Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Our Temples

Prof. K. R. Pisharoti

(Prof. K. R. PISHAROTI, M.A.)

Religious sanctuaries, like temples, mosques and churches, reveal one phase of a people’s cultural attainments in the arts of peace, particularly architecture, sculpture, painting and dance and music, which enrich life and make life worth living. They also bespeak the people’s cherished conceptions of religion and religious practices and elucidate to some extent the growth and development of philosophical ideas which make life less a burden and more hopeful. A study of the temples, then, is a desirable equipment for those who value culture for its own sake. It is proposed to notice here some general features of the temples in Cochin, some of which at least are as old as any elsewhere in India and at the same time possess an unbroken continuity from the days of their foundation in the dim and distant past.

A Hindu temple is conceived as the palace of the deity enshrined therein. The sanctum sanctorum is His or Her living quarters, and consequently it is the most central structure, every other edifice in the temple area being subordinate to it. As a result of this conception, all the ancillary structures bear a distinct proportion to the central building, which is always the angi, the others being angas. As a general rule, then, from the external structures one can deduce the nature of the Sri Koyilits size and ornamentation. The size of the Sri Koyil itself depends upon the size of the idol installed therein. As man’s position determines the nature of his residence, so the nature of the God to be installed in a temple determines the nature and size of the temple to be built for Him. This humanising aspect, associated with our temples, is further revealed by the convention, obtaining amongst us even today, which lays down that no private dwelling in the temple area should rise higher than the temple itself. In this respect our temples differ from the temples elsewhere in India.

Again, our temples are very important in that they tend to elucidate some aspects of Indian architecture. Thus the essential basis of the three styles of Hindu architecture, namely Nagara, Dravida and Vesara finds clarification only in a study of our religious structures–a subject that has been a fruitful field of speculative theorisings. Nowhere, indeed, are the two styles of Nagara and Vesara seen in their original purity and simplicity more than in our parts: elsewhere in India they have become mixed up, thus leading to a misinterpretation of the Hindu texts on the subject. As a matter of fact, for a correct understanding of the original texts on Indian architecture a study of our temple structures is a desideratum. Indeed, our land has produced a large number of original treatises on the subject which still smoulder in certain family archives, unknown and uncared for. It is really flattering to our sense of national pride to remember that the great architectural splendours of Mamallapuram were designed and built under the supervision of a Malayali architect, Matrdatta by name, whose presence there was held out by Mahendra Vikrama as a temptation for Dandin to visit his capital. Thus, though we have no glories of architecture to hold out to the visitor to our land, a study of our structures will certainly go a great way towards a proper understanding of the texts on Indian architecture.

Our temples have always been serving as the very hub of our intellectual and aesthetic life. Many of the more important temples have permanent endowments for the reading of the Hindu epics, Mahabharata, Ramayana and Bhagavata, with expository comments in the local vernacular. The free feeding given to Brahmins in the temple has helped the creation of a literanti leisured class who made literary pursuits their main concern. This is to a very great extent responsible for our rich contribution to the sum total of Indian literature. Again, the provision that is found made for the annual staging of Sanskrit dramas in almost every major temple, known locally as Kutiyattam, and the expository recitals, called Prabandhamkuttu, kept alive the traditions of the Indian stage and further helped the creation of another type of stage entertainment in the local vernacular, known as Kathakali, which has now attained all-India reputation. The annual representations of Kuttu and Kutiyattam and the seasonal representations of Kathakali and its off-shoot Tullal–these have tended to preserve in our land the traditional mode of acting and dancing. As a matter of fact, a full interpretation and exposition of Bharata’s Natya-sastra are possible only in the light of a study of the Kerala stage. The popularity of our stage and the modus operandi introduced in the matter of Pauranik expositions and recitals, have tended to develop a critical spirit which has developed and borne fruit in the shape of excellent commentaries upon Sanskrit dramas and Kavyas as well as on texts on literary criticism. Our temples, thus, have played a very important part in our cultural development-both intellectual and aesthetic.

