Temple worship

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Temple worship

Brahmasree M.N.Sreejith Nampoothiri
(Managing Trustee & Chief Priest, Astro Tantrik Research Centre)

Visiting temple and feeling the divine presence of God is the primary and the foremost step taken by a devotee to rectify the harms caused by the unfavourable position of the planets and the harms caused by other factors. Visiting temple may help a devotee to reduce the effect of harms caused by certain factors and it may help one in achieving prosperity and attaining personal desires and pleasures. Visiting temple is an act or deed which can be easily performed by anybody. It is less expensive and more accessible. On the other hand, it’s quite an expensive and complicated task for an ordinary man to practise a Pooja (religious sacrifice), Homa (religious offering), and Ratnadharana (wearing precious stone) at times of trouble. Therefore Vrathanushtana (performing penance) and visiting temple may act as the most encouraging remedy for an ordinary man to liberate himself from the harmful effects caused by the unfavourable position of the planets. If a devotee practises these religious sacrifices and offerings according to the norms of the temple, he may attain a fruitful result and prosperity. This is the major reason behind the existence and sustenance of temples for the last hundred years.

Temple- a preface
Temples are the houses of worship where the life-force (chaitanya) of God prevails forever. Temple is the permanent abode of an Ultimate God who is formless, and shapeless. It is a complicated task for ordinary people to imagine the appearance and form of the Almighty God in their minds. This is the major reason which led the Puranic Rishis to design and attribute certain forms and bhavas to God. Therefore, temples are constructed at different places with the images and statues of several deities. Indian doctrinal theory strives to prove that the glory and power of God is revealed through five forms. These five forms are nobility (param), structure (vyuham), strength (vibhavam), worship (archa), Supreme Soul (antharyami). Out of these, Archa (worship) is the only ‘bhava’ of God which can be easily relished and realized by ordinary people. Even though, Karma yoga (which should be done without desiring any reward), and Njanayoga are apt to provide salvation, it is difficult for an ordinary man to execute. In order to rectify this problem, temples are constructed with the idols of demigods and deities. The Puranic preceptors elucidates that the `Parampurusha pooja’ with different forms is linked to Vishnu, Shiva, Shankaranarayana, Durga, Subramanya, Ganapati, and Shastavu. The process of invoking the divine power of God into the idols in temples can be compared to the blowing of air with a fan and lighting fire in an altar. Even though one can find innumerable forms of deities, the ultimate power resides in the Universal Soul.

The multiple forms of gods and goddesses in Hindu mythology symbolize the Ultimate Power. Some may ask about the necessity of adoring the different forms and figures of Hindu gods and goddesses. The great preceptor, Mridanandaswami answers this question in an intelligible way. Some people ask about the necessity of creating innumerable forms of god instead of creating one. Some may ask the reason for instilling confusion and embarrassment in the minds of people by creating lot many images and statues rather than creating one image as the representation of the Supreme Soul. The answer for this question is quite simple. The consecrated idols and images in temples are made in accordance with the various moods, behaviours, emotions and temperaments of common people. It is to be understood that the oneness of God is the basic underlying principle behind the concept of manifold forms of God in Hindu mythology. The holy book, Bhagavad-Gita also instructs that the adoration of any deity with utmost devotion actually signifies the adoration of the Universal Power or the Paramathma. The yogis are recommended to worship their favourite deities to help them to increase their belief and devotion in the Almighty God. Therefore the concept of the infinite forms of God may not act as a hindrance for a devotee, who worships his favourite god with a right spirit and attitude.

A scientific view of Temple-Concept
Temple is the external symbolization of the Macrocosm and Microcosm. Nature is considered to be the macrocosm and human body as the microcosm. The sanctum of the big temples in Kerala is bounded by five external ramparts (prakaras). They are back wall (puram mathil), bahyahara (the middle room for temple rituals), vilakkumadam (the room for lighting the holy lamp), anthahara, antharmandala (the room for offering sacrifices). A temple constructed in this respect is a depiction of human body. It is an exact portrayal of the Sthulasharira of a deity. The idol of the demigod erected in the temple and the holy shadadharaprathishta which lies beneath this idol is a representation of the Sukshmasharira of the deity. ‘Vishvakarmyam’ is a book which deals with the principles of construction of a temple. This book instructs that the sanctum of the temple symbolizes the head of the deity, the altar acts as the face,namaskaramandapam as the throat, the building surrounding the sanctorum (nalambala) as the hands, the area for walking around the temple as the abdomen, the outer wall as the knees and the tower (gopura) as the feet of the deity.

