A Hindu Temple
by Sara Cujak

Read Sara's profile Printable version of the lesson



Grades 6-8

Social Studies, Religion

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.

Vocabulary—these are words one hears in the tour. One may want to go over these before the PowerPoint 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 of worship.
. 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.


Lesson Outline


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 PowerPoint presentation.
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, the (romance?)

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

Material List

- 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.

Extension Activities
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
grades 9-12

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.

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