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Indian Culture And Traditions

Is Temple Visiting A Religious Act
By Sanjeev Nayyar, May 2000 [[email protected]]

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Most of us have grown, being told, that those who visit temples regularly are the religious type, god-fearing and so on. Today it has become a ritual for most of us; the thought behind it has unfortunately been forgotten. 

Most of us visit a temple and pray to God at some point of time in our lives. There are some who remember God on certain days of the week while others go to him when they are in trouble. Having got out of trouble, they forget the temple till the next time they are in a spot. I had this friend who visited the Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai, the Tuesday before her exams but never thereafter. Since God had blessed her with above average intelligence, she came out with flying colors always. To her, temple visits became a pre-requisite for success, not a superstition in the true sense of the word though. Some believe that visiting a temple would make God forgive them for the sins committed while others go because everyone else is going.

Having seen blind faith amongst friends and foes alike, I have been wondering whether the regular or sporadic visitor derives any happiness from these visits. Some of you might ask, what is happiness? To me it is a state of mind where one lives life in equanimity. In simple language it means, where we are able to accept the opposites, pleasure and pain, heat and cold, joy and sorrow, success and failure, take them in our stride, without allowing them to affect our state of mind. We remain content in the belief that this too will pass away. After all joy or sorrow are only temporary phases. We cannot be happy or unhappy forever.

I visit the temple on most Mondays and feel good about it. Going on a fixed day of the week instills a sense of discipline in me. At times I have turned down party invitations just to keep my date with the temple. How does this benefit me? Discipline helps me control my mind and prevent it from thinking unnecessarily. It helps me stay away from materialistic desires, like eating chocolates, knowing very well that are bad for my teeth. It has helped me overcome craving for objects that offer short term happiness. Let me share with you a recent experience. I had gone for a wedding where a twenty course meal was served. I could have satisfied my taste buds by over eating. However, I asked myself a simple question? Was it going to be the last meal of my life? Since the answer was no, I decided to control myself by eating just as much as I was comfortable with. Honestly, even if it were indeed my last meal, I would have liked to pass away as a satisfied, content person rather than suffer from indigestion in my dying moments. When our minds are agitated, we tend to do all the wrong things and loose the power of discriminating between right and wrong.

Most of us visit a temple by bending down, touching the ground and moving our hands over our heads. What is its significance? When we bend, we are removing the ego from our hearts and leaving it outside the temple. This is signified by the hand moving over the head. When we go to a temple and seek Ishwar’s blessings, we have to leave our ego behind. We cannot seek his blessings if we are going to concentrate on ourselves rather than on Him. While praying, we fold our hands and look downwards. Folding hands is actually saying, I bow before you. The bending is a constant reminder that there is a force in the world that is more powerful than all of us. It helps keep our ego in check. It helps reduce the Iness in us i.e. keep on talking about ourselves. Such an attitude has enabled me to handle success better and have a more balanced view. I have learnt not to gloat over my success, as I know that zindagi mein pasa palatne mein time nahin lagta hai.

Most of us do something with the sole purpose of getting something in return. Visit the temple before the exams and you will pass, do well. Do this and you will make Rs 10,000. Our time is spent dreaming about acquisition of material comforts. Expectation, desires are the root cause of all unhappiness. You cannot succeed always. In life you win some, loose some. Put yourself in the shoes saleswomen who sprays perfume on five customers before one of them agrees to make a purchase. Now, just think, what would be her state of mind if she expected every woman to buy a perfume bottle. Similarly, if I ask God to fulfill every desire, I would be naive to believe it is possible. On the other hand, if I were to be pray to God because I love him and not because I want something in return, my attitude would change. What ever I did, work, cooking, social service would be because I enjoy doing it not because I wanted something in return.
 
The temple environment has a certain sereness about it. As soon as we enter, its environment calms us, reducing the agitations in the mind. Over time, I have been able to establish a spiritual bonding with the temple environ’s. Whenever I desire solitude, am in an introspective mood, agitated, I visit the temple. Such visits have, invariably helped me remove the blinkers over my intellect.

Having said that, one should not be dogmatic about religiously visiting the temple. You will not derive any joy, the moment it becomes a compulsion. Listen to your inner voice and make a decision.

Why are Temples situated so high up in the hills?
Most important places of pilgrimage, Amarnath, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Hemkund Sahib, Tirupati, Sabarimala, and Mount Kailash are situated high up in the hills. The trek from Pahalgam to Amarnath takes four days, Govindghat to Hemkund is a very tough one day trek, and from Kathmandu to the base camp of Mount Kailash is a 960 kms drive that takes 4 days followed by an arduous 52 kms trek to complete the Parikrama. If it requires so much time, energy to reach there today, one can imagine how much effort our ancestors had made to reach these inaccessible places.

The location of a temple at a high altitude signifies that spiritual evolution is above all mundane achievements and requires a great deal of effort. Traveling by a luxury bus to Badrinath does not give you the same feeling as a 14 kms trek to Kedarnath. The seeker has to be consistent in his efforts and overcome the many temptations that may confront him in his spiritual path. On these treks the seeker is all alone. He has to fend for himself. (Not when traveling by car but this is very true when say one goes to Kailash Mansrovar.) Similarly, every Hindu has to work towards achieving self-realization himself. He has to pray and meditate by himself. He alone, has to find answers to the many questions that haunt him. Which is why, different learned men have interpreted its philosophy differently. There is nothing dogmatic in Hinduism.

Offering of Fruits to God.
A fruit is a product of a tree. It is the result of an effect produced. So also, the result of all past karma's, deeds is represented by today’s vasanas or desires. What we are today is a result of our past actions. When a devotee offers fruits to God, he is offering his desires, thereby unfolding his inner self.

Offering of Flowers to God. Z
Flowers offered in a temple represent vasanas. The devotee uses the five fingers of the right hand to pick up a flower gently, then turns the fingers with the flowers upwardly and then offers the flowers at the Lords feet. The feet are the foundation based on which the personality rests. Thus, offering the flowers signifies that we are giving up our vasanas and identifying with the Higher Self.

Prasada or Prasad.
Prasad is distributed after puja. In Sanskrit, Prasada means calmness, equanimity. So by its distribution after Puja, you are being blessed with the qualities of calmness etc which can only happen if you get rid of desires, do self-less service and do not worry of the fruits of action.

In every Siva temple, the head of Nandi, the bull is towards the temple. Why?
Ours is a predominantly agricultural country, the bull had and does play an important part in the lives of our farmers. It toils the whole day in the hot sun, in weather conditions as diverse as Assam, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. Yet, what does it get in return except some water and dry grass. It does not go on strike demanding minimum wages or ask for stock options. It goes on serving its owner without expecting the fruits of action. It has no desires, does not want to wear a ten yard Kanjeevaram saree or Color Plus shirt. In a way, it symbolizes Hindu philosophy. Men of any religion can achieve self - realization by giving up desires, doing self-less action without worrying about the fruits of action.

It is for these reasons that the Bull is worshipped by Hindus all over the country. The head of a bull is turned towards God in a temple, indicating that the bull’s actions are dedicated to God, in the absence of ego and desires. By worshipping a bull, the Hindu invokes the spirit of dedication to higher values and service to fellow human-beings.

Long Live Sanatan Dharam

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