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Glossary of Terms

The following is a glossary of terms pertaining to Indian Temples. This list is an extensive one and will be updated and expanded on a regular basis.

Term

Explanation

Aaru Padai Veedu

The six permanent abodes of Lord Muruga before He vanquished Surapadman as the generalissimo of the divine forces

Abhayam

Refuge

Abishekam

A holy ritual ablution given to the Deity with oil, milk, scented powder, honey, rose water, ghee, sugar-cane juice etc.

Adi Sesha

Divine serpent said to have one thousand heads and represented as forming the couch of Lord Vishnu.

Agamas

Traditional principles governing worship, construction, festivals in temples.The word Agama means tradition

Aiavatham

The legendary white elephant of Indra, the King of the Devas

Alwars

Vaishnavite saints whose hymns in praise of Vishnu constitute the tamil canon - considered to be on par with the Vedas.

Amirtham (Amrit)

Nectar of immortality

Amman, Ambal

Goddess

Appar

Tirunavukkarasar, one of the foremost of the 63 Saivite Nayanmar saints; associated closely with Tiruvatikai, Paatirippuliyur, Tiruvaiyaru and Tiruppugalur

Arattu

A kind of holy bath given to the festival images of the deities, when they are immersed in water on the final day of the annual festival in Kerala and in Kanyakumari district of Tamilnadu

Archakar

Priest

Archana

Devotional worship offered to the deity by the priest with flowers or saffron

Artha Mandapam

An intermediary space between the Sanctum Sanctorum and the exterior of the temple

Arthajamam

The last of the daily poojas performed at night

Ashram

A hermitage or abode of ascetics

Ashtothram

A form of Archana worship usually offered to the deity with a recital of 108 names of a deity

Asthana Mandapam

Assembly Hall

Asura

Demon

Avataram, Avtar

An Incarnation of God

Bali Peetham

Altar or the sacrificial stone

Bhajanai, Bhajan

Group singing of divine songs

Bhaktha, Bhakth

Devotee (The word Bhakti means devotion)

Bhattachariar

A Brahmin priest belonging to the Vaishnavite sect who offers poojas in a Vishnu temple

Chakram

Discus of Lord Vishnu

Chapparam

Chariot

Dakshinayanam

The sun's progress south of Equator(July-December)

Darshan, Darisanam

Sight of God or of holy men

Dasavatharam

The ten incarnations of Vishnu to punish the wicked

Deepa Aradhanai

A ceremonial waving of lamps - Illuminating the image of a deity with camphor or with a deepam (oil, clarified butter lamps)

Devasthanam

A body administering the affairs of the temple

Devaswom

The Keralite name for temples

Dwajasthambam

The flag-mast, usually a pillar fixed outside the main shrine in line with the Sanctum Sanctorum

Dwapara Yugam

The third among the four Yugas or aeons of time, the current aeon being Kaliyugam

Dwara Palakas

Figures of guards of the deities found on either side of the entrance to the Sanctum Sanctorum

Gadha

Club

Garbagriham

The interior of Sanctum Sanctorum

Garuda

A mythological bird, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu

Gopuram

Temple Tower crowning entrances; the foremost of these towes crowning the main entrance is the Raja Gopuram.

Guru

Preceptor, Teacher

Gurukkal

A priest belonging to the Saivite sect who offers pooja in aSiva temple; a gurukkal is also known by the name Sivachariar.

Homam

Sacrificial ritual conducted with an altar of fire, as a part of daily worship, festivals and special occasions.

Hundi

A sealed receptacle with a slit at the top in which devotees make offerings to a temple

Jeer

A spiritual head of Vaishnavites

Kailasam

Said to be the foremost abode of Shiva; refers to Mount Kailash in the Himalayas.

Kalasanthi

The morning pooja or worship service

Kali Yuga

The last of the four yugas or aeons of time before Pralaya or Deluge

Kalyana Mandapam

A special mandapam dedicated for the ritual celebration of the marriage of the Lord with Goddess

Kamadhenu

The holy cow with a human face which is believed to fulfil the desires of devotees

Kattalai

A type of endowment of the devotees for doing periodical poojas or offerings

Kavacham

A metalic cover resembling armour

Kavadi

A decorated wooden pole with an arch over it carried on shoulders by devotees with offerings such as flowers, milk, rose-water etc., mostly for Lord Muruga with some parade

Kireetam

Hear-wear or Crown

Kodi Kambam (Dwajastambham in Sanskrit)

The flag-mast, usually a pillar fixed outside the main shrine in line with the Sanctum Sanctorum

Koil or Kovil

Temple

Kritha Yuga

The first of the Chathur or four yugas or aeons of time before Pralaya or the great deluge; the four yugas are Krithayugam, Treta Yugam, Dwapara Yugam and Kaliyugam.

Kshethra

Sacred place

Kumbhabishekam

Purification rites carried out after every renovation or construction in a temple

Laksharchanas

Worship with the recital of a lakh of divine names of a deity (see archana, ashtothra)

Maangalyam

A sacred ornament which is worn by married women as an insignia

Maanyam

Landed endowments to the temple servants for their services

Maavilakku

A form of offering to the deity in wich a wick is burnt in an offering of flour paste

Madapalli

Temple-kitchen where the food for daily worship services is prepared

Maha Mandapam

A big hall in temples for holding religious discourses

Mahabharatha

The Great Hindu epic describing the famous battle of Kurukshethra between the Pandavas and Kauravas

Makutam

The crown

Mandapam

A big terraced hall

Mangala Sasanam

Poems composed by Alwars in parise of Vishnu - constituting the Naalayira Divya Prabandam. (See Alwars)

Manikkavacakar

One of the foremost Saivite Saints who is credited with volumes of poetry, the foremost of which is Tiruvacakam; Tiruvadavoor and Uttirakosamangai in the Pandya Kingdom are 2 of the temples associated with him.

Mantras

The sacred hymns in sanskrit recited during worship services

Moola Vigraham

The presiding deity

Moolasthanam

Sanctum Sanctorum

Munivar

Saint

Mutt

A religious institution

Nagam

Serpent

Namam

The Vaishnavite mark of three vertical stripes on the forehead

Nambudiris

A class of Brahmins belonging to the Kerala State

Nandi

Nandi, the Bull is the ceremonial mount of Shiva; an image of Nandi usually faces Shiva's sanctum . Shiva temples are also adorned with images of Nandi on the temple walls.

Nava Thirupathis

The nine sacred Vaishnavite shrines

Nayanmars

The sixty three Saivite Saints, whose history is narrated in "Periyapuranam" who lived between the 5th and the 9th centuries, travelling around, visiting various temples , singing hymns of praise. Several miracles are associated with their visits.

Neivedhiyam

Offerings to the deity,

Oduvars

Torchbearers of the great tradition of Tevaram singing in Siva Temples; hymns that were composed by the Saints Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar in the 7th-9th centuries; now sung in Saivite temples in keeping with ancient tradition.

OM'

The sacred syllable representing the universal vibratory sound

Paasuram

Sacred song in praise of God (generally refer to the works of the Vaishnavite Alwars)

Padai

Army

Padakkam

A locket or pendant

Palliyarai

A bed chamber where the festival deities are kept after the daily poojas

Pancha-Murthys

The five deities,namely,Vinayakar, Murugar, Shiva, Parvati and Chandikeswarar

Panchaksharam

A sacred word signifying the five syllables of Namasivaya - signifiying surrender to Shiva

Panchalogam

An alloy of five metals

Pancharatra

A Vaishnava Agama

Patikam

Sacred song in praise of God (generally refer to the works of the Saivite Nayanmars)

Payasam

Sweet Pudding

Pooja

A form of ceremonial worship offered to the deity

Poosari

A priest who does pooja at village temples

Prabandham

The celebrated Vaishnavite poetic compilation of the works of the Alwars

Pradhosham

Evening of the 13th phase of the moon, 90 minutes before and after Sun set. It is considered auspicious for worshipping Shiva in all Saivite temples - when thousands congregate for worship.

Pradishta

Installation

Prakaram

The verandah or passage around the Sanctum Sanctorum

Pranavam

The sacred syllable "OM"

Prasadam

Anything given to devotees after being symbolically offered to the deity

Prithvi

Earth

Pushkarini

The sacred temple tank

Raja Gopuram

The main temple tower, and usually the loftiest of all towers in a temple, crowning the main entrance to the temple, in the outermost of enclosures

Rakshasha

Demon

Ratham

Chariot

Rishabam

A bull

Rudrakshamaalai

A roasary neck ornament made of the berry of a particular sacred tree considered to be special in Shiva

Saapa-Vimochanam

Deliverance from a curse

Sadagopam

A small metal head-cover on which Vishnu's feet are engraved and which is placed over the head of worshippers in Vaishnavite temples

Sahasranama Archana

A form of archarana or worship uaually offered to the deity with a recital of 1008 names (see archana, ashtotram, laksharchanai)

Sambandar

Tirugnanasambandar, one of the foremost, as well as the youngest of the 63 Nayanmars; associated closely with Sirkazhi, Tiruvothur and several other shrines.

Sandanakaappu

Smearing the idol with sandal-wood paste

Sarukkam

Chapter

Sayanam

Reclining posture

Sayaratchai

Worship service in the evening

Shankhu

The conch-shell

Simha

Lion- a common vahanam or mount used in temples

Sivacharyas

The priests in temples