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The Hindu temples are complex institutions. They represent the culmination of social and religious aspirations of a society. Temple is the focal point in the life of a community and often represents its pride, identity and unity. It is also the index of the community's wellbeing. It draws into its fold people from its various segments and denominations; and binds them together. In smaller communities the temple apart from being a source of spiritual or religious comfort, also serves as center for education and recreation.
A temple is also a treasure house of art and architecture, designed according to the principle of Vaastu Shastra, characterized by their majesty, serenity and beauty of intricate sculpture and designs. A temple evokes in the visitor a sense of beauty in art and in life as well. It lifts up his spirit, elevates him to a higher plane dissolving his little ego. At the same time, it awakens him to his insignificance in the grand design of the Creator.
The most significant aspect of the temple worship is its collective character. Peoples' participation is both the purpose and the means of a temple. The community is either actually or symbolically involved in temple worship. The rituals that dominate temple worship are therefore socio- religious in character.
The worship in a temple has to satisfy the needs of individuals as also of the community. The worships that take place in the sanctum and within the temple premises are important; so are the festivals and occasional processions that involve direct participation of the entire community. They complement each other. While the worship of the deity in the sanctum might be an individual's spiritual or religious need ; the festival s are the expression of a community's joy , exuberance , devotion , pride and are also an idiom of a community's cohesiveness .
The appointed priests carry out the worship in the temple on behalf of other devotees. It is hence parartha, a service conducted for the sake of others. Priests, generally, trained in ritual procedures, pursue the service at the temple as a profession. As someone remarked, "other people may view their work as worship, but for the priests worship is work." They are trained in the branch of the Agama of a particular persuasion. The texts employed in this regard describe the procedural details of temple worship, elaborately and precisely.
The term Agama primarily means tradition; Agama is also that which helps to understand things correctly and comprehensively. Agama Shastras are not part of the Vedas. The Agamas do not derive their authority directly from the Vedas. They are Vedic in spirit and character and make use of Vedic mantras while performing the service.
The Agama shastras are based in the belief that the divinity can be approached in two ways. It can be viewed as nishkala, formless – absolute; or as sakala having specific aspects.
Nishkala is all-pervasive and is neither explicit nor is it visible. It is analogues, as the Agama texts explain, to the oil in the sesame-seed, fire in the fuel, butter in milk, and scent in flower. It is in human as antaryamin, the inner guide. It has no form and is not apprehended by sense organs, which includes mind.
Sakala, on the other hand, is explicit energy like the fire that has emerged out of the fuel, oil extracted out of the seed, butter that floated to the surface after churning milk or like the fragrance that spreads and delights all. That energy can manifest itself in different forms and humans can approach those forms through appropriate means. The Agamas recognize that means as the archa, the worship methods unique to each form of energy-manifestation or divinity.
The Vedas do not discuss about venerating the icons; though the...