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Temple Entry for All - a closer look at secularism &deity worship.

Temple Entry for All - a closer look at secularism &deity worship.

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Published by sukumarcanada
An article taking a closer look at the deity worship and secularism in Hinduism
An article taking a closer look at the deity worship and secularism in Hinduism

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Published by: sukumarcanada on Mar 03, 2012
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03/03/2012

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Temple Entry for
 All-
-a closer look at secularism &deity worship.
Dr. A. P. Sukumar, Vancouver, CanadaPeople visit Hindu temples for different reasons- spiritual, religious and even political. Inthe case of most of the ancient Hindu temples, their operations have long beenestablished based on various spiritual concepts, rituals and traditions. Rituals andobservances vary according to the spiritual concepts behind the consecration of the Deityand the
Vigraha(s
) (
Vigraha
 
1
- Idol of a Deity, specifically conceived and consecrated)installed in temples. It is the wide variety in rituals, styles of building architecture and theage-old traditions that make Hindu temples so attractive to ardent believers, pilgrims andthe general public alike. Let us look at the relationship between Hinduism as a religionand the temple worship rooted in
Vigraha-pooja (deity worship)
.Philosophy and practice in the context of the pursuit of the higher Reality is the
Sanatana Dharma’
of India which is known widely as Hinduism. The definingcharacteristic of this
 Dharmam
(essential nature) that differentiates it from other religionsis its framework which is so vast and varied that it has practically no boundaries –philosophical or practical. One cannot define the beginning of this religion nor can oneattribute a person as the founder of Hinduism. There are believers and non-believersamong Hindus. There are Hindus who give the utmost importance to
Vigraha
worship,rituals and observances. There are also Hindus who see God as One, indivisible, unique
Chaitanyam (
i.e., Pure Consciousness and Power
)
with no form attributable to it. AHindu may be a worshipper of deities such as
 Maadan
,
 Marutha
, and
Chaathan, etc.,
 fullof 
Thamogunam
(negative tendencies or fierce forces)
.
A Hindu may be a worshipper of deities with noble qualities or just be a meditator of noble thoughts with no external signsof rituals. A Hindu can even be an atheist. Within Hinduism, there are followers of 
 Dvaitham
(duality-the concept of man being different and subservient to God);
 Advaitham
(non-duality-man and God are essentially one and the same; but at present wedo not realize it due to a veil called
 Maya
);
ViSishta-dvaitham
(qualified duality- manattains higher realms by the reflected glory of God) and the
Chaarvaaka's
philosophy of materialism (atheist). They all fall within the periphery of the Indian system of the sixreligious and philosophical (
Shad-DarSana)
pursuits. This is akin to having several‘religions’ (or
mathas
) within Hinduism. Therefore, when we talk about secularism, weneed to examine two kinds of secularism - the secularism within the Hindu
 Dharmam
,and the secularism among Hindus and people of other religious faiths. We need todetermine how secularism becomes practicable at which levels in our civilized society.
Secularism within the context of Hindu
 Dharmam
 
Relatively speaking, there are no pragmatic difficulties facing secularism within theambit of Hinduism. There are many possibilities for cooperation on many levels among
1
* I prefer to use the word
Vigraham
instead of 
Deity
or
Idol
as the latter words havepejorative connotations from our colonial past--APS
1
 
 
those Hindus who believe in a formless, attribute-less
Para Brahman
and those Hinduswho believe that the presence of God is alive and potent in the
vigraha
-s in a temple, aspersonal god for the devoted. If they have mutual respect and an attitude of live and letlive, there need not be any ideological conflict amongst them either. As I write this, I amnot forgetting the historical conflicts between the
Shaiva
and
Vaishnava
doctrines in ourland. I am just suggesting that such divergent groups do find some common territorywhere they can co-exist without conflict because both
Shaiva-s
and
Vaishnava-s
arebelievers in the efficacy and legitimacy of 
Vigraha
worship. If a Hindu has no interest oradoration for the
Vigraha
of a particular deity in a particular temple he or she can refrainfrom worshipping at that specific shrine. He or she is free to offer worship at his or herfavorite deity only. According to the Hindu custom, a
Shaivaite
may occasionally enter a
Vishnu
temple just out of curiosity or for making an offering or conducting a ritual forattaining a special wish that she or he might have and a
Vaishnavaite
can do that at a
Shiva
temple as well. The only constraint is that the worshipper should abide by thecustoms of the particular temple. In short, there are no obstacles to do
 DarSanam
at anytemples in a peaceful manner as long as one obeys particular customs. In essence, a
Shaivaite
or
Vaishnavaite
is not bound inextricably to the worship of their
 Ishta-Moorthi
 (favorite deity) exclusively. Similarly, there are no restraints whatsoever for thefollower of 
 Advaita
philosophy (
Vedanthin
)
 