Adharashila, Nidikumbha, Ashtadalapadma, Kurma, Yoganala, Napumsakashila are the six parts of the Shadadharapradishta of a temple in Kerala. These six parts, in turn, represent the Muladhara, Swadishtanachakra, Manipuraka, Anahathachakra, Vishudhichakra, and Ajnachakra of the Sukshmasharira respectively. Ajnachakra which is considered to be the Napumsakashila is the upper sector of the Sahasrarapadma. The idol of the deity is consecrated on the stone-seat of the sanctum. The idol of a male deity is erected on a stone-seat with feminine nature and that of a female deity is erected on a stone-seat of masculine properties. It indicates that the erection of an idol is a representation of the Shivashaktisamyoga (fusion of the powers of Shiva and Parvathi) in Sahasrarapadma. The Shakhty of goddess Parvathi which lies inactive in the muladhara of human body is made active by the reciting of holy rites and mantras. This power crosses the six adharachakras and reaches the top of the head and merges with the power of lord Shiva which resides in the Sahasrarapadma (a lotus with thousand petals) in the forehead. This is the excellent and the ultimate step taken by a yogi. Sahasrarapadma indicates the fusion of the powers of Shiva and Parvathi (Shakhty) called Shiva-Shakhty samyoga.

Shiva-Shakhty samyoga helps a yogi to achieve moksha or salvation. According to the norms of Hindu mythology, a yogi has to practise severe penance and meditation in order to reach the state of Shiva-Shakhty samyoga. But it is highly difficult for a normal man to reach this state of divinity. Temple-Worship is the most easiest and suitable way of achieving of salvation. Most of the people are ignorant of the science of mantras and tantras. When they visit the temple and adore the deity there, the power or the life-force of the goddess Parvathi which is generated from the Sahasrarapadma of the deity is transferred over to the devotees. This chaitanya or life-force which is passed from the deity to the devotee activates the power of goddess Parvathi which lies deep within him. The presence of this life-force (chaitanya) makes a devotee or a yogi feel that the God is pleased with him. The renowned scholar Madhavji says; “Thereby several thousands of devotees can easily feel the presence of God through temple-worship, without experiencing the complexity and severity of attaining the good result felt by a yogi through rigorous penance and meditation. Our forefathers had been intelligent enough to develop a wonderful concept of temple-worship and the scientific technology developed by them, is labelled as the Psycho Engineering Scheme”.

A true devotee should have a proper knowledge and awareness of the body of a temple. The temples in Kerala are constructed with five external ramparts. These five external ramparts are back wall (puram mathil), bahyahara (the middle room for temple rituals), vilakkumadam (the room for lighting the holy lamp), anthahara, antharmandala (the room for offering sacrifices). These five ramparts are constructed for the big temples only. Elucidations on the sanctum and the five ramparts that surround it are necessary here.

