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Temple Visit Reflection Paper Instructions
Requirement: 1000 words or more.
Visit a temple or center of one of the traditions we covered in the course (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, or Jainism), and take notes on what you see and hear. Reflect on how your observations fit with what we covered in class. You will experience things that are different from what we’ve studied; that is the whole point of the exercise!
1) Before you go, make a note of why you are visiting that particular place, and what you plan to do there.
2) Be respectful and courteous to people you meet at the site. (Smiling helps.) Introduce yourself to anyone who is curious why you are there. If appropriate, explain that you are a student at UH and are there to learn more about their traditions.
3) Take notes of what you observe. If you get permission first, take some photos. If taking notes during the visit isn’t feasible, write them up ASAP afterwards. This will give you something to draw on when writing your paper.
4) Write a well-formed paper of at least 1000 words that contains:
a. a brief overview of the temple (its history, who visits and when, the site’s physical environment, etc.) Cite your source for this information.
b. your observations and experiences
c. your reflections on the experience, esp. in relation to what we covered in class
d. proper grammar, punctuation, etc. Proofread your paper before submitting it.
Reflective Essay: A Visit to the Temple
Hinduism is one of the largest religions globally. Hindus worship in holy places called temples. Unlike other world religions, it is not mandatory to visit the temple for worship. According to Flood (1996), each Hindu home has a small shrine also referred to as the puja room where families conduct daily prayers, excusing them from going to the temple daily for prayers. Hindus mostly go to the temple only during auspicious occasions or religious festivals. Unlike other religious places of worship such as churches, mosques, or shrines where the place of worship plays a critical role in functions like funerals and marriages, the temple does not play a crucial role in any of those events. Rather, as pointed out by Das (2014), it is more of a meeting point for religious discourses such as chants and devotional songs or bhajans and kirtans.
I have always wanted to visit India and when the opportunity presented itself, I did not hesitate to pay a visit to one of the most beautiful temples there. The Konark sun temple is a distinct work of art standing out in Odisha, Puri district. Konark, which is a small town in India, is the exact location of the marvel Konark sun temple. The temple stands as a dedication to Lord Sun, one of the Indian gods. It resembles a carriage that is shaped like a chariot. It has twelve wheels appearing to be dragged by seven horses. At first sight, the temple will likely amaze one given the skills used in creating it. Researchers believe it was constructed in the 13th century.
The creative mind behind the construction of the temple was King Narasimhadeva, a legend who lived then. According to Puri (2011), many temples in India are built in connection with legendary figures. The story of Konark temple is related to the legendary Lord Krishna who cursed one of his sons. The curse led to leprosy. To seek atonement, Samba, the cursed Krishna’s son devoted his life to worship Lord Sun, also referred to as Surya for a decade and two years. After twelve years of seeking penance, Lord Sun healed Samba. Samba was always grateful and indebted to Surya who came through for him during a tough time in his life. As a result, Samba devoted himself to make Surya more than a memory. He decided to build the temple to express his gratitude to Lord Sun.
Everybody who sees the temple can easily tell that it was a timeless work of art build to last and to impact many generations. Its mesmerizing beauty is nothing short of stunning. In his words, Rabindranath Tagore asserts that the exquisiteness of the temple cannot be described in architectural terms (Das, 2014). My observation during the visit was a lifetime experience. This being my first time in a temple, almost everything for me was a learning process. The images on the wall, the architectural designs, the gods, forms of worship, and how men and women were dressed were part of my observation. I learnt so much that I had to record all this details in my travel journal to keep the memories intact.
The first basic thing I learnt about the temple is the sacred value they hold for Indians. The temple is a sacred meeting point for Hindu people to commune and revitalize their energies spiritually (Flood, 1996). Indian temples take the form of various shapes such as rectangles, octagons, and semicircles, and have different entry points such as gates and domes. In spite of these facts, there are six parts of a Hindu temple which are common for all temples regardless of the shape. The Konark temple for example had the dome and steeple shape. The steeple or Shikhara represents a high mountain peak while the dome shape represents a trident shape of Shiva. There was the second part which was an inner chamber also referred to as the garbhagriha, a scared place where the image or idol of the deity is kept. The place is out of bounds for visitors and is only accessible to temple priests.
