Almost every village of any importance in India has its temple, round which centers in a very large measure the corporate civic life of the community which lives in it. The casual visitor is at once attracted by the temple and when he goes there he sees various images in all sorts of incongruous postures and is generally puzzled to know what they mean or what they represent, and how they serve to evoke the religious feelings of the people worshipping them. An attempt will be made in the succeeding pages t describe and classify them in various groups so as to make them more intelligible to the ordinary visitor.
The Pallavas were succeeded by the Chola kings, who are justly entitled to be regarded as the greatest temple builders of Southern India. About 90 per cent of the temples now found were erected in their time. They are generally dedicated either to Siva or visnu, and in their simplest surmounted by a spire or dome, with a hall in front, called Mukha-mandapa and a narrow passage or vestibule connecting the two, called the Ardha-mandapa.
In the temples dedicated to the village deities the ceremonial is not village deities the ceremonial is not much different. Brahmans however rarely officiate and animal sacrifices are generally offered, especially when the village is threatened with an epidemic or with serious scarcity or famine. Vedic incantations are not uttered in these temples.
This little book owes its origin to a suggestion made by His Excellency Lord Carmichael, when he was Governor of Madras. He felt that, while there was a multitude of books dealing with Hindu religion and incidentally with Hindu iconography, there was no popular handbook which would give information about the images one commonly sees in temples or museums in Southern India, and that it would be a distinctly useful thing to supply that want. The Madras Government entrusted the task to me, presumably because my official duties bring me very often to visit the various temples in the Province and to study and classify the images found therein.
When I accepted the task, I was not fully aware of the difficulties that lay before me. In the first place, there were very few printed books, in Sanskrit or I translations, that gave the orthodox description and significances of the images set up in temples. And when I managed to collate notes from a few old manuscripts treating of this subject, it was almost impossible in several instances to reconcile the discrepancies which they showed or even to understand the technical terms which abounded in them. IN some cases, the description of a particular image found in the local chronicles or Sthala-Puranas could not be traced in the Agamas. I am not altogerher sanguine that I have steered clear of these difficulties and succeeded in presenting a clear and readable account opt the average reader.
Almost every village of any importance in India has its temple, round which centres in a very large measure the corporate civic life of the community which lives in it. The casual visitor is at once attracted by the temple and when he goes there he goes there he sees various images in all sorts of incongruous postures and is generally puzzled to know what they mean or what they represent, and how they serve to evoke the religious feelings of the people worshipping them. An attempt will be made in the succeeding pages to describe and classify them in various groups so as to make them more intelligible ot the ordinary visitor.
Elaborate rules have been laid down in the ancient Agamas and Silpa-Sastras as to the place where temples are to be built, the kinds of images to be installed there, the materials with which such images are to be fashioned, and even the dimensions and proportions of various kind of images, to vary which will result in untold calamity to the maker and the worshipper alike. The curious reader may for example, refer to Sukramitisara (Chapter IV, Section IV, verses 130 et seq.)
Temples must have existed in this part of the country from time immemorial. But the earliest inscriptional evidence of the existence of temples takes us back only to the age of the Pallav kings, which is supposed to be between the fourth and ninth centuries of the Christian era. The more ancient temples were probably made of wood and other such perishable material, as we find to this day in parts of Malabar. Perhaps the Pallavas were among the very first in Southern India to build temples of durable material. In fact one of the most famous of these Pallava kings, Mahendravarman I , who reigned about the beginning of the seventh century a. D., was know n by the title Chetthakari, i.e. the maker of chaityas or temples.
The earliest Pallava monuments of far discovered are those of Mahabalipuram or the Seven Pagodas. They consist of soild rahas cuot out of a single rock and of temples scooped out of the living boulder. The form of these rathas and temples served perhaps as models opt the later temples in cut stone, such as those of though Sore Temple there, the Kailasanaha andVAikuntha- Perumal temples at Conjeeveram, and other Pallava temples elsewhere.
The Pallavas were succeeded by the Chola kings, who are justly entitled to be regarded as the greatest temple- builders of Sothern India . About 90 percent of the temples now found were erected in their time. They are generally dedicated either to Siva or Visnu, and in their simples form consist of a cell called the Garbha-grha, -the central shrine, surmounted by a spire or dome, with a hall in front called Mukha- mandapa and a narrow passage or vestibule connecting the two, called the Ardha-mandapa, which is open on two sides to permit of the priestly worshippers circumambulating the central shrine. In the Mukta-mandapa or just outside it will be placed the image of the deity’s chief vehicle, the Nandipbull Brahman classes are allowed to come. Round and outside of these are the Maha-mandapa, the big hall, and other pavilions in which on special occasions processional images of the deity are placed and worshipped. Next after the Maha-mandapa there will be two raised platforms, one behind he other, on one of which is planted the flagstaff or dhvaja-stambha, made of stone, wood or metal, and on the other is offered what is called the Scribal, w hen sacrificial cooked food and flowers are offered to the minor divinities or powers who have to be appeased in order to ward off all evil and to prevent disturbance to the ordinary conduct of the daily worship. It is only up to this limit that foreigner is allowed to enter the temples by the orthodox Hindu.
In temples of any importance there will be a separate shrine for the goddess, but generally on a smaller scale than that of the chief deity. There are separate places for the kitchen where the offering are prepared with scrupulous regard to ceremonial purity; there are sore house where the articles required for a year’s consumption in the temple are stored; and there is generally a fresh water well which is often the best source of drinking water in the village. The whole group of buildings is surrounded by high distinction to a temple city. In some cases there will be outside the temple a big pleasure tank generally square in size, built round with stone steps on all sides, and with a central mandapa, where once a year the god and goddess are taken in procession for the floating festival.
The outer walls and the lofty flagstaff will easily show to the sight-seer where the temple is dedicated to a Siva divinity or to a Vaisnava god. In th former there will be seen images of the Nandi-than those of Siva and Visnu are not uncommon and can easily be identified by similar marks of the characteristic vehicle of the god. Visnu temples may also show the symbols of the conch (sankha) and the discus and the caste mark (namam) of the Vaisnavas painted on the walls.
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