The Hindu Outlook
As with all other religions, the goal of Hinduism is the same – to rediscover the divinity that is present in each one of us. In fact, the word ‘religion’ draws on its Latin origins of re and ligare where ligare means ‘to unite or bind’ while re means ‘again, back’. Even the Sanskrit word yoga is derived from its root yuj, which means ‘to unite or join’. Taken literally, religions or yogas are nothing but different paths to reunite us with the divinity that lies within.
For its part, Hinduism does not prescribe dos and don’ts. There are as many spiritual paths as there are seekers. This is why there are no prescribed rules set forth for followers. Instead, Hinduism encourages seekers to approach the spiritual path as a scientist approaches experiments – through a continuous cycle of learning & study, trial, error and learning again.
Symbolism of a Hindu Temple
While Nar Narayan Temple is situated in the midst of Mumbai, India’s commercial megapolis, many temples are located on hilltops at places that were not easy to reach until the advent of technology. The difficult path to reach temples was symbolic of the spiritual struggle that seekers had to endure and the effort they had to put in to reach their destination.
Traditionally, devotees make an offering to a temple whenever they seek blessings. This offering usually comprises of fruit, flowers and a monetary contribution. The offering of fruits, flowers and money symbolises how seekers must make sacrifices and overcome desires for selfish & base pleasures to evolve spiritually. It is as though we must rid ourselves of our negative attributes at the altar of God.
Even the manner of making the offering has a meaning. Typically, a devotee will use five fingers of the right hand to pick up a flower. S/he will then turn the fingers upward along with the flower and gently place it at the feet of the Lord. The significance of this is that when we operate in the world our five senses, represented by the fingers, lure us into accumulating desires.
By redirecting our senses and energies towards a spiritual, unselfish goal or God, represented by the fingers turning upward with the flower, we can cleanse ourselves of worldly desires. This is signified by the dropping of the flower at the Lord’s feet.
Prostrating in the Temple
Devotees generally prostrate, kneel or lie down on the floor, in front of the deity as a mark of respect and humility. This prostrating symbolises how the mind, heart and body need to be aligned with one’s spiritual objective to genuinely move towards it. All 3 elements of mind, heart and body must be in alignment and work cohesively towards the spiritual goal.
In Hindu tradition, the temple structure also is representative of a seeker’s spiritual journey. The idol is usually in the sanctum sanctorum, a room perpetually lit with a small oil lamp or diya. The sanctum sanctorum is then enclosed by a passage around it, with two further concentric areas around it. In effect, one typically crosses an outdoor area (the temple complex), an area covered by a roof (the gateway to the temple structure) and an inner passage before arriving at the sanctum sanctorum.
The journey through these three areas before reaching the idol is symbolic of the seeker’s need to overcome his or her individual body, feelings and thoughts before being able to reunite oneself with the Divine. On reaching the idol in the sanctum sanctorum, the perpetually burning diya represents the eternal light of wisdom that is always there for those who seek it.
Acceptance of Prasad
The prasad is the gift of food that is distributed at the end of every puja (prayer service) or darshan (a seeker’s worship of the idol). In Sanskrit, prasad literally means equanimity or calmness. The distribution of prasad signifies the attainment of that lost Divinity that each one of us consciously or unconsciously seek. Prasad is usually sweet because it symbolises the bliss of unity with God.