Sunday 28 September 2014

The Temples of Ancient Wisdom -Part Two

While growing up all these years(I assume you have spent quite a few years before accessing internet, and therefore this post), you would have definitely visited a number of religious buildings and monuments, where you are convinced Gods reside. Let me have the freedom to assume, all along these years, you would have visited places and monuments spreading across different religious verticals, beyond your own.
So think of it, these are places to pray, to meditate and to connect to God. Peace, is what you are supposed to find here. But, have you ever thought of or heard of a place of God, where they actually teach you a form of combative fighting? One of the deadliest in the world! If you still haven't figured it out, I am talking about Shaolin temples.

There are numerous Buddhist temples all around the world, and nowhere else is martial arts taught. The founder of Buddhism, Gautam Buddha himself is the most perfect symbol of peace. Then what made Shaolin Temples teach one of the deadliest arts to its disciples? If you follow my blogs closely enough, you know where all this would lead to. Exactly, India!
History books talk about a Bodhidharma who is believed to have started teaching KungFu in Shaolin Temples, in a way, the actual creator of Shaolin Temples  as we know them today. His story of how he reached there and started teaching Kung Fu and martial arts is yet another interesting matter demanding further analysis. The point here, however, is that he was an Indian who lived in 5th century CE.

Bodhidharma himself was an Indian of the then ruling class who migrated to China in search of peace and spreading Buddhism. The question here is, what made him teach Kung Fu at a place designated for prayers and Godly connect. Did he get influenced by something he was used to seeing back home? Were fight forms taught at Indian temples as well?

Hello and welcome to the second part of my previous post on The Temples of Ancient Wisdom. The earlier installment was liked, appreciated and re-shared by many on various social media platforms. So, thought of writing a second.

Kalaripayattu: One of the oldest fighting system in existence, Kalariyapayattu is now mostly practiced in Kerala, and parts of Tamil Nadu. This was first documented in 11th century CE, but has been practiced in India since long back. 
Whats fascinating is, Kalariyapayattu is practiced at Kalari, or places where it is a norm to first meditate and then start practicing, Whats even more fascinating is that this art is still taught at many temples of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Other prominent styles of fighting, like Mall-Yuddha, primarily made famous by Bheem in Mahabharata were also practiced and taught by sages and saints of ancient India. So, temples in ancient India were not averse to fighting styles and their practice in the premises.

Interestingly,  Kalaripayattu is still taught in the Indian Shaolin Temples, thus completing the full circle, in a way.
But, this brings us to question, were ancient Indian temples much more than a mere place of worship?

Centers of art, culture, science: While you are planning your next trip to any place in India, do make it a point to visit the Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa.
Though no more a working temple, the temple was developed primarily to worship Sun and all the sciences associated with the movement of earth round the sun. 
As per the locals, there was a huge magnet kept in the center of the temple which had bind the entire temple structure together. This was a unique marvel in itself, as the temple was using the magnetic fields to bind the entire huge structure together without binding them physically. However, the magnetic fields turned out to be so strong, that they would easily deviate and confuse ships and cargos on their way passing near Konark. The Britishers then removed the magnet, and a part of the temple collapsed. As its a practice not to pray in broken temples, the temple was closed forever for worship.
So, while there is a big circular structure which would tell you the exact time based on where the sunshine falls in which weather, there are also depictions of a camel and a lady wearing a gown with a handbag on the walls of the temple, stuff which Indians had not even heard of in those times.

Even the temples of Khajuraho depict sexual activities in various forms on their walls. Here, we should remember, in ancient times, even sex was considered a part of education and was taught in schools. 
Ajantha Cave Temples depict the beauty and antiquity of the art and knowledge of those times, where the temples were not only designed for worship, but also to learn and study various forms of art.
A number of temples in the southern part of India depict various forms of dances, like Bharatnatyam etc on the walls. It was only in these temples, that these dances were nurtured and improved by the practitioners. 

Temples as liberal banks: What would you do if you were living in ancient times and had lots of money out of some business, in your possession?
Keeping it at home was still unsafe as someone might steal it. So, people used to deposit them at temples, the temples serving as liberal banks for general public. Though, they maintained accounts of all those who deposited their money and gold at temples, the temples also provided loans to the needy for their business and other activities. Needless to say, as it was deemed temple's money, the interest rates were practically nil and only a nominal transaction fees was deducted.
As the temples always had part of King's army, practicing various combative forms, it was considered very safe to deposit the money at these temples, as no one would be able to steal it from there.

