Social Studies, Religion
Goals: For students to learn about the architectural features
of a Hindu temple and understand how Hindus worship.
Objectives: SWBAT list and describe the basic architectural
features of a Hindu temple
SWBAT explain the basic elements of Hindu worship.
Background Information for Teachers
One should read the script to the PowerPoint
before showing it to the students. It is difficult to understand the
guide because a bell is ringing and she has a Swiss accent. The reason
for keeping it that way is so the students can get a feel for what it
is actually like at the Sri Meenakshi temple.
Hindu temples can be very simple and small
or very complex and large. Sacred space can be created in an area in
a home or in a temple that is several square miles located in a city
center. The temple in this lesson is the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai,
India. It is a large temple located in the center of the city. Meenakshi
is a popular and powerful goddess who is the protector of Madurai. The
temple is rectangular in shape, and has highly decorative gopurams.
The gopurams are towers measuring 45-50 meters (150-160 feet) tall and
are brightly decorated with thousands of celestial and animal figures.
The four tallest gopurams at Meenakshi mark the north, east, south and
west entrances of the temple. The water tank shown in slides 7 and 9
is for the worshippers to wash their feet.
One should discuss with the students that
people who practice the Hindu religion may worship many gods, or only
one god, depending on their own personal or familial traditions. The
Hindu scriptures reference Bhrama, who is the creator of all beings.
From him, all other gods were created….. A person will honor the
deity that is most related to their lives. They pick one god and focus
and worship on that one aspect of God. As the person grows and their
needs change they will then pray to a different aspect of God. It helps
them focus during their worship.
are words one hears in the tour. One may want to go over these before
presentation with the students.
Ganesh Murugan Shiva Vishnu Paravati
Meenakshi gopuram puja brahman sanctum
. Shiva is the god of creation and destruction
. Vishnu is the preserver and protector of
world order god.
. Meenakshi is the wife of Shiva, also called
Paravati, and is the mother goddess.
. Gopuram is a tall tower that is decorated
with celestial and animal figures.
. Puja is a form of Hindu worship to gods.
. Brahmin is a priest.
. Sanctum is a sacred place located in a place
. Epics refer to the stories of the Hindu
gods and goddesses such as the Ramayana and Mahabratha
. Veena is a stringed instrument music instrument
similar to a sitar.
. Madurai is a city located in the state of
Tamilnadu in South India.
. Ganesh and Murugan are
sons of Shiva and are usually shown left and right, respectively, before
entering a temple.
Before the students enter the room, have them remove their shoes. Incense
should be burning. Start the activity by projecting slide 1, a gopuram
from a temple in the city of Chennai, India. Ask the students: What
do you see? What shape is it? What do you think it is used for? Use
three words to describe what you see.
After discussing the slide, use the information below to explain to
students what a Hindu temple is. Ring the bells before starting the
Religion in India is all over. The main religion in India is Hinduism.
A temple is a Hindu place of worship. Project slide 2 Hindus may also
worship at outdoor shrines and in their homes. This lesson focuses on
temples. A typical temple is rectangle in shape with towers as part
of the structure. It will contain an inner sanctum where one is able
to view the god or goddess. Project slide 3 Hindus perform puja, a form
of worship to the god. This basket contains items that are used in puja.
Before worshippers enters a temple, they can purchase one of these baskets.
The basket contains a coconut, two bananas, flowers, incense, ash and
red powder. The basket is given to the priest in the inner sanctum.
He takes half of the items and returns the other half to the bearer.
Hindus believe the items have the power of god in them. Upon leaving
the temple the empty basket is returned to where it was purchased.
Then, explain to the students that they will
be learning about the basic elements of Hindu temples and be taking
a “tour” of the Sri Meenakshi temple.
Before class divide the students into groups of three. Have the students
get in these groups. Make sure everyone in the group will be able to
see the projection. Start the slide show and go to the end. Another
slide is after the one that says The End, use it for the closing activity.
When done, discuss with the students the basic elements of worship.
Slide 4 Loud street noises. You have Ganesh
on one side and Murugan on the other side. Okay let’s go inside,
it is really noisy here. Bells start to clang.
Slide 5 Bells are clanging. Why are they ringing
the bell? It’s five o’clock puja. It’s five o’clock
what? Puja, it’s for puja. That means there is a special ceremony.
From here you can see the golden…Yes! Tops of the sanctum. This
is Meenakshi, aaa yes Meenakshi’s sanctum, and this is Shiva’s
sanctum. The golden ? well it’s real gold. It is real gold? Yah,
it is real gold.
Slide 6 These are
the saints of ironmare. These are the four most famous. There are 63
of them, poet saints. These are the four more, most famous four of them.
Slide 7 This was
built 17th (century) same time the Tirumalai (a palace) was built. There
are parts of the temple are from the 13th century, still left. But the
temple itself is much, much older. But it was destroyed and the 13th
century it was destroyed as well. Each gopuram dates from the 14th-18th
as well. Kept building and then it got destroyed again and kept building.
I tell ya I have to take my notes out.
Slide 8 Singing
is heard in the background. If you look at it from this side it is an
elephant and from this side it is the bull.
