The Sanatana Conception of a Temple: The Heart as a Cave
The conception, origin, evolution, and development of temples as physical, architectural, and later, artistic structures is perhaps as old as the dawn of human civilisation as we know it. Temples embody one of the finest, deepest, grandest, and most profound expressions of the Human Spirit of awe, wonderment, and a timeless yearning for spirituality, philosophy, art and creativity etched in stone, wood, and other vehicles. The inner longing for the spiritual can never be fully expressed; it transcends space and time.
When we notice the various forms of temples from the earliest of civilisations — Minoan, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Mayan, Chinese, Incan, and most certainly, Bharatiya — we notice precisely this same spirit of yearning. In fact, the etymology of the word, “temple” can be traced to the Latin term, “Templum” meaning, a shrine, sacred place, an open area meant for augury, and so on. However, almost no temple of the non-Bharatiya antiquarian civilisations survives today thanks largely to their destructive encounter with Christianity and Islam. But it is also notable that these two Prophetic creeds with their zealous abhorrence against and prohibition of what they call “butt,” “idol worship,” etc, nevertheless have countless mosques, dargahs, churches, cathedrals, and shrines. This represents the triumph of the aforementioned innate spiritual longing over manmade, prophetic prohibitions.
The role, significance and eminence of Hindu temples becomes abundantly clear when we regard them in this historical — even prehistoric — backdrop. It is well known that the words for “temple” in Sanskrit and Bharatiya Bhasha are variously, “Devalaya,” “Devasthanam,” “Aalya,” “Mandir,” “Kovela,” “Koil,” and so on. A quick derivation of the etymology of “Devalaya” is as follows: Devasya (Devaanaam) Alayah. This means, “a place in which resides light, sport, victory, transaction, prayer (Stuti), joy, bliss, dream, beauty, and dynamism.” It is the abode and the sport of the Divine within all of us — it is the joy that we derive by celebrating this sport as we shall see.
The Sanatana Conception of a Temple
While the pre-Christian Western civilisations developed temple culture largely as places for…