The entire sacred geography of Bharatavarsha is itself an expansive Yajna Vedi (Altar of Yajna) and by extension, a grand temple. If the Himalaya is the Kalasha (pinnacle) of Bharatavarsha, Varanasi is the Dwara (gate/door) and the sanctified waters at Kanyakumari the Garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum)in which all dualities merge. One can begin with any region and apply the same temple analogy. Every ancient text, every writer, Rishi, composer, and scholar was unanimous in upholding the sanctity of Bharatavarsha and that its dharma, language, and culture was a unified and indivisible whole. They held that one had to accumulate virtues in past births to be born in such a land. In fact, the Sankalpa is the finest and the most immediate method to repeat and recollect this unified wholeness of Bharatavarsha on a daily basis. The Sankalpa is truly the work of genius; its genius lies in its profound simplicity.
So when we go to these places…the Himalayas, Vindhyas, Ganga, Pushkar, Kurukshetra, Kashi, Mathura, Ayodhya, Avanti (roughly, the Malwa region today), Kanchipuram, Rameshwaram, Kanyakumari…we breathe the Sanatana. And this Sanatana feature is precisely what gives the special and exalted status to the temples in these places.
In a manner of speaking, it is difficult to understand temples without understanding palaces. Of the hundreds of mighty empires and tiny principalities and grand dynasties and obscure royal lineages that have checkered Bharatavarsha’s history, how many of their palaces and resorts and vacation mansions remain? Almost none.
A majority of the palaces that the Rajputs built have been transformed into hotels and most of them are of fairly recent antiquity. However, the Tirthakshetras and the temples and the Sanatana charitable institutions that they have given endowments to continue to flourish. Sri Krishnadevaraya justly renowned for his various military and other accomplishments has also remained immortal and relevant for another reason: the solid patronage that he gave to Venkateshwara Swami in Tirumala (among other temples) and the manner in which he revolutionized and revitalized its administration and management, a system that continues to this day. The interested reader is referred to a good research paper titled The Economic Function of a Medieval South Indian Temple on this topic.
There was an extraordinary and near-perfect blend for centuries between Brahma (spiritual force) and Kshatra (valour) that helped nurture and sustain the delicate balance between brute might and the calming tranquility of true spirituality. Because Hindu kings regarded temples as sacred spaces, they desisted from harming or despoiling them even slightly even if this caution meant certain defeat in war. Perhaps the earliest instance of this is the surrender of the Hindu king at Multan to Mohammad Bin Qasim. This was accomplished by a simple and single threat: of destroying the grand Martanda Surya Temple there.
When this delicate balance was broken and the operative principle underlying the Brahma-Kshatra combination was destroyed, it led to the total unravelling of an entire civilization. Perhaps for the first time in the history of foreign conquests of India, it was the British who grasped this winning combination at the intellectual and strategic level, which they later formulated as military and administrative policy. A sample is available in the form of a book by the vile Lt. Gen. George MacMunn, a Colonel Commandant of the Royal Artillery who wrote The Martial Races of India. This book like others in the category laid the blueprint for destroying Kshatra in India in a cold and clinical fashion. Here’s an excerpt:
India unlike almost any other country has a vast mass of unwarlike people whose hand has never kept the head. In this class must be mustered many who have the brains and aptitude to assimilate Western education far more rapidly than the more virile races. But it is these virile races that have dominated India in the past, and… would do so again if British control were removed. It is moreover in these forceful classes that the real future of India for good must lie…
There is a reason why getting a gun license in India is so tough even today. Its roots are located in the British prohibition of Indians owning dangerous weapons. A case can be made…indeed, an entire volume is waiting to be written on how temples were maintained in near-pristine condition in the Princely States in stark contrast to the various regions ruled directly by the British crown. The infinitely tragic outcome is that the “forceful classes” and “virile races” that MacMunn speaks about with such fear are today engaged in an abysmal race to the bottom: to prove that one is more “inferior” and “backward” compared to the other…this is the true story of what is known as reservations.
Our institutions of antiquity—temples, rest houses, Veda Pathashalas, Mathas, choultries, Anna Satras, etc—were preserved for centuries on end because the ruler (government in today’s parlance) was one with the people sharing the same values, beliefs, traditions, customs, festivals etc and would punish transgressions regarding the same and was willing to mount a physical defence to protect and preserve them and to die in the process if necessary. The kind of democracy that we hastily adopted in 1947 without the consent or knowledge of at least 300 million Indians ensured that this vital link was cut off. Perhaps forever. These innocent Indians blindly trusted their leaders and in return got their first Prime Minister who slapped Sadhus and Sanyasins in public.
Barely hours after the fire broke out at the Notre Dame Cathedral recently and a billionaire French businessman declared that he would donate a few millions to its restoration, a bunch of cultural pretenders from India emitted all-knowing howls about how Indians don’t know how to preserve their heritage sites, how our rich businesspeople must emulate that French guy and how CSR funds come in handy for such initiatives. Elsewhere, the selfsame cultural pretenders pompously issue Fatwas on the “need to do away with rituals in Hinduism” and “free it from Brahminical orthodoxy,” and similar ill-informed but haughty verbal edicts. Indeed, these pretenders must be imbued with extraordinary arrogance to make such blanket statements about an entire people and culture and simultaneously give themselves the right to sit in the judge’s seat.
My skin crawls when I hear the term “heritage site” while referring to places like Hampi, Ellora, Kailasanath Temple at Kanchipuram, etc. In our tradition, the best way to preserve these sites…in fact, the best way to preserve anything that is Sanatana is to re-transform them into living sites. These temples and spaces are not just any other “heritage site”just like how Hinduism is not just any other way of life. These sites continue to remain tourist spots with all attendant evils that tourism brings with it. Why do Hindus wear footwear and stand and sleep on our Devata Murtis in say the Kailashnath Temple at Ellora? This should have ideally been a Kshetra akin to Tirumala, Palani, Sabarimala, Vaishno Devi, etc. For a detailed discussion on this, see my essay on Ajanta and Ellora in my book Seventy Years of Secularism.
Using CSR funds and getting money from wealthy businessmen to preserve these sites on the surface sounds like a good idea but trouble begins precisely in the details. Such ideas are, once again, a reflection of how this class of cultural-pretender Hindus remain deeply ashamed of and unable to shake off their mental slavery to the West. Because something works in the West doesn’t mean it will work here. Despite the appalling and repeated and large scale destructions of Hindu temples, Hindus were able to retain not only the knowledge of temple-building, administration, etc…even after physically losing them…but built even grander temples when the opportunity arose. Under Aurangzeb’s brutal regime, Hindus overcame his stricture against the Kaffirs with a simple but highly effective method: by keeping their practices and traditions and festivals through symbols, oral traditions, in their homes and hearts. What CSR funding or corporate philanthropy can produce this sort of highly-resilient and self-correcting fundamental, civilizational and cultural education or system? At best it can ensure the outward upkeep of the sites and buildings.
Which will be akin to a temple complete with a Garbha Griha and Moola Murti bereft of Prana Pratishtapana.