Hinduism is the most liberal in terms of what it ordains its devotees to do or not to do. There are no rules that are cast in stone. A Hindu is at liberty to do things in the manner he deems fit. There is no fear of punishment and Gods won’t reprimand him if he does not follow rituals. Unlike Christianity and Islam which require their adherents to visit a Church and Mosque on Sundays and Fridays compulsorily; a Hindu is free to visit a temple if and when he wants. Hinduism believes in the universality and Omni-presence of God. Yet, many people make it a point to visit temples. There is no compulsion here either. We may put it down to tradition but it is more likely due to one’s faith backed by experience that draws people towards temples.
Kanchi Maha Periyava gave a very beautiful explanation as to why visiting temples is important. He said “We know that God exists everywhere but still the idea does not get firmly established in our mind. We all long for His grace somehow. So, we have to worship Him and get His grace. Agama shastras tell us how this should be done. The sun’s rays contain a lot of heat energy. If we keep a piece of cloth in the sun, it does not catch fire by itself. But if we place a lens and focus the sun’s heat rays on that piece of cloth, after some time we find that the cloth catches fire”.
In other words, to channel the energy or power of God we need energy centers. Temples are those energy centers. Temples perform the function of lenses that channel the power of consecrated idols towards the devotees. The basic difference between a temple and places of Abrahamic worship is that of the Vigraha. A Vigraha is not simply an idol but divinity in the form of a Murti. There are elaborate rituals to consecrate them and infuse divinity in them which gives them sanctity. The numerous rituals, such as abhisheks, aarti, blowing of the conch, playing musical instruments, sounding the bell, reciting mantras etc, are carried out as an oblation to the divinity enshrined in the Vigraha. We bow down before that divinity because it is our belief that it is this divine power that is our protector.
We all have our own problems to deal with and more often than not we lack the mental strength to bear it. Besides when we share our woes with others they may have their own sufferings to narrate. Visiting a temple and pouring our heart out may not solve the problem but it will give us the strength to bear it and find an apt solution for it. The question that may arise is- since God is everywhere wouldn’t praying at home bring the same result? And shouldn’t that suffice? The environment of a temple makes it easier to concentrate and meditate on the Vigraha while there may be several distractions at home. Also mantras have positive vibrations that put us at ease immediately and provide clarity of thoughts. In addition, the festive atmosphere there, particular during special occasions, is a sight to behold and one that gives joy to the heart. The offerings that we make in the temple provides livelihood to the vendors there. In that sense temples are not just spiritual but also economic centres.
Visiting a temple may not be compulsory but it is certainly beneficial!!