The temple procedures and the rituals go with clock-like regularity. In early morning hours long before the chief priest comes, the workers clean the temple premises. They sprinkle the entire area with water. The priest’s assistants who come earlier than the chief priest clean the interiors of temples with extreme care as it is god’s own abode. They sprinkle the interior with water and light the oil lamps .Bright colors of vermilion and turmeric are much seen in the sanctum as they are used in daily rituals. Trays of flowers, bunches of fragrant mango leaves, copper and brass pails with water, brass plates, brass lamps ,silver cups and spoons etc —all are kept ready. There is fragrant smell of flowers and incense inside the temples.
The place is getting ready for the long worship of the deities by the chief priest. Many devotees already arrived and stand in rows on both sides of the door of the sanctum sanctorum. Already some priests started performing rituals and reciting aloud Sanskrit hymns in praise of the beautiful gods. Some priests are engaged in preparing the “Prasad” i.e. holy food offering to god . One type of the preparation is the delicious and fragrant tamarind rice with a hot taste . The other is made with rice boiled in milk with sugar , ghee, fruits and spices added to it . The standard Sanskrit hymns recited by the priests were written hundreds of years ago .They are sung in temples and houses throughout India. The worship of the gods and the rituals are completed by the chief priest by early afternoon. Then only the “Prasad” after being blessed by god is distributed to the devotees.
The assistant priests attend very promptly to the large numbers of devotees who visit the temple from morning to evening . They come to the devotees and collects the fruits, flowers, coconuts, incense sticks etc from the devotees and puts them all in a big brass plate and places the brass plate at the feet of the Lord . The chief priest is generally engaged in conducting the prescribed rituals in the sanctum sanctorum one after another. The rituals are watched by devotees with great reverence. The big brass lamps are lighted and there is fragrance of burning camphor and incense. This recitation of the Sanskrit hymns and worship goes on continuously with great intensity.
The devotees now and then sound the bells and the sound reverberates in the area. Oil lamps are lighted, incense sticks are burnt and the deities are worshiped with flowers by the chief priest reciting standard Sanskrit hymns. The hymns contain great poetry praising the gods . They elevate the soul of every person hearing them. The dozens of devotees gathered outside the sanctum on either side of the sanctum door feel ecstatic .The decorated deities shine in the dim light of oil lamps in the dark sanctum. The silent forest area frequently resounds with the sound of the temple bells.
The devotees feel greatly satisfied by the rituals in the temple. The priest brings to every devotee the holy lamp kept in a brass plate. The devotees treat the lamp as god almighty himself coming near them and bow to it with reverence. The priest pours a spoonful of holy water into hand of every devotee. The devotees treat it as “Amrith”–a panacea and elixir . Personally given to them by the great god . The priest touches the head of every person with a “sathagopam” ( a shining big metal ornamental conical cap studded with jewels ).The devotees feel that the great god himself touched their head to bless ! The priest puts a few grains of “akshathalu” (holy scented rice grains)on every head. The devotees feel god is personally showering heavenly flowers on their heads. The priests already kept the fruits, flowers etc offered by the devotees at god’s feet. Now they give a part of these offerings back to the devotee as these offerings received god’s blessings . Finally the priests bring the trays of fragrant “Prasad” and place them at god’s feet . They recite some hymns seeking god’s blessings. Then the “ Prasad” is distributed to the devotees in small quantities so that all get it. The devotees feel transported to a higher world watching all these rituals and many feel ecstatic. They get great peace of mind.
These religious rituals ,pleasing even little children, were introduced by great philosophers hundreds of years ago. The philosophers like Sri Shankara, Sri Ramanuja and Sri Madhwa (who were among the greatest intellectuals of the world) were very greatly worried about the spiritual welfare of innocent helpless people ,children, poor helpless women, old people, ill people etc. They did not personally recognize distinctions and differences of caste ,race ,color and language among human beings. The philosophers saw that war, immorality, violence etc were dominating the world . They saw that ordinary people were losing faith in sublime divine ideas like justice, goodness, kindness, love, truthfulness. The philosophers wanted to put bravery, self-confidence ,heroism etc into hearts of people. They declared that god almighty is one and only one for all irrespective of race, caste, color etc. They declared that god almighty comes to aid of every person– (even the most weak and helpless person)– through a sincere prayer. No need of any costly rituals and costly pilgrimages and huge sacrifices. Just a humble prayer in heart is enough. Such philosophy is called “Bhakthi philosophy”.All these temple rituals were introduced by these titanic philosophers of giant intellects to put courage and self confidence in people.
We saw a strange custom at this temple. When a member of family is ill or suffering from domestic problems, financial problems etc he/she is symbolically tied to a pillar at this temple for some time for god’s blessing. There is a widespread belief that if this is done the gods banish their illnesses and destroy any evil spirits influencing those people. As required by a well-respected custom we sat for a few minutes in the pillared veranda of the main temple . At every temple this custom is followed.We could meet the chief priest . He was a very learned person and calm and composed. We were given two good sized packets of “Prasad” thanks to the village postmaster’s help. We visited the other nearby temples and the beautiful nature spots for an hour. It was still early afternoon. Many family groups were still arriving some by car and others by foot. We filled a bottle with the fragrant water from the rock pond and started our journey down hill .It was a pleasant leisurely walk again under the trees in the winter afternoon.
Another thing comes to my mind even after more than 20 years.
In both our up and down trips while walking we saw many rounded pebbles big and small strewn in our path. There were hundreds of them. Some were small like potatoes and some were quite big. We found them to be made of a relatively hard stone embedded in crumbling sandstone layers. Hundreds of such pebbles were embedded in long sections of “sedimentary rock ” in the wall-like sides of our path on the left and right. The rocky walls on our side were result of hewing of large quantities of stone perhaps decades ago or even in earlier periods to create a path up the hill. Many of these pebbles were in broken condition. The pebbles were not too hard and appeared to be another form of sand stone.The pebbles could be easily removed from crumbling rock wall by simply hitting with a hard stone piece. But I have only a hazy remembrance of these things.
The easy separation of the encrusted pebbles from the crumbling rock walls is surely an interesting geological phenomenon. It must be a case of erosion of hillocks of sandstone by fast flowing mountain streams flowing down the hill ranges for hundreds of thousands of years. Scientists say such peculiarities seen in rock formations are like “ books in stone”. Such processes are also assisted by extreme changes in temperature(summer heat and winter cold) during hundreds of thousands of years . Vast quantities of rough stony material transported by fast flowing streams in flood season during hundreds of thousands of years create great changes. In geologic ages of tens of millions of years sea floor may become high land and hill. hills and mountains may get eroded completely and become sea floors. We reached home by about three in afternoon.It was an unforgettable trip.
(PART FIVE -THE END)