Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Multi-traditional Hindu Temples in USA need focus on Spirituality and the Deity that Inspires Devo Ekah


My thoughts were drawn to a column by our popular columnist Sarita Prabhu sometime back   in Tennessean titled “Cultural Differences can be topic of honest Conversation”.  Influenced by the wisdom contained therein I thought I should draw your focus on some of my discourses and thoughts.
As you all aware  Martin Luther King Jr.  Magnet High School in Tennessee had for the first time Diversity Day on March 14 in which students originating from 70 countries studying there, speaking 60 different languages at home often brought up in their own culture at home   but studying together with fellow students with so much cultural differences almost spending 30% to 40% of the day. In fact they are spending their active life in a world of their own which is like a Microcosm. Children shaping out of such diversity are often identified as products of American culture which is hard to define.     Varied Hindu cultures of migrants from the Sub-continent of India, is equally as much diversified as these children.  Unlike some   major religious groups of the world born and brought up in monotheistic, one-track society, Hindu   Americans know how to survive and succeed and even out-beat the majority in multicultural atmosphere in public life with which they grew up.   They do not like to build colonies like the 17 Greek Fraternities in UTC campus who are dissatisfied with American Culture.  In public life Hindus believe in Unity in Diversity.  However, in religious life they have moved too far from Universal Oneness of Sanaatana Dharma to Multiplicity of Traditions making their religious life complex even in migrant countries.  Over a long period the original four Varna Systems of Hindus have multiplied enormously as a Birthright based Caste system and we have today more than 60 scheduled castes alone in Hinduism with countless deities for worship due the political wisdom of Independent India.  If you ask a villager in India to which religion he belongs,    he will say that he follows a certain deity! This has also resulted in countless political parties too based on their religious bias.  America has done a great job assimilating immigrants. Hindu Americans though managing well in a foreign soil as caste-ridden Hindu Society can do better and even lead the Country in Diversity Stress Management like what MLK School does as Micro cosmos. My religious and spiritual thoughts often pull me out of my narrow sectarian Hindu-way of thinking and make me ponder over how we can find a common ground with our cultural differences and make it   appealing to all without sacrificing in-built Hindu Values and offending scriptures.  Such integration is taking place in the major religion of the Country too after having   remained diversified for too long, to have one unified church and one Mass Worship.  For such an approach among us we have to study a lot about our cultural differences, have meaningful conversations, and find common grounds while preserving our own Hindu Dharma Values with malice towards none.  First generation   American   Hindus   though   brought up with conservative outlook, have learnt how to live with different cultures making compromises.  However our inherent cultural differences which we still practice in our private lives have taken a new turn as you see in the little cosmos of MLK.  We are facing more problems by way of inter-racial and inter-caste wed-locks.  Keeping these diversities in view  I have brought forth a number of discourses as to how we could spiritually orient ourselves gradually, focusing on  one traditional worship and then leading it to Universal Oneness as a unifying force.  Such an approach will contribute a lot for peace all around, healthy living, mental peace and progress and in the process we will be contributing something to our country of adoption. 

As Hindu Americans we  have to focus on: 1) Living  in Peace and not in  Pieces 2) Integrating Spirituality into Western Lifestyles 3) Finding lasting happiness in daily life  4)   Bridging Science and Spirituality to conflate with each other.  We have to develop a culture of our own moving away from sectarian outlook we practiced at our homes if not in public life and brought to this country.  We need to develop One Traditional Worship directed to one deity acceptable to all from among our own 330 million deities.  God in his own fancy created us all look alike funny in the human form yet so different and we in turn out of love for him, multiplied Him too beyond His imagination though knowing well God has No form and no name, and the time has come to worship Him in any one form acceptable to all with the Wisdom of Vedas.

Some years back, Toynbee Arnold in his address in Edinburgh University said, “In 50 years, the world would be under the hegemony of the USA but in the 21st century, as religion captures the place of technology, it is possible that India the conquered will conquer the conqueror….. It is already becoming clear that a chapter that had a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending, if it is not to end in self-destruction of the human race. If human race has to be saved, it has to embrace the Hindu way”. I would like to say here Hindu American Way as Hindus in India have not yet risen to seize the opportunity.

Our cultural differences  brought from India need to be overcome  and we should develop a sort of Hindu Dharma culture which would suit all and also appealing to people who are fed up  with their own religious practices and looking for spiritual direction from Hinduism or Buddhism. Here Hinduism can be more effective than Buddhism. I have therefore focused on some discourses that should interest all, and to mention a few:   1) Smaarta Tradition springs out of Sankara’s five-in-one-worship for all   2) Whose Abhishekam are we watching on Mahasivaratri?  3) One temple complex for many traditions overseas and other topics on Worships and rituals  4) Why temple outside Prakaras are painted red and white?   I have also focused on many American Holidays as to how to make them appealing to those who have not only moved out of Hinduism or resorted to atheism.  We should make Hinduism    appealing to them as a world religion  suited for all   taking back our thoughts to spirituality of Sanaatana Dharma from the traditional Puranic ritualistic and faith oriented worship, keeping its essential  traditional  worship contents which would promote spirituality and Universal Oneness in spirit, giving due credence to age long practices where deserving.    American Hindu temples have started the process by ending all prayers for Universal Peace, keeping the temple open to all who respect Hinduism for its spiritual values in its religious practices,   and also keep it open on all American holidays for long hours marking it as Special Religious Events Day making the major culture feel we are alive to their culture too.  We could study a lot and change our modality of worship if we focus on these issues though not a serious concern for drastic change immediately   but need to be gradually changed, not to leave it for resenting and abandoning all together in the near future.  Otherwise we will not be able to revive the principles of Sanatana Dharma: Eko viprah bahudaa vadanti”,Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, “Krinvanto viswamaaryam” andSarve janaah sukhino bhavantu”, etc., but can  parade in vain  proclamations while not implementing. We have the right will which we need to implement in all our followings, be religious or ethical.   


A casual visitor to a Hindu temple in USA is bewildered and confused to see a cluster of deities forced by individual magnanimous contributors, as well as, several kinds of worships and rituals   going on at the same time to suit the assembly of Gods in individual sanctums   that   are unfamiliar to many participants often. Cramped Sanctums of Gods have no place to relax or to communicate with their devotees personally.  It looks like an Exposition than a silent place to worship.
Hindu Americans are drawn from different traditional family backgrounds all of which they can’t adopt in public worship, living with a major culture as well as several minor cultures too.   They may however practice them in their homes to possible extent.  They are slowly evolving for themselves a new culture known as Hindu Dharma based Hindu American Culture. They are also trying hard to preserve their culture unlike the Europeans who gave it up in frustration. Present Hindu American culture is also fast changing as their children are attracted to find their partners mostly from major culture Christianity and to some extent from minor cultures too.  You have seen how spiritual Yoga Has turned into Physical and Mental Yoga, and celebrated on International Yoga Day.  The religiously inclined philanthropists are building more and more temples with the presiding deity of their Ishta-devata (choice deity) with a long list of deities to suit different traditions and worship directed by priests trained in India with sectarian views following the preset pattern and frame of mind.  Sometimes they are caught in sectarian squabbles. This will neither be in the interest of present generation nor will they be able to hold back the future generation in the fold of Hindu Culture or better to say Sanatana Dharma Culture.  Present temples may remain as archaeological places of interest if not pilgrim centers or the idols may find a place in an art gallery or museum like some we see in India from ancient cultures for periodic exposition of our culture when these temples are not able to sustain themselves economically if not made attractive to all its followers. Think of the 108 temples organized and identified as sacred Vishnu temples in India by Ramanujacharya. Many of them are in a dilapidated condition and do not have funds for even burning an oil lamp. Heartbroken devotees are passing their hats around to save these structures. I wonder why rich temples in the group do not take care of them?  I understand there are temples whose coffers are overflowing and temples whose gold reserves can't be estimated! Fortunately two of the temples in this group are in the heaven enjoying w Eternal Bliss. Charity begins at home!

It is therefore necessary to change our way of thinking of sectarian based worship loaded with rituals copied from India witnessed  by  a few more often than not and to think of ways and means for mass worship, spiritual advancement and   motivation to other cultures or culture oriented for days to come.  All this is possible within our scriptural injunctions if properly thought about seeking help from the   wisdom of Vedas. We have here enough guidance from our own past cultures based in India.   We have the choice to choose what is ideal for us. There is no meaning looking for a total outmoded guidance from present India where they can afford to continue with their sectarian traditions and fights which they have developed over long years. Here we have “One   Temple for All Traditions” mostly. We have also  seen how  some rich and affluent frequently  walk out and set up their own sectarian or faith based temples in frustration or ego  jeopardizing the economic running of both the institutions for they  have to depend on the same crowd as followers.

The present discourse draws its wisdom from the great pilgrim centers of India which attracts people of all traditions with no caste or creed discrimination and which have universal appeal   and to those who are attracted to Hinduism. They too have made some compromises here and there--for example, Bilva worship on Vishnu deity and bathing ceremony of Linga and Salagrama together.  This discourse recommends Jagannatha and Venkateswara as ideal deities to suit American Hindu Culture with the addition of non-sectarian based deities Aiyappan and Durga quoting the Wisdom of Vedas and Puranas as the ideal deities appealing to all with focus on spiritual advancement.  It also recommends the colorful annual event of Brahmotsava in these famous temples which will remind us of the  Creator whom we do not worship but venerate  and at the same time   preserving  the colorful culture  as annual event  in which animals  also  participate  as   divine spirits which also finds favor with orthodoxy.  


