by Lakshmi Sadhu
Ancient Vedic, rhythmic mantras being chanted in unison by pujaris, reverberate off the black stone walls of the garbhagudi – the sanctum sanctorum, the innermost shrine of the temple – in praise of the God that resides there; the incantation is only interspersed with the sincere and humbling spiritual cries of the devotees. Decked in pure gold sewn garments, brilliant jewels, and a dozen or more varieties of fragrant flowers, the idol is offered a delicious array of vegetarian prasadam, prepared in ordinance with time-honoured rituals. The only light inside the centuries-old temple, are the fire-lit ghee deepams, thousands in number, festooning nearly every crack and crevice of the sanctum. The potent presence of the divine, the almost overwhelming raw spiritual energy, is tangible enough to be tasted, and even as I sit here typing this, I can feel it again. I am once again transported back to my childhood memories; I am once again transported back home.
Growing up in a traditional Hindu household meant that yearly pilgrimages to temples were very common. My family and I still visit temples when I go back home for the holidays during the summer. I will not deny that it is hard to maintain the same level of faith and religious practice when you’re in a different country, even though faith is, for the most part, an internal inclination. While I do have a modest mandir, or altar, in my room where I pray, I do miss visiting temples, for their sheer architectural and aesthetic appeal, if not for anything else.
I have visited my fair share of temples in North America, some in Canada, others in the United States, none of which imbued me with the same sense of devotion, spirituality or aesthetic awe as the temples back in India do. Understandably so, since the latter are steeped in tradition and their centuries-old existence alone is enough to saturate the holy place with profound primordial spiritual presence. Temples in North America (at least the one’s I’ve visited so far) tend to be something of a spiritual fusion of religious practices, influenced by rituals from Sri Lanka, different cities in South India, certain parts of North India, and the foreign spiritual aspirants who also visit. In contrast, the temples where I’m from function in strict accordance with ancient scriptural religious practices, which is the way I think it should be. I like fusion to be on my plate, not where I go to pray.
I am deeply appreciative of the fact that the nature of faith, religion and spirituality is as varied as individual people are. Every spiritual aspirant’s path is unique, and modified by the disposition of the aspirant. In this age, cultural, social (and even genetic) aspects of our species are anyway already riddled with the inevitable consequences of globalisation. I believe, however, that places of worship, and their ancient customs, ought to be respected and allowed to remain true to their essence, untouched and steeped with the stillness, tradition and profound wisdom of yesteryear.
Of course, you don’t need to visit a temple to practice your faith; your heart is the most sacred temple there is, and in it alone your spiritual quest will flourish. Despite that, corporeal as we are, visiting a physical place of worship is sometimes beneficial for reminding ourselves of our spiritual priorities, and for both stoking and keeping the faith.
Here are some temples in the GTA – I encourage you to visit them. Do the temples remind you of home? Are they conducive to your brand of spiritual contemplation? Let me know!
Admittedly, this is not a temple. Rather it is a meditation and yoga centre. I thought it appropriate to be included here, because of its close proximity to campus. If you are ever in need of free group meditation sessions, in addition to traditional yoga classes, drop by! This centre is a nice spiritual augmentation to your temple visits, or just your religious faith in general.
Don’t be misled by the unassuming architecture; the interiors of the temple are brilliantly beautiful. I have refrained from posting pictures of the interior here, because I could not find one online that didn’t have the deity in view. It is considered disrespectful to post/take pictures of the deity of a temple, and many temples (in India especially) not only have signs that forbid such activities, but ban technological devices of any kind altogether on the temple premises, with the aid of law enforcement. Not taking pictures is a way of showing respect for the sanctity and sacredness of the sanctum sanctorum of a temple.