Slide 9 Pardon,
all the towers what do they stand for? That’s just it the entrance
tower. But then there are towers inside? Yah, the towers that are over
the sanctum, that’s the vimanas. It’s to protect the deity,
and sometimes to channel the energy into the sanctum. But these here
are typical of 17th century high entrance gopurams. To keep out everything
that is impure. It’s just that the architecture is like that.
Guess what the tank is called? Lotus. Golden Lotus. The oldest of the
towers is the western tower. That’s this side where we came. No
that’s the east side. That tower is 16th century. And North tower
doesn’t have any sculptures so it is called bald gopuram, can’t
see that side, and that is 18-19th century just finished recently. So
people kept adding when they had money. They keep after ten years of
monsoons the color is so faded they repaint it, so they need a lot of
money for that.
Slide 10 One rupee,
two rupee coin, you give it to the elephant and he blesses you.
Slide 11 Here you
have Meenakshi in the middle, which is the smallest one. And you have
on her left, is Shiva and her right is Vishnu. And Vishnu is her brother.
And what happens is once a year this marriage is celebrated in Madurai.
Thousands of people come. They actually have the wedding they bring
the statutes outside to a particular place. There are priests doing
all kinds of ritual. And Vishnu is suppose to come and give her to Shiva
because she doesn’t have a parent. So Vishnu comes from Alagarkovil..
Slide 12 Again
half man, half woman. So half goddess, half god. Half Shiva, half Paravati.
Slide 13 Horns
and drums are playing. It is on a cart. Lots of flowers and he is sitting
on a horse. It’s Shiva. It’s a special day for Shiva today.
It’s the fourteenth day in a lunar cycle before full moon, and
new moon. And that is why people especially come here to pray. Very
auspicious. And it rained. Priest that were carrying the? No, no, can
be other people. And not just anybody. People who are connected to the
temple or donated things.
Slide 14 Quick
look at where the dance takes place you can throw butter on it. To cool
them because again the dance is something furious and we see the dance
as a destruction of Shiva. Butter is cooling too? Butter is cooling
?. Who became a skeleton because of the mangoes. You see her at the
feet of Shiva, she watches him dance.
Slide 15 Painted
red and white. The red is for female power, shotize. Fertility, and
it means movement, it means creation, destruction. The white one in
philosophy it’s the male. In philosophy the male is unchallengeable,
eternal. So something that is unchallengeable and eternal can not create.
So that is why you need the shotize, to create. So that’s why
the white and red. The white is what you get is the Shiva temple the
white ashes and the red powder is what you get at the ? temple.
Slide 16 Did you
want to know anything about these thousands of figures? Ask me. Does
someone decide how they’re put them up, what order? Some committee,
that is decided. No, the only thing you will have Shiva and Meenakshi
of course, because it is their temple. You have figures from the epics,
Slide 17 He is
a very accomplished veena player. The instrument in his hands, the veena,
the south Indian version of the sitar. There is only one cord.
Slide 18 You get
a great view of Madurai from up there, but then too many people threw
themselves down. Now you can not go up. Did you climb in the inside?
Climb inside and then look out of the demons from that side and look
over the temple.
Slide 19 Looks
like a tortoise, or turtle. That is a form of Vishnu.
Slide 20 The story
is said that the father-in-law of Shiva was a pure Brahman and he had
this big sacrifice and he didn’t invite Shiva. Shiva in mythology
is a little bit of an outcast. They didn’t like him because he
always drove around the cremation grounds. He wasn’t invited,
the Goddess was really angry and she told her father you should invited
Shiva and so on. Shiva said it doesn’t matter, but she insisted.
The father-in-law just wouldn’t let him in. He got really angry
and he sweated and a drop of sweat fell on the floor and out of that
drop of sweat this image was created, a fierce warrior with all these
hands, and so on. He sent him to destroy the whole sacrifice so everyone
got killed, including the father-in-law. Then the father-in-law fell
at Shiva’s feet saying I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Shiva
tried to find another head for him and he found a ram’s head and
put it on top of him. So his father-in-law has a ram’s head.
Project slide 22, which is the same as slide 1. Have the students in
their groups answer the following questions: Explain what made this
gopuram seem so strange before and why it isn’t now. Why is it
important to learn before we judge?
For homework, or if class time allows, have the students write a half
to one page response to what it is like at a Hindu temple. Have them
describe the sites, smells, sounds, and textures of a Hindu temple.
Amount of Time
Two 45 minute class periods
- Computer and projector
- Sandal incense
- Jasmine scent of some kind
- Hand bell(s)
The jasmine is listed because women wear it in their hair. It is a very
common smell. The sandal incense should be burning during the presentation.
Again, something one would smell if visiting a temple. Removing shoes
shows respect to the sacred place of worship. The bells ringing are
to clear and awake the mind, to help one focus.
Video--Puja: Expressions of Hindu Devotion, by Arthur M. Sackler Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1996.
This website gives information on the Hindu temple in Brookfield, Wisconsin.
This website gives information to the Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu, India.
One can go to individual temples from that site. Great if one wants
to see more temples.
This website gives additional information and lesson plans on puja.
Recreate a temple in your classroom. Have your students go through the
actions of worshipping at a temple.
Take a field trip to the Hindu temple in Brookfield, Wisconsin.
Other grade levels
Connection to Standards
A.8.9 Describe how buildings and their decorations reflect cultural
values and ideas.
E.8.10 Explain how language, art music, beliefs and other components
of culture can further global understanding or cause misunderstanding.