Hinduism through History (Part – 3)

Heartfelt thanks for help and support:

Shri S. Sreenivasa Rao & Karigar

This part of the paper focuses on the history of Temples. The view is from the following angles:

a)     Psychological and philosophical

b)     Architectural

c)     Political

Please click here to read Hinduism through History (Part – 1

Here to read Part – 2 & here to read about the Aryan Invasion Theory


All reference material can be read by clicking on the words in blue.

All of man’s accumulated wisdom is reflected in his philosophy. It is in this ever-present preponderance to arrive at a

coherent explanation to things apparently inexplicable that man finds some meaning in biding his life.

The psychological and philosophical study of history is valuable as it provides uninterrupted continuity with reasons to expect – and even boldly presume – differing values, that are either overlapping or independent of each other, present at any point of time, without necessarily making any of them any superior. In attempting to thread together the available evidences and references which are but concrete reflections, we can deduce to the extent possible and with truthfulness, the philosophical sojourn of man. This, one hopes, would loop in many of the by-passed dead ends that one comes across in studying the history of temples.

With a limited lifespan of normally under a century, man tends to be just as limited in his view. Recent developments in communication and technology have succeeded in further limiting this view. Every aspect of humanity that is fringed out of these fields is of little apparent value, ensuing in this limitation. It is time to lift the veil of this phenomena caused by technology, not by its inherent virtues but by the blinding ‘spotlight’ glitz that manipulates these virtues. Capitalism has voraciously capitalized on these virtues. In a large majority of cases, technology is available only against purchase. The vicious nature of this money economy has eaten into the human mind and is so irremediably knotted into the common man’s psyche that even the lot that has grown on informative education craves only for the projected glitz, no

more. What we see around us in the form of current architectural trends reflects this. This is the present ‘globalised’ social psychology. Marketing and money make a tremendous power-couple which lobbyists of all categories use to hold sway

over politics.

The following well noticed buildings representing current architectural trends depict the importance given to ‘commercially attractive first impression’ specifications than anything else.

Picture courtesy: Wikipedia


Picture courtesy: Wikipedia

Taipei 101 (left) is symbolic of commercial power in economics and the Golden Temple of Sripuram (top) stands for commercial power in religion.

Both buildings become far less significant devoid of the height and the gold respectively.

Anything else these structures have is found even in other lesser noticed structures.


Having laid the prelude to this section, one moves back in time several ten thousand years. The bipedal creature has risen to live beyond instinct, has developed conscious observation and thoughtful discrimination, has constructed the rudiments of breath control – thereby speaking and sharing experiences, – has experienced intuition, has

learnt that the whole of the external and internal system is just as much a part of itself as it is a part of the system, has experienced the overwhelmingly haunting yet…This ever-lingering question of origin and destiny rules its mind.

It has learnt that there are factors that are outside human control, of unknown source, with unfathomable powers. The powers that it is certainly a product of, yet gets distinctly affected by.

The powers that seem to guide its destiny and yet do not seem to have a destiny. These powers are venerated. All in the group are the same in the presence of these powers.

There are creatures, the presence of which is significant in its life. Creatures that can be tamed favourably or hunted, the trees that give food, shelter and shade. All these are also held in reverence. Life is inexplicable, just as death is. Love is inexplicable just as other lesser emotions are. It is consciously aware that love and life take positions above everything else. It has become man: a being distinct from the rest of creation. He has broadened the foundation for psychology. He has touched upon philosophy.

The proudly silent rock arts stand as talking testimony to these thoughts.

In the picture above, one can see the sun/galactic spirals depicted in the form of Swastika (lower-left side which has been circled). Bulls and deer are also seen. Sun worship, note, is Universal.

This is a depiction of a procession with musical instruments with a revered leader and followers of a hunting society. While the hunt is no longer there, the rest remain intact for our deities.

The above two pictures are of the cave paintings of Bhimbetaka which date as far back as 7000 BC

The many Gods of the Rig Veda also point to the same knowledge.

The importance of accumulating knowledge and preserving it is realised. Representation of thoughts in concrete form to record them are devised and symbolic language is born. The inscriptions tell a story about man’s mind.

This is a picture of Edakkal etchings (oldest dated to 6000 BC)

Picture Source: Wikipedia

More interesting pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7539669@N03/page2/ 

3D viewing of Bhimbetaka at http://www.world-heritage-tour.org/asia/south-asia/india/bhimbetka/zoo-rock/sphere-quicktime.html

The external world as comprehended by the mind and the experiences of the mind as externalised by the glyphs and paintings – like the ones above – go to show the value attached to knowledge. Just as these expressions were not possible by creatures hitherto, man realised, it was a way to move forward into evolution beyond the five senses.

