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A Hindu temple or Mandir (Sanskrit: मन्दिर) is a place of worship for followers of Hinduism. It can be a separate structure or a part of a building. A picture of most temples is the presence of murtis (images) of the Hindu deity to whom the temple is dedicated. They are usually dedicated to one primary deity, called the presiding deity, and other subordinate deities associated with the main deity. However, some temples are dedicated to several deities, and some have symbols instead of a murti.

Nomenclature, orthography and etymology

Hindu temples are known by different names in different parts of the world, depending upon the language. The word mandir or mandira is used in many languages, including Hindi, and is derived from a Sanskrit word, mandira, for 'house' (of a deity by implication). Temples are known as Gudi, Devalayam or Kovela in Telugu, as Devasthana or Gudi in Kannada and Mondir (মন্দির) in Bengali, as Kshetram or Ambalam in Malayalam. Temples are known as kō-yil - கோயில் (and occasionally, especially in modern formal speech, aalayam - ஆலயம்) in Tamil. The etymology is from kō - கோ, or lord, and il - இல் - home (note that besides meaning a deity's home, this term could also mean a King's home, since the term kō - கோ is used interchangeably for royalty and divinity).


Temple construction in Indiamarker started nearly 2000 years ago. The oldest temples that were built of brick and wood no longer exist. Stone later became the preferred material. Temples marked the transition of Hinduism from the Vedic religion of ritual sacrifices to a religion of Bhakti or love and devotion to a personal deity. Temple construction and mode of worship is governed by ancient Sanskrit scriptures called agamas, of which there are several, which deal with individual deities. There are substantial differences in architecture, customs, rituals and traditions in temples in different parts of India. South India is very different from the north. Hundreds, if not thousands, of ancient temples were destroyed during Islamic rule in India (especially in North India) between 1200 AD and 1700 AD. South India therefore has more large temples still standing.

During the ritual consecration of a temple, the presence of the universal all-encompassing Brahman, is invoked into the main stone deity of the temple, through ritual, thereby making the deity and the temple sacred and divine.


North Indian Temples

Most Hindu Temples in North India were destroyed during the centuries long Islamic Rule. Unlike South India, it is rare to come across an ancient temple that has not been reconstructed. Most ordinary temples in North India ritual is very simple in stark contrast to South Indian temples which have elaborate ritual. Also North Indian temples often tend to be less orthodox and in many cases all and sundry are permitted to enter the innermost sanctum of the deity and worship the deity personally. In such cases, the deity will not be adorned with valuable jewellery.The innermost heart of the temple is the sanctum where the deity (usually of fixed stone) is present, followed by a large hall for lay worshippers to stand in and obtain "darshan" or divine audience. There may or may not be many more surrounding corridors, halls etc. However there will be space for devotees to go around the temple in clock wise fashion circumbulation as a mark of respect. In North Indian temples, the tallest towers are built over the sanctum sanctorum.

South Indian Temples

Many large bannabs (grand stone temples) still stand in South India. Ritual tends to be orthodox and elaborate especially in the large vedic brahmincal temples, which follow the pan-Indian Sanskrit agama scriptural traditions. Apart from the main fixed stone deities, processional deities made of panchaloha (an alloy of 5 metals - gold, silver, copper, zinc and tin) are bathed, dressed, decorated with valuables and are taken out in processions for various festivals throughout the year. The richer the temple, the more elaborate the festivals. However, many ancient temples in small villages with great architectural and historical heritage value languish for lack of funds for maintenance.

Temples in other parts of India

Temples often greatly vary in their appearance, rituals, traditions, festivals and customs from region to region. Temples in eastern and western India also have their distinctions. In the south, kerala temples are very different from temples in the other three states.

Temples in Bengal

.In Bengalmarker, temple architecture has assumed a unique identity. Due to lack of suitable stone in the alluvial Gangeticmarker delta, the temple makers had to resort to other materials instead of stone. This gave rise to using terra cotta as a medium for temple construction. Terra-cotta exteriors with rich carvings are a unique feature of Bengali temples. The town of Vishnupur in Bengal is renowned for this type of architecture.

