by Michael Stevens (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.
In central India, the temple city of Khajuraho is located in the Chhatarpur District of Madhya Pradesh (Deva 1990:1) [See Munsterberg (1970:258-259) for the location of Khajuraho]. The city of Khajuraho has a large group of medieval temples which depict a perceptible record of one of the most flourishing moments of India’s art (Deva 1990:1). These temples are categorized as the North Indian temple or the Nagara style, which are elevated mount type temples [There are mainly three types of temples in India. A Nagara type or the northern Indian style, a Dravida type or the southern Indian style, and a Vesara type or the middle region, mixed type, see Gupta (2002:13-14)]. On the walls of the temples, numerous deities, celestial beauties, dancers, animals and so forth are carved animatedly and vividly. Although these temples are well-known for their erotic sculptures and attract the common tourist, such categories are only a small percentage of the total aesthetic work (Deva 1986:7).
These temples were built during the reign of the Chandella kingdom, which rose during early tenth century as a powerful central Indian region with one of their capitals at Khajuraho (Deva 1990:2). According to a legend, the first king of the Chandella, Chandravarman, was born as a son of the moon-god (Chandra) and Hemavati, a young widowed daughter of a Brahmin minister. This strong half-divine king was told to build eighty-five temples with a tank and a garden attached to each at Khajuraho as a part of ceremonies with his queen (Deva 1986:13).
However, according to the historical epigraphs of Khajuraho, an influential king, Yasovarman (c. 925-950), built a spectacular temple of Visnu, the Lakshmana temple, which was the most adorned and developed temple of its age in Central India [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:417-441), Lakshmana Temple]. The son of Yasovarman, Dhanga (c. 950-1002), succeeded the reign and made the Chandella the strongest kingdom in North India (Deva 1986:14). During his sovereignty, the Saiva temple of Visvanatha, the Jaina temple of Parsvanatha, and an unidentified third temple were built (Deva 1986:15) [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:442-450) for Parsvanatha Temple, and (451-458) for Visvanatha Temple]. Dhanga’s son, Ganda (c. 1002-1017), governed during a peaceful era and built the Vaishnava temple and a Sun temple, now called the Chitragupta [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:467-470), Chitragupta Temple]. Vidyadha (c. 1017- 1029), the son of Ganda, became the most powerful ruler in the history of the Chandella Kingdom, and built Kandariya Mahadeva temple, the largest temple of Khajuraho [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:471-485), Kandariya Mahadeva Temple]. Following Vidyadha’s death, the kingdom lost power by degrees. Vidyadha’s son and grandson, Vijayapala (c. 1029-1051) and Devavarman (c. 1051), were both feeble kings. Although the next ruler, Kirttivarman (c. 1070-1098), another strong king, built the Vaishnava temple and the Chaturbhuja temple, the Chandella dynasty began to decline in power [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:496-499), Chaturbhuja Temple]. Thereafter, mediocre kings prevailed and the political prestige of Khajuraho waned. However, Khajuraho remained the religious capital until the last days of Chandella’s kingdom, and new temples were continually built until the close of the twelfth century (Deva 1986:17). The original of eighty temples, only twenty survived to contemporary day (Craven 188).
By observing each category of sculptures, one can learn much about medieval Indian society and lifestyle. In the numerous sculptures, the architects and sculptors are often portrayed. Groups of them are carrying hammers or chisels and the master, or senior architects are shown drawing a design or supervising (Deva 1986:165) [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:518), the image of architectural members]. Distinctive in their appearance, some of the senior architects have beards, which can be considered as the symbol of power as same as today in India.
Hunters are often depicted with men carrying their quarry on a pole. Although professional hunters were probably regarded as belonging to the lower castes or aboriginal class, pig-sticking and deer hunting were popular with princes or wealthy young men as an outdoor activity (Deva 1986:167). As an interesting depiction, deer are hunted by people with the help of tame deer (Deva 1986:165) [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:518), the image of deer-hunting].
