the whys and hows of temples














The need to study temples (Pardon formatting errors...)


(My response to my earlier blog on temples....)

One of the major problems with teaching of Indian history for children is that they find no physical bearing
of  the past in their lives. Hence for many children history, which is largely taught in the four walls of the
classroom, is a big bore. While past remains with us in so many aspects, material and non-material, for
children it is important that they see, hold, and feel the past manifest in coins, artifacts, sculpture and temples.
Hence visits to medieval temples and forts becomes an important entry point for taking the children into
the past. The word entry point is to be noted since study of temples should not become an end in itself.
It is important that, as many middle school textbooks do, not to burden the children with details of temple
planning, execution, temple sculpture etc. While it is important for a child to have some background on the temple
i.e. who built it, when it was build, it is perhaps more important to know how and why it was built.  
 When did temple construction start in India?
Temples were not being built since time immemorial as many would like to believe.
It was not before 4th -5th century CE, during the period of the Guptas that temples
and the attributes by which we identify temples really began to be built. In
Karnataka, the Kadambas and Gangas can be seen to have pioneered temple building
later perfected by the medieval Chalukyas, Hoyasala and Vijaynagar dynasties. 
 
Why temples?
For worship obviously but the fact that temples began to be built at a particular
point in  history, i.e. CE 4 and 5th century onwards certainly suggests more than
what meets our eye.
This was the time when India entered a new socio-economic phase called feudal
period. Trade and commerce were on the wane and few coins were minted. As
historian R S Sharma points out with the decline of the Guptas new socio-economic
system and states based on land grants emerged. These states/kingdoms needed new
forms of social control. The rulers and ruling classes needed new ideology and
ideas by which they could exercise authority and power over people. Since
it was a period marked by warfare, insecurity and uncertainity,the propensity
of the people to believe in the supernatural, mystical, the unknown was more
intense than ever. Religious beliefs centring on idol worship, particularly
practiced by eco-system people i.e. ‘tribals’ was sought to political advantage
by the political class of the times. The fears of the people were channelised
towards God and the house of God i.e. temples. Hence both the era of
Bhakthi movement and temple building emerged concurrently. 
 
Temple building became a very specialized activity by 6th century CE and by 9th and
10th centuries temple building entered its mature phase under the Rashtrakutas,
Cholas, Chandelas and Hoysalas. While each region in India developed its own style
of temple building,  a temple was to have the following identifiable features:
Vimana– the tower like structure over the garbha griha
Gopura – the structure towering over the entrance of the temple complex
Mandapa – The prayer hall after the sanctum sanctorum and the ante –room
Garbhagriha – the place where idols were installed (sanctum sanctorum)
Antarala – the anteroom connecting the mandapa and garbhagriha
Though each region developed its own unique styles temples could be broadly
classified into three major groups:  
Nagara style (the kind of temples found in North India i.e. Khajuraho temples) 
Dravida style (temples found mostly in Tamil Nadu i.e. Madurai Minakshi temple) 
The Chalukya style – combined elements of both Dravida and Nagara style 
Suggested activity/Teaching method:

Temple study can never be accomplished in the classroom. When temples are being
studied, children will have to be taken to the site of few medieval
temples. Karnataka is blessed with some fine examples of temples. The
Chennakesava and Hoysaleshwara temple in Belur and Halebid built by the Hoyasalas
is a must visit. The teacher can ask the students to identify the parts of the
temple as discussed above, once at the site. The local guides can take the students
around to identify the other different parts of the temple and offer interesting
tid-bits on the exquistely carved panels depicting scenes from the epics, puranas
or mythology, the shapely celestial sculpture called the Mandanikas or its delicate
filigree work. One needs to take some of the wisdom which these guides are excited
to offer with a pinch of salt. It is important to corroborate these with information
that can be gleaned from any of the innumerable websites or books. 
Ask the children to closely observe the sculptures and engraved panels to find out if some informed guesses could  be
made about the lifestyle people lead in the past i.e. their dress, modes of transport, food, entertainment etc. (There are
innumerable panels which gives more than an adequate idea to make informed guesses. The tourist guide may not
highlight these but as teachers it is mportant to draw the child’s attention to dress, jewellery, amusements etc) Also ask
the children what other function other than worship could the temple possibly have performed. Have a discussion on what
forms of entertainment we have today and what forms of entertainment people could have had in the past and explain
how temples fulfilled a important social and cultural role other than religious. 

3 comments:

G.K.Prasad said...

Very well done, and Interesting, good work, and a Helpful guide

lalitha said...

The fact that the temples remain elegant and majestic and the dwellings of the mighty rulers who got them built are rather obscure goes to show the power wielded by the structure itself!

A parallel connection could also be drawn as to why and by whom were the earlier cave temples.. Aajanta Ellora etc.,! sculpted and later forgotten .


The mushroom temple building activity( of course with little regard to aesthetics) of the democratic rajas( read influential citizens) today.. suggests the continued role of temple building as an access to higher social strata or maintaining the order!

There are voices of dissent heard here and there to break the legitimacy of the temple ownership and the hierarchy that exists therein. The hitherto “ others” have started claiming preferential ritual rights and also in temple feeds. In a temple in Nuggehalli the orthodox Srivaishnavas had to forego temple food on the Car festival day as the others rushed to partake it along with them!

Temples not so famous like the one spoken above and in my own village Kadaba would lose its patronage unless the community redefines the role of a temple.

Interestingly a Kannada daily carried an article on the civic disturbances the modern temples cause in almost every suburb! The writer finally pleads Oh ! God ! Leave me alone! Or do we say…”It's high time humans left the God to itself!”

LBKB said...

I belive people created god and everything associated with it. It is their way of reasoning....but thinking of it ..isn't science a 'make belief' too??? Isn't science just a whole bunch of crap put together in order to reason?
Not that I support the modern temples, but why not have a few to tell our tales? The modern temples need not replace the old ones....can't they co exsist?? Why just try to retain the old?
People always try to live in the past or the future..why not the present??????