Art and Imagery inside the Temples: Though I have already written about the art and illustrations inside ancient Indian temples above, it is important to note that the art and imagery wasn't random.
The images could be classified based on the dimensions when they were completed:

Chitra: The images were three dimensional and complete.
Chitrardha: The images were engraved in half-relief
Chitrabhasa: Images that were two dimensional and were mostly images and paintings

Another way of classifying the images would be by their expressive form when completed:
Rudra/Ugra: Images that were mostly meant to terrify, or induce fear. They would have wide eyes, carry weapons. These were mostly worshiped by soldiers before setting out for war, or after any calamity or widespread disease. These were mostly built outside the villages.

Shant/Saumya: These images were serene, and expressed peace and love. These images would carry flowers, and eyes will be narrow, and would carry some or the other icons of love, peace, knowledge, music. These were mostly constructed inside towns and villages.

Symbolism: In all my previous blog posts, I have emphasized heavily on predominant symbolism viable throughout Hinduism.. Be it the imagery of Gods like Shiva, Ganesh or the divine Goddesses or the symbols like Om or Swastika, or even the carriers of Gods, the Vahanas. Think of it, temples are the physical embodiment of all such symbolism spread across the entire premises of the temple.
As per Vedic scriptures, a temple based on ancient Vedic principles, is a symbolic reconstruction of the entire Universe and its symbolic imagery. The temple is the depiction of Hindu philosophy and its principles.
Most ancient temples would have a huge, splendid door, but would rarely have strict boundaries or walls. Instead, the ancient temples would have huge open spaces inside, where the devotee, being an individual, a couple or even a family may take their own time to get into the temple premises and then eventually seek for the God.
The entire structure itself is a huge symbolism of the world, where from outer world of sin, Asuras and Rakhasas, one enters through the gates into the central core of the temple, or the Brahma pada. And then spiritually and psychically lifting oneself up a symbolic space marked by the pyramidal structure transcending into the vertex peak.

The Six Important Constituents of an ancient Vedic Temple: A Vedic Temple primarily has to be comprising of six important constituents:

The Dome and the Steeple: The shape of the dome may vary from region to region, and is quite different as we move from the southern parts of the Indian peninsula towards their northern counterparts. The shape of the steeple, is often in the form of the Trishul of Shiva, and mostly symbolizes Mount Meru.

Inner Chamber: Garbha-Griha, where the image or the idol of the principal deity is kept. The chamber is mostly closed for the visitors and general public.

The Temple Hall: Large Vedic Temples have halls and chambers where people can sit and meditate. The hall is usually decorated with paintings and images from scriptures and Gods and Goddesses.

Front Porch:  This place is marked mostly by a temple bell hung from the high ceiling of the temple roof. Devotees strike the bell before they enter and while they exit. To know more about why we strike the temple bell, read The Temples of Ancient Wisdom

Reservoir: Most of the Vedic temples were constructed on the banks of some or the other river. If water was not available in vicinity, a reservoir was built to store fresh water. The water was used not only to clean the temple premises, but also to clean oneself before entering the temple.

Walkway: It is considered a holy practice to walk around the central idol clockwise seven times. This is called walkway and is constructed in every temple with a comfortable width where people can walk easily.

Jabaldarshana Upanishad states:

शिवमात्मनि पश्यन्ति प्रतिमासु न योगिनः |
अज्ञानं भावनार्थाय प्रतिमाः परिकल्पिताः || ५९ ||
- जाबालदर्शनोपनिषत्
This means a yogin perceives god (Siva) within himself,
Images are for those who have not reached this knowledge. (Verse 59)

The verse principally states that ideally, a person who has submitted himself completely to the devotion of the lord, or who has learnt the art and patience to meditate peacefully and with complete single-mindedness would never need an idol or an image to pray and connect to the Lord. That person is able to worship even without being surrounded by the walls of a temple. But those who haven't realized that state or height of meditation need imagery or idols in temples to worship. That is the reason, many temples have big corridors or huge passages without the idols or images where people can sit peacefully and meditate. For others, there is the very idol itself.

Because ancient Indian temples were built strictly on Vedic guidelines, thats why there would always be a common lineage of principles and attributes which they would build their temples around. Of course while there were differences between the temple building styles of north India as well as South India, the very basic foundations and principles were very much similar and binding to each other.

I would like to end this post now.
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Bidding Adieu for now.


  1. Great arricle. We must know our roots. Thanks bro for sharing with us. Keep it up!

  2. "for those who have not yet reached.."
    good work..!!
    for not just this article your whole blog is wonderful.. nice collection of theme with brief and precise way of presentation is highly appreciable.
    your work is a link between past and future... keep writing... keep of luck..!!
    Make it Grand.... some thing beyond this blog

    1. Namaste Victor,
      Thanks a lot for your comment and words of motivation.
      Please join if you are on FB for an upcoming book on the subject