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Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The Hindu temples represent the culmination of social and religious aspirations of a society. Temple is the focal point in the life of a community and often represents its pride, identity and unity. A temple evokes in the visitor a sense of beauty in art and in life as well. It lifts up his spirit, elevates to a higher plane dissolving his little ego. At the same time, it awakens to his insignificance in the grand design of the Creator. It is also a treasure house of art and architecture, designed according to the principle of Vaastu Shastra, characterized by their majesty, serenity and beauty of intricate sculpture and designs.

The appointed priests carry out the worship in the temple on behalf of other devotees. It is hence parartha, a service conducted for the sake of others. Priests, generally, trained in ritual procedures, pursue the service at the temple as a profession. They are trained in the branch of the Agama of a particular persuasion. The texts employed in this regard describe the procedural details of temple worship, elaborately and precisely.

The makings of deities of Gods, consecrating it, performing puja, were all brought under the norms of the Shastras. This is called as 'Agama' Shastra. The term Agama primarily means tradition; Agama is also that which helps to understand things correctly and comprehensively. Agama Shastras are not part of the Vedas. The Agamas do not derive their authority directly from the Vedas. They are Vedic in spirit and character and make use of Vedic mantras while performing the service.

History and origin

Between the 6th and 12th centuries AD, several agama texts were compiled as part of sakalaradhana (idol worship). All of them give details of construction of temples and ancillary structures. Kamikagama, Vaikhanasagama and Padmasamhita are important agamas giving details of such construction. Several studies have been made after the 12th century AD. They take into account the differences in style based on climate building materials and social and cultural factors.

In Chola period, every temple was built under the Agama tradition. They decided on the goals and planned out the temple in such a way to meet the goals. Madurai Meenakshi temple, for example, has an annual festival of 48 days. In one moth, eight flags are hoisted. In nearby Thiruparangunram, this is not the practice. In the treatise Agama Shastra, which explains the science of temples, Vaastu is considered as the basis for any type of construction. Excavations at Harappa and Mohenjodaro also indicate the influence of Vaastu on the Indus Valley Civilization.

Parts of Agama Shastras

There are three main divisions in Agama shastra –

* The Shaiva

* The Shaktha

* The Vaishnava

The Shaiva branch of the Agama deals with the worship of the deity in the form of Shiva. This branch in turn has given rise to Shaiva Siddantha of the South and the Prathyabijnana School of Kashmir Shaivisim.

The Shaktha Agama prescribes the rules and tantric rituals for worship of Shakthi, Devi the divine mother.

The third one, Vaishanava Agama adores God as Vishnu the protector.

This branch has two major divisions Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra. The latter in turn has a sub branch called Tantra Sara followed mainly by the Dvaita sect (Madhwas).

Each Agama consists of four parts –

1. The philosophical and spiritual knowledge

2. The yoga and the mental discipline

3. The specifies rules for the construction of temples and for sculpting and carving the figures of deities for worship in the temples

4. The rules pertaining to the observances of religious rites, rituals, and festivals

Agama Shastras – Methods and practices

The Agama shastras are based in the belief that the divinity can be approached in two ways. It can be viewed as nishkala, formless – absolute; or as sakala having specific aspects.

The Agama methods are worship of images of God through rituals (Tantra), symbolic charts (Yantra) and verbal symbols (Mantra). Agama regards devotion and complete submission to the deity as fundamental to pursuit of its aim; and hopes that wisdom, enlightenment (jnana) would follow, eventually, by the grace of the worshipped deity. The Agama is basically dualistic, seeking grace, mercy and love of the Supreme God represented by the personal deity, for liberation from earthly attachments (moksha).

The temple worship is guided by its related Agama texts which invariably borrow the mantras from the Vedic traditions and the ritualistic details from Tantric traditions.

This has the advantage of claiming impressive validity from Nigama, the Vedas; and at the same time, carrying out popular methods of worship.

While installing the image of the deity, the Grihya Sutras do not envisage Prana-prathistapana ritual (transferring life into the idol by breathing life into it); but the Agamas borrowed this practice from the Tantra school and combined it with the Vedic ceremony of “opening the eyes of the deity with a needle”. While rendering worship to the deity the Agamas discarded the Tantric mantras; and instead adopted Vedic mantras even for services such as offering ceremonial bath , waving lights etc. though such practices were not a part of the Vedic mode of worship. The Agamas, predominantly, adopted the Vedic style Homas and Yajnas, which were conducted in open and in which a large number of people participated. But, the Agamas did not reject the Tantric rituals altogether; and some of them were conducted within the sanctum away from common view.

The Vaikhanasa Vasishnava archana vidhi, which perhaps was the earliest text of its kind, codified the of worship practices by judicious combination of Vedic and Tantric procedures. In addition, the worship routine was rendered more colourful and attractive by incorporating a number of ceremonial services (upacharas) and also presentations of music, dance, drama and other performing arts. It also brought in the Janapada, the popular celebrations like Uthsavas etc, these ensured larger participation of the enthusiastic devotees.

The Agama texts make a clear distinction between the worship carried out at his home (atmartha) and the worship carried out as priest at a temple(parartha ) for which he gets paid. This distinction must have come into being with the proliferation of temples and with the advent of temple-worship-culture. It appears to have been a departure from the practice of worship at home, an act of devotion and duty. Rig Vedic culture was centered on home and worship at home.

The worship at home is regarded as motivated by desire for attainments and for spiritual benefits (Sakshepa). In the temple worship, on the other hand, the priest does not seek spiritual benefits in discharge of his duties (nirakshepa). He worships mainly for the fulfilment of the desires of those who pray at the temple. That, perhaps, appears to be the reason for insisting that a priest should worship at his home before taking up his temple duties.

Contradictions and contraventions

Today, most of the shastras have been changed as per the convenience. It is not practiced and followed precisely. People have bent the rules and hence, this sacred and precious knowledge and practice is confined to books.

If Agama shastra was given importance, income to the temple would go down. The tradition set certain times for public prayer. Now, to get money worship is allowed at all the times and the Agama tradition got a back seat. Priests also took liberty with traditions and gave up their customs. Sincerity of priests dwindled. They did not feel the importance of learning the agama traditions. Priests today are unable to answer some basic questions about the worship

Today, there is demand for various types of temples and agama tradition is compromised now and devotees’ desire takes precedence.


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