Various warriors such as wrestlers, acrobats, gladiators and soldiers, are also popular depictions throughout the temples, (Deva 1986:165). While the hunters carry bows and arrows, warriors frequently carry swords and shields, or daggers and lances (Deva 1986:166). Horses and elephants are often depicted as vehicles for those warriors [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:420), the image of soldiers]. According to Deva, there are mainly two types of elephants, namely those that serve as vehicles for people and other ferocious ones that trample people. The fierce elephant’s brutality was used for sport and punishment in medieval India. For instance, a criminal with handcuffs might be chased by fierce elephants. If he was able to escape the elephant, he was freed from his sentence; however, if he could not escape, there was no way to survive (1986:167).
Musicians and dancers are one of the most commonly portrayed categories in Khajuraho. As a feature of gender distinction, the drummers and musicians are males, and the singers and dancers are females (Deva 1986:166) [See Deva (1986:72-73), the image of dancers and musicians]. Although some of the performers are regarded as amateurs or belonging to the indigenous tribes, most of them would have been in the professional class. As a trait of them, in casual scenes are often depicted. One put on eye make up or set her hair with a mirror, and the other tries to pick a thorn out of her foot [See the picture, Munsterberg (1970:97)]. While a barbers comb one’s hair, the girl feeds a birds sitting on her shoulder. Barbers often accompany these women performers or their peers. Cutting the nails, painting the feet, or doing minor surgery were typical roles for the barbers. According to Chandella records, barbers were revered among the most prestigious professions and the occupation still exists in rustic areas in India (Deva 1986:166).
Parades are also common motifs at Khajuraho and there appear to be mainly two types of marches: the secular and the religious. The former illustrates gaiety and revelry, and often dance and music as well. By contrast, the religious type shows devotees accompanying a religious teacher or a deity with dance and music on a pilgrimage. In the parades, the important person is carried by litter on the back of elephant and an attendant sits outside. Usually, princes ride horses and an umbrella is carried over their head by a vassal to indicate their royalty (Deva 1986:166).
Due to its erotic sculptures, Khajuraho is renowned throughout the world. Their blunt, yet scintillating, erotic expressions attract visitors, but at the same time they also puzzle and confuse (Deva 1986:171) [See Deva (1986:170-201), the image of erotic depictions]. According to Deva, it is hard to find a temple that does not have at least some figures of “couples” (mithuna) as adornment, because contemporaries believed these motifs would protect them and bring happiness (1986:205) [Also check Gupta (2002:32), Mithuna and Maithuna scenes in art].
As regard to sexual portraits, there are several interpretations by scholars. According to the Hindu philosophy, sex represents the union of men and women and that is the symbol of non-dualism which designates the goal of Hinduism which is known as liberation or moksa (Deva 1867:171). Another explanation takes them as the perceptible text of the Kamasastra which is the doctrine of the second stage, or householder stage, which explores knowing kama (the pleasure of love), is considered as one of the goals of that stage. Thus, creating sexual depiction was part of their religious life, and probably there were few restrictions or inhibitions dealing with sex in medieval India (Deva 1986:171). However, in the erotic sculptures, one can see some women covering their face with their hands. This gesture may be interpreted as illustrating that although sex was not taboo, feelings of shyness or timidity still existed in the society.
Although the temples of Khajuraho are often focused on primarily for their erotic embellishment, the other enormous part of their depictions often represents significant aspects of the medieval India as vividly as the erotic sculptures. The amazing sculptural art of these temples conveys with great vitality, the sensitivity and lifestyle of medieval India to us today.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Bhatia, Gautam (2000) Eternal stone : great buildings of India. New York: Penguin Books
Campbell, Joseph (1995) The Art of Indian Asia. New Jersey: Princeton University Press
Craven, Roy C. (1976) A Concise History of Indian Art. New York: Praeger Publishers
Gupta, S. P. (2002) Elements of Indian Art. New Delhi: Indraprastha Museum of Art and Archaeology & D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.
Deva, Krishna (1986) Khajuraho. New Delhi: Brijbasi Printers Private Ltd.
_____ (1990) Temples of Khajuraho volume 1. New Delhi: VAP Enterprises
_____ (1990) Temples of Khajuraho volume 2. New Delhi: VAP Enterprises
Hitchcock, H.R. (1963) World Architecture: An Illustrated History. Italy: The Hamlyn Publishing Group LTD.
Munsterberg, Hugo (1970) Art of India and Southeast Asia. New York: Harry N. Abrams, INC.
Singh, Kavita (2000) Indian Art: forms, concerns and development in historical perspective. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers
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Article written by Asako Okuyama (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.