Thursday, December 16, 2010

Multi-Faceted Role of a Devaalaya (Hindu Mandir)

Multi-Faceted Role of a Devaalaya
(Hindu Mandir)
M.G. Prasad
Maplewood, New Jersey (


Sanatana Dharma or Hindu Dharma emphasizes that the ultimate goal of human life journey is to seek and realize the Omnipresent and Omniscient Bramhan, the source of happiness and bliss. However this ultimate goal is achieved through pure mind with efforts such as pursuit of spiritual knowledge, development of true devotion, selfless service, refinement of mind through culture, etc. This journey is successfully accomplished by achieving the four-fold objectives of our life namely Dharma (Righteous knowledge), Artha (Rightly earned money), Kama (Righteous desires) and Moksha (Bliss). In this journey a Devaalaya (or Mandir) has many important roles. In the Vedic scriptures, Agamas, it is said "Deho Devaalayaha Proktaha Dehi Devo Niranjanaha" which means that Devaalaya represents the body of a living human being with God as the Indweller.

The analogous correspondence of the various parts of the Devaalaya to a human being as it provides spiritual insight. The Gopura at the main entrance represents the feet, the prayer hall represents the heart, the entrance to sanctum sanctorum represents the neck, the sanctum sanctorum itself represents the head and the walkway around he temple represents the hands. The walking from outside world to the inside of a Devaalaya represents that a seeker is getting into meditation to dwell upon God within. The various activities such as worship, educational, cultural and service ought to help the seeker-devotee to be able to develop a meditative mind. Then the seeker devotee with meditative mind can travel within through the path of yoga (and mediation) to realize God within. Thus we see that our rishis gave us the devaalaya to be used as a laboratory for our spiritual development. Devaalaya is a very special place that plays a multi-faceted role in the spiritual development of any seeker. However, for Hindus it is essential as it is recommended that one should live in place where there is a temple near to visit often. A brief account of the various roles that a devaaalaya has in a Hindu's life is presented and also how a Hindu can use a devaalaya as a multi-faceted resource is discussed.

Devaalaya as a place for worship (Poojaalaya)
Devaalaya as a place of worship that provides a seeker through devotion both practical and experiential way to subjectively connect to the God through a medium called Vigraha. The term Vigraha means that which specially captures the mind of a devotee. The postures of the vigrahas are based on the yogic visions of the sages. These vigrahas are sculpted, sanctified and worshipped based on the Agamas and meditating on them will help the devotee to advance in spiritual path. In a devaalaya we see that all the five senses namely listening to mantras, offering of flowers, seeing the vigraha, drinking the holy water and smell of incense can be used by a devotee to focus the mind on the worship of the God. The subjective relationship between the devotee and God through worship is very important in the spiritual development. The sixteen offerings used in a worship of God namely (1) Invoking God into Vigraha, (2) Offering a seat, (3) Washing feet, (4) Washing hands. (5) Water for sipping, (6) Sacred bath, (7) Sacred cloth, (8) Sacred thread, (9) Sandal paste, (10) flowers, (11) Incense, (12) Waving an oil lamp, (13) Food, (14) Betel leaves and coconut, (15) Waving of a camphor light, (15) Clockwise circumambulation and Prostration. Thus we see that pooja can be seen as analogous to treating one's respected and beloved guest. In addition to going to a devaalaya, every Hindu needs to have at home a special room with altar with vigraha to do pooja. A pooja at home or a devaalaya is a synthesis of devotion, knowledge and action that provides tranquility. In the words of yogi-seer Sriranga Sadguru of Ashtanga Yoga Vijnana Mandiram, Mysore, India, " the worship of Deities with rituals at home or devaalaya should be carried out with child-like loving mind by the devotees as little children play with joy using their toys as medium"

