Guest Author - Sangeetha Ekambaram
While the household is considered the most common location for Hindu worship, temples also play a significant role in religious life and practice. Just as the deities reside in the household, the temple is the home of the deity or deities. Over the centuries as Hindus have migrated around the world, they have brought their deities with them in their domestic shrines. After a substantial Hindu population has settled in a particular area, a separate temple home for the deity is then constructed to serve the entire community.
In locations with large Hindu populations, the temple is dedicated usually to a single deity. Smaller shrines for deities associated with the main deity might also be present. In locations with less Hindus, the temple is more likely to house several shrines dedicated to multiple deities in order to accommodate the diversity of the worshippers. For example, it is more common to find a temple dedicated to a single deity in India with a majority population of Hindus. In my own experience in the United States, I have noticed that the temples must serve more widespread and diverse populations of Hindus. Therefore, even if the temple is primarily dedicated to a particular deity, other shrines will be also present.
The deity resides in an inner chamber (garbhagriha) inside the temple. The architectural location of the garbhagriha carries symbolic power. Since the temple is the home of the deity, rituals (pujas) are performed on a regular basis whether or not worshippers are present. In certain temples, only male priests are allowed to enter the inner chamber and perform pujas. The priests often live in the temple to make sure these rituals are performed with scheduled regularity. In other temples, all worshippers can perform rituals. In all cases, the deities are treated similarly to royalty and are cared for as majestic residents of the temple. For this reason the temples often assume the architectural dimensions and facade of traditional palaces.
However, the mere presence of a statue does not mean that the deity is present. At the establishment of any new temple, an elaborate and powerful ceremony takes place to invite the deity to reside in the statue. This ritual demonstrates the interaction between the earthly and divine realm. It also demonstrates the ability of the divine to be fully present in tangible and visible statues as an act of grace for the worshippers.