(Last Updated on : 05/03/2014)
The temples are link between man and God between the earthly life and the divine life. Hence, it needs to be symbolic. The symbolic word 'devalaya' used for temples frequently actually means 'the house of God'. It is considered to be the place where God dwells on earth to bless mankind.
The term 'Prasada', which means a palace with a very pleasing appearance is also sometimes used to denote the temples. The dhvajastarhbha symbol represents the flag post on which flies the insignia of the deity. The outer walls, prakara, are the walls of the fort. The gopuram (high tower at the entrance) of the Hindu temples is one of the symbols, which represent the main gateway.
Another word 'Vimana' is often used to denote a temple in general, and the 'garbhagriha' (sanctum sanctorum) in particular. The simple etymological meaning of the word is a 'well-proportioned structure'. It also means an aeroplane of the gods landed on the earth to bless mankind. In Hinduism, temples are regarded as a place for pilgrimage. A place of pilgrimage is called a 'tirtha' and hence the temple is also called a tirtha. The temple is believed to help in crossing the ocean of samsara (transmigratory existence). The more significant is the conception of the temple, its plan and elevation. The 'garbhagriha' horizontally represents the head and the 'gopuram' represents the feet of the deity. Other different parts of the temple building complex are recognised with other parts of the body. For example, the 'sukanasi' or 'ardhamantapa' (the small enclosure in front of the garbhagriha) represents the nose of the deity, the 'antaralai' (the passage next to the previous one, leading to passage next to the previous one, leading to the main mantapa called nrittamantapa) is supposed to be the neck of the deity. The various mantapas are said to be the body and the 'prakaras' (surrounding walls) are the hands of the deity.
Again, vertically, the 'garbhagriha' of the Hindu temple symbolises the neck; the 'sikhara' (superstructure over the garbhagriha) identifies the head, the kalasa (finial) the tuft of hair (sikha) and so on. The Hindu temples also represent God in a cosmic form, with the various worlds located on different parts of His body. His feet are symbolised by the bhuloka (earth) and Satyaloka (also called Brahmaloka) forms His sikha, with the other lokas (bhuvarloka, svarloka. maharloka, janaloka and tapoloka) forming the appropriate parts of His body. The worlds bhuvah, svah, mahah, janah, tapah, and satyam are symbolised by the adhisthanapTtha (the base-slab below the image), the starhbhas (pillars), prastara (entablature, supported above the pillars), sikhara (superstructure over the garbhagrha), amalasara (lower part of the final) and the stupika (topknot or the finial) respectively. The Hindu temples also represent the 'Meruparvata', the mythical golden mountain described in the puranas (Hindu mythological literature), as the central point of the universe.
The Hindu temples symbolise this world in all its aspects, the actual and the ideal. The magnificent 'gopurams' at the entrance symbolise the grand majesty of the external world. The animal world and the dull life of the ordinary human beings including the absurd side and the abnormalities are symbolised by the wall paintings and the sculptures on the external walls of the temple proper. These are followed by the scenes from the epic and mythological literature as also religious symbols and icons of gods and goddesses, to remind the onlookers of our great cultural and religious heritage.
As the temple symbolises the body of God on the macrocosmic plane, in the same way it also symbolises the body of man on the microcosmic plane. The names of the various parts of the temple are also the very names used to symbolise the various parts of human body. For example, the technical names of different things of the Hindu temples like the paduka, pada, carana, anghri, jarigha, uru, gala, grlva, kantha, sira, strsa, karna, nasika, sikha are symbols of different parts of human body. Gala or griva (neck) is the part between mouldings which looks like the neck. Nasika (nose) is any noseshaped architectural part of the temple and so on. The garbhagriha of the temple symbolises the heart and the image, the antaryamin (the sitting deity). This symbology tries to impress upon the devotees to seek the Lord within their own heart and not outside.
The Hindu temples also represent the delicate body with the seven psychic centres or chakras. The anahata cakra (the fourth psychic centre in the region of the heart) is symbolised by the 'garbhagriha' and the topmost part of the kalasa point to the sahasrara (seventh and the last centre situated at the top of the head). The first three centres (muladhara, svadhisthana and manipura situated respectively near the anus, sex organ and navel) are below the ground level. The fifth and the sixth (visuddha and agna chakras, situated at the root of the throat and in between the eyebrows) are on the sikhara area.
The ground plan of a Hindu temple is often a 'mandala'. A mandala can also be extended to the temple itself, which is a geometric diagram with occult potentialities. The main feature of a mandala is its symmetry. The movement of the devotees in the mandala is from the outer details to the inner centre, which is a point symbolising the one creative Principle, the deity from which everything has evolved. The devotee starts from outside, passes through roundabout routes and successive stages to come to the centre.
In the same way, a devotee who enters the temple has to pass through several gates, courtyards and passages, leaving the grand externals, and progress towards the garbhagriha, the very heart of the temple complex, housing the one cosmic Principle. All these features are the symbology a Hindu temple in India.