The sanctum and the inner chamber (garbhagriha) are the most significant and holy parts of the temple. The sanctums of the temples of Kerala are made in different shapes like square, rectangle, circle, oval and gajaprishta. Most of the temples are constructed with square-shaped and circular-shaped sanctums. Sanctums are rarely made in oval shape and gajaprishta shape. The sanctum of Sreemahadevar temple in Vaikom is constructed in oval shape. The sanctums of Tripangodu Shiva temple in Malappuram district, Madhur Shree Anandeshwara Vinayaka Kshethram in Kasargod district, Payyannur Shreesubramanya Swamikshethram in Kannur district, Thiruvannur Shivakshethram in Kozhikode district are made in gajaprishta shape. The sanctums of the temples in Kerala can be classified into many. Some may be built with two or three storeys, and some with an exterior porch. The sanctum of the temple is built on a high pedestal. In some temples, a stone-seat or upapida is made below this high pedestal. Sopana is the stepping-stone which helps one in ascending from the inner chamber to the sanctum. One can enter the sanctum of the temple directly through the front entrance and also through the two doors built on either sides of the sanctum. Sopana is built in front of the three doors around the sanctum. A valve is built on the side of the sanctum for the flow of anointed water. It is one of the significant parts of the temple. The walls of the temple are designed with beautiful paintings, figures and wooden carvings. These pictures and carvings have an excessive significance in the tradition of Kerala. Therefore the sanctums of the big temples in Kerala are the symbols of wonderful architecture and incredible paintings. These paintings reveal the greatness and glory of the heritage of Kerala. The topmost dome of the sanctum is a congregation of bloomed lotus, water-pot, stem, bud etc. The scholarly words of Madhavji prove that the pot (kalasha) designed on the summit or dome of the sanctum symbolises the flow of nectar (amrithadhara) created by a yogi (one who practices religious rites). The altar located in the inner chamber (antharmandala) is made with the figures of different deities like Ashtadikpalakar (guardians of eight directions like Indra , Agni, Yama etc.), Brahma (the god of Heaven), Vishnu (the god of earth), Ayyappa, Durga, Subramanya, Kubera, Nirmaalyadhari(a minor diety who takes in the remnants used by god) , Saptamaathrukkal (the seven guardians of God). The chamber of salutation (namaskaramandapa) is built in the front but apart from the sanctum. The namaskaramandapa is made especially for the priests and the Brahmins for doing their customary and religious prayers. This chamber is also used for preserving water-pots (kalasham) at the time of festivals. The ceiling or the upper storey of this chamber is designed with the paintings of the seven planets or the guardians of eight directions (ashtadikpalakar). The `nalambala’ is a part of the temple that is located around the sanctum and the pradhakshinapadha (place of circumambulation). The kitchen and the store-room of the temple are located inside the nalambala. The chambers for the entertainment of temple-arts are built on both sides of the entrance. Some ancient forms of art like Koothu (story-telling by the Chakyar community) and padhakkam (telling of mythological or Puranic stories) occupy a supreme position in the tradition of Kerala. In big temples, the nalambala is made in two storeys. This part is mostly called as ‘valiyambala’(big-temple). A light-house is made either separately or close to Nalambala.

The external balivatta of the temple consists of the entrance of the temple, flag-post pillar, the way for circumambulation around the temple, ashtadikpalaka or guardian of the temple, koothambala (hall for the performance of the community of chakyars), upadevatha (a minor deity), and balikkalppura (sacrificial chamber). The ceiling or the roof of the sacrificial chamber is decorated with beautiful figures, paintings, and carvings. The big sacrificial stone (balikkallu) and the altar kept outside the temple (balivattom) are considered to be the hip or the waist of the deity. The flag-mast of the temple is erected between the sacrificial-chamber (balikkalpura) and the big shed in front of the temple for arraying elephants during festivals (aanakkottil). The flag-mast symbolises the power or Shakhty of goddess Parvathi residing in the Sukhshmasharira of the deity. The adharashila of the flag represents the muladhara and its end represents the sahasrarapadma. The flag can be made either in copper or bronze and can be coated with silver or gold. The length or the height of the flag-mast is usually less than the distance between the foot of the deity in the sanctum and the bottom of the flag-mast. One can find the vehicle of the major deity of a particular temple erected on the tip of the flag-mast. Ox is the vehicle for Shiva, which of Parvathi is lion, eagle for Vishnu, rat for Ganapati, Peacock or cock for Subramanya, horse for Ayyappa and demon(Vetalam) for Kali. It is believed that worshipping the deity placed at the top of the flag-mast is capable of providing divine blessings to the devotee when he finds problems in sighting the deity kept in the sanctum of the temple.

Upadevalayas (small temples for minor deities), Koothambalam (dance hall for Chakyar’s performance), Oottupura (dining hall attached to the temple), Kshethrakkulam (temple-pond), gopura (tower), Puram-mathil (outer wall) are also the significant parts of the temple. The dance-hall or Koothambalam is meant for the performance of two forms of art like `Koothu’ and `Koodiyattam’, a kind of drama enacted by the Chakyars , a community of temple-dancers. The prominence of these forms of temple-arts is declining day by day. These forms of art are conducted only in few temples like Shree vadakkumnadha Kshethram in Trichur, Shree Subramanyaswamy Kshethram in Harippadu. The towers constructed as a part of the outer wall of the temple is one of the best examples of the art of architecture of the temples of Kerala. Unlike the style of temple-architecture in Tamil Nadu, the temples in Kerala are made in a special way which is closely associated with the concept of Nature.