The mysterious coming together of the elements and creating the perfect setting to support life on Earth, which in turn is placed perfectly to be fed by the energy of the Sun and the Moon is an perplexingly great wonder. Upon this man happily bides him time in an attempt to find an answer.

Matsu, the Chinese goddess of the Sea (above) and Fujin, the wind god of Japan on right.

The Sun, the Moon and the Elements are worshipped in all the ancient societies.

Above: Aztec Sun god (pic. Source: Wikipedia)

The mind, having gotten over the awe of the reality of life, man realises that this life is not merely survival. Endowed with more than the mere five senses, the quest for knowing more and more is an obsession, an intoxication. He realises that the veneration of the unknown powers – that has all along been out of fear of the unexplained – takes on more meaning with knowledge that causes fear to diminish. Repertoires of this knowledge are venerated in the form of ancestors. Fear of the dead is now replaced by seeking solace in knowing that death is but a transitory phase for the soul eternal. The dead is now respected for having had that additional experience of death itself. This knowledge cannot be, in the mundane sensory plane, learnt when alive. Naturally, symbolic worship of the power ‘beyond this life’ begins of the dead, most possibly in the graveyard – the start of a life into the next world, the unknown world that holds the key to knowledge of the unknown.


Various temples in South India are found to have been built above remains of humans.

One of them is the temple at Pallaipadai: See inscription No. 159.appearing here.

The Lingam – that is a complex yet practical and mentally binding representation of a mount, a menhir or a cairn – is possibly one of the most ancient symbols to depict one that is now formless, yet is present as the powerful guiding knowledge of all the past generations to show the way to the future generations. This is the reason for the association of Shiva – the form-filled Supreme representative of the Lingam – with death and ashes. Later on, the Lingam gave form to tombstones in societies that followed burial.

Inukshuk’ means a ‘mark’ just as the ‘lingam’ also is. Most importantly, it stands as a representative of a people’s culture. How similar to our lingam is this Inukshuk (right) on the flag of Nunavut, Canada!

Cairns (left) in Sedona, Arizona are considered to be natural spiritual vortices. Similar to our swayambhu lingams. Anyway, natural and swayambhu apart, the similarity between the two is obviously there to see.

Excerpts from the Linga Purana and Shiva Purana (Source: Wikipedia)

“The distinctive sign through which it is possible to recognize the nature of someone is called a linga.” (Shiva Purana)

“Shiva is signless (sexless), without color, taste or smell, beyond word and touch, without quality, changeless, motionless.” (Linga Purana)

This unmanifest being can be perceived only through his creation, which is his sign or linga. The existence of the unqualified substratum is known and worshiped only through this sign. The linga, the giver of life is one of the shapes which represents the nature of the shapeless.

One surmises that until the above stage, political and religious leadership was inseparable. Nothing was in the sense of the ‘secular’ as it is now called in many states including India. To bring a people together, it was realised, it was important to bring their minds to work in unison. It meant more benefits in all ways for the society. The king was revered as much for keeping the people happy in this way as he was in protecting them from the enemy.

The yogi (as the one found from the Sarasvati Sindhu site and referred to as ‘Pashupati’) is a representation of one that has transcended the bodily present and learnt the eternal truth even while living in the mortal body. He is said to know what the Linga truly symbolises: he is Shiva himself – the Yogi that has transcended the triple mysteries of Time, Space and Cause – the ‘destroyer’ of all these.

The presence of burial urns with earthly possessions, and stone circles around them point to the veneration of the dead and in the belief of an after-life filled with meaningful knowledge and happiness. Karma is, therefore, a part of the thought paradigm. Dharma is the law that rules society.

A step further is the construction of dolmens, tumuli and underground burial chambers to house the remains of the dead.


Dolmens (Kerala)                    Paatala Lingam (Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu)

The Dolmens above are called Muniyara or Hermit’s room. In all certainty there were hermits in them at some point of time – perhaps these are tombs of the hermits themselves. The Paatala Lingam or the sub terrain Lingam is famous having been the meditation place of Ramana Maharishi. Yet another Muniyara, perhaps. The similarity in structure cannot be missed.


Dolmen in Ireland  Temple in Tamil Nadu

The temples that belong to the Megalithic pattern of architecture resemble the dolmens with supporting stone pillars and the flat capstone on top.

The concept and style of dolmens seem to be the beginning of stone architecture in the subcontinent. The period that saw a surge in the construction of stone temples (c 6th century A.D.) is when the philosophies of the land were attempted to be integrated with the King’s administrative values.

A large number of ancient Indian shrines, blocks of stone or stumps of wood are worshipped while the exterior is elaborately planned, exquisitely fashioned and delicately carved. These ancient temples grew over the icons. The modern temples on the other hand import readily carved images after the temple work is completed – the symbolism and philosophies on which the two are respectively grounded are on different planes.