Before discussing   the present day deities  of worship in temples let us go back to Vedas which came out initially with 33 Koti Devatas.  No temples existed then. In Sanskrit Koti means kind. Saguna Brahman needed 33 controllers in his management of Macrocosm and Microcosm. With this in mind let us examine these 33 Vedic Gods:
The Vedas   do not refer to 33 crore Devatas but 33 types (Koti in Sanskrit) of Devatas. They are explained in Shatpata Brahmana and many other scriptures very clearly.
"Yasya Trayastrinshad Devaa Ange Sarve Samaahitaa, Skamma Tam Bruhi Katamah Swideva Sah”. --(Atharva Veda 10-7-13)
Which means: with God’s influence, these thirty-three (supporting devatass) sustain the world.
In Brhadaranyaka Upanishad while discussing Brahman, Yajnavalkya is asked how many gods are there. He says that there are three hundred and three and three thousand and three gods. When the question is repeated? He says, thirty three. When the question is again repeated he says, six. Finally, after several repetitions he says ONE. (Chapter I, hymn 9, verse 1)
The number 33 comes from the number of Vedic gods explained by Yajnavalkya in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad – the eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras, the twelve Adityas, Indra and Prajapati. (Chapter I, hymn 9, verse 2)
They are: 8-Vasuss, 11-Rudra, and 12-Aadityas, 1-Indra and 1-Prajaapati.
Eight Vasus: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether, Moon, Sun, and Star. They are called Vasus, because they are abode of all that lives, moves or exist. (Refer also to  Mahabharata, 1/66/18)
Eleven Rudras: The ten Pranas (Praana, Apaana, Vyaana, Samaana, Udaana, Naag, Kurma, Krikal, Devadutta and Dhananjaya) i.e. nervure forces which live in the human body. The eleventh is the human soul. These are called ‘Rudras’ because when they desert the body, it becomes dead and the relatives of the deceased, consequently, begin to weep. Rudra means one who makes a person to weep.  {Refer also to Harivansha 13/51-52})
Twelve  Adityaas ---the twelve deities of the  months of a year called Adityaas; they cause the lapse of the term of existence of each object or being. {Refer also to   Mahabharata 1/65/15-16}
One Indra:   is also known as the (all-pervading) electricity, as it is productive of great force.
One Prajaapati: also called the “Yajna” because it benefits mankind by the purification of air, water, rain and vegetables and because it aids the development of various arts, and in it the honor is accorded to the learned and the wise.
The master of these 33 Devatas is the   Ishwara (Saguna Brahman) who alone is to be worshipped as per 14th Kanda of Satpata Brahmana.


A casual visitor to a Hindu temple in USA is bewildered and confused to see a cluster of deities forced by individual magnanimous contributors as well as worship and rituals to suit them simultaneously going on, and at the same time unfamiliar to them quite often. I have visited many temples in India where the deities all face the East and occasionally North.  In the temple of Parthasrathy in Chennai and Jagannatha of Puri, Narasimha faces west as an exception. They do have a puranic explanation for this. But nowhere any deity will face South. But in American Hindu temple complexes I have seen many sanctums in which the   deities face south also forced by space constraints. I wonder how this is permitted against temple tradition! Is there a way we can have an understanding to have   maximum two to four deities who would be sufficient for our religious needs and prayers from among 3.3 million or so?  In this context may I recall my remarks that irrespective of their following (Vishnu, Siva or Sakta) in Sandhyavandana all chant the names Achyuta, Ananta and Govinda in Aaachamana though traditions interpret them to their convenience (read my discourse on 16-steps Pooja Ritual).   Similarly, Kesavaadi Japam and Tarpanam are employed, to purify or electrify body parts by cold water and oblate. If you go through my   most popular discourse on “Some Vedic Mantras used in Worships and Rituals in Hindu Temples and Homes” there are several mantras which are applicable to Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra together all directed to Parabrahman which are employed in all sectarian traditional worships though they do not use normally Rudram in Vishnu temple and Purushasooktam in Siva temples for Abhishekam by tradition or compulsion quoting Aagamas.   I am not an Aagma expert and I do not know whether these sectarian views are correct?  But it is interesting to note a particular mantra in MNU which pertains to Gayatree mantra for Sandhayaavandana which has been   later abridged by Grihya sootras to suit sectarian views:

Ojoci sahohoci balamaci bhraajoci devaanaam  dhaamanaamaaci viswamaci  viswaayuh sarvamaci sarvaayuh abhibhoorom gaayatreem aavaahayaami saavitreem aavaahayaami sarasvateem  aavaahayaami Chchndarsheen aavaahahyaami sriyam  aavaahayaami Gaayatriyaa gaayatree chchandoe viswaamitra rishih savitaa devaagnir-mukham  brahmaa siro vishnur-hridayam rudrah sikha prithavee yonih praana-apaana-vyaana-udaana samaana sweta-varna saankhyaanasa-gotraa gayatree chaturvimsati-aksharaa tripadaa shatkukshih panchaseersha Upanayane viniyogah ||

Oh Gaayatree, Thou art the essence of strength. Thou art patience or the subduing power.  Thou art physical capacity. Thou are splendor.  Thou art the abode of gods and their name.  Thou art the insentient universe.  Thou art the full span of life or the lord of all.  Thou art the living thing.  Thou art the life span of all.  Thou art the vanquisher of all that is hostile to us. Thou art TRUTH by the Pranava.   I invoke Gaayatree into my heart. I invoke Savitri. I invoke Sarasvati. I invoke the Meters, the Rishis and the Gods. Of Gaayatree the meter is Gaayatree, the Rishi is Viswamitra, and the Deity is Savitri. Fire (Agni) represents the mouth; the four faced Brahma, the head, Vishnu, the heart; Rudra (Jathaadara), the crown-hair; Earth, the source; the in-breath, the out-breath, the diffused breath, middle breath, the up-breath and the breath. Gaayatree is fair in hue and is of the same family of Paramaatman attained by the Saankhyas—the illumined sages. The deity Gaayatree has twenty-four syllables, comprised in three feet, six sheaths or cavities and five heads. It is employed in Upanayana, or initiation into Vedic studies or studentship. [Evidently the Mantra says Antaryamin present in us as Microcosm is Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra, and, all our worships should be directed to Him, the Macrocosm]  

Unfortunately this full Mantra in not included in usual Sandhyavandana Mantras, knowingly or unknowingly like the Kamokarsheet and Manyurakarsheet mantras which I have discussed. Now you know why Kesavaadi Japa and Aaachmana though contains the  names of  Vishnu  found in Puranas are made  universally applicable to all who want to  do Nityakarmas (daily   mandated worship) of three time prayers  irrespective of caste or creed.  Incidentally this is the Mantra that inspired Grihya Sootras to come with elaborate details of Upanayana   Samskaara.    Supreme Being as   the in-dweller and impeller of all creations is called Savitar or Saavitree. The Vedas are represented as a Lake or Saras which gives the waters of life and hence Gaayatree, as the essence of Vedas, is called Sarasvatee. Thus this prayer which is adapted in condensed form in Sandhyavandana addresses to Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Devis. MNU also contains a Mantra:
Namo rudraaya vishnave mrityurme paahi |

Obeisance to Rudra who is Vishnu! Guard me from death! Vishnu means (vyaapyate iti Vishnuh) one who pervades all. Rudra means one who protects you from miseries (rutaat traayate iti Rudrah). So the Mantra only addresses to Brahman who is all pervading and   that one who dispels miseries of all beings.

Narayansookta ends with the following:

“tasyaah sikhaayaa madhye Paramaatmaa vyavasthitah |
Sa Brhamaa sa Sivah sa Harih sendrah so-aksharam  paramah svaraat ||

Parmatman dwells in the middle of that flame.  Although he is thus limited He is the four-faced Brahma, Siva, Vishnu, Indra, the material and efficient cause of the Universe and the Supreme Self-luminous Pure-Consciousness.
Above all we have the Mantra:
Om antascharati bhooteshu guhaayam viswa moortishu | tvam yajnastavam Indrastvam  Rudrastavam  Vishnustavam Brhmatvam prajaapatih | [Brahman is addressed as Indra, Agni, Jaataveda etc., in Rigveda and the word  Brahman is not found]

Taittareeya Aaranyaka says: “Tvam streem tvam pumaan aci tvam kumaara uta vaa Kumaree tvam jeerna dandava checi tvam jaata bhavati visvato mukhah”—you are simultaneously woman and man; you are youthful girl and boy at the same time eldest. You are self-manifested and your divine presence is everywhere”. 

