Sacred buildings: mandirs
25 March 2008
Discover the wonder of Hindu places of worship
Hindu mandirs can provide many opportunities for RE and cross-curricular learning
For many Hindus, a town without a mandir (temple) is considered uninhabitable. Mandirs play a very special role within the religion. Holy scriptures even provide guidance as to their construction.
Hindus believe in a single supreme, Great Power known as Brahman. The many deities within the Hindu faith are different expressions of this Supreme Spirit. Rather than being intended for congregational worship, mandirs are believed to be actual homes for the deities. They are designed to create an atmosphere of spirituality, quiet reflection and devotion.
Hindu mandir designs follow the ‘divine principles’ of Vishvakarman, the deity responsible for architects and craftsmen. Many mandirs share common features (see the first of the ‘Sacred buildings — mandirs’ activity sheets ‘Common features of a mandir’) such as a collection of murtis – sacred images of the deities – which worshippers offer prayer, food, flowers and other gifts during ceremonies.
The Jagannath Temple in Puri and the Dwarkahdish Temple in Dwaraka are known as the Dhamas – places of holy pilgrimage. The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, was Europe’s first traditional Hindu mandir and boasts exotic design and workmanship both inside and out (see Poster ‘Shri Swaminarayan Mandir’) Play the quiz on the second of the ‘Sacred buildings — mandirs’ activity sheets ‘London mandir quiz’. (Answers can be found of the third of the activity sheets.)
- Introduction: As a class, read through the list of mandir features on the first of the ‘Sacred buildings — mandirs’ activity sheet ‘Common features of a mandir’. Ask the children to compare these features with those in their own religion’s place of worship (mandir towers may be seen as similar to church steeples, for instance). Show the children images of mandir interiors and exteriors and encourage them to identify and comment on the features.
- Hindu deities: Hindu mandirs feature images and statutes of the various deities. The three principle gods are Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer), but there are many other divinities, each with his or her own area of responsibility. Ask the children to research some of the main gods and goddesses, and to choose one to write five key facts about.
- Indian mandirs: Tell the children that Hinduism is the main religion of India (practised by around 80 per cent of the population). Ask them to locate Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai (formally known as Bombay), the River Ganges and other geographical features on a map of India. Then ask the children to locate the following cities: Badrinatha, Puri (Jagannath Temple), Rameshwaram and Dwaraka (Dwarkadish Temple). These are the ‘Dhamas’ – places of holy pilgrimage, reflecting the points of the compass. Ask the children to research the location of these places and what makes their mandirs significant for Hindus. The children could write a story about a journey to visit one or more of these mandirs.
- Sculpting towers: In most mandirs, the tower is one of the most visually distinctive features. The towers tend to be ornately decorated. After examining a number of mandir tower designs, ask the children to sculpt their own freestanding tower using clay.
- Arti dance: Arti (the ceremony of lights) is performed by temple priests several times each day and involves offering articles such as diva lamps to the murtis while ringing a bell, singing prayers and meditation on the deities. The ceremony is symbolic of the five elements: space, water, earth, wind and light. Tell children of the importance of music and dance to Hindus. After discussing the_ arti_ ceremony, split the children into five groups. Give each group a number of percussion instruments and assign one of the elements to base a performance on.
- London mandir: The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London (see Poster) was opened in 1995 and is Europe’s first traditional Hindu mandir. Children would benefit by visiting the temple to learn about the Hindu religion but, if this isn’t possible, exploring the website (see ICT links) will give a flavour of the temple’s story. The second of the ‘Sacred buildings — mandirs’ activity sheets ‘London’s mandir quiz’ contains a quiz based on the information on the website. (Answers can be found of the third of the activity sheets.)