Devaalaya as a place for education (Vidyaalaya)
The spiritual, philosophical and religious aspects of Sanatana Dharma are based on experiences of our rishis. They did not speculate. They provided knowledge behind various practical aspects. The yoga with all its different forms provided the practical basis. Thus it is very important that devaalaya becomes the resource for knowledge. In addition to the ritualistic worship simultaneous efforts should be made to give the knowledge behind the rituals. Either through the trained priests or knowledgeable volunteers, educational talks should be given to devotees during the rituals. Time should be allotted to answer questions and answers. Concepts such as the four hands of the vigraha representing the blessing of four-fold objectives namely dharma, artha, kama and moksha and the inseparable nature of masculine and feminine principles being worshipped as deva and devi, etc should be told. Classes should be held regularly to explain the meaning of the mantras chanted. In addition, regular classes are to be conducted to study scriptures such as Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads, etc. In addition to the year -round classes, additional programs such as workshops, guest lectures, camps, etc are essential to educate both youngsters and adults. One of the reasons for youngsters not coming in large numbers to temples is due to lack of educational programs and youth related activities.

Devaalaya as a place for cultural arts (Kalaalaya)
The music, dance, painting, etc form the vibrant part of Sanatana dharma. It is well known that the seekers through music and dance have realized God. In the time of festivals celebrated at the devaalaya special cultural programs including educational aspects should be arranged. Various themes corresponding to the festivals such as Shivaratri, Ramanavami, Krishna janmashtami etc should be presented as dance-dramas so that the youngsters can understand and appreciate better. Cultural fairs need to be arranged in which classical art forms are to be emphasized.

Devaalaya as a place for service (Sevaalaya)
Volunteers form the core work group of a devaalaya. Any work done in the devaalaya in the areas such as worship, education, crowd management, fund raising, facility maintenance etc can be seen as a service. However specific programs for serving the community such as free health fairs, counseling for students and adults, senior citizen oriented activities, outreach to hospitals and nursing homes, feeding the poor, etc. need to be carried out regularly.

Concluding Remarks
Thus we see that a devaalaya is a place where all facets of Sanatana Dharma namely Jnana (knowledge), Bhakti (devotion) and Karma (service) come together. The management of a devaalaya which is also made up of volunteers is to make sure that all the above four aspects are equally emphasized. One way to ensure equal emphasis is by requiring that all trustees or directors of the board has to be involved in one of the four areas namely worship, education, culture and service. It is important that the management board truly work towards making the volunteers in all areas feel that their services are contributing to the devaalaya. All these areas need to be budgeted properly. It is to be remembered that devaalaya provides an opportunity for all volunteers including trustees and directors to get rid of their ego and make progress in their spiritual development through serving the common cause namely the God.

An Agenda for Hindus
M.G. Prasad
Maplewood, New Jersey (


1. Memorize few verses from Bhagavad-Gita
2. Focus and understand few verses from Bhagavad-Gita
3. Collect important Hindu books (scriptures) to have own library.
4. Learn and practice at the least few yoga-postures.
5. Carry out discussions related to Hinduism with other Hindu friends.
6. Carry out discussions about Hinduism related topics with family members.
7. If you are parent and have young children, tell them the stories of great Hindus in all fields.
8. Understand and educate others about the important basics of Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma.
9. Obtain sufficient depth and breadth about the various Hindu scriptures from Vedas philosophies.
10. Participate in the meetings and programs arranged during the visit of Hindu scholars.


1. Do prayer daily in the prayer room or specially allotted space at home.
2. Learn, perform and teach simple (at least) Pooja at home to children and grandchildren
3. Visit Hindu temple regularly and during festivals
4. Read about other religions and know the differences between Hinduism and them.


1. Celebrate Hindu festivals at home and invite friends.
2. Represent Hindu culture in the work environment.
3. Practice and educate others about some of the important cultural aspects of Hinduism.
4. Support the organizations working for the correct representation of Hinduism in school text books and other materials.
5. Watch with family, the videos of the Hindu themes (such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Chankya, etc) and discuss with family members.
6. Participate in the community celebrations of Hindu festivals.
7. Learn and/or Support classical and folk music and dance. 


1. Contribute donation (to your best) to Hindu organizations
2. Offer volunteer services (to your best ability) to Hindu organizations.
3. Participate as a Hindu representative in inter-faith forums.
4. Understand and support the Hinduism related issues in national and international affairs.
5. Support the cause of correct representation of Hinduism in media.
6. Obtain a good understanding of the contributions Hinduism to science and technology from ancient to present.

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