Although Hinduism does not oblige its followers to visit Temples, Hindus in general consider every place of worship as the House of God (or Goddess) and hence a venue for veneration, peace and harmony.
There is a certain inner tranquility that every human being experiences in a place of worship, be it a Temple, Mosque or Church.
Some of the Hindu Temples date far beyond the Christian era, with many of them constructed and promoted by Hindu kings in most parts of India. Of these, the ‘Meenakshi Temple’ in the South Indian City of Madurai (Tamil Nadu) is arguably the oldest in the world, attracting people from all over the world for more than 2500 years.
Since all Hindu home usually have a small shrine or ‘puja room’ for daily prayers, Hindus generally visit temples only on auspicious occasions or during religious festivals. Hindu temples also do not play a crucial role in marriages and funerals, but it is often the meeting place for religious discourses as well as ‘bhajans’ and ‘kirtans’ (devotional songs and chants).
According to sacred books, there were no Temples in the Vedic period (about 1700-1100 BC). The main object of worship was fire that stood for God. The holy fire was lit on a platform in the open air under the sky, and oblations were offered to the fire. It is not certain when exactly the Indo-Aryans first started building temples for worship. The scheme of building temples was perhaps a concomitant of the idea of idol worship.
Typically, a Hindu Temple would have the following:
The Dome and Steeple: The steeple of the dome is called ‘shikhara’ (summit) that represents the mythological ‘Meru’ or the highest mountain peak.
The Inner Chamber: Called ‘Garbhagriha’ or ‘Womb-Chamber’ this is where the image or idol of the Deity is placed.
The Temple Hall: Most large temples have a hall for gatherings to witness dances, chant hymns, conduct ‘yagnas,’ marriages or social events.
The Front Porch: This area of the temples usually has a big metallic bell that hangs from the ceiling. Devotees entering and leaving the porch ring this bell to declare their arrival and departure.
The Reservoir: If the temple is not in the vicinity of a natural water body, a reservoir of fresh water is built on the temple premises and used for rituals.
The Walkway: Most temples have a walkway around the walls of the inner chamber for circumambulation by devotees around the deity as a mark of respect to the temples’ god or goddess.
Temple Priests: As opposed to the all-renouncing ‘swamis’, temple priests, variously known as ‘pandas’, ‘pujaris’ or ‘purohits’, are salaried workers, hired by temple authorities to perform daily rituals. Traditionally they come from the Brahmin or priestly caste, but there are many priests who are non-Brahmins.