The biggest mystery and surmise of all who visit Jagannath Temple is which Gods could be on the Ratnasinghaasana to-day in Puri Jagannaath and which were there before? Which are male deities and which or female?  Common innocent devotees worship them as Krishna, his brother Balarama and his sister Subhadra influenced by the Vaishnava influence of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Jayadeva and others as well as the great epic Mahabharata. The account given in Skanda Purana identifies Jagnaantha with Vishnu, Balabhadra with Siva and Subhadra with Lakshmi or Kaatyaayini, Bhuvaneswari or Ekaanaamsa.  Jagannatha is worshipped as Vishnu or Narayana or  Krishna and Lord Balbhadra as Shesha. Simultaneously, the deities are also regarded as the Bhairava with  Bimala (the Devi or the consort of Siva) installed in the campus of the temple. So we find here a fusion of Saivism, Saktism and  Vaishnavism of the Hindu religion with  Jainism and up to an extent Buddhism in the culture of Jagannath and the cultural tradition so reverently held together in Purushottama Kshetra. It is therefore no wonder Jayadeva included Buddha as an Avatar of Vishnu in his Dasaavatara Stotra.

The deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra always wear sarees and a nose ornament made of flowers (probably introduced by Tantric priests   who resorted to worship Him as Sakti). It is said that until the British period, a Bhairava deity was sitting on the Ratna Simhasana together with Jagannath. Another interesting fact is that Bhairava Shiva is also identified with the Sun, with the name Martaanda Bhairava (Moon shines from borrowed light of Sun and Siva is known as Chandrasekahra. One eye of Siva is sun, the other moon and the third Agni).  The worship of Surya Narayana (Surya is a Vyaahriti of Brahman who in Vaishnava concept is Narayana) is also an extremely important part of the rituals of the Puri temple: the Surya Puja is performed every morning here before any other activities take place in this temple. The strict connection between Jagannath, Narasimha, Surya and Bhairava is also confirmed by the prominent presence inside the Lingaraj temple at Bhubaneshwar.

But Saura Purana   in one of the hymns says that Sudarsana Chakra is another form of Lord Bhairava - Chakra Bhairava. This goes with the contention that at one time Ratnasinghaasan was occupied by Sudarsana in the form of Chakra Bhairva. Probably this temple inspired some philanthropists in USA to include Buddha and Vardhamana sanctums in Hindu American temples!

There is another famous shrine in the South, Venkateswara in Tirupati. Who was Venkateswara? Today the devotees accept him as a manifestation of Vishnu and a male. His identity has been a subject of bitter debate for centuries. The origins of Venkateswara are shrouded in mystery which will probably never be solved and there is no need to solve also! The word Venkat--is it Tamil or Sanskrit? Vem means in Sanskrit dire sins and kata means the immunizing power. According to Vaayu Puraana Venkata means “Destroyer of sins” In Tamil Vengadan (kadan means debt) means burning debts. This has a reference to Puraanas of Venkatesa’s loan from Kubera. Only thing we know is Venkateswara is the Lord (Iswara) of Venkataadri.

Here also the biggest mystery of all those devotees who are ignorant and innocent is which God could it be—Skanda, Sakti, Siva or Vishnu, all or none? This has consumed enormous time and discussions of scholars and has been the subject of bitter debate for centuries as in Jagannaatha Puri! As is normal this is more debated in the South than in the upper regions of India.  Swami Pushkarani in Tirupati may refer to Skanda (Skanda is often addressed as Swami) who is the God of Hills. There are also frequent references in early Tamil literature on festivals on the Vengadam Hill including hunting festival. The drapery of the Lord   resembles Sari as in Jagannath Puree. The ceremonial bath is performed on Friday as is usual for female deities.  Thomalaseva in Tirupati is also known as Bhagavati Aaraadhana (worship). The Vimaana of the temple mounts Durga symbol, Lion. In Devi Bhagavatam the Lord of Thirumalai is described as Venkateswaree. The deity is also called Balaaji derived from Baalaa, the Universal Mother (Baalaa Tripura Sundari), woman name. So another view is that this is a form of Durga or another Sakti. The Saivites maintain the matted hair, the cobra on one arm, the snake ornaments and the crescent on the head are undoubtedly marks of Siva. Pooja is also done with the leaves of Bilva which are exclusively used for worship in Siva temples.  Saivites recite Vedas here and Vaishnavites recite Divyaprabhandam (Tamil Veda), a rare phenomenon in a Vishnu Temple. A Jaina author of Silappadikaaram says, “Lord Vishnu… is seen in a standing posture on the top of the Vengadam hill… adorned with brilliant cloth of gold round his loins and… a beautiful garland on his chest and holds in his lotus-like hands the invincible discus and milky white conch”. This is an unbiased opinion from an author who is neither a Saivite nor a Vaishnavite.  Brahmaanda,   Bhavishyottara and Vaayu Puraanas describe Venkatesa as a manifestation of Vishnu.

Thirupullani is an important pilgrimage place near Rameswaram—a place where Dasaratha, King of Ayodhya of Raghu dynasty was bestowed with divine nectar (Payasam/kheer) to get progeny and where Lord Rama prayed to Samudra Raja atop Kusa grass to reach Sri Lanka.  The Adi Jagannatha Perumal Temple in this place is one of the 108 Divya Desams and a very important site related to Ramayana.  So Jagannatha Temple of Puraanic concept is not confined to Odisha alone.  South Indians would be pleased to see Brahmotsavam conducted to Adi Jagannatha.

The latest trend in India also is to have Siva-Vishnu Temples like the one we have in Livermore, California. In USA generally temples have Siva and Vishnu sanctums at the same level showing equal respect. The Mantras from MNU cited above are probably the motivation for the icons of Venkateswara and Jagannatha  of Puranic days which represent all three aspects of Brahman –Vishnu, Rudra or Bhagavti to the seeking devotees and also Brahma the creator to whom a niche is always provided in all temples on the Northern wall if not a sanctum. Sanctum for  Brahma for Moorti Upaasana (visible, vyakta form of worship)  does not exist in Temple Traditions because   the World has all been created and the task of Srishthi is complete about which humans need not have to worry. They need to worry about Vishnu for existence and Siva for good departing or moving forward for liberation.  In male chauvinistic society they think of Siva-Vishnu Temple only. After all man a selfish animal! If Siva and Vishnu are to be effective they need their counter-part Sakti too. owecvHh  However absence of Brahma in sanctums is a sort of neglect or indifference both by the followers of Siva as well as Vishnu.  Otherwise how a lone temple can exist in Rajasthan for Brahma in Pushkar and celebrated with all grandeur and a Mela (Fare)? It shows clearly how we are dependent on Puranas for our religious pursuits moving away from Vedic Gods as functional aspects of Supreme Being and also not focusing on spirituality. 

One should not think that the concept of Siva Vishnu temple is a modern liberal thought.  For   this, I should draw your attention to the famous  ancient temple in Suchindram in Tamil Nadu:


The entrance tower to this temple is visible from a distance as it rises majestically for 134 feet. The face of the tower is covered with sculptures and statues from Hindu mythology. There is a covered area in front of the main entrance and the entrance itself is about 24 feet high with a beautifully carved door.  There is only one corridor running along the outer wall of the temple with many shrines and Mandapams scattered in the inner area. This temple attracts both Vaishnavites and Saivites in large numbers. About 30 shrines to various deities within the temple complex; the large Lingam in the sanctum, the idol of Vishnu in the adjacent shrine and a large idol of Hanuman at the Eastern end of the Northern corridor represent almost all the deities of the Hindu pantheon.

I often wonder why American temple should struggle hard with sectarian worship and sectarian deities adding more and more deities to please all, facing even South against temple norms! Why we can’t agree on one or two deities as emanations of Nirguna Brahman in Saguna form? God created us out of his own sweet will or play  in this funny human form and we in turn out of love imagine Him in several shapes and forms some odd and some logical and some illogical for which Puranas have to come with  countless  stories?  American Hindus are a class by themselves united by some sort of concoction of cultures recognized by the major culture. It will be ideal to have sanctums of Jagannatha and Venkateswara to suit all traditions for temple worships and rituals for the reasons stated above. The Hindu genius has the peculiar virtue of reconciling the irreconcilables. At the time when Saivas and Vaishnavas were at loggerheads, the story in the Bhaagavata of Siva being enraptured by the voluptuous beauty of Mohini, the enchantress, came very handy.  Hari-Hara Putra or Saasta or Aiyappan was born to them. His worship became popular among all traditions.  

Aiyappan could be a welcome addition in American Hindu temples for all traditions. Durga represents Sakti aspect of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva as well as lesser divinities.  The powers of these gods form her limbs and she carries exact duplicates of their weapons as you see in Durga icons. Hence, it is logical to conclude Hari-Haraputra and Durga could be additional deities in these multi-traditional temples to suit all. In one Temple for all traditions Jagannatha, Venkateswara, Hariharaputra and Durga could be the four deities that are needed utmost.  I have not gone into details of all these deities here as I have discussed the same in individual discourses.

It is also interesting to note Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and Durga are all Vedic deities celebrated in various Puranas. You can always find few hymns in various Puranas, dealing with a particular deity, where it also says Siva and Vishnu are one and the same.   A Tamil saint says “Ariyum   Aranum onre” --Hari meaning Vishnu and Hara meaning Siva are one and the same. This also goes with the wisdom of Vedas “Eko viprah bahudaa vadanti” --The One, Pundits call by many names or identify with many forms.

