Temples or Mandir or Devalayam in Sanskrit is the house of god, place of worship and a platform to connect with the inner soul. Temples have been a significant part of Indian culture for thousands of years. It has been a torch, a leading light, a social image of the society and a place to find the solace.
Currently, many famous temples across the world have become a source of income, a sort of business proposition. Many want to come and boast about what they do, make an impact socially, flaunt the riches they have, and beg in front of god to get more and more.
After maintaining Kamleshwar Mahadev Temple for two years successfully, I have made some interesting observations on how to maintain the premises and how to run a temple successfully depending on the location and the available resources.
The location of the temple is the most important aspect to decide as it has to be approachable by all means of transport. Especially on the foreign shore, we don’t have the luxury of walking as we mostly commute in private vehicles or public transports. The serenity, cleanliness, vibration and other vastu related facts needs to be checked as that surely affect the intensity of the prayers. If the temple premise gives you a feeling of a commercial place, you won’t be able to concentrate and become one with god.
After the temple is built, the maintenance of the place is the most important thing, we are mostly ignorant about cleanliness of the temples and hence majority of the temples in India are not visited by urban people. We need to remember that a temple is the house of god and we can’t take it for granted. Maintaining and cleaning the premises with water every day, periodic cleaning of the facades and the outside of the temple, ensuring that people don’t throw garbage anywhere in the premises by keeping dustbins everywhere, spending money on maintaining the toilets are some of the minimum things that have to be done.
We find the sorry state of devotees coming into temples for Prasadam and waste the same in large quantity. That is because we have failed to educate our people on the right and wrong, the basic etiquette of life. With growing number of people in the world dying due to malnutritions we must emphasis on not to waste any food.
A centre that fulfills many needs
A temple need not serve as a spiritual destination alone. The vast spaces inside the temple along with its mandaps and columns can aid in carrying out so many tasks, in that sense they are not merely sacred spaces but they serve as secular spaces also. When we visit any ancient temple, we can see the celebration of life unabashedly in the many statues, painting or architecture. Love, romance, birth, death, celebrations – all these form the themes of the temple art. Our ancients never divided the spiritual and the mundane into water tight compartments. Every aspect of life was celebrated and no topic was taboo. And that is the reason why the function of the temple extended beyond being a moral guardian of the masses. Since time immemorial, they have been centres around which the arts, community celebrations and economy have flourished. Temples have served as the hub to celebrate events like marriages, birth of a child, annaprashnam or offering the first solid feed to the child, Vidyarambham or initiation into letters, other significant life events, religious festivals, dance and music festivals like the Chidambaram Dance Festival or Konark Festival. Temples also managed lands endowed to it by its devotees upon their death. They would provide employment to the poorest. Some temples had large treasury, with gold and silver coins, and these temples served as banks.
Today we know that the social and ritualistic activities of the temples are the most prominent reasons for people to come and visit the same. Daily prayers, daily rituals, arti of the diety atleast twice a day, offering of food, bathing etc. should be performed without fail. We can use the temple space imaginatively and have programs that attract the youth. We can combine service initiatives with contemporary topics that aim to de-stress lives, offer short term courses that help the participants in personality development, yoga, spiritual entrepreneurship, value based management etc by offering practical solutions. This should be undertaken by traditional temples too as people visit temples not as worshippers alone but would like to seek solutions to real life problems. This would make temples largely relevant and can attract people from all walks of life. There is great potential if only our mandirs were to tap into this missing link.
Other activities like satsang, spiritual talks, celebration of the festivals throughout the year, encouraging youngsters to enlist for social causes should be part of any temple. It not only engages the community but also helps them to grow in their spiritual journey. I also feel that temples should become a center of matrimonial and job opportunities. We have been noticing that it is very difficult to find a suitable partner in any community in today’s hectic life. If the temple committee comes forward to pitch in, it would help our children to find a good partner and settle in life within the Indian and Hindu community.
A good committee makes a huge difference in running a temple successfully. The older group of people needs to invite youngsters to be part of the team. I also recommend we have a teen forum where they organize their own programs to empower youth and encourage them to bring the society together.
At a time when the social media is shrinking distances, temples can also pitch in by serving as places where socially relevant contemporary issues can be debated; these can be telecast live in the local channels to attract more participants for forthcoming ventures. Temples can also serve as nodal centres where medical camps or screening programs can take place. In our Kamleshwar Mahdev Temple we had a medical camp where local African children were screened and treated.
Education should be a great idea to focus upon not academic or religious education but moral education which is woefully lacking in the regular curriculum these days. A temple can be an amazing place where these are spoken about on a regular basis, over time there is bound to be some change in the thinking of the masses. Temples are not centres where people visit to do business with the divine, it can be an amazing resource centre where people are taught how to live, that is live right and the onus lies with those who build and steer temples. Children, youth, women, the aged – there are various segments among our Hindu populace that would like to use their weekly visits to temples to pursue more meaningful lives. It requires creativity, commitment and campaign on the part of temple committees to tap into these resources, to focus on inner engineering so that people can learn the art of living well.