Idols and Images of deities
The idols in the temple are classified into two. The first classification is the self-originated idols and secondly, the idols made in accordance with the Tantrik rules of the temple. The self-originated idols are believed to be the self-incarnations of the Ultimate Soul. In olden days, women of the backward communities used to go to the forests for chopping grass for their pet animals and while sharpening their knives and sickles at the edges of some pieces of rock they happened to see blood oozing out of it. Finally temples were built on these places with the help of the chieftains of those principalities. One can find so many myths in Hinduism which concerns about the self-originated idols. The truth behind these mythological stories still exists as a mystery.

The idols which are made according to the Tantrik rules of the temple are classified into eight, as per the valuable insight provided by Sri Mahabhagavadam.

“Shailee, Dharumayi, Lauhi, Lepya, Lekhya cha saikathi Manomayi, manimayi prathimaf shta vidhasmrithaa.”

Creation of the idol of Sri Krishna: Several kinds of wood like Sandal, Jack tree, deodar tree are used for creating it; gold, silver, panchabhoota (mixture of five metals) are used for creating it; it is also made with a mixture of concentrated molasses; designed with a script and drawing. These idols are made according to the concept of god existing in our minds with diamonds and salgramam (an idol indicative of Vishnu). These idols are further classified into three. They are Sathvika (virtuous), Rajasam (having prosperity and luxury), Thamasam (dark attributes such as anger and idiocy). The idol of the deity is made with Yogamudra (yogic seal), Varadhabhayamudra and several kinds of jewellery. The seated position of a deity on its vehicle represents prosperity, the idol of the deity made with different kinds of adornments and Varadhabhayamudra represents virtuousness, the idol of the deity made with weapons to murder its enemies is indicative of anger and idiocy.

The idols of the deities are also classified into movable (chalam) and immovable (achalam). The movable idols can be moved and the immovable ones cannot be moved. The immovable idols are usually erected and consecrated at the corners of the temple. The immovable idols are called ‘Moolavigrahas’ because of this reason. Some idols called `Sheevelibimbas’ are used for one of the temple-rituals. These idols of the deities are used for spectacular procession. Sthiravigrahas (permanent idols) in the temples are of three types – Sthaanaka(standing position), Aasana (seat), and Shayana (bed). The idol of Vishnu is made in Shayana posture with Vishnu lying on the body of the serpent Anantha. According to Tantrik-science, the idols of deities are classified into four types. They are Yoga, bhoga , Veera , Aabhicharikam. These four types of idols signify different things. An idol in the posture of Yoga is indicative of imparting spiritual knowledge to ordinary people; Bhoga indicates material pleasure and luxury; Veera is indicative of victory in all walks of life; Aabhicharika indicates the murdering of enemies. For some deities like Kali, Durga, and Yakshi, glass-like images(KannadiBimbom) are made in copper or panchaloha. According to the tradition of Kerala, Yantras like Sri Chakra ,weapons like spear and sword are also worshipped instead of worshipping the respective deities.

Poojas and Religious ceremonies in temples
The Tantrik-preceptors invoke the idols with the power of God through their deep insight in mantras, tantras, mystic and meditative powers. Invoking these idols through several complex rituals and ceremonies will anoint these idols with the life-force (chaitanya) of god. These processes of rituals and ceremonies are done to sustain these temples for thousands of years. In order to sustain this life-force (chaitanya) in temples, several kinds of poojas (mystic spells) and festivals are conducted in a systematic and orderly way. Generally, five types of poojas are conducted in the temple everyday. They are Ushapooja (morning prayers), Ethrithapooja, Pantheeradipooja (pooja done at the time when the shadow cast by the sun is twelve foot-steps long), Uchapooja (noon worship) and Athazhapooja (pooja done at night). The first worship in the temple starts at dawn with the sound of a conch and with the harmonious sounds produced by musical instruments. After undertaking the daily routine and morning prayers, the chief priest tucks his dhoti in between his thighs, washes his feet, chants holy rites, and sprinkles the holy water and honour the Lord at the threshold of the temple by ringing the bell. Lighting the holy lamp is the first step done by the priest after entering the threshold of the temple. Then he removes the previous day’s garlands and floral offerings adorned on the deity. Worshipping the deity before the removal of previous day’s garlands and floral offerings is called `Nirmalyadarshanam’. The devotees assign immense significance to this worship. It is a worship which is done at dawn prior to the opening of the threshold of th e temple.

