Temples are our places of worship; but their significance is much more than that. They are symbols that our ancestors defended with supreme sacrifices, the right to worship in a manner of our choice, against religions that fiercely fought to destroy this freedom. While the gods of other indigenous faiths have been forgotten in several parts of the world, we have been fortunate in inheriting them, thanks to our illustrious forefathers. It is our duty to do our utmost to preserve this culture and Dharma for the coming generations. The war that the Abrahamic faiths wage is still on, and just as fierce; only the planes and spheres where they are fought have expanded. We also have to contend with a population that has exponentially increased, with people too busy to apply thought, and problems that result from inappropriate use of modern materials and concepts.
It is sad that we had been governed all these decades by people conniving with forces which want to see this culture and dharma decimated. Extracting the control of temples from the Government is no simple matter that can be accomplished overnight. While the efforts are certainly on, what can the ordinary devotees do in the meantime instead of mere activism or lamentation?
Step 1. Recognize – Our Temples have managed to survive over the centuries due to great sacrifices
We have inherited our temples, because of thousands of our forefathers who have paid for the temples to survive, with their lives, their material possessions and much more to ensure that this culture was not totally annihilated. History books do not teach about the destructions and threats but help spread misinformation. To net the people who managed to scrape through their history without imbibing the misinformation fully, we have books and websites dedicated for the purpose with large number of people working for their ‘cause’.
We need more research on the history of each temple other than the sthala puranas, so that true perspectives can be displayed for the devotees to understand. We need to necessarily display at least the estimated date of the structure, the names of the kings and places found in the stone inscriptions with their period, in each temple including those in small hamlets. This will help people pause to think of the great people who have treaded the roads around the temples and treat them as sacred too.
Step 2. Understand – Temples have been created with great efforts.
There are elaborate and specific do’s and don’ts as per Agamas for the construction and maintenance of the temples. People need to be educated to assimilate the super human efforts that are needed for the process of constructing a temple. It would help them approach temples with more humility and reverence.
Our temples are living proof that our forefathers had good knowledge of Architecture, Engineering, Geometry, Metallurgy etc. Please note that the construction of temples was Not done by the Brahmins.
It will go a long way for people to understand that Temples are not only for seeking favours from God; or for performing Pariharams to absolve sins as prescribed by astrologers.
Step 3. Donate – In the form of Service
Devotees need to get themselves involved in large numbers in the upkeep of the temples. There are several groups in Tamil Nadu with people volunteering for temple cleaning, but at the moment we still have people only in small numbers while we need Huge armies of volunteers.
Centuries earlier when we had no electricity, lighting of lamps in the temples was considered a noble deed and donations were made liberally. Armies of people were engaged in the task of providing ghee and oil for this purpose. Today we have electricity, and can do with fewer oil lamps than before.
Previously, lives of the people were centered around their temples and there was no dearth of devotees engaging themselves in service of their Gods especially after the harvest, when the busy agricultural activities ceased for some time.
So today, keeping with the changing times, the need of the hour is to have more hands; armies of devotees who can serve temples with love.
Step 4. Organize – Need of the Hour – Activism and Organization for cleanliness around the temples
There is an urgent need for toilets for the small traders and visitors around the temples. These should not be constructed too close to the sacred temple walls, but at a reasonable distance, accessible to all. No amount of money should be spared for this effort.
Display sketches and photographs done in the last 200 years to show that the places are not as crowded and dirty as they are today. The Archeological Survey of India and several other entities must be in possession of these. Help from Private collections should be sought.
Below is the picture of the historic Chidambaram Temple done in 1762 CE – Picture Courtesy Rare & Historical
Step 5. Identify and Restore – Every temple (at least in the South) has a Sacred Tree and a Water Body attached to it.
Identify the Sthala Vruksham in each temple and take good care of it. Identify the Sacred Water bodies and Groves attached to the temple and restore them on a war footing. This will highlight the vision that this culture had towards the environment.
Step 6. Train – The role of the priests in the temple
Temple priests need to understand that their role now is much more than Pujas and decorating the Murthis. They need to have mandatory training on the current issues faced by Dharma, basic psychology and public speaking too. Priests need to understand the challenges ahead and reach out to people; help them pray in their hour of need and distress, as families and communities are unable to play the role they earlier used to.
