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Mandir(a)

Mandir(a) (Skt., ‘dwelling’). Hindu temple. Because the divine pervades appearance and can be realized in any place or object, temples were not prominent in early Indian religion, and are not an obligation (as is, e.g., assembly in the mosque for Muslim men). Yet they are important because they are supremely the place where the image (murti) of God is housed and can be brought to life, and are therefore known also as devagṛha (‘house of God’) and devālaya (‘abode of God’). The image is only alive when appropriate rituals make it so. Thus the ‘awakening’ of God is a part of the daily ritual: in the morning, there are chants (bhajana) and washings, as well as offerings of food in worship (pūjā). Temples are built according to strict rules of design and measurement: the ground-plan is a yantra (cosmic diagram), with the central square dedicated to Brahmā or some other prominent deity, at the centre of the universe. The image is housed in the garbhagṛha, the ‘womb-chamber’, symbolizing a dark cave. Above it rises the structure of the temple leading up to the summit of the symbolic mountain which it is: the line is the axis mundi, up which the worshipper ascends. Temples are protected by many other deities, spirits, and signs, beautifully and elaborately carved. They may also have protective walls which are pierced by cow-gates (gopuram). See ART (HINDUISM).

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