Usually a part of the intended total motif was carved by hand on one side of a brick and then baked. While under construction, these carved bricks were arranged to make up the entire motif.

The Bengali style of temple is not luxurious. Rather, most are modeled on simple thatched-roof earthen huts used as dwellings by commoners. This can be attributed to the popularity of bhakti cults which taught people to view gods as close to themselves. Thus, various styles like do-chala, char-chala, and aat-chala sprang up. However, there is also a popular style of building known as Navaratna (nine-towered) or Pancharatna (five-towered) in Bengal which is more luxurious than the Chala buildings. A typical example of Navaratna style is the Dakshineswar Kali Templemarker.

Customs and etiquette

The customs and etiquette when visiting Hindu temples have a long history and are filled with symbolism, solemn respect and veneration of Brahma's creation.

Visitors and worshipers to Hindu temples are required to remove shoes and other footwear before entering them. Most temples have an area designated to store footwear.

The Hindu religion teaches that all life-forms are created by Brahma and that humankind needs to share the world with the animal kingdom. It is common to see stray dogs, sacred cows and various species of birds congregated at temples.

Worshipers in major temples typically bring in symbolic offerings for the prayer or 'puja'. This includes fruits, flowers, sweets and other symbols of the bounty of the natural world. Temples in India are typically surrounded by small stores called 'dukan' (Hindi) which offer them typically wrapped in organic containers such as banana leaves.
When inside the temple, it is typical to keep both hands folded together as a sign of respect. The worshipers approach the inner sanctum, recite sacred Sanskrit verses called 'mantras', follow the instructions of the priest called the 'pujari', meditate & pray called 'puja', and, present the offerings to the feet of the God-form 'the murthy' symbolising total submission and immersion into the All Loving Being. The 'murthy' is typically placed on a 'mandap' or pedestal surrounded by beautiful offerings such as colorful cloths, flowers, incense sticks or 'agarbati' and sounds such as from a conch or large bells.

The mantras spoken are typically "Om Namo Narayana" or "Om Namah Shivaya" which mean "Obeisance to Narayana( vishnu)" or "Salutations to Shiva". These are followed by a series of shlokas or verses from the holy texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads or Vedas. Upon the conclusion of the prayer, devotees get down on their knees or even fall flat on their stomach and bow before the symbol of the deity. If a priest or 'Pujari' is present, he is likely to provide sacred symbolically-blessed food called 'Prasad' to the devotee. He may also apply a holy red mark called ' Tilak ' to the forehead of the devotee symbolising blessings.

Finally the worshiper or visitor would walk clock-wise around the sanctum sanctorum , stop once on each side, close their eyes and pray to the All Loving Being. The worshipper may receive a sprinkling of the water from the holy river Ganges while the 'pujari' states "Om Shanti" which means "peace be unto all".

During religious holidays, temples may be swarmed with devotees chanting and praying loudly. There may be facilitators called 'paandaas' who help visitors navigate through the crowds and complete the 'puja' or prayer rituals quickly.

Temple management staff typically announce the hours of operation, including timings for special 'pujas'. For example the 'anjali' prayers are in the early-to-mid morning while 'arati' prayers are in the evening. There are also timings for devotional songs or music called bhajans,which are accompanied by a Dholak or Tabla soloist an/or Harmonium soloist. There are also dates and times for devotional dances such as the classical Bharata Natyam dance performed by accomplished dance performers.

The Hindu religion teaches compassion and tolerance towards the poor and weak. At the exit areas of the temples worshipers or visitors often distribute Prasad and give out spare change to beggars, mentally or physically challenged individuals, and destitute women and children .


The Archeological Survey of India has control of most ancient temples of archaeological importance in India.

In India, theoretically, a temple is managed by a temple board committee that administers its finances, management and events.

However since independence, the autonomy of individual Hindu religious denominations to manage their own affairs with respect to temples of their own denomination have been severely eroded. State governments of many states in India (and especially all the states in South India) have gradually increased their control over all Hindu temples. Over decades, by enacting various laws which have been fought both successfully and unsuccessfully up to the Supreme court of India, politicians of the ruling parties especially in the southern states control every aspect of temple management and functioning.

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