On left is the stone deity (Shivalingam) placed in the Garbha Griha of Kedarnath temple.

Jewish Stone worship is referred to in the Old Testament.

Hoary European religions follow stone worship as can be read at linked site.

Islam too has stone worship.


Tumuli or burial mounds of Sweden  and  Sanchi Stupa

Tumuli have, in all possibility, given rise to Stupa.

Though it is often stated that the Hindu temple architecture rose out of the Stupa architecture of the Buddhist phase, it is seen clearly that this is not the case. The two, though founded in – and an extension of – ancestor worship, have had different architectural journeys. While the Stupa rose directly as a representation of the Tumuli, Temples have their roots in the rock dolmens.

Down the millennia, the spiritual center, rather than representing merely the unknown also paved way to intern within the sacred space the knowledge that man came to possess by way of his ancestor’s blessings – knowledge, accumulated knowledge, knowledge that cannot be all gathered in a single lifetime but right from the beginning of time itself. Therefore these structures, rather than meaning a single thing, became a syncretised complex of an all-encompassing whole. Science, art, architecture, philosophy, spirituality, devotion, everyday life and selflessness were blended in unknown proportions that brought a certain perfection echoing the unseen reality through the perceived senses.

Important Read: S. Sreenivasa Rao’s series on Temple architecture

Part – 1:  Agama and Temple Architecture

Part – 2: Temple and Township

Part – 3: Vaastu Purusha Mandala

Part – 4: Temple Layout

Part – 5: Some essential aspects of Temple structure

Part – 5 (continued)

Part – 6: Temple iconography

Part – 7: Some norms adopted in the Shilpa Shastra

The articles above enlighten one on how the temples are in resonance with the cosmology of which man is a part. How man reflects the way he places the Universe around him in the way he places the Universe around the deity. How he sincerely attempts elusive humility by presenting God within the Garbhagriha to be the true center of everything. How the Ego is magnified in the presentation of the temple while at the same time the annihilating spark is lit to get rid of it through this reproduction.

Hridaya Kuhara Madhyaye Kevalam Brahmamaatram

Deep within the cave of the heart resides purely the Supreme Brahman

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi


Temple architecture from a modern architect’s perspective — Narensomu’s series:

Hindu Temple Architecture – I

Hindu Temple Architecture – II

Hindu Temple Architecture – III

A small temple beneath the Bodhi tree, Bodh Gaya, built in 7th century, after the original built by King Ashoka in 3rd century BCE, ca. 1810[1]

Source: Wikipedia

Trees, with their favourable qualities of being close to the elements, the ability to assimilate them and the tendency to give, are always associated to the Mother. Specific trees have always been venerated. Many burial spots had trees planted over them. Most temples have a sthala vriksham.  

Around the world, the veneration of the tree is seen to the present day.

It is significant that the snake is seen in almost all religions of the world. The attitude is either of the extremes:  veneration or loathe. Nagas are considered to be powerful creatures, with the ability to regenerate and renew themselves (perhaps because they molt). They are often seen associated with termite hills under sacred trees and they are considered as guardian spirits with chthonic knowledge (again, we see their relationship to the burials, cists and dolmens which were also associated with Paatala which also explains the reason for terror filled loathe).



Glycon, the white naga once worshiped at Tomis (now in Romania) on the Black Sea


Trees and Nagas are both often considered as carriers (guides) or possessed of the departed spirits and, hence, valued for their knowledge.                                                                                                      

 Madre Mediterranea (3500 BC)

Since the Mother is found to be the epitome of love and life; the ever-giving, ever-loving, procreator and perpetuator of life, She is venerated. She is found all over the globe as Venus or the Fertility Goddess or Devi or Mary or Guanyin. She is not a mere object of possession but a being of great potential, a living representation of Mother Earth itself. Motherhood is equated to the powers of the Earth in ancient cultures.

On left is the picture of Madre Mediterranea (3500 BC)

On the subcontinent, the people of Sarasvati-Sindhu were also worshipping the Mother Goddess. Such cultures, it is understood, had a society that believed in recognition of the significance, importance and respect to the genders, the only place that the word ‘equality’ truly applies. Obviously, the woman is not seen as a problem, not yet. There were not too many wars to be fought and not in such a large scale. Also, it was found that woman could balance and simplify man’s life. As the early teacher to the child, she is unsurpassed.

Sex, unlike current perceptions (explained by presently overwhelmingly individualistic scenarios), is not a deplorable act. Having moved beyond the mere functionality of reproduction, the happy unison of the male and female is a natural celebration of life itself. Yet, everything cannot be dictated by the whims of nature, it is realised, for further evolution. For this progress to envelop all facets of life, it has to be with restrictions on the deterrent natural impulses. It is attained by framing family and societal norms – norms that enhance mental freedom while providing an arena to satisfy personal impulses. Transgresses are subject to scrutiny in the light of morality. Until this day Sanatana Dharma has withstood many an onslaught merely because of this channelling of sexual energy into the happy river course called family: that strong bondage without which the concept of adding meaning to life would have gone haywire into deep obscurity a long time ago.

Ardhanareeshvara, Elephanta caves

As things move fast in the political arena more and more battles are fought. More experience, more foresight, more hindsight, more of advisory powers are required. The wise and truly fearless ones are venerated. By now there are teachers and leaders that take the groups forward. Worship of heroes that are epitomes of virtues takes form. Superior powers modelled on these heroes ensues. Clans with strong affinities are formed and each clan has a deity to believe in, to represent their identities in, to superimpose their collective knowledge in. Ultimately the virtues are distilled out and represented as moortis as envisaged by seers and rishis.


The moorti of Krishna displaying his Vishvaroopa (Universal Form) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra


The forms and idols we worship are not imaginary but are the visions of seers and saints

— Swami Vivekananda.

It is certain that the manifestation of the icon or moorti in the mind precedes its representation in form. This makes the moorti truly representative of the virtues in the purest forms concretely possible and, thereby, impressive upon the mind. This explains the association of stories, metaphoric or otherwise, rites and practices associated with the moorti, the vahanas and ayudhas, the awe-inspiring physical attributes, etc.

On left is the splendid Khoo Koongsi clan house built in the 19th century in Penang, Malaysia. The writer visited this place and saw the practical philosophy of the Chinese and the many ‘spirit’ gods that the Chinese Buddhists worship to date. Ancestors, as guiding spirits, are venerated.

Far away, in the Americas, we see that the natives worshipped the ancestors and so do the Yorubas of Africa.         

Returning to the subcontinent, we realise as hindsight that, although the king or ruler is respected, knowledge of the Supreme is placed higher up. Temples have stood their place while mansions of the same age have been razed to dust. There is historical truth of philosophical value in this.

Nothing is ruled out; nothing has become obsolete – not until this day. All the forms that have been worshipped is only symbolic of what they represent. A variation in the ‘what’ – the ideals – led to the growth in philosophy and ideas. It is well understood in this part of the world that evolution means accumulation, assimilation and acceptance and not outright rejection of earlier beliefs. Knowledge includes lower stepping-stone truths too; it is known that chopping off the lower rungs does not augur well for the higher planes.  When it is time for the lower rungs to be replaced, it would happen without persuasion, without discomfort for the soul.

Having come through this series of deductions, one must be reminded that the world has gone through all this. The world has had its vast shares of thirst for knowledge; of the haunting grey of the ‘yet’; of worshipping the dead; of ancestor worship; of the Mother being venerated; of heroes becoming guides. But somewhere they lost all this, they lost all this knowledge, they lost their Vedas and in Hinduism lies the connecting link to the ancient past.

“Just as humanity is one culture also is one. Each community adopts an aspect of culture”

– Swami Vivekananda. 

This Hinduism has been subjected to ridicule and torment for many a century now. It is not uncommon for one to come across an article of history or current news where Hinduism and Hindus and their symbols and their temples are victimised, are vandalised, are reduced to dust. It is not uncommon to come across a man of science stamping down upon religion and the most ancient ones are the first to be trampled upon. Over many a century, mindless plunderers ravished treasures of temple art. Over decades greedy money mongers have destroyed our ancient treasures for temporary pleasure. Over several more centuries, temples were systematically pulled down to pave way for railway building and missionary activities. These destructions were political successes for the invaders for, in breaking the temples, they succeeded in breaking the minds fixed upon these.

For decades, temples have been degrading for want of good administration. For decades temples have been damaged wilfully in order to promote hatred which is often misread as faith. For decades, commercialisation of temple activities has brought down their transcendent value. Yet, the religion has enough and more to provide succour for those seeking betterment, for those hoping for a brighter future, for those wishing all the powers accumulated by our ancients, by our forefathers for the sake of the betterment of the human race, of the world, of the whole Universe. And enough roots in the ground to sprout afresh every time it is trod upon and remind the world to worship thus:

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti:

Let all events in the world result in happiness

Let all events in the world result in happiness

Let all events in the world result in happiness

Om Peace Peace Peace

This journey of Hinduism through History has, in a way opened the way to view at Mankind’s History through Hinduism.

What do the spiritual leaders tell about the importance of temples?

Important read: The Significant Role of Temples and Religious Institutions

India’s oldest functional temple (as known) is in Bihar     

Here are pictures of some of the most fascinating Hindu temples built through history. What do these convey about the master-mind architects, the sthapatis? About the patron kings? About the common man of the times? Of philosophy of the age? It is left to one to fathom. One thing is for sure, however: There is nothing to indicate that these were done to merely create a “First Impression”.



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