Temples in Tamil Nadu are universally famous for their architectural beauty and height of their Temple Towers, heights which are intended to be and are usually seen from kilometres around, from streets and lanes of the cities where they are situated, from the suburbs thereto, and from a ring of villages and hamlets, in a circle of several kilometres diameter round the site of the Temple.
Arunachaleswarar Temple, Tiruvannamalai

The ground plans of Temples in Tamil Nadu, is not left to the vagaries of an architect or benefactor, but is governed by rules laid down in the Agamas – scriptures parallel to the four Vedas.

In the Sivapuranam of Manikkavacakar’s Keerththithiruvahaval, he sings:

“Hallowed be the feet of Him who never departs from my heart even for as long as it takes to wink.”
“You took my body as Your abode,” and
“My mind itself You took as Your Temple.”

To saints and the pious, the abode of God is his own body, his mind, his heart. This faith has been extended to the ground plan of the Temples of the great sages who wrote the Agamas. The human body has, according to the seers and savants, seven centres, seven seats or seven stations (chakras), one of which is the normal habitat of a latent spiritual force conceived as a coiled serpent called the Kundalini, and which, with spiritual awakening, uncoils itself and rises, passing through the various stations, to the topmost station, the sahasrara.  

These stations are called:

1. Muladhara
2. Svadhisthana
3. Manipura
4. Anahata
5. Vishuddi
6. Ajna
7. Sahasrara
The sites of these seven correspond to the sites of the sacral plexus, the prostate gland, the navel, the heart, the larynx, the pituitary gland and the pineal gland respectively. The ground plan of a Temple closely follows the ground plan of a human body with these seven sites. The diagram shows the correspondence. The Tamilian, therefore, when he worships God externally in a Temple, worships Him actually as enshrined in his own body.

There is usually a tank in the outer precincts of the Temple, where the worshipper washes his feet, hands, and face, and wears the sacred ash on his forehead, and other parts of his body – sixteen places altogether in the prescribed manner. These places are the vertex, the forehead, the chest, the navel, the two knees, the two shoulders, the two elbows, the two wrists, the two sides of the thorax, back, and nape of the neck. Such wearing of the sacred ash corresponds to donning an armour with its several pieces such as the helmet; visor, breast-plate, cost of mail, epaulets, elbow-pieces, wrist-guards, knee-covers, neck-plate and so on. Hence Manikkavacakar exhorts the devotees to ‘don the armour of sacred ash.’ This external ablution stands for an internal ablution, purifying the heart and mind.

The Temple has usually five prakarams i.e. courtyards separated by high walls and inter-connected by entrances, four in number, on the East, West, North and South in the outermost wall, and only one on each of the other walls, usually on the eastern section thereof.

These five courtyards represent the five sheaths of the human body; the annamaya kosa (food sheath), the pranamaya kosa (breath sheath), the manomaya kosa (mind sheath), the vignaamaya kosa (intellect sheath) and the anandamaya kosa (bliss sheath).

The devotee crosses these entrances to the innermost court. This crossing represents the control of the five senses. At the flag post, he assumes a firmness of faith, a resoluteness of purpose, the purpose of worshipping God with one-pointed mind. At the sacrificial altar, he sacrifices his  anava malam, the taint of ignorance. He proceeds now to worship God in the sanctum sanctorum where the ever-burning light represents the eternal Effulgence.

Key to the Diagram

It will be seen that there are seven white circles in the picture of the human body. They are numbered 1 to 7 beginning from the foot of the diagram. They are the six adharams or stations and the thousand-petalled lotus. These are:-

1.  Muladhara
2.  Svadhisthana
3.  Manipura
4.  Anahata
5.  Vishuddi
6.  Ajna
7.  Sahasrara

The images have been designated by capital letters. The key is as follows:-
A.  Shenbaga Vinayakar
B.  Kanni Vinayakar
C.  Iyyanaar
D.  Aarrumukam
E.  Shiva
F.  Saneeswarar
G.  Dakshinaamoorththi
H.  Chandikeswarar
K.  Utsavar
L.  Vaahana-nandhi
M.  Nataraajar
N.  Ambikai
P.  Athikaaranandhi
R.  Vairavar
S.  Sun
T.  Ambala-Vinaayakar
U.  Ambala-Shanmukar
W.  Sacrificial Altar
X.  Flag Staff
Y.  Navagraham or the nine planets

[Sri Ilanji A. Chokkalingam in Aalayangalin Utporul Vilakkam]

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