Unlike in other religions, it is not mandatory for a Hindu to regularly visit their temple. Temples are often visited on auspicious occasions and as a part of pilgrimages rather than as a regular occurrence. This is because Hindus have home shrines where they can partake in home puja, this is considered part of their dharma whilst temple worship is not. However, in England, Hindus are far more likely to regularly visit the temple as it gives them an opportunity to meet with the dispersed Hindu community in the country. This is important as the temple provides a social environment to maintain the bonds between the communities and prevent Hindus feeling alone.
The temple is significant in aiding Hindus in retaining their culture. This is especially important in Western countries where the majority of people do not share the culture, here it can be easy to lose tradition. The temple is central to festivals, for example Durga Puja, and is often the focus of pilgrimages. The priests speak Sanskrit preventing the language from dying, this upholds the ties to centuries of Hindus. Furthermore, ceremonies are performed to perfection in the temple ensuring that the rituals continue as a constant. The temple acts as a preserver of the religion in all its glory and tradition.
The temple is seen as the dwelling place of God and so is considered the place to receive darshan: a glimpse of God. Temple murtis are considered far more significant than home murtis. They are consecrated and so considered to have God dwelling in them. This means that the temple provides a place for people to dwell in the presence of God and to be a part of his glory in a far greater way than is possible with home puja.
The temple is highly symbolic and might even be considered a giant murti. It enables the worshipper to focus on God and to access a relationship with him. The priest led worship further strengthens this relationship by acting as a mediator between the worshipper and God allowing them to unite. This is not to say that the only place to meet with God is the temple, Hindus believe God is everywhere and in everything, as such one can meet with him at any time. However, the temple is a place where the only focus is on God, it allows the worshipper to be free of the distractions of their everyday life. It is built according to vedic plans and thus even the shape is symbolic.
The high central tower over the central area is often symbolic of Mount Kailash, a part of the Himalayas (considered the home of the Gods). The floor plan is often considered to be symbolic of God lying down whilst the vertical building is God standing. This furthers their potential as murtis. It is felt that God is consecrated in the walls, especially in the garbha-griha making it a highly holy and spiritual place. They are kept holy by worshippers and treated with great respect for example the shoes are removed before entering because leather is considered impure, thoughts are purified before approaching the inner sanctum to ensure nothing but God is the focus. Furthermore, there are often myths attached to the sacred places increasing their importance.
However, some might consider the home shrine to be more important than the temple. The home shrine is used every day and from it the worshipper is able to uphold a personal and private relationship with God. Here, the woman leads the worship and is able to bathe and feed the murtis – something she would be unable to do in a temple. This makes home shrines far more intimate. Furthermore, home puja is considered part of one’s dharma whilst visiting the temple is not necessary.
The home shrine is also important as an educational tool to pass on the traditions through the family and to unite the family within one religion and under their istadeva. This highlights still another reason why the home shrine might be considered more important than the temple; not only is the vernacular language used for home puja but it is the istadeva worshipped rather than the more generic gods at the temple. Yet, on the contrary, home shrines are often considered temples in their own right. If this is considered to be true than the importance of home shrines further highlights the role and significance of temples.
The temple is important as a place of offering. Offerings are made at home shrines, and received back as Prasad. Whilst this too occurs in temples, in temples it is possible for people to make offerings such as of money without receiving them back again. Furthermore, ceremonies such as havan are performed. This is the fire ceremony whereupon the fire is considered like a post-box to God. The worshipper throws items such as seeds and ghee into the flames as an offering and act of worship.
It is clear that temples have extreme significance in Hinduism. They are valued and respected both as a means of enabling worship in the presence of God and as a way to uphold Indian culture and reunite large and dispersed communities in the west. They enable worship led by priests, perhaps offering more spiritual comfort than worshipping alone at home, whilst providing the chance at darshan and to take part in ceremonies perhaps not possible at home e.g. havan. Therefore the temple is central to Hinduism.