Memories of the Celebration of Life



Feeling the light breeze from the coconut trees rush in through the ancient doorways of the majestic temple – pick any one close to your heart – it is easy to be struck dumb with awe. Memories from the plethora of years whisper through every piece of that structure. Despite all of the climatic, cultural and political turmoil that the Indian civilization has undergone, her temples stand witness to her former and current greatness. A mere glance at any carving shows how much our ancestors associated just about everything to do with life with divinity. So close is their association, the people celebrated every stage and experience in life and carved these into the temples’ pillars, archways, doors, roofs and ceilings!

Be it after ascending the stairs to the Hyagriva temple in Thiruvendipuram or walking right through the doors of the Kumbakonam Nachiyar temple as though it is our birthright, every Dhwajastambam shines bright, showing the way to the Moolavar Sannidi. There is no time to admire the perfected engineering that led to the Paramapadavasal, Dwajastambam and Moolavar to be on one straight line, or how every brick and stone forming a corner meets its neighbour flawlessly at the 90 or 180 degrees. It’s the easiest thing to forget that any of these temples have existsed before the more recent industrial revolution. No corrections to the intricate carvings can be spotted on any surface, search as you might. The only soreness to the eye is the visibility of structural damages – man-made and a reminder of the dark history our ancestors lived through.

Temples are thought and taught to be places of worship. The current long queues to see Mangalambika of Adi Kumbheshwarar or Sri Ranganathan of Srirangam might lead one to believe that temples were also built by our ancient kings to allure our people into admiring the divinity through various deities. Every other aspect of a temple apart from the marvellous Sannidhis, however, tells a different story. For those too shy to raise their heads during the Pradakshanam around the Sannidhis, the footholds of the temple walls speak of the forgotten flowers and leaves which have been revered by society. To those doing Pradakshanam boldly with their heads held high, the ceilings speak of chapters from the Puranas, ancient instruments and tools of their times. Anybody going around distracted will notice dancers, singers and instrumentalists adorned with precious jewelry etched into the pillars. Some doorways and archways display Yoga postures and exercises that monks and saints practiced as Sadhana. Even the meanest “worldly” task is captured in stone with such love and care by the ancient architects and engineers that the art itself becomes etched in one’s mind. 

But what about praying and admiring God, you ask? Why aren’t these woven into the fabric of temple architecture? I ask back, isn’t celebrating life as divine as good as admiring God?

 From birth to death, life is a series of activities and experiences. Instead of leaving behind our mundane lives before visiting our favourite temple Deities, why not bring our entire lives to the temple and see God in the ups and downs of life?

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