If you want to understand India, you need to understand villages. And if you want to understand villages, you need to understand temples. Temples are not just places of worship and devotion. They are the very heart of our society. They are the cultural power points of our civilisation. We find various activities going on throughout the year on every temple premises. Festivals, marriages, cultural programmes, exhibitions, trade and even high-level government meetings. Without temples even our economy will collapse. They are the very spiritual and material foundations of our social systems.
Chanakya had understood this fact and wrote his Arthashastra based on this cultural aspect. He even recommended villages to be created around temples as the centre of all activities. To understand the importance of community-building through temples, Chanakya while giving instructions to the king (leader) in Arthashastra says:
“He (the leader) should look into the affairs of the temple deities, hermitages, Brahmins learned in vedas, cattle and holy places, of minors, the aged, the sick, the distressed and the helpless, and women, (in this order), or in accordance with the importance or its urgency.” (1.19.29)
As we see in the above sutra, temples and its deities were the first priority of the leader to be taken care of, along with the other important people like hermits, teachers, elders and so on. This shows temples were the first priority in Chanakya’s mind. If we try to understand the depth, many aspects will open out in front of us.
Let us look into some finer aspects of temples in our social system:
1. Places of mental and spiritual health
Mental health issues are on the rise. And, everyone is talking about mediation and prayers. Such spiritual practices have a deep impact on every one’s mind. While individual meditation and prayers do help, group meditations and prayers have a high impact.
This is one of the reasons why temples are required. We pray there together. The vibrations of the temples help us to calm ourselves. It improves our state of mind and awakens us within. A community that prays together stays together.
While today there are many motivational speakers and self-help books, the best place to get inspired is a temple where there are spiritual discourses being conducted along with reading of spiritual books.
2. Community centres
Many complain that temples are crowded places. In fact, that should be considered a society’s strength. There is community bonding and exchange of ideas where citizens gather.
Yes, we should improve our temple management systems. Yet, without social gatherings one cannot find happiness. Temples are community centres where different age groups of people come and interact. During the yearly yatra (or annual temple festivals), even the migrants come back to their village temples to offer prayers. It keeps even the faraway people rooted to their places of origin.
During such times, they also meet their friends and relatives. A deep bond develops when you meet others regularly.
3. Where interactions happen
Right from the common man to the most powerful politician as well as the highest intellectual scholar – everyone interacts with others in a temple. It makes everyone equal in front of the lord.
You may be an achiever or a struggler, temples can equalise everyone. It is the best place to control your ego and develop humility. There is no difference between the rich and the poor; everyone eats the same food (prasad) in the temple and have an attitude of gratitude.
The economic side of temples is also based on community contribution. You pay as per your capacity, and the funds go to the society and social welfare activity. The best part is no one ever goes back hungry from a temple visit. It is a place that takes care of everyone, irrespective of where you come from.
Generations have come and gone, but the temple culture in our country stands strong. If only we could understand the contributions temples make to lives, society will not only be spiritually evolved but also materially prosperous.
And, as Thomas Monson said, “Temples help us find a purpose in our lives…” so, go deep and you will find the real temple not outside, but inside your heart.
(The writer is Founder Director of Chanakya Aanvikshiki Pvt Ltd, a best selling author and an expert on Chanakya’s teachings. He can be followed on his twitter @rchanakyapillai)
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