The common place for all to assemble is the temple hall which is meant for the audience to sit. The temple hall also known as the nata-mandira was a hall used for temple-dancing traditionally (Flood, 1996). Women dancers would perform their ritual dances while other people used the hall to sit, pray, meditate, chant, or watch the priest perform rituals. The hall was decorated with paintings of goddesses and gods beautifully. I sat there to meditate and view the vast region of the hall quietly. The temple also has a front porch, an area where a big metallic bell hanging from the ceiling was kept. This section of the temple is useful as devotees enter and leave through this area. To declare their arrival and departure, they ring the bell.
According to Michelle (1988), the reservoir of fresh flowing water is another significant part of the temple. It is used for hygiene purposes. Some people perform a ritual bath before getting into the holy temple. The bath is also meant to keep the floor of the temple clean. Most temples that are not build near natural water bodies have a water reservoir in form of a spring or a fall. Lastly, there is a walkway that includes stair cases that people use to get in and out of the temple. There are also walkways around the walls of the inner chamber for the deity and devotees to walk around as a mark of respect to the god or goddess of the temple.
My visit to the temple was a wonderful experience. I found the Hindu religion very interesting and gained more experience by being inside a temple. I learnt that the Hindu respect the temple and view it as a sacred place for spiritual duties. Men and women dress decently when going to the temple. While men wear button down shirts and slacks, women wear long decent skirts and Indian attires. When one enters the temple, one has to remove their shoes, wash their feet, and then start worshiping the deity from the left side. The Hindu form of worship includes holding the palms of the hands together, a practice referred to as Namaste, and bowing the head (Flood, 1996). For gods kept away from the wall, one can worship them by walking in a circle around them.
I also learnt a lot about Hindu religious doctrines during my visit. Part of this lesson was that what contains important materials that would enable one to understand the religions of Hindu deities, Devi (the Goddess), Siva, and Visnu is known as the Puranas (Flood, 1996). For instance, a worldview of the Vaisnava is presented by Visnu Purana which centers its explanations on the puranic style. There are generally five traditional topics covered by the Puranas. The following are the topics as outlined by Flood (1996): the universe’s manifestation or creation; the universe’s destruction and re-creation; the genealogies of sages and gods; humanity’s mythological progenitors or the fourteen Manus’ reigns, and; the history of the kings’ dynasties. Moreover, the Hindu religion recognizes the existence of a single supreme God. They consider him a transcendent Lord and that he lives above everything else (Flood, 1996). This is a clear indication that the Hindu believe in the creation story or version of how the earth came into existence. They believe that there is a heaven to which they refer as Vaikuntha. Just like other religions believing in the idea of the creation of earth and its components, Hindu religion contends that upon liberation, the devotees of Visnu (the supreme God) will go to Vaikuntha. This implies that a Hindu devotee would have to abide by the laid down traditions and doctrines of the tradition in order to win the race of joining Visnu in the Vaikuntha (heaven).
At the end of a worship, a priest walks around with a tray which is brushed over one’s head three times. Other times, the priest offers fruits to people worshiping, called prasadam, or may come and mark worshippers’ foreheads with ash, turmeric, or kumkum (Michell, 1988). Members greet each other with a warm smile in a kind gesture such as Hari Om and a response is given. Temple priests play a crucial role in the temple and are known as pandas and pujaris, and are hired to perform temple rituals. They are respected and were traditionally from the Brahmin caste.
Das, R. (2014). All about the Hindu temple, About Religion, India.
Flood, G. D. (1996). An introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge. UK: Cambridge University Press.
Michell, G. (1988). The Hindu temple: an introduction to its meaning and forms. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Puri, R. (2011). Konark: temple to the sun. Comic Books.