The enduring image of India is this: a land of temples and gods. Of soaring towers and vast landscapes punctuated by an ancient monument or ten. These temples, often sites of culture, art, trade, commerce and governance, have endured the ages, even as Indian culture, Indian art have transformed.
The temples of India occupy a unique philosophical and spiritual space. They are signs of religion, and signifiers of local culture. Temples are bound by rules that determine their shape, size, architecture and art. Yet uniqueness and variety are more the norm than the exception. With each culture, every era developing on themes, temple art and architecture have resulted in the richest treasure of standing monuments for any one country. Each temple comes with its own unique story, its history and its legend, its art and its craft. And most importantly the prayers, wishes, hopes and faith of the people.
MyTemple, a new initiative by a Bangalore based team aims to bring lakhs of Indian temples online, and highlight the beauty and uniqueness of our temples.
Imagine, having your phone telling you that the little temple you just passed is an 1800 year old Pallava masterpiece with a unique pyramid vimana, and its main sanctum, the Garba Griha, is only accessed by crawling through a tunnel, an act signifying rebirth. Imagine not only knowing its name – RajaSimheswaram or Kailasanathar Temple – but also who built it, (Pallava king RajaSimha Varma), how it was built, and its special, unique murals and frescoes that adorn each wall.
Imagine, as you walk down buzzing Indra Nagar, Bangalore in search of a café with WiFi, bumping into friends from startups you admire. Imagine, then, that your phone buzzes to tell you, just 500 metres away, tucked into a side street, is the Chokkanatha Swamy Temple, a very special Chola creation, 1000 years old and still going strong. Dig deeper and you will learn the ancient name of Domlur, and that the inscriptions on the temple door talk of donations received, of grants and riches, of kings and emperors.
We asked the team why they thought this was relevant today?
“On a recent trip, we visited the Sri Ranganathar Swamy Temple, Srirangam and realised that temples are much much more than a devotional place and an impressive structure.”
On a Monday morning ,when one would be normally rushing to work, devotees were streaming in to offer prayers and receive blessings before their day at office and school, In the evening, the temples transformed into a playground for children after attending school and a meeting ground for family , friends and even priests - discussing various things from politics to religion to their daily activities. The Purohit was entertaining a group of kids with a story about Rama, Vibhishana and the legend of the temple. We were impressed with the familiarity with which everyone greeted and spoke to each other, moved with the ease with which the youth touched their elders’ feet and touched by the animated conversation of youth with the parents and families.
It brought back memories from our childhood vacations, when we looked forward to spending the evening at the nearby temple with our grandparents and parents. Once at the temple, we listened to stories of the different gods of the temples, the customs and traditions were explained to us and it was here that we heard our first slokas and bhajans.
We realized that even today the temple was central to the daily life of Indians and the temple environment served as place to maintain harmony, learn our customs and preserve our culture and remain connected to God . It is this experience we would like to recreate at MyTemple.”
With the pressures and the opportunities inherent in modern life, families have become smaller. Large families helped in propagating stories and practices of culture, religion and spirituality. We have moved to new environments and have lost familiar cultural spaces,, which leads to the realization that we are displaced, cut off from the culture and the history that defines us.
For a religion and tradition that encouraged skepticism, encouraged individual thought, we now do things by rote, without context, giving way to mute acceptance. Any attempt we take to understand this is hampered by the rather piecemeal nature of available information, often conflicting.
The initiative hopes to change this, through stories, information, podcasts, videos and lectures that go in to each and every aspect of religion and spirituality. By creating a space for a robust & diverse culture centered on its temples, MyTemple hopes to make culture accessible on the fastest growing internet connected devices in India: Mobile phones.
Began September 2015, the team is already delivering history and legend, art and culture, religion and spirituality, music and poetry, to over 35000 users every day, in the 5 months. MyTemple details special events, important dates, the main rituals and worship for each temple. Legends and myths, historical information and more add depth and layer to this information. This information is consumed by users in the form of daily updates on multiple platforms, in English, Kannada, Tamil and Hindi languages.
The most encouraging developments, says the team behind MyTemple, is the number of knowledgeable users who are contributing their own content voluntarily; and the amount of sharing of content that is resulting in the growth of the community in large numbers everyday!
This new platform is becoming a way for users to tell the world about those special spaces and traditions that bring them peace, guiding newcomers in search of history and spirituality, to their temples and their cultures. MyTemple hopes to reach a wider audience, with the launch of a new mobile app in April 2016.
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