After removing the previous day’s offerings, the idol of the deity is cleansed and made clean by scrubbing it with the bark of a tree which is used as a cleanser. The morning worship begins when the idol of the deity is anointed with holy water (theertham) and showered with the offering of flowers. After performing the Ushapooja and Ethruthapooja, a holy ritual called Sheeveli and Shreebali is done. Morning worship comes to an end when the minor deities . The pooja which is done next is called `Pantheeradi’. This pooja is done at a time when the shadow cast by the sun is twelve footsteps long. Some temples possess Navaka and conduct five poojas. Out of the five poojas, pantheeradi pooja assumes supreme significance and here, the deity is anointed after conducting the offering done with navaka. The worship of the idol of the deity at noon is called `Uchasheeveli’. During the time of festivals, Uchasheeveli is mostly done in the evenings so that the devotees can visualize the deity and achieve contentment. Normally the devotees are not allowed to visualize this worship except on the day of festival. But in Guruvayoor temple the devotees are allowed to visualize this worship. Unlike other temples, this worship is done here everyday.

The evening worship starts at five’ o clock and it will proceed till 8pm. Added to evening worship there will be anointing of the deity in Shiva-temples on the day of Pradosha. Night worship is started after adoring the deity with holy lights (deeparadhana). This night worship puts an end to the order of performing rites or poojas on a particular day. The time schedule and the order of rites in the temple may alter during the time of festivals. In the case of small temples, morning prayers are followed by anointing of the deity of an idol. In these kinds of temples, adoring the deity with holy lights (deeparadhana) is followed by the evening worship (nivedyam). In very small temples, holy offering and pooja is done only once in a day and the threshold of the temple is closed immediately after this.

Devotees are not allowed to visualize and worship the deity at all times, when the threshold is open. The devotees are also restricted to sight the deity at various contexts especially at the time of offering nivedya to the deity. This is done to avoid the presence of all kinds of impurities and evil spirit from destroying the sanctity of the function. Special care should be taken to protect the deity from all kinds of uneasiness so that the God may accept the offerings without any external hindrances. In certain days of the month and on various occasions, special offerings and rites are done. Certain days of the year are considered to be auspicious; they are Vishu, Shivarathri (the night on which Shiva is believed to appear), Ashtamirohini (the birthday of Lord Krishna), Navarathri (a festival of nine days) and are considered to be special and holy.

The mighty life-force (chaitanya) of God resides in a temple. Because of the carelessness, ignorance, mistakes and wrongs of the devotees, the power or the life-force of god existing in the temple starts declining. In order to rectify this problem, holy festivals are conducted in temples. The temple is compared to a yogi and the chants and rites done by the yogi is compared to the religious offerings done in the temple everyday. During the time of festivals, the sacrificial offerings are done in an elaborate and special way.

Normal worships and poojas are replaced by special worships during the time of festivals. The special offerings and poojas on the day of the festival are done by the supreme priests of that particular temple itself. This helps in regaining the life-force or chaitanya of God which has been lost from the temple due to certain reasons.

There are three kinds of festivals; they are Anguraadhi, Dhwajaadi, and Padahadhi. The seedling is planted after doing the rituals for purification and which is followed by the hoisting of flag. This festival is called Anguradhi. The festival of Dwajaadhi does not involve the rituals of purification and the planting of germinated shoot. It involves only the hoisting of flag. Padahathi is a festival which is done with the procession of the deity with the backup of a harmonious sound produced by the musical instruments. Navakas are used in temples during the time of festivals. `Sheebhutabali’ is a ritual done with the chanting of holy mantras for pleasing the `Parshadas’ and `Dhwasthas’. The festival-offering is conducted by honouring the deity with water, perfume, flowers, and melted ghee. A devotee considers this offering as significant since he feels that worshipping the deity on the day of festival will bring them blessings. Temples signify the divine presence of God. The power residing in the temples are given different names and this worship is called Utsavabali (festival-worship). Since the festival-worship is quite expensive and unaffordable it is not possible to conduct it twice in a day. On the day of festival, Utsavabali is conducted at one time and Shreebhuthabali at another time. The poojas which are done at the time of festival can be compared to the meditation done by a yogi.