Step 7. Revive – Traditions
Each temple has traditions of its own which has helped preserve many arts, crafts and thereby the artisans and craftsmen. A single decision not to use polyester and synthetic fibres for the murthies would help revive handloom and help weavers in a big way.
Step 8. – Use – Donation of money to temples and pilgrim centers needs to be more organized
Donations to beggars need to be more organized. House them and feed them in exchange for their labour in the drive for cleanliness; only the very old and the very infirm need to be exempted.
Step 9. – Meaningful Pilgrimage
A Pilgrimage used to be a journey for seeking something for the soul. It had a sanctity attached to it and would be undertaken only when certain conditions were satisfied.
With very limited facilities for transport, any journey would have been quite arduous in ancient times.
In Bharat until recent times, selling cooked food was considered against Dharma. There were houses built for the travelers to rest in all the Pilgrim centers and routes. These rest houses were called Chathrams / Choultries and building them was considered a punya karma.
So, without the assurance of reserved accommodation and such creature comforts, or even food, long distances had to be covered on foot, with numerous lakes and water bodies for water, trees on the roads for company. But even journeys undertaken in groups had to contend with robbers and murderers. So there was very little option for individuals or very small groups attempting a pilgrimage on their own.
Shastras had imposed elaborate purification standards for the pilgrimages. Therefore, the whole experience of preparing for a holy trip, travelling on foot with only God in mind, performing charitable acts en route, singing bhajans and listening to scriptures , meeting different people, passing through different places; a pilgrimage was meant to be a journey of discovery , including self discovery culminating in the darshan of the deity.
Such devotees who came to the temples, after a physically challenging journey and with a mind conditioned to higher consciousness, would have added to the sanctity of the place. True, there would have been exceptions, but this would have been the general scenario.
Now, having given up on everything else, people think it is only the darshan that matters and bribe their way to the sanctum. I try to picture a pilgrimage to Rameswaram as done in the olden days even a century ago, when Bharat’s population was only 25 percent of what it is now – the place would have been far less crowded and certainly less dirty. A pilgrim, after weeks of travel and with a mind attuned to make a fresh start after cleansing all sins, would have found the ritual bath in the Sethu sea and the 27 theerthams truly meaningful and cleansing. With a sense of having been reborn, he or she would have walked to the Sannidhi praying to Sri Ramanathaswamy for a more fruitful life.
From Kashi to Rameswaram, Tirupathy, Puri, Dwarka and numerous other Kshethrams all over Bharat have become sacred due to such Pilgrims over the centuries. Their thoughts, conduct and prayers have only enhanced the holiness of the places.
Contrast this with the scenario as seen on a typical day today. People come in hordes, in trains, buses, cars, vans and every other conceivable mode of transport. Not all of them with God in their minds. Many of them watch movies on their way, play all kinds of songs at a deafening tone. They throw garbage, dirty the place and do everything to pollute the pilgrim centre. No devotee who considers a place sacred would dirty it. But people do it all the time these days without a second thought.
When rituals are observed without any meaning, without time to apply conscious thought, they lose their sanctity. Priests now have a reputation of swindling gullible people conducting rituals en masse.
Is it any surprise that tickets are issued for Darshan , bribes are given and taken for special Darshans and Prasadhams? There need not be any doubts that purity of thought and action are mandatory for anything to be Holy.
Why shouldn’t pilgrimages by foot be organized? It might be more meaningful than meaningless treks organized elsewhere.
The need of the hour is not to develop more pilgrim centers into holiday destinations. The awareness that Darshan alone is not the purpose of a pilgrimage needs to be emphasized. This should help reduce corruption in our temples. It would also help people approach temples with more reverence, more peace, and bring about cleanliness and sanctity.
Step 10. – Educate
It is not enough for the followers of the Hindu religion to be merely human with all the faults and foible inherent to humans. While the Abrahamic faiths are under no obligation to explain even the biggest atrocities committed in the name of their religion, Hindus are always put on the defensive, even for normal human failings. Educate Hindus that we cannot be merely human for our culture to survive, but we need to be super humans. It is time to do the penance now.
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