Scarcely less important is the part they played, particularly in ancient days, in the everyday life of the people by the organisation of what are called Sanketams, which was an institution, unique to our parts, of the nature of imperium in imperio, exercising almost independent sovereign powers within their jurisdiction and that even over the head of the ruler himself. Keeping themselves aloof from all the vortex of local and inter-statal politics, religious factions and social turmoils, they wielded considerable authority within their area. In actual practical life, their importance lay in offering a safe asylum for all kinds of offenders, criminals included, for the sanctity attached to them was inviolable; particularly in those days, when the country was ruled by a number of petty potentates, they always managed to maintain justice between man and man. Thanks to the amenities they afforded to the law-abiding, thanks to the power and influence they had even in coercing rulers and thanks to the justice they meted out to all alike from the highest to the lowest, Sanketams enjoyed considerable popularity in the days of yore. However, with the consolidation of the country under a single ruler and the organisation of the modern types of government, they have presumably come to outlive their utility and so have died a natural death. Sanketams exist even today, but shorn of all power even in matters of religion, like fossils from a dead past. But they were valued institutions in their days and they have sowed the seeds of representative government.

Temples, again, formed the centre and the source, as well, of the corporate activities of the people of the locality. The service needs of the temple spontaneously evoked private charity which took permanent form in the shape of endowments, donations, etc., and such benefactions stimulated individual liberality, the recording of which on permanent material tended further to inspire similar acts of devotional charity. The constant stream of public charity necessitated, in turn, the constitution of a permanent body for their organisation and administration, and this naturally led to the evolution of a hierarchy of temple officials, whose collective voice, though not paramount, was considered to be of sufficient authority in matters of detail and even of policy regarding the utilisation of the funds committed to the care of the temple. It was here that the temple came prominently into contact with the public at large and here the manifold activities of the managing committee came into full play–activities embracing varied fields of progress, political and economic and religious, social and literary. The temple thus offered a wide field for public service and invited co-operation and corporate enterprise. This, then, forms an important feature of our temples and this explains to some extent the absence of struggles for political independence by any community for itself.

Closely allied to this, and probably born thereof, is another institution associated with our temples, known by the name of Pattinipuras, i.e., Houses of Hunger-strike. Vestiges of such houses we find even now, as, for instance, in the temple at Trichur. There hunger-strikes were practised en masse, as and when the oppressive conduct of a local chieftain demanded it. From available evidence it appears that our fore-fathers practised hunger-strikes with considerable success,–only they resorted to it in extreme cases, when the benefit of the whole community demanded it, and when they became convinced that there was no other method of getting their wrongs redressed. It is interesting to mention here that, when hunger strike en masse did not produce the result sought, then the Vedic brahmins in the locality would make an image of the chieftain, against whose oppression the strike was begun, and hang the image in front of the temple and leave the place for ever; and in the locality where such a thing has been done Vedic recitals and Vedic sacrifices are prohibited. Such a one is the temple at Kalati, near Chalakuti.

There are, again, some noteworthy one-man institutions, connected with some of our major temples, such, for instance, as the Perumpulayan of the Elankunnapula temple, the Taccuta Kammal of the Irinjalakuda temple, the Yogatiripad of the Trichur temple, the Komaram of the Cranganore Bhagavati shrine etc., It is the duty of the Perumpulayan to bring the coir for hoisting the flag on the temple flagstaff in connection with the annual festival, and this right has been given him in return for the discovery of the shrine by an ancestor of his. A nayar is elevated to the position of a high temple dignitary, under the name Taccuta Kammal, and he looks after the temporal management of the temple at Irinjalakuda. In olden days, the extensively endowed Trichur temple had its secular and spiritual affairs looked after by a brahmin, elevated to the rank of a Yogatiripad. The Komaram, also called Veliccapadu, is the earthly representative of the Goddess enshrined and takes Her place in all mundane affairs. These and other institutional functionaries, form another interesting subject of study.

We have here noticed a few peculiarities of our temples. The why and wherefore of the same, it is not easy to explain. We may not, however, better conclude these notes than with a reference to another important feature of our religious life. Our land was the meeting place of all the most important religions in the world–the Vedic religion, the Brahminic religion with its two main branches of Vaishnavism and Saivitism, the non-thesitic religions of Buddhism and Jainism, and the alien religions of Judaism. Christianity, and Mohamedanism; and our conceptions of religion and philosophy were influenced not merely by these religions, native and foreign, but also by the Grecien, the Roman and the Chinese schools of philosophy, which nations had their thriving colonies in our midst at Mousiris, the ancient emporium of trade and commerce on the West Coast. The various theistic cults and sects, faiths and creeds, whether they be Dravidian, Vedic or Brahminical, lived side by side in amity and friendship with the non-theistic ones, whether they be foreign or native; and religious persecution and religious animosity were unknown amongst us. Mutual toleration and mutual accommodation, arising from a kathenotheistic outlook, have come to be practised amongst us from times of yore. May not this attitude serve as our example and give a lead to those parts of India which are torn asunder by religious animosities?

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: