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Hindu Temples of Sri Lanka

A book on Hindu Temples of Sri Lanka by Prof. S. Pathmanathan was released at a function orgnaised by the All Ceylon HIndu Congress last week.

BOOK REVIEW: All religions can be studied from more than one point of view - Historical, Theological, Philosophical and Mystical. Religious worship itself can take many forms. But an important mark and symbol of Hindu worship, thought and life is the Hindu Temple.

The Hindu Temple represents the Hindu's conception of the God as one endowed with innumerable qualities. It is not the clay of the mould figure that is worshipped, but the immortal principles that are referred to by the mould forms.

The Hindu uses a temple as an environment in which he could attune his own emotional self, the nobility of thought and the purity of feeling that are essential to the truly religious life.

The temple is but an infinitesimally small bit of earth, in the rather narrow regions in which the Hindu lives and moves. The temple is the product of the religious quest that seeks to bring religious spirit to hover over our lives.

Any symbol could represent Him and be a manifestation of the God - for it is the mind that symbolises and it is not the material that signifies. It is the mind that cloaks the material with the significance.

The Hindu gets into the temple, makes obeisance to every little thing installed in it - from a pillar sculptured with the figure of a bull representing a guardian of the image, to the image installed in the Holy of Holies- the Garbha Graha, representing an idea which is very differently interpreted - but all through his journey from the outer gate, through the circumambulatory passages to the central shrine and back again, devotee does not think of the images or the sculptured pieces before which he prostrates himself , but he thinks only of a God who rises triumphantly on the surging wave of his religious fervour.

At the same time he is thinking of His God as a being beyond thought and even mind - formless, shapeless, featureless and colourless.

"Hindu Temples of Sri Lanka" edited by Professor S. Pathmanathan, captures the quintessential essence of the history of some of the Hindu temples with the images or the sculptured pieces of Hindu Gods before whom countless numbers of Hindus of the Island have prostrated themselves through the ages from times immemorial.

It is a historian's history of the progress of Hinduism in the Island from the earliest times up to the present.

It catalogues, records and describes the history and in some instances the rituals, festivals, administration, endowments, architectural components and traditions of some of the very ancient temples throughout the length and breath of the Island, dedicated to Isvara and other deities from ancient times and their locations in the Island. There is a map which shows you at a glance where these locations are.

It is a work of painstaking research and comprehensive erudition. The book is definitely the result of deep study extending to many years. The ample Notes and References which follow each essay and the Bibliography at the end, bears ample testimony to the vast studies involved in preparing it.

Professor Pathmanathan has packed in this work of over 460 pages vast historical facts of more than 30 centuries. There are nine contributors to this Volume, consisting of fifteen essays. Of the fifteen essays that contained in this Volume, eight have been authored by Professor Pathmanathan.

They are: Tirukketisvaram, sanctified by the hymns of the Nayanmars. St. Sambandar, Sundarar and Appar have sung its praises.

Tirukkonesvaram, also sanctified by the Nayanmars. Its praises have been sung by St.Sambandar (7th C.) and Arunagiri Swamigal (15th C)

The Temples of Polonnaruva, famous for its Siva Devales and the Bronze images dating from the 11th Century.

The Temples of Padaviya a city that flourished during medieval times, settled by Nanadevis - a mercantile community of South India.

Vijayaraja-Isvaram of Kantalai, a centre of Hindu influence in medieval times.

Vikkrama Calameka-Isvaram of Makal. A Siva temple in the Kurunegala District the remains of which formed the building material of a Vihara where two siva lingas are built into the walls.

Skanda/Murukan and Kataragama, needs no introduction Symbols of a Shared Heritage

Murukan the Divine Child: sacred to the heart of the Jaffna Tamil.

The Kandacuvami Temple at Nallur.

Mr.V.Varathasundaram, Author and Journalist has contributed the essay on, The Temple of Tampalakamam, erected by Rajasingha II (1635-1687) after the demolition of the Konesvaram temple by the Portugese.

Mr. Y. Cellaiya, Retired Teacher, Researcher and Scholar has written the essay on, Nakulesvaram, the Temple of Siva at Kirimali, associated with the wonderful legends of the curative power of its waters.

Mr. N.Somakanthan, Retired Administrative Officer, Author and Creative Writer, Art and Literary Critic and Freelance Journalist has contributed the essay on, Munnesvaram, one of the five Isvarams, the beneficiary of several endowments by the Kings of the South.

Mr. V. Sivasamy, Former Professor and Head of Department, Department of Sanskrit, University of Jaffna has written on, The Temple of Kailayanatar at Nallur, constructed in modern times at the site of the historic temple of Kailayanatar, established as a temple of the royal court by Arya Chakravatti

Mr.S. Theyvanayagam, Deputy Director and Managing Editor of Publications , Department of Hindu Religious and Cultural Affairs, Colombo has contributed the essay on Tantonrisvaram, Kokkatticcolai, in the Batticaloa District associated with the tradition of Virasivaism since early 13th century.

Ms. Thangeswary Kathirkaman, Author and Researcher, Member of Parliament, former Cultural Officer, Department of Hindu Religious and Cultural Affairs has written on, Mamankesvaram, one of the only two temples dedicated to Siva in Batticaloa . Folk tradition claims it to be established by Rama after vanquishing Ravana and to propitiate Siva.

Mr.V. Mathuranthaki, Author and Researcher has contributed the essay on, Ponnambalavaneswaram, at Kothena., established by Ponnambala Mudaliyar in 1856 and later reconstructed in stone by Ponnmabalam Ramanathan in 1909.

Ms. Kalyani Nagarajah, Former Lecturer of History, University of Jaffna and Research Officer and Contributor to the Hindu Encyclopedia , Department of Hindu Religious Affairs, Colombo has contributed to, A select bibliography of primary sources and books written both on English and Tamil Languages, in all 120 and 140 respectively.

I am sure you will appreciate that it is not possible for me to independently review each and every one of the contributions to this admirable Volume, purely due to constraints of time - though I would have liked to have done in view of the store house of treasure these essays have amongst themselves some of which I had no knowledge of up to the time I read this work.

But before concluding I must note that the Introduction to this work by Professor Pathmanathan, is equally informative and provides a conspectus of the cults and traditions of Hinduism, of the Agamas, of Vaisnavism, of the Bhagavata religion expounded in the Bhagavad Gita, and the Antiquity and Ideology of Saivaism.

Of particular interest is perhaps the part dealing with some of the points of contact between Hinduism and Buddhism and their interaction in the Island, of the accommodation of the Hindu Gods in the pantheon of Buddhist deities and of the guardian gods of Lanka of the 15th to the 16th centuries of Upulvan, Saman, Vibhishana and Skanda; the first three to be replaced in time by Vishnu, Natha and Pattini.

The Editor also notes that the temples of Lankatilaka and Gadaladeniya exhibits elements of Dravidian style of Hindu architecture. And I might add that it will be recalled that Bhuveneka Bahu IV caused inscriptions in both Tamil and Sinhala to be made at the Lankatilaka Vihara , near Gampola.

A reminder of the friendly and beneficient mutual contact between the followers of the two faiths. A poignant reminder of what could have been.

"Hindu Temples of Sri Lanka" is veritably a compendium of most valuable data for Hindus and Buddhists alike. The Colour Plates at the end of the Book bring to life images which a thousand words cannot describe. This is a book that should be in the hands of all peoples of the Island.

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