Here are some slokas from Koorma Purana:
Manyante ye jagadyoniM vibhinnaM viShNuM IshvarAt | mohAd Aveda-niShThadvAt te yAnti narakaM narAH || 87 ||
VedAnuvarttino rudraM devaM nArAyaNaM tathA | ekI-bhAvena pashyanti mukti-bhajo bhavanti te || 88 ||
Yo viShNuH sa svayaM rudro yo rudraH sa JanArdanaH | iti matvA yajed devaM sa yAti paramAM gatim || 89 ||
 Meaning: One who sees the difference between Lord Vishnu and Lord Rudra due to ignorance and meditation on non-Vedic texts enters into the hell. Those who follow Vedic Marga see both Lord Narayana and Lord Rudra as one and the same and attain emancipation. He who is Vishnu is Lord Rudra Himself and He who is Lord Rudra Himself is Lord Janardhana.

Here is a rare Dasaavataara Stuti by Sage Gauramukha taken from Varaha Purana/Chapter 15. It is mentioned that Sage Gauramukha attained emancipation after worshipping Lord Vishnu with this hymn.  
 "Stosye mahendram ripu-darpaham sivam naaraayanam brahhmavidaam varishtham | Aaditya chandraasviyugastam aadyam puraatanam daitya-haram sadaaharim"

We here  periodically American Hindus getting  into all excitement  performing opening ceremonies for a New temple dedicated to one presiding deity with a cluster of sanctums built around  as desired by the donors or doing  Brahmotsava to deities, leaving no space for Gods to breathe.  Even prohibited south facing of Gods is violated! Brahmotsava is a tradition brought from South India or guided by sectarian Pundits from India.  Hindu Americans should be alive to the present pattern of Hindu culture in USA and future of our children coming from mixed culture popularized by inter-racial marriages who will shape the destiny of Hindu American culture in USA in the future. In this context my above thoughts are worth considering.


Brahmotsava is a special feature in South Indian Temples and is well suited to Venkateswara concept and the tradition followed in South India which should please others too.  Lord Brahma is supposed to preside over these ten days festival in which the deity flanked by Sridevi and Bhoodevi is taken in procession on various mounts.  Viswaksena (Vishnu form of Ganesha) and   Sudarsana act as guards for the occasion, supervising the ceremony.

Puraanas mention of several Ganapatis.  Ganesha, the Saivites worship is known as Ekadanta or one with single tusk. Under the command of Vishwaksena, whose origin is much earlier than Saivite Ganapati, who keeps vigil on Paramapada there are hundreds of elephant headed commanders having two tusks as well as several horse headed commanders. They all wear Urdhwapundram or Srivaishnava Naamam unlike Ganesha idols.  Mundaka Upanishad mentions of Lakshmi Ganapati worship for attaining salvation in the awakened state. This Lakshmi-Ganapati is Sri Vishnu himself with Urdhwa Pundram. Hence often Vishwaksena is compared with Ganesha of single tusk, son of Paarvati of puranic lore and of later origin.  He became single-tusked as he had to break one of his tusks to etch Mahabharata on palm leaf. Tamils call him as “Tumbikkai Aazhwar”—a Vaishnava saint with a trunk.

Brahmotsava is a very colorful annual event which some temples in USA have started conducting.  This necessarily includes different  mounts  for the Lord some of them  worshiped   as divine spirits--Sesha, Hanuman, Garuda, Sweta Aswa (horse), Gaja (elephant), Simha, Hamsa, Suryaprabha, Chandraprabha and  Ratha.   Thus we would not have forgotten Brahma and also the famous Parivaras (family members) of Vishnu, Rudra and Durga. It would also help in worshiping Hanuman who is the most favorite animal deity of all Hindus who join together chanting Hanuman Chaaleesa. Hanuman carried Rama-Lakshmana on his shoulders to Rishyamooka  Parvata  to befriend Sugreeva. Jagannatha will be pleased with Rathotsava.

Normally the processional deity of Venkateswara in Tirupati is accompanied by Sridevi and Bhoodevi though Padmavati lives separate. On processional day of Simhavaahana Sridevi represents Durga (Vishnu component). On Hamsavaahana Day she is Sarasvati. On Gajavaahana day she is Lakshmi.  Durga pleases Siva too and He loves tiger skin!

This will also be a good integration of Hindu migrant cultures from North and South. While Soorya pleases Soorya-Narayana followers, Chandra pleases Chandrasekhara followers.  I believe this is a wonderful way we can integrate all traditions under one roof leaving lot of space for Gods to breathe and prayers focused.  It is also worth considering   including a large prayer hall with OM symbol where devotees can sit and meditate for few minutes before leaving the temple as is popular with Vivekananda Rock Temple and Baha’i Temple in India.  This will progressively make them more spiritually inclined which trend is already on its way in in Western cultures.  A Yoga center united by a common loyalty to Supreme Spirit for the purpose of helping people grow in Body, Mind and Spirit will be a welcome addition and attraction to preserve ancient spiritual culture promoted by Patanjali.


Brahmotsava is already in vogue in many temples in USA.  This necessarily calls for Sudarsana (Chakrattazhwar) and Vishwaksena idols as the secondary deities and as bodyguards.  Venkateswara Abhishekam should be admissible both with Purushasooktam and Rudram as in Thirupathi Venkateswara is worshiped with both Bilva and Tulasi. Orthodoxy should have no objection as we will be carrying out the tradition set by this Divyadesam.  When Abhishekam is carried out with Srirudram, Vishwaksena becomes Ganapathi as the bodyguard of   Venkateswara who is Easwara or Siva.  In processional deities Venkateswara if viewed as Siva Sridevi becomes Parvati. Siva (Prithvee Linga) is worshiped as Mother Earth or Bhoodevi also and so there should be no objection to Bhoodevi and Parvati together. Parvati is also the daughter of Himavan, Mountain King! When Abhishekam is done with Purushasooktam and worshiped with Tulasi Venkatesa is Vishnu.   Srivaishanvas call   Ganesha as Tumbikkai (elephant trunk) Azhwar. When Venkatewara is viewed as Rudra Vishwaksena becomes Ganesha as the   commander of Rudra Ganas.  Sudarsana also belongs to Jagannatha Parivara.  Sudarsana was presented by Siva to Vishnu   which Siva also wielded.  Venkateswara is taken in procession with Sridevi and Bhoodevi.  Bhoodevi is a constant factor.  When Venkateswara is on the mount of Lion Sridevi is Durga. When on the mount of Elephant Sridevi is Lakshmi.  When on the mount of Swan Venkateswara is Brahma, the Creator and Sridevi is Saraswati. When on the mount of Peacock Venkateswara is worshiped as Kartikeya where Sridevi and Bhoodevi are viewed as Valli and Devayaanai.  Some view Venkateswara as Subhramanya.  The popular deities of Vaishnvites and Saivites to start any work should be Ganesha in Saiva concept and Vishwaksena in Vaishnava concept. On Hanumantha mount Venkateswara becomes Sri Rama with Bhoodevi representing Sita.  Narasimha is always associated with Sudarsana and Jagannatha.  Thus with minimum deities we will be able to please all   North,  East,  West and South  Traditions  of Hindu India and at the same time focusing on Parmaatman or Narayana suited to Hindu Americans.

In Bhuvaneswar Linga and Salagrama are bathed together. Hindus are lovers of Abhisheka for the deities and cannot avoid it on their week-end worship in Hindu American Temples. This could be   carried out conveniently on Lingas and Salagramas and to the feet of the Lord or mirror image with minimal outflow of materials and wastage. Excess material brought in could be diverted to food bank for charity. This Abhisheka could be carried out chanting both   Purushasooktam and Sri Rudram as well as Chamakam as in present practice. This can be done both in front of Venkateswara deity and Jagannatha Parivara.    Devi images are also often times represented in the form of a Linga, especially in the coastal region.  Srisooktam can be added advantageously.  So Durga deity could also be bathed in Salgrama form.  The usual colorful abhishekam on main deity could be spared for an Annual event like Mahamastakaabhishekha carried out to Vardhamana once in 12 years or to Narayana in Melkote once a year.  All these fit into current practices as in the two ancient famous temples.
 In Linga or Salagrama  Vyakta-avykta form Siva is represented by white quartz from rivers like Narmada (Baana Linga), Devi by metallic stone (Dhaatupatra or Yantra)  and Vishnu by ammonite from Gandakee River in Nepal.


We are told in Vedas “Eko vipraaha bahudaa vadanti”—The ONE (Spirit) Pundits call by many names.  “Yoga is all from One Source or One Truth, the Gurus speak by many names and teach in many forms”—this is what Yoga means today celebrated on International Yoga Day! This   definition would attract all to the Yoga center attached to the temple that will also slowly adapt ways of Sanatana Dharma and realize the path of Universal Oneness. This will also make Yoga a mission for the purpose of helping people grow in body, mind and spirit.  It is worth reproducing here my recent communication quoting an Islam Yoga teacher to make it universal in appeal.  

