The importance of a mandir in Hindu society extended beyond the religious sphere. It was a social, cultural, and financial hub that united the youth in ancient times. 17-year-old Rutvij Holay has written about how mandirs can be made cool hangouts in modern times. We have summarized the teenager’s essay in this article.
A historical perspective on importance of mandirs
In addition to pujas, events such as dance performances, dramas, and sangeets/singing programs, among others, were regularly conducted. The art forms also educated the masses, especially in rural areas where books were not preferred. These events may be considered the equivalent of modern-day movies as far as entertainment options are concerned.
Villagers came together to enjoy the art forms with their families and friends. The mandirs also became the hubs for residents from multiple villages in places where there was just one mandir in the town. Villagers made temples their go-to place to share news, information, gossip, and discuss politics besides attending religious and cultural events.
“Much of Indian classical music, dance, drama, sculpture, painting, and other art forms evolved in the temples rather than at the royal court. What is less appreciated is that the temples were key to the financing of trade, industry and infrastructure building. It is well known that medieval temples were very wealthy, but the common impression is that this wealth was mostly due to royal grants. In reality, the reason that the temples accumulated so much wealth is that they acted as bankers and financiers!” writes Sanjeev Sanyal in his The ocean of churn: how the Indian Ocean churned shaped human history.
Repeated targeting of mandirs by Islamic and Christian invaders led to a decline in their social prestige. Temples were attacked as they served as villages’ social, cultural, political, and religious centers. Invaders eyed the riches of these mandirs.
Eventually, Hindu society rebuilt critical religious sites such as Somnath and Pandharpur. However, many villages could not afford the reconstruction of smaller temples. The destruction of mandirs took away the rallying point, resistance centers, and hangouts of Hindus. The Bhakti movement filled the void in community centers brought about by temple destruction.
The most significant change brought about by the foreign invasions was decentralization in developing art forms. The responsibility for passing on cultural and religious values, earlier fulfilled by mandirs, fell on parents’ shoulders.
Modern-day challenges and solutions
The present generation has several entertainment options, unlike their forefathers. Since kids today can stay connected using devices without leaving their homes, mandirs have possibly ‘lost’ their charm. “In many ways, this problem has increased as the reach of technology has grown. Even when I was younger, though we had devices in the house, the ability to connect with friends without leaving the house was still minuscule, and not something I had access to growing up until middle school”, writes Rutvij.
Mandirs must be made as youth-friendly as possible by providing enough space for children to play. This would make them interested in visiting temples rather than making it a ‘boring’ place to hang out. When parents force kids to visit temples, the experience may embitter them. If mandirs are youth-friendly, children would willingly visit them and thereby be exposed to things they must imbibe as good Hindus.
Plays, musical performances, and dances must be organized regularly. In ancient times, art forms were integral to any worship ceremony. Today, the performances are restricted to festive occasions and talent shows. Bringing back such forms of entertainment will motivate the youth to visit mandirs. At the same time, Hindu society must contend with the issue of modernization and technology.
Mandirs need help in several areas, such as food distribution, cleaning, and maintenance, organizing festivals, etc. If such activities are added along with entertainment, mandirs will provide opportunities for youth to be engaged in meaningful activities and even train them for leadership roles.
“For those youth blessed with spiritual interest but less religious parents, such initiatives are a better way to increase temple engagement and convince their parents to take them to the mandir each weekend. Perhaps while these parents wait for their kids, they may become enthralled with everything happening in the mandir and find the same joy in visiting their forefathers. In this way, our mandirs, while they may not be banks like they used to be, will provide a way for people who come to visit to benefit materially and spiritually”, notes Rutvij.
These steps may not necessarily bring back the mandirs’ status as favorite hangout spots. However, this could be a starting point to ensure future generations care for and learn the Hindu way of life.