The life-force or the chaitanya of God crosses the four boundaries of the temple and spreads out to the ordinary people during the time of holy festivals. When the idol of the deity is taken out of the temple for a procession, the power of God reaches out to the common folk. This procession is done with the back-up of music and utterance of religious rites. The life-force of God which is emitted out from the idol of the deity is apt to cast off the evil and the devilish spirits of the village. This Shakhty of God is believed to murder the wild animals and evil spirits is called `Pallivetta’ (hunting done by the deity). The holy ritual which is supposed to take place after the pallivetta is called `Pallikkuruppu’ (resting period of the deity). The period of rest (sleep) taken by the deity after the procession where the God himself involves in a hectic task of pallivetta makes Him exhausted. This period of rest taken by the deity is called `Pallikkuruppu’ and it is compared to the deep meditation done by a Yogi. The holy ritual of pallivetta fills the entire village with the divine power of the deity. After this event, the idol of the deity is cleansed (made to bathe) in the temple-pond, as per the norms of Tantra-shastra. At the time of this ritual bath of the deity, holy nectar is believed to ooze out from the sahasrarapadma of the deity, which in turn fills the whole temple-pond with the life-force of God and when the devotees take bath here immediately after the ritual can feel this divine life-force of God. The flag in the temple is hoisted as a part of the temple-festival. The devotees are asked not to leave the temple premises at this time because the chaitanya of god is transferred to the devotees in full measure at this time. The flag is further folded and brought back to its original position after the ritual-bath of the deity. The ritual which takes place next is `Arattu Kalasha’ and it marks the end of the temple-festival. In some temples, the ritual-bath of the deity takes place after the folding of the flag. The temple which is compared to a yogi, stops it’s meditation after the festival and returns to its real state.

The method of practising Temple-Worship Sanctity of the mind and body
The temple-worship should be done with the purity of mind and body. It should be done in accordance with the customs and traditions of the temple. One should visit the temple in clean and well-washed clothes. The bath in a temple-pond or a holy river may help a devotee to retain external purity. One is not supposed to apply oil on his head when he takes bath in the temple-pond. Visiting the temple with sandals, headdress, umbrella, and paper-fan is strictly prohibited. While visiting the temple one should not wear previous day’s clothes. Men should tighten their upper cloth or outer dhoti on their waist while they visit the temple. They should not leave their shirts half-opened. Women are supposed to leave their face and head uncovered while entering the temple premises. Special care should be taken by the adults while they take children inside the temple and they should see to it that the temple surroundings are not polluted by the children by throwing out waste body products. If by chance the children pollute the temple-surroundings, adults are asked to conduct a ritual at their own cost, to regain the sanctity of the temple. One is not supposed to smoke or use pan or other such articles while one is inside the temple. Devotees should not spit, drop nails, hair, blood on the temple-grounds since it may damage the sanctity of the temple and may make it impure.

Women should consider the seven days of their menstruation period as impure. They should visit the temple only after these seven days. But women should visit the Shiva-temples only after ten days from the period of menstruation. Defilement caused by the death in the family and the customary pollution which lasts for a few days following the birth in a family is considered to be a state of impurity. If a member of a family passes away, the relatives are supposed to visit the temple only after sixteen days from the day on which death occurred in the family. A mother and a child can visit the temple only after the ceremony of Choroonu (the ceremony of giving the first meal to a child aged about six months). The flowers, oil, ghee, and the coins (money) which are taken to the temple as donation should be free from all sorts of impurities. Purity of the mind is more important than external purity while visiting temple. Lust, jealousness, enmity should be removed from the mind of the devotee and his mind should be fully concentrated in God. In other words, when one is fully engrossed in the devotion to God, all sorts of mental and spiritual impurities will flee from him.

