What Is a Mandir?
- Sanskrit, meaning temple, the place where the divine takes residence,
usually as an image.
The Indian temple differs somewhat from the concept of a gathering place wherein people congregate to hear sermons or for other group activities. One rarely enters a mandir, the size of which can be quite small, and may consist of only the shrine itself.
Rather, one approaches the mandir for darshan,
that is, to catch a glimpse of, and to be seen by, God. Whether one comes
to see the divinity within as an expression of desireless devotion, or to
seek a boon through the aid of an attending temple priest, the act of approaching
is personal, an exchange between God and devotee.
To say that the act of approaching is personal does not mean this takes
place in isolation, however! One can usually expect to find oneself squeezed
in among a long line of devotees. Making pilgrimage by walking around the
temple's circumference, the line pushes onwards, until the divine image
comes into view. A devotee does not usually enter the
inner sanctuary where the image resides, but rather beholds the image from
a viewing point. The tie between the deity and a longing devotee is considered
very strong -- as illustrated in the story of one divine image which is
said to have turned itself in order to give darshan to a devotee!
Sometimes there is an area adjacent the temple, called
a natmandir, which serves as a gathering place for
story-telling, chanting, dancing (kirtan), and singing songs (bhajans) in
praise of God, meditation, and observing ritual worship (puja). Usually
open to the outdoors, the natmandir may have a temporary canopy cover or
permanent roof to offer shade. The image is usually visitable from the natmandir.
Here, in Mother's cyber-temple, Sri Sarada Mandir,
one imagines the sacred syllable Om to reside at the apex, as the heart
from which the divine images emerge and radiate outward. Thus the natmandir
encircles our temple, and by offering greetings and praise to each aspect of divinity one
has circumambulated the circumference, which according to Hindu thought,
represents a pilgrimage encircling the entire creation!