Everybody loves Yoga, irrespective of the religion they follow, for its benefits to grow in Body and Mind. What they do not like is its spiritual direction by way of chanting Om   and breath control using Gaayatree Mantra. Recently I was taken by   surprise by the broad outlook and wise approach of an immigrant Muslim Yoga teacher from Saudi Arabia who is at the same time a devout Muslim. Her understanding of Gaayatree Mantra based on an English translation is as follows:
“Oh God, the Protector, the basis of all life, Who is self-existent, Who is free from all pains and whose contact frees the soul from all troubles, Who pervades the Universe and sustains all. The Creator and Energizer of the whole Universe, the Giver of happiness, Who is worthy of acceptance, the most excellent, Who is Peace and Purifier of all, let us embrace that very God, so that He May f direct our mental faculties in the right direction”.
“Om tat savitur varenyam | bhargodevasya dheemahi | dheyoyonah prachodayat ||
(24 syllables Gaayatree mantra in which Om is considered as Hindu Sacred God; Om could also   be taken to mean Supreme spirit or Holy Spirit in which Abrahamic religions believe or could be replaced by Amen or Amin)
She replaces OM with her own mantra Amin and recommends similarly Amen to Christians and Jews. My own Christian Yoga Master ends the class with three peace invocations: Peace within, Peace in the outside world and Peace of God which passes all understanding.
I believe these guidelines should be pleasing to all universally who are celebrating International Yoga Day doing Surya Namaskar and meditation with various Yoga postures. Incidentally the objection to Surya Namaskar is not to the yoga posture but to the name. Here again this posture is not for worshiping Sun as it is also performed in closed rooms. A religious Hindu looks at the Sun and prays during Mid-day only.  As you all know there is a separate Hindu religious mantra in Mid-day Sandhyavandana to look at sun with a hand gesture and aperture to look at him and pray which I quote from my discourse: 
"Then with Yamapaasa mudra, an aperture  made to look at sun is made with both the hands and fingers (take guidance from  your parents or priest) the  following mantras are chanted: Pasyema saradassatam | jeevema saradassatam | nandaama saradassatam | moedaama saradassatam |  bhavaama saradassatam | srunavaama saradssatam | prahravaama saradssatam| ajeetaasyaama saradssatam I jyoekcha-sooryam drise || ya udagaan-mahatoernavaat-vibhraajamaanah sareerasya-madhyaat samaa vrishabhoe roehitaakshah sooryoe vipaschin manasaa  punaatu||
[Let us live looking at Soorya for hundred years, let us live for hundred years, let us rejoice for hundred years let us enjoy for hundred years let us hear for hundred years!  May   Lord Soorya glowing like a fireball purify our mind!]   This act not only seeks blessings from Soorya but is also recommended for the health of the vision in Ayurveda by limited time direct exposure of sun- light to the naked eyes].
Those who do not like Soorya Namaskar may call it Chandra Namaskar, since Moon shines because of the borrowed light from Sun and a satellite of Earth. Also this posture is practiced within the room and not necessarily directed to Sun.  Islam likes Moon! I believe no body objects to the word “Namaste” as Christianity also believes in “God is within you”! My Yoga class happily ends with the word Namaste being repeated by all participants drawn from multi-religion and multi-culture. May be this word is repeated to pay tribute to Hindu culture that gave Yoga to the world. 
It would also be a good idea to start teaching Sanskrit at least to a basic level to pronounce various mantras in worships properly and also make them  understand the  meaning of Mantras along with Yoga classes.  It is also worthwhile starting Upanishadic study and Discussion classes.  In this context I would like to quote   Dr. Oppenheimer, the great scientist who was the inventor of atomic energy and also unfortunately the mass destructive atom   bomb: “Access to the Vedas is the greatest privilege this century may claim over all previous centuries. There is no study as beneficial and elevating as that of the Upanishads.    It has been the solace of my life; it will be the solace of my death”                

1)  Nandita Krishna, Balaji—Venkateshwara, Vakils, Feffer and Simons Pvt. Ltd.,  Mumbai, India.
2)  Swami Harshananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
3)  Ramachandra Rao, S.K., Vishnu Kosa, Kalpatharu Research Academy, Bengaluru, India.
4) Srinivasan N.R., Jagannatha of Puri and Ratha Yaatra, Hindu Reflections, Internet.
5)  Contributions from Muralidharan Iyengar from Singapore.
6) Anblil Ramawamy, A Critical Study of Hinduism with Major World Religions, Sri Ranga Sri, GA, USA.

[This discourse material is a compilation from the reference above    as well as other sources for a prepared lecture for delivering at Vedanta Class of Sri Ganesha Temple which is gratefully acknowledged. I do not claim anything as original though I have included my explanations and comments elaborately suitably editing. Anybody is free to download partly or fully this discourse, modify and redistribute this as well as other  discourses from the blog Hindu Reflections <> for spreading the wisdom of Vedas and scriptures further.  These  lectures are  posted on the blog for the benefit of those who are not able to attend my lectures personally due to personal reasons or due to not living in Nashville or able to go through the various sources as I have done.]

  Think and Plan for the Future.
"A recent report from Pew revealed that Americans affiliating with Christianity declined at roughly one percent each year over the last eight years. The news sent shock-waves through America's churches, as pastors and lay people struggled to comprehend what it all might mean for the future of faith.
 One person who was not shocked was theologian and author Diana Butler Bass, whose book "Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening" predicted much of the data. For Bass, the religious news is a wake up call -- but not to a retrenchment of past practices; but a radical reassessment of the way we understand and talk about God.
 On this week's ALL TOGETHER podcast I speak with Diana Butler Bass, who has a new book coming out in October called "Grounded: Finding God in the World, a Spiritual Revolution." Diana and I talk about her new book, her evangelical past, the internet, where she feels the church will be in fifty years and, of course, God"
The above news from   Huff-post should be a word of caution  to  American Hindus who are at present concentrating on  building more and more temples without planning and whose children are finding their life partners in the major culture who  both in frustration turn to atheism. Though the End of  Temple may not come too soon  because of the fun and frolic and social values Hindu temples provide.  There is also no need for  the birth of New spiritual thinking   for us  as we have a sound solid Spiritual Universal Oneness foundation in Sanatana Dharma. We should only think back on the Wisdom of Vedas. We should only  prepare ourselves for a change of heart from present sectarian outlook to turn towards spirituality and make our worship spiritual directed to  suit   all traditions for active participation. We all need a radical spiritual change.
On a similar subject-- too many temples without focusing -- " One temple, one mass worship  attracting maximum crowds with limited festivals and rituals to suit all traditions" I received the following comments from two prominent Hindu philanthropists with active service to the  Nashville temple which needs serious consideration: These were
 1) Very well said. I am with you on this fully. I was also thinking the same about the "competition" that is being built in many US cities targeting the same donor audience. And this is not at all good OK on a long term.
2 )Very well said-many people don't understand -How & Who will maintain the Hindu Temples -In many communities we build Temples-Then communities live in pieces -Not in peace?

--Phil Goldberg
My attention got focused to the above two remarks    from    learned   and   active  philanthropists on the above subject about which I had sent an E-mail.  This convinces   more than ever that we should think about the future and plan our mode of worship in temples to start with as Hindu Americans and not simply  copying   what is traditionally followed in sectarian oriented temples in India. Today's practices are based on what our founding fathers drawn from one or two Hindu traditions  along with sectarian priests  decided at one time. Nobody has the will to change it while at  present  many  participants are saying "we do not know what is going on, but let us enjoy the fun".   I believe religion and spirituality are serious business  to save humanity.  I often come across the argument we follow Agama or Tantric form of worship and follow Hindu Panchangas which we follow and we cannot go against  Sastric injunctions.  Well said and done. At the same time we want to celebrate Father’s Day, Mothers’ Day, Graduation Day, Valentine’s day Labor day, Memorial day  and others keeping the temple open all day long calling it a Special Religious  Event Day.  Our festivals like Deepavlali, Makara Sankrati, Kartik Purnima, Onam,  Karadiyan Nonbu   and others were well connected to Purnas to make them significant days for spiritual awakening.   Any American Holiday we think about for celebration should also be well thought about linking it properly for proper religious and spiritual explanations. That is the reason I have spent lot of time on these topics. May be I am   not that rightly focused, nevertheless it opens the think-tank.

It is heartening to note that Religious landscape study shows an increasing trend of religiously affiliated  to Hinduism from 2007 to 2014 ( from .4% to .7%)., nearly double. The cause of this can be attributed to fertility rate and immigration.   If  these  moved to second or third  generation  as they integrate into the US and  their children  are born and raised in the US they may find their religious fervor dissipating too and may join the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated as the Christians have to-day, a national trend.  People who described themselves as Christians have alarmingly dropped down by 7% (from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014) during the same period.  Our temples have to play their part to avoid Hinduism sharing the same fate as Christianity or Hindus joining Christian lot who are   lukewarm or casual  to religion.  As people become rich and affluent the natural tendency is to be indifferent to religion. Our temple programs should be more broad based to have maximum participation by all traditions and not confined to few on trivial many days. It would also make it difficult to run these institutions for which many philanthropists have contributed  and struggled hard out of free will and raised the institution against odds in a Christian dominated country.   United Sates remain home to many Christians than any other country in the world  still and their missionaries are active in all parts of the world. We have to learn a lesson from them and spread the message of Sanatana Dharma which appeals to all human beings who are religiously  as well as spiritually inclined.    I believe these anxieties are reflected in the statements above from these knowledgeable individuals who are devoted to Hinduism. With a proper planning we can restrict our celebrations to  important few and broaden their scope for equal and maximum  participation and directed towards spiritual enlightenment without prejudicing our Aaagam or Tantric form of worships.  This needs a will to change  and plan. Hinduism has survived that long only because of its adaptability within the frame work of Sanatana Dharma and wisdom of Vedas!
I had also the following comment from the philosopher writer and author American Veda on the same subject  some time back:  
"You are quite right to bring this research to the attention of the Hindu community.  The implications are huge.  Not mentioned below are some other trends in the data, in addition to the decline in the number of people identifying with mainstream Christianity: an increase of interest among Christians and Jews in the mystical, or meditative, aspects of their traditions that were long hidden away; an increase in people who seek spiritual wisdom from a variety of sources; an increase in people who call themselves “Spiritual But Not Religious.”  In my talks, and in “American Veda,” I make the case that this is a direct result of access to Sanatana Dharma through gurus, swamis, yogacharyas, etc. We are becoming what I call a nation of yogis.  People acquired the notion of regular sadhana and practical methods to add direct experience to their spiritual lives.
There is no doubt much for Hindus in American to contemplate in all this. Like Christians and Jews, future generations of Hindus may not go to temples just because their ancestors did, except for rites of passage and holidays (like Christians who show up only on Easter and Christmas).  They will want to know WHY rituals are done before doing them, and will want teachings and practices that directly enrich their lives and elicit the spiritual experience that rishis pointed to.   
At least that is what I surmise in my own research and conversations.
 --Phil Goldberg 
 I had e received similar comments on the related subject as follows:

"Our general apathy towards our religion and divisiveness based on multitude of personal deities keeps Hinduism at a distant third place. And the only reason we occupy that third position is because of sheer population of India.

Our lack of systematic conversion process limits our numbers or even tends to decrease it. Therefore, we must find a way to advertise our unifying message and work towards that goal.

This will be possible if we make one temple in USA our focus point and provide a singular all inclusive message to all seekers of our faith. If Nashville Temple becomes that center of our faith;  that will be most fortunate.

Prabir Dash
Jagannath Society of America"

(Compilation by N.R Srinivasan, Nashville, TN., USA)

The Agamas are a collection of scriptures of several Hindu devotional schools.  The term literally means tradition or "that which has come down", and the Agama texts describe cosmology, epistemology, philosophical doctrines, precepts on meditation and practices, four kinds of yoga, mantras, temple construction, deity worship and ways to attain six-fold desires.    
The three main branches of Agama texts are those of  Saivism (Shiva), Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Shaktism (Devi worship).  Agamas include    worship manuals that describe procedural details for worship in   temples both elaborately and with precision. The origin and chronology of Agamas is unclear.  Some are Vedic and others non-Vedic.    Tantric worship   usually follows   Shakta Agamas. Considering the manner in which Saiva sects developed    and crystallized   Sakta outlook one cannot expect the Sakta-agama to be well-defined or unitary in character. There is considerable vagueness about the number of texts, the nature of the texts, and the authenticity of the texts that constitute Sakta agama. The affiliations of what we know as Sakta agama to the Vedic corpus is highly uncertain. Agama literature is voluminous, and includes 28 Shaiva Agamas, 77 Shakta Agamas (also called Tantras), and 108 Vaishnava Agamas (also called Pancharatra Samhitas), and numerous Upa-Agamas.   
It may appear the hold of Agamas in temple worship is stronger in South India than in their North Indian counterparts, but among the more celebrated temples in the North like Varanasi, Dwaraka, Puri Jagannath, Kamakhya, Badrinath etc., Agamas do play a very significant role.     Scholars note that some passages in the Hindu Agama texts appear to repudiate the authority of the Vedas,   while other passages assert that their precepts reveal the true spirit of the Vedas.     Worship in a household shrine is termed Svartha, for his immediate family or for himself/herself   while worship in a temple is carried out by the priests for the sake of devotees who gather there   and hence called Paraartha. The most significant aspect of the worship in a temple is its collective character. The worship that priest conducts is symbolic of the worship conducted by the community. Since the community is actually involved in the worship   conducted in a temple the rituals acquire a public character. Hence this   public worship should be followed by meditation and spiritually oriented as final part of the worship as I have ben often stressing. The more learned and conservative among Brahmins consider worship in a temple is  not suitable for truly religious person who is evolved. Idolatry itself is the lowest form of worship, prescribed in the texts only, but not in Vedas, for a person of ordinary equipment and inclination.  Carrying on worship in public smacks of exhibitionism; the display of religious fervor in public is denounced in the scripture as vulgar. Worship which involves remuneration or recompense is in reality a business transaction and fails to bring about spiritual benefits. All acts of worship can only be personal; scriptures do not commend collective worship. Mental worship or meditation is thought to be the best form of worship in Hinduism. But the vast majority of worshipers may not find mental worship that appealing or easy to perform. The scriptures prescribe external ritualistic worship for such worshipers. Through ritualistic worship they gradually make spiritual progress and become ready for mental worship or meditation.
For Hindu Americans all these has  to be done in the temple serene atmosphere and therefore the temples situated in Ashramas or monasteries in USA have made provisions for preliminary worship and final meditation. They have also successfully blended tantric   Kundalini concepts with Yoga and meditation.  They have suitably blended Vedic  and Tantric wisdoms  in their yogic spiritual practice.  Some serious religiously evolved Hindu Americans take a break from their busy life and spend some time in these monasteries to train themselves spiritually. This is their pilgrimage.  But such monasteries are few and far between. In this context you may be interested to go through my exchange of thoughts with an evolved religious Hindu American   as attached. I have also added to it Panchratra and Vaikhanasa agama concepts employed in temple worship. As far as my knowledge goes Memphis temple in USA follows Vaikhanasa agama like Thirupati  Venkartesvara temple and Parthasarthy temple in Chennai.  I have delivered a discourse on Pancharatra Theology. 
It is also interesting observe that our temple authorities have also suitably  programed the worship of deities like Saibaba, Buddha, Jina, Nagdevata, Swami Narayan etc., and also celebrate Valentine’s day,  Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Labor Day etc., within the discipline of  conventional Agamas to observe  as Special Religious Day. This may be called American Hindu Agama like Tantric agama (Tricky agama). It is also interesting to note a modern poetic composition like “Om  Jaya Jagadisa Hare”  as well as old  Kalidasa poetic composition has become concluding mantra in American Hindu Temple worships replacing” Kayena vacaha”.  Probably Narayana is considered sectarian Vishnu god and hence substituted by Om Jaya Jagadisa to appeal to the  supreme in popular Hindi language one  exception made to move from Sanskrit while rest of the ritual is in Sanskrit .  I wonder why a simple Gayatri Mantra “Om tad Brahma tad Vayu tad  Atma tat Sathyam tat Sarvam tat puror  namah” is not employed  as per Agama directives. Also agamas guide last mantra to be a Kshamaapana mantra or sloka like “kayena vacha”. Instead we plead to Supreme with the mantra “Asato maa sad Gamaya… Mrityormaa Amritam Gamaya” pleading for Immortality. Good Lord knows what we deserve based on Karma  and therefore it is best to leave it to him as  Vedas say “yad bhadram tanma asuva”. That is why in conventional temple worship the concluding prayer is  “Kshamaapana” asking his pardon for any commission or omission. Also Ishta Devatas grant us limited desires expressed in Sanklpa if reasonable  but can’t grant Immortality or Liberation  and therefore the last prayer is usually best directed to “Tad Brahma” and not this Devata whom we worship followed by few minutes meditation in a silent place!
May I request for your research on shapes and designs in Indian scriptures and texts. I am particularly interested in finding out after I visited Isha abode for Adiyogi in Mcminville; Triangle, Hexagon, octagon, swastika, circles and hearts, mandalas, chakras etc.  referred in tantric texts, and Shaktha literature.
I am neither knowledgeable nor resourceful to answer your complicated question. Yet I have tried to give suitable explanation as under:
Mental worship or meditation is thought to be the best form of worship in Hinduism.  But vast majority of worshipers   find mental worship is not appealing or easy to perform.  The scriptures therefore prescribes external ritualistic worship for such worshipers. Through ritualistic worship they should gradually make spiritual progress and becomes ready for mental worship or meditation. In Ramayana Sri Rama recommended Murti Upasans to Vibhishana by advocating “Aradhaya Jagannatham” while he himself meditated on the cavity of heart of Aditya that is Parabrahman by Aditya Hridayam.  This gives two levels of worship—preliminary and advanced. Our temples are designed for the preliminary stage only as in India which is not ideal for the highly intelligent crowd. America is different from India where the worship and meditation continue at several places.
Parama Samhita explains the anthropomorphic necessity of iconic representations. The devotee being human   can communicate well with an icon with the human form.  For seated figures texts like Ahirbudhnya Samhita prescribe as many as eleven variant postures. Circular-Padmasana, rectangular-Simhasana, triangular (anntaasana), octagonal (yogasana), hexagonal (Vimalasana)  and so on. It is also customary to use detachable seats of different forms in different stages of the worship ritual like simhasana for bathing, yogasana for invocation, anantasana for witnessing amusements and Vimalasan for receiving offers made. These are inspired by Yogasatra and the institutions you visited are mainly Yoga and meditation oriented.
Speaking of the geometrical forms, we need to remember that all icons have their graphic representations (yantras) as well as verbalizations (mantras) during the worship. The Yantras are prepared and employed and mantras are chanted. This again is Tantra form of worship mainly prevalent with Saiva oriented Sakti-ism. The Devi is often worshiped in the Srichakra either as a linear diagram or as an an-iconic image (Meru)-- the lentil gopuram type decoration we saw during Kalyanotsavam represents Meru (maniparuppu).  This is regarded as powerful yantra. 
Yantras are installed in many shrines for ceremonial worship based on Tantra  worship. The most well-known of the yantras  is the Sri Yantra also called Sri chakra . It is composed of 43 triangles, 28 secret spots and 24 joints. The design is an integration of nine chakras, four of Siva and five of Sakti which are superimposes on each other to show the union of male and female principles.  The whole yantra is said to be a representation of the Devi, Rajarajesvari.
The Sakta worship assumes three variant modes: Kundalini  Krama where they arousal of Kundalini figures prominently and is Sattvika in character (Sadguru approach); Sundaree Krama where Sri chakra is worshiped which is Rajasic in character; and Samavarodhini Krama where Bhairavi chakra is resorted  to which is Tamasika in character.
Agama was originally meant the extension of Vedic scripture, but in due course has become a practical manual of worship and meditation. There are two traditions in Temple traditions with great antiquity; Vedic and Tantric.  Agama as it became distinguished from the typical Vedic outlook is now known as Nigama, attempts a synthesis of these two traditions.  Srividya about which I talked about in the past is distinguished by an integral approach involving Vedic ideology and Tantrik practices. Unfortunately Agama has now become as bundle of sectarian cults, the only unifying thought being Upasana. The object of worship differ but the act of worship is the same_directed to Brahmopasana.
That is why swami Chidananda speaks of two different approaches in temple worship:
The Vedic/Agamic approach in describing temple worship stresses that Hindus all worship   One Supreme Being (Deva), though by different names and through different traditions. 
The Puranic approach presents the idea that Hindus worship a trinity and its several separate Gods (devatas)   and do not worship a Supreme Being. 
 The Vedic Aagama approach is ideally suited to Hindu Americans with focus on a symbolic deity Venkatesvara, the most worshiped deity in the world, ideal for all traditions and religions bringing forth the concept of Eko viprah bahuda vadanti. All said and done Hindus cannot easily come out of Puranic approach as well as its exciting pomp and show of ritualistic worship cultivated by sectarian Agamas. But its implied object is defeated.  Fun remains; spiritual goal is never focused creating several levels of desires now and after.   Also it is felt that this helps children to carry through at KG level. But they are never taught Sanskrit and Vedas by trained teachers or gurus. That is why Chimayananda suggests two approaches. Regular worship followed by meditation for at least 15 to 30 minutes in a meditation hall with the simple Gayatri “Om Tad Brahma, tad vayu, tad Atma, tat Sathyam, tat Sarvam tat Puror Namah” properly explained and initiated. Venkatesvara will no doubt fulfill our Puranic appetite with Brahmotsava included and also the need for regular flow of funds to maintain the temple according to present practices. This will fulfil all the goals of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. That was the background of my recent discourse sent to you. It is thus an evolution and not revolution. I have also circulated to you what is happening with the major religion Christianity who are also ailing with 40% declaring SBNR to realize the universal problem. Someone need to find solution: Here we as Hindus are better experienced.
You must also remember all the Ashramas we visit in USA are founded by Gurus who have been born Saivites and for long trained in Saivisam and are Advaita followers. They are well read,   forceful and progressive.   That has the reflection   in their philosophy however they may try to hide. You can also see the typical presiding deity of their temples! Similarly ISKCON born Vaishnavites are motivated by Gaudiya Sampradaya and committed to it. It is therefore advisable to take the best things coming out of them, Yoga and Meditation and plan our own worship pattern.
I have discussed all these things in tits and bits in all my discourses based on which I focused on my last discourse now posted as most suitable for not only unifying us but also help us in leading the country spiritually without upsetting the current base so deeply engrossed in Puranas, rituals   and rivalry, but   also benefiting by  the wisdom of Vedas and inspiration from modern Gurus who themselves have made much deeper study and spreading their spiritual message in USA.
My following discourses will also help to answer your question.

A yantra is a geometrical pattern made of several concentric figures (squares, circles, lotuses, triangles, point). The point (bindu) at the center of the yantra signifies unity, the origin, the principle of manifestation and emanation. A yantra is the yogic equivalent of the Buddhist mandala.
When these concentric figures are gradually growing away from its center (bindu) in stages, this is for human beings a symbol of the process of macrocosmic evolution.
When they are gradually growing towards its center, this is for human beings a symbol of the process of microcosmic involution.
According to Tantra, the creation of the world begins with an act of division of the opposites that are united in the deity. From their splitting arises, in an explosion of energy, the multiplicity of the world. Starting from pure unity (Shiva), the world is a continuous unfolding (energized by the power of Shakti), until a state is reached, when the process must reverse and involute back to the very beginning. Multiplicity must once again become unity. Yantras are symbolic representations of this process of evolution and involution.
According to Tantra, the human being is a miniature universe. All that is found in the cosmos can be found within each individual, and the same principles that apply to the universe apply in the case of the individual being. For human beings the body is considered the most perfect and powerful of all yantras and is seen as a tool for inner awareness.
A yantra is thus a tool making the process of evolution conscious to the adept of Tantrism. It enables the adept to retrace his steps from the outward-directed world of multiplicity to the inward focus of unity.
All primal shapes of a yantra are psychological symbols corresponding to inner states of human consciousness. Yantras are sacred symbols of the process of involution and evolution.
The Yantric Contour--Every YANTRA is delimited from the exterior by a line or a group of lines forming its perimeter. These marginal lines have the function to maintain, contain and prevent the loss of the magical forces represented by the core structure of the YANTRA, usually the central dot. They also have the function to increase its magical and subtle force.
The core of the YANTRA is composed of one or several simple geometrical shapes: dots, lines, triangles, squares, circles and lotuses representing in different ways the subtle energies.
The Dot (BINDU): For example the dot (BINDU) signifies the focalized energy and its intense concentration. It can be envisaged as a kind of energy deposit which can in turn radiate energy under other forms. The dot is usually surrounded by different surfaces, either a triangle, a hexagon, a circle etc. These forms depend on the characteristic of the deity or aspect represented by the YANTRA. In the tantric iconography, the dot is named BINDU; in tantra BINDU is symbolically considered to be SHIVA himself, the source of the whole creation.
The Triangle (TRIKONA): The triangle (TRIKONA) is the symbol of SHAKTI, the feminine energy or aspect of Creation. The triangle pointing down represents the YONI, the feminine sexual organ and the symbol of the supreme source of the Universe, and when the triangle is pointing upwards it signifies intense spiritual aspiration, the sublimation of one’s nature into the most subtle planes and the element of fire (AGNI TATTVA). The fire is always oriented upwards, thus the correlation with the upward triangle – SHIVA KONA. On the other hand, the downward pointing triangle signifies the element of water which always tends to flown and occupy the lowest possible position. This triangle is known as SHAKTI KONA.
The intersection of two geometric forms (lines, triangles, circles, etc.) represents forces that are even more intense than those generated by the simple forms. Such an interpenetration indicates a high level in the dynamic interaction of the correspondent energies. The empty spaces generated by such combinations are described as very efficient operational fields of the forces emanating from the central point of the YANTRA. That is why we can very often encounter representations of MANTRAS in such spaces. YANTRA and MANTRA are complementary aspects of SHIVA and their use together is much more efficient than the use of one alone.
The Six-Pointed Star (SHATKONA)‑Hexagonexagon: A typical combination often found in the graphical structure of a YANTRA is the superposition of two triangles, one pointing upwards and the other downwards, forming a star with six points (SHATKONA), also known as David’s Star. This form symbolically represents the union of PURUSHA and PRAKRITI or SHIVA-SHAKTI, without which there could be no Creation.
The Circle (CHAKRA): Another simple geometrical shape often used in YANTRAS is the circle, representing the rotation, a movement closely linked to the shape of spiral which is fundamental in the Macrocosmic evolution. At the same time, the circle represents perfection and the blissful creative void. In the series of the five fundamental elements it represents air (VAYU TATTVA).
The Square (BHUPURA): Between the simple geometrical elements that compose YANTRAS there is also the square (BHUPURA). The square is usually the exterior limit of the YANTRA and symbolically, it represents the element earth (PRITHIVI TATTVA).
Every YANTRA starts from the center, often marked by a central dot (BINDU) and ends with the outer square. This represents the sense of universal evolution, starting from the subtle and ending with the coarse, starting from “ether” and ending with “earth”.
Even though most of the times YANTRAS are composed of these simple geometrical shapes, sometimes we encounter other elements such as arrow points, tridents, swords, spikes included in the design of a YANTRA with the purpose of representing vectors and directions of action for the YANTRIC energies.

The Lotus (PADMA): The lotus symbol (or its petals) is both a symbol of purity and variety, every lotus petal representing a distinct aspect. The inclusion of a lotus in a YANTRA represents freedom from multiple interference with the exterior (purity) and expresses the absolute force of the Supreme Self.
In conclusion, a YANTRA is a very complex spiritual instrument in the tantric practice (SADHANA). It can calm and focus the activities of the mind, and by its positive auto-suggestion it has a beneficial impact on the health and psychic wellbeing of a person.
A YANTRA alone represents nothing. Only when it is awakened by mental concentration and meditation will the process of RESONANCE appear and the beneficial macrocosmic energies will manifest themselves in the practitioner’s MICROCOSM.
How to Use YANTRAS : As we showed above, the secret key to using YANTRAS in meditation is RESONANCE. The process of RESONANCE is established by mental focus on the image of the YANTRA. As long as the mind is tuned into the specific mood associated to that YANTRA, the energy flows, but when the RESONANCE is stopped, the energy disappears.
For proper understanding of Swastika please go through my discourse:
Swastika comes from the word Swasti in Sanskrit which means auspiciousness. It represents omniscience of the all-pervasive intelligence that prevails at the substratum of the entire creation. The symbol Swastika represents the symbol of Aum written in Brahmalipi, one of the old scripts of India.

Vaikhanasas claim to be a surviving school of Vedic ritual, the Taittiriya Shakha of the Krishna Yajurveda. Vaikhanasa tradition says the sage Vikhanasa, who was a manifestation of Lord Mahavishnu, had the Upanayanam along with Brahma consecrated by His father Lord Mahavishnu and educated under Lord Mahavishnu all the Vedas and Bhagawat Saastra on how to worship Sri Bhagawaan in His Archaavathaara - Iconic Form. Sri Vikhanasa Maharishi came down to earth's most holy place Naimisaaranyam composed the Vaikhanasa Kalpasutra and taught Sri Vaikhanasa Bhagawat Saastra to his four disciples viz., Atri, Bhrigu, Kashyapa and Marichi, respectively the procedures of Samurtarcana, Amurtarchana, devotional service to Vishnu in images. Most Vaikhanasa literature is almost completely concerned with rituals, prescribing the rituals and their rules of performance. To the Vaikhanasas their temple worship is a continuation of Vedic fire sacrifice. Regular and correct worship of Vishnu in a temple will bring the same results as the fire sacrifice even for people who do not maintain their fires.
Jnana or knowledge sections of Vaikhanasa texts are short and it is necessary to infer their doctrines from discussions in the texts on ritual. The Vaikhanasas evolved the theory of the five aspects of Vishnu:   Vishnu the all-pervading supreme deity; Purusha, the principle of life; Sathya, the static aspect of deity; Achyuta, the immutable aspect; and Aniruddha, the irreducible aspect. The distinction is emphasized between Vishnu in his Niskala presence, the unfigured primeval and indivisible form unperceived even by Brahma, and his Sakala presence, the figured, divisible, emanated, and movable form. In his sakala presence he responds gracefully to devotional meditation. Shri is important as nature, Prakriti, and as the power, Shakti, of Vishnu.
The Vaikhanasa doctrine states that Moksha is release into Vishnu's heaven. The nature of a man's Moksha is dependent on a devotee's service of Japa--attentive repetition of prayer; Huta--Yaaga, sacrifice; Archana--service to images; and Dhyana--Yogic meditation. Of the four the Marichi Samhita says Archana is the realization of all aims.
Temples and images with the Vaikhanasas are of more importance than perhaps any other sect of Hinduism. In accordance with Vaikhanasa doctrine of the two forms of Vishnu, the Nishkala, the unmanifest and the Sakala, the manifest, two cult images are distinguished. There is the large immovable image representing Vishnu's Niskala form, which is ritually placed in a sanctuary and elaborately consecrated, and a smaller movable image representing Vishnu's Sakala form. If the devotee wishes for temporal and eternal results he should worship both forms. But if he is after only eternal results he should worship the immovable image.
After self—purification (aachamana) and meditation (Dhyana) to identify with Vishnu, the devotee surrenders to Vishnu and places the movable image on a bathing pedestal and elaborately bathes it. This is preparation for receiving the presence of God by immediate contact via a connecting string. The invocation starts with a Mantra, sacred utterance, saying that the Imperishable is linked to the Perishable and that the Self is released from all evil as it knows God. Flowers are presented to all the deities present. Then the hymn called the Aatmasukta is recited that identifies the body of the devotee with the cosmos, followed by meditation on Vishnu's Niskala aspect: these parts of the ritual are to request Vishnu to take his Sakala form in the movable image (please refer to my discourse on Murthi Upasana) so that the devotee can converse with Him.  A Puja ceremony takes place with God as the royal guest, (Kubewera presides—Rajadhirajaya perashya saayine), followed by a Homa, offering into the fire [Homaagni], and a Bali [offering of rice with ghee-but not animal sacrifice] with something that may be visible, touchable, audible, or eatable. An offering of [Havis - anything offered as an oblation with fire], cooked food, is important as the God's meal. Afterwards the Prasaada (Food that was offered to God) is eaten by the worshipers and devotees. The offering area is cleaned and a Bali of cooked rice sprinkled with butter is offered to Vishnu. Then comes a Pradakshina [circumambulation from left to right clockwise as a kind of worship] around the temple. After Daksina, the officiating Brahman's share of the Prasadam, is given, Vishnu is meditated upon as the personal manifestation of the sacrifice. Finally Puspanjali [Mantra Pushpam], i.e., offering a handful of flowers at the God's lotus feet after chanting the holy Mantraas, and the temple door is closed after Mangala Haarathi.
Inspired by Tirumal Tirupati Devasthanam and Parthasarathy Temple in Chennai and several other places in Karnatka and Andhra Pradesh    many  temples  built overseas are followi Vaikahanas  agama. Vikhanas Theology focuses mostly on temple worship based on  Veda mantras and Yajnas like  Smarta  Tradition.  In Tirupati Vesdgoshthi is drawn from Smarta tradition though worship is by Vaikhanasa Iyengars.
1.      Sri Venkateswara Temple, Tirumala
2.      India Cultural Center and Temple, Memphis, Tennessee, USA
3.      Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple, Ilupeju, Lagos, Nigeria.
4.       Sri Venkateswara swamy (Balaji) Temple of the Greater Chicago area
5.      Sri Lakshmi Temple,  Ashland,  Boston USA
6.      Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple of Singapore
7.        Hindu Temple of Flower Mound, Flower Mound ,  Texas
The Pancharatra theology developed over time presents a dualistic theory on how creation manifested from a godhead, as the Purusha-Prakriti and as the masculine-feminine manifestations of the divine.  It states that the creation emerged through vyuhas (arrangements). In the beginning, states Pancharatra doctrine, there was only Vasudeva- Krishna (Vishnu Narayana).  Vasudeva literally means "indwelling deity" as the highest changeless god. It arranged into Saṅkarṣaṇa (Balarama) as the lord over all life, then Pradyumna creating mind, and Aniruddha as ego (ahamkara). Thereafter, Brahma emerged from Aniruddha who created the empirical universe. Thus, the divinity was and is everywhere in Pancharatra, but in different aspects, one form or phase emerging from the previous.
Ramanuja taught that the deity absolute Parabrahman manifests in five possible aspects: Para, Vyuha,  Vibhava,   Antaryamin  and   Archa. Living beings can interact with the divine through one or another of these five:
  • Para: the invisible, formless, eternal supreme;
  • Vyuha: the invisible, impermanent supreme in form;
  • Avatara: also called the vaibhava, are the incarnations of the supreme in various yuga (eons in Hindu cosmology) such as the  Dasaavataara,
  • Antaryamin: not directly perceptible but can be inferred, the aspect of supreme whose presence can be felt by the devotee;
  • Archa: visible icon form, filled with symbolism, consecrated in temples or revered images inside home (Shalagrama, conch shell, festive decorations), a means to remember and meditate on the supreme.
He reformed worship in almost all Vishnu temples in South India as well as some in the North  but still few temples like Thirupati Venkatesvara  Temple and Parthasarathy Temple in Chennai follow Vaikhanasa  tradition.  I believe Memphis temple in USA also follows Vaikhanasa tradition.
Pancharatra theology has also influenced largely Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Vishnu-Narayana is supreme, while Vasudeva, Samkarsana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha are the four Vyuhas. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the Vyuha theory is more complex, Krishna is "Svayam Bhagavan" (the ultimate, Brahman) who manifests as Vyuhas, and he along with Samkarsana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha are the Vyuhas and the Purusha-avataras of the material realm.
The Pancharatra tradition has taught Panchakala or five observances every day.  The  first is called Abhigamna or ablutions and morning prayers to god. This is followed by Upadana or collecting worship materials. The third practice is Ijya or worship with offerings. The fourth practice in the Pancharatra tradition has been daily study or Svadhyaya. The fifth recommended practice is Yoga and meditation. Those who practice these five observances are called  Iyengars  (Aindu  karangal). But now it claims the title by birth as a sub-sect of Brahmin caste.
Egoistic existence needs to be negated. Say nāham (I am not this little self, with attachments and aversion.
 Exhale while saying nāham.
 Remain the witness, the Pure Self. Say so’ham (I am That, the sat-chit principle that is devoid of the ego).
 Inhale while saying so’ham.
 Do ‘regulated breathing’ to calm your mind, with so’ham and nāham.
 Negate the false, saying nāham.
Stay with the Truth, saying so’ham. Say goodbye to asat (thought-created false I-sense). Welcome sat (your real I).
 asato mā sad gamaya. May we go from the false to the true!
[Based  on information from Wikipedia  and various other internet sources  with added  text and explanation]