One should not forget the fact that the body of the temple is nothing other than the body of God. Remnants of the offerings to God, food offered to the deity should not fall on the temple-grounds. One should not sleep, laugh, cry, enter into foolish conversations and heated debates, bless somebody, apply the oil in the temple-lamps to one’s own body or head, and touch the priests, light camphor, leave the remnants of the offerings on the ground, walk through the path between the deity and His vehicle while one is inside the temple compound. One should not trample over the sacrificial stones erected in the temple, while one walk around the temple compound to sight the deity.

Method of Circumambulation
Circumambulation (pradakshina) is one of the principal aspects of temple-worship. In Amshumathi Veda, one can find the concepts regarding the origin of circumambulation.

Circumambulation signifies protection, salvation, recovery, and prosperity.

“Pandaal paadaantharam gathva karau chalanavarjithau, Vaacha stothram hridhi dhyaanamevaa kuryaal pradakshinam.”

While doing pradakshina or circumambulation one should take a slow movement, without the shaking of hands, praises should be uttered to glorify God and should be able to visualize the figure of the deity in one’s mind. Circumambulation done by a devotee is compared to a pregnant woman moving with a pot full of oil on her head. One should revolve one time around the temple for pleasing Ganapati, twice for Surya, thrice for Shiva, four times for Vishnu and Devi, and seven times around the Banyan tree for the attainment of his desires. According to the rules of Agamam, one has to do circumambulation once for Ganapati, twice for Surya and Kali, thrice for Vishnu, four times for Shastavu, five for Subramanya, six for Durga, and seven times around the Banyan tree for the fulfilment of desires. It is believed that if one revolves around the temple from sunrise to sunset it may bring him all sorts of blessings and his desires may come true. Strenuous circumambulation is done to solve severe problems and doshas. The number of circumambulations can be increased based on the severity of the problems and it helps in rectifying these problems. The circumambulation done in the morning may help in getting a cure from diseases; those who do it in the afternoon may get their desires fulfilled; those who do it in the evening may get their sins cleared; those who do it in the midnight may attain moksha or salvation. At the time of doing circumambulation, one can feel the divine presence of God at their right side. According to Madhavji, one can experience the mighty presence of God at each circumambulation.

The method of circumambulation in a Shiva temple is little bit different. While doing circumambulation in a Shiva temple, one should revolve from the sanctum to the valve through which the anointed water flows. One should revolve over the sacrificial stones and bow before the image of the deity placed at the dome of the temple. One should also revolve in an anti-clockwise direction through the sacrificial stones and reach near the valve of the sanctum and go back to the threshold of the temple. A circumambulation in a Shiva temple turns out to be complete only when these rules are strictly followed. There are some Tantrik and yogic reasons behind these differences in case of circumambulation in a Shiva temple. The power of Shiva tends to surpass the glory of all other minor deities, says Tantra-Shastra. Shiva resides in the central position of the Sahasrarapadma of human body. Therefore when the Shivalinga is anointed, the holy nectar oozes out of the sahasrarapadma along with holy water and a mixture of these two solvents reach the somasootra and flows out through it. When a yogi does circumambulation from the east and reaches near the valve of the sanctum, he reaches the state of Sahasrarapadma. Thus it is clear that the circumambulation in a Shiva temple assumes much significance.

A devotee bows before the deity after doing the circumambulation. Honouring the deity turns to be complete only when the devotee prostrates before the temple-deity. The chest, forehead, words, mind, hands folded together in respect, eyes, knees, footsteps are the six parts used by a devotee while prostrating before God. At the time of prostrating before God, the footsteps, knees, chest, and forehead are the only parts which should touch the ground. While the devotee lies in this position his hands should be raised above the head and the deity should be honoured. The hands folded in reverence is the fifth part, the words uttered to praise the glory of God is the sixth part and the eyes which sight the deity is the seventh part and the meditative mind is the eighth part. This is how prostration is done.

Circumambulation, worshipping, honouring and bowing before the deity are done by a devotee to give praise to the Lord. He should then accept holy water and offerings from the temple. One should not view and worship the deity with empty hands. One should give offerings and donations to the temple in accordance with one’s own ability and financial status. The holy water given by the priest should be accepted by the devotee with right hand and while having this holy water one’s hand should not touch one’s lips and it should be dropped into the mouth through the fingers. If by chance the hand touches the lips while having the holy water, the holy water may become impure. The name `Narayana’ should be uttered thrice while having this holy water (theertham). The holy vermillion, sandal paste etc. received from the temple should be marked on the forehead as a symbol of reverence.