who profoundly believes in the
 Brahman
 (the God principle) as the formless, attribute-less absolute if she or he would like to have
 DarSanam
in a temple. The
Vedantin
splits the word "
Vigraham
" etymologically as"
ViSeshena Graahyam
= realizable in a special way" and attain the ecstatic feeling of seeing the
One
in
Many
. According to the Hindu deity concept, there are 330 milliondeities (quoted usually, to indicate infinite number) and each can have its own uniqueworship customs ritual celebrations. There exist temples for a few thousands of thesedeities or divine beings. For this reason, no single code of conduct can cover all thetemples in our land.Further, in the context of the philosophies on temples, an
 Advaita Vedanthi
considerseverything that he or she can perceive (or can conceive a form or function) to beequivalent to a temple. Everything and anything is, for him or her, a manifestation of theSupreme Brahman, the ultimate God principle. A
Vedanthi
reveres what is circumscribedby the
Vigraham
and what is beyond all limitations of any kind. If conceived andconstructed by a
Vedanthin
, there is no
need
for any customs or regulations and all kindsof people are allowed to enter that Temple. There are such temples with no sanctum oreven walls to demark their boundaries (
Ochira Parabrahma
temple, in Kerala, forexample). Not only are the followers of the six systems in the Hindu path welcome therebut also believers of other faiths and even non-believers may enter those temples. Suchsites are comparable to any public sites where the common etiquette is to be followed.Even followers of other religions who shun
Vigraha
worship may enter there. Thefamous
Sabarimala
Lord Ayyappa temple follows this kind of a concept.
Temple Entry for
 All 
 
Not all Hindus who visit a Temple are required or expected to be believers. If a non-believing Hindu (atheist) follows the Temple etiquette, he or she faces no sanctions either
 
because such a person will automatically be in the ambit of the six systems of Hinduism.If a person says that he or she does not want anything to do with being a Hindu even inthat minimal sense is a non-Hindu although he or she may be an Indian. They have noreason to have any interest or opinion with regard to Hindu temples, let alone on
Vigraha
 worship. Their status is similar to that of the relationship between the public at large andthe members of various professional bodies. It would be childish for an engineer to insiston membership in a medical doctors’ society. If an engineer wants membership in themedical association, he or she better get the appropriate qualifications and follow throughthe rules and regulations of the society’s governing board. It is his or her duty to presentthe proof of qualification to seek such a membership. In a democracy, all citizens canenter as visitors in the parliament or the legislative assembly, but if one wants to becomean MP or an MLA, he or she has to believe in democracy, contest elections, and win amajority of votes. If a person does not believe in democracy or elections, there is nolegitimate way in which she or he can become an MP/MLA.
Temple Concept in concord with the sacred precepts of the
Vigraham
The rules and regulations of a Temple are determined at the time of its establishment inaccordance with the original builders’ (not just the craftsmen but the central group of worshippers which may include the artisans) concepts about the Deity. We know thatbusiness concerns obtain registrations such as ISO 9000 and ISO 14000, etc., dependingon their line of business. This registration essentially means that the concern enters intoan agreement with the public saying that “our firm has decided that we will conduct suchand such businesses in such manner to ensure such and such quality Standards and thepublic can count on us for maintaining the said Standards”. Once registered, it is the dutyof the management to conduct the affairs of the firm according to the agreement. If itswerves from the Standards agreed upon, it might lose its registration. Many Hindutemples also are establishments built up on the basis of such “registration” based on theoriginal founder’s conceptual framework and philosophical intentions. The liturgy,qualifications of the priests, worshippers, rituals, festivals, proper attire, etc., may bealtered only to accommodate the requirements of changing times, that too with theapproval of those who are in charge of keeping those customs. If the bye-laws of a templethus established on the basis of the original builders’ vision are changed improperly, thatwill destroy the authenticity and relevance of the particular Temple. There cannot be asingle law governing all temples as the temples are conceived and built with widelyvarying needs and philosophies behind them. Again, it is like the variety in businessorganizations in a society – a single law cannot cover the entire spectrum of businesses
Who are non-Hindus?
There is a controversy in Kerala around the fact that non-Hindus are denied admission incertain temples that are built on specific philosophical concepts. At least a few do notagree with this proposition and the politicians are quick to take it upon as a matter topursue. Many of the temples with restricted entry define the term non-Hindus as “thosewho do not believe in the Hindu path or the
Sanathana Dharma
”. But Most of thesetemples are ready to admit those who provide a written statement that says “I am a

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