A Hindu temple. The Sanskrit word mandir means dwelling place. ? For Hindus, a mandir need not be a large structure designed for community worship, such as an Islamic mosque or Christian church, although there are many such temples. It need only be a spot where a deity may be invoked, and the types of mandirs include household altars, roadside shrines, or even a simple stone under a tree. The one common element is the presence of an image of the god or goddess, through which the deity is thought to abide in the mandir.
The act of worship then brings the deity to life. mandirs are therefore also known as the abodes or houses of the gods. Household or other small mandirs are generally the focus of a Hindu's daily devotions, or puja, where the worshipper seeks to awaken the god or goddess through chants, the burning of incense, and offerings.
Worship is generally individual in nature although it may take place among small groups. Worship is also individual at larger temples, which are usually devoted to a single deity, often Shiva or Vishnu, and are constructed according to a strict pattern. The floor plan itself is generally a representation of cosmic order, while different sets of sculptures and other decorations symbolize the respective realms of animals, humans, and gods.
Larger temples generally contain facilities for ritual washing as well as rooms for sacred music and dance. The holiest part of these larger mandirs is the garbagriha, or womb-house. ? This, a small chamber in an inner portion of the temple, is where the main images of the deities are housed. There, images of gods and goddesses are treated with great reverence and respect by brahmin priests.
The deities are symbolically awoken, bathed, dressed, entertained, and throughout the day showered with offerings by devotees. They are then put to bed at night. As with smaller shrines, worship at larger temples is individual rather than communal, and devotees can come at almost any time the image of the god or goddess is accessible.
A major feature of many Hindu religious festivals is when the awakened deity is brought out of the womb-house and paraded through the streets. Among the most famous of these is the procession of the god Jagannath (Juggernaut) through the streets of Puri in eastern India in a large, ceremonial vehicle. In some cases, large temples have enjoyed the patronage of the rich and powerful and, thanks both to this and to the scale and type of their offerings, these temples possess enough wealth to engage in extensive community and charitable activities.
Prominent among these is the Tirumala-Tirupati mandir in India's Andhra Pradesh state, devoted to Vishnu. It is thought to be the wealthiest of India's temples. Meanwhile, in the United States and other nations where Indian immigrants have settled, community temples tend to be built to house the images of many deities rather than a single one in order to serve these diverse communities' needs.
SEE ALSO: church; mosque; puja.