Offerings are dedicated to God for achieving good fortune, prosperity, and the fulfilment of desires. The real meaning of offering or donation is worship. It is believed that the offering given to God is a form of sacrifice. This helps a devotee to concentrate in God fully or partially. A devoted and dedicated mind with full concentration in the deity and the offerings which are done with constant prayers will surely bring a fruitful result. A prayer done along with an offering is ten times better than a simple prayer.

The offerings which are done in the temple are generally classified into six. They are archana (worship), abhishekha (anointing), charthu (applying sandal paste), nivedya (food offered to God), vilakku (holy lamp) etc.

Archana (worship)
This offering is done by casting flowers at the deity with folded hands and chanting of mantras. Ashtotharashathaka (108), Trishathi (300), Namarchana, Chathushathi (400), Namarchana, Sahasranamarchana (1000), Bhagyasookhta, Purushasookhta, Ikyamathyasookhta are the mantras which are recited while worshipping the deity.

Abhisheka (anointing)
Except the idols made of deodar tree and concentrated molasses, anointing is done for the idols made with other materials. The liquids used for anointing different deities are pure water, milk, ghee, rose water, oil, coconut juice, perfumed sandal paste, honey. For the idols of Kali made in deodar wood, sandal paste is showered over it instead of anointing. The anointing done with a paste made out of teak tree and its roots can prevent the damage of the idol. It is one of the major offerings done in temple.

Smearing of sandal paste (chandanam charthal)
This offering is done by smearing the face or the whole body of the idol of the deity with sandalwood paste. Nivedya (food offered to the deity) The food offered to the deity may vary according to the deity to which it is dedicated. The nivedya(s) offered to the various deities are Trimadhura, Velanivedya, Malarnivedya (flowers offered to the deity), Payasanivedya (sweets offered to the deity), Appanivedya (food offered to the deity). There are different types of Payasanivedya; they are palpayasa (sweet syrup made with milk), neipayasa (sweet syrup made with ghee), koottupayasa (sweet syrup made with a mixture), kadumpayasa (concentrated sweet syrup). The foods offered to God are also of different types and they are used preferably for different deities.

Vilakku (lamp)
Lamp which is lighted with ghee is the central one among all the other lamps. This lamp is mostly lighted inside the sanctum of the temple. Gingelly oil and coconut oil are used for lighting the lamps kept in the interior and exterior of the temple. A special offering called Neerajanavilakku (illumination-offering) is also there.

Apart from the various offerings mentioned above, there are other offerings also. They are Ganapatihoma (an offering done to please Ganapati), Naleekeramadikkal (breaking of the coconut before the threshold of the temple as an offering), Vedivazhipadu (offering done with crackers), Thulabharam (offering something like sugar, jaggery, and plantain equivalent to the weight of the devotee), Karukahoma (an offering done with a variety of grass), Mrithyunjayahoma (an offering done to overcome death). Different types of offerings are done to please different deities. Each temple may have its own special offering. Each offering may have a special result. The major ones are pinpointed below:

Pushpanjali – for long life and for the cure of diseases

Rakhtapushpanjali – done for the fulfilment of desires and getting recovery from harms.

Swayamvararchana/Kumkumarchana- for the achievement of a happy married life

Sahasranamarchana – for attaining prosperity

Bhagavathiseva- for recovery from sufferings

Neivilakku/Neerajanavilakku- for the cure of arithritis, for solving Shanidoshas

Chandanam charthal(smearing sandalwood paste)-for the cure of diseases which occur due to heat conditions and skin diseases.

Dhara-for the healing of diseases, and for attaining peace of mind

Nirapara- for prosperity

Annadhana-for prosperity, and to save oneself from poverty and suffering

Niramala-for the fulfilment of desires

Chuttuvilakku-for the attainment of a peace of mind

There are numerous myths on the various religious offerings in Hindu mythology. When the offerings are done with a whole heart and intense devotion, the desire for the fulfilment of desires comes involuntarily to the mind of a devotee. The life-force (chaitanya) of God attained from the temple intensifies the faith of the devotees. This helps a devotee in achieving his desires. This is how offerings help a devotee to achieve fruitful results.