TEMPLE CULTURE IN SANATANA DHARMA
In the Vedic period, hardly temple were seen in India. Majority of the ancient people of India were sages and they gave importance for meditation and yagna. They meditated on the Self and they never thought that Bhagavan is external. They thought that they are not different from the creation and so meditating on the Self will benefit the creation. By time, the mind and the thoughts of the people were disturbed by external influences and they began to feel that worshipping God with a form that depicts His glories will suit their life style and they respected that form and built a separate structure and established that form as idol and worshipped that idol by doing poojas. They formed separate pooja rules and followed those rules widely. All this started during the puranic period and it is continuing till today.
The structures were the idols were placed is called temples and the temples were built according to the sastras (rules established by the sages) of that region. If a person travel all over India, then one can explicitly see the different structures and the disparity in the way the poojas were done and the different ways of worshiping different forms.
The chamber where the main idol (murti) is placed is called Garbha graha or sannidhana or sanctum sanctorum. In the northern part of India, the temple rules are a bit liberal, but in the southern part the temple rules are very strict; it all depends on the sastras that are followed in that particular temple.
In the south, particularly in Kerala the tantric way of worship is followed. In the tantric way of worship, the temple structure is very closely related to the five sheaths and the seven chakras in the human body. Any mistake done in the temple will directly affect any particular person or the people who visit that temple. Tantric way of worship is a very effective way of worship and the people of that region prefer that way of worship.
In the temples that follow the tantric way of worship, the temple structure will be different. The entrance of the temple is compared with the annamaya kosa of the Lord. Immediately after the entrance, a big stone will be laid, which is called balishila (bali stone) and it is compared to the pranamaya kosa of the Lord. The main tantri(one who perform pooja) by chanting mantras invokes all the jivas in the world and feed them food. Immediately after the balishila there will be a small entrance and it is compared with the manomaya kosa of the Lord. After this small entrance one is advised to remain silent, calm and chant mantras or meditate on the form of the Lord. The next level of structure is the next room to the main chamber; it is compared with the vijnamaya kosa of the Lord. Around this structure one can see many small stone structures; it is also called as bali shila where the tantric invokes the digbalakas (god of the directions) and feed them food. The main chamber (Garbha graha) where the main deity is placed is the anandamaya kosa of the Lord. Only the main tantric is allowed here and that chamber has to be very clean and serene. Even in the modern time only oil lamps are lit inside the main chamber to avoid any external energies.
The idol is established in the Garbha graha based on the shad aadhara pratishta, which represent the six chakras of the Lord. First a stone structure is laid in the ground which is the mooladhara chakra of the Lord. Then some seeds are placed and it represents the swadhistana chakra of the Lord. Above it a pot of gems are kept and it represents the manipuraka chakra of the lord. On top of it is placed a chakra (geometrical diagram) related to that particular deity. It represents the anahata chakra, vishuddhi chakra and the ajana chakra of the Lord. Then a structure of Lotus with many petals is kept and it represents the sahasrara chakra and on top of it is placed the idol of the deity. By chanting mantras all the chakras are invoked and after placing the main deity by chanting mantras the main deity is invoked and made powerful so that any person who worship the deity even if ignorant of all these procedures will be benefited.
One can see a Dwija stamba (a metal pillar) inside the temple, but in the outer structure in front of the main deity. It is common in the south Indian temples. It represents the vertebra. A rope is tied around it which represents the kundalini energy. During the festival period, a flag is taken to the Garbha graha, 1/16th part of the divine energy is invoked in the flag and it is hosted on the Dwija stambha. The flag rises just as the kundalini rise in the sushumna nadi. When the wind touches the flag, the divine energy is spread all around the nearby villages. This is the temple structure according to the tantric way of worship. Like this each region have their way of worship in Sanatana dharma. In the end, they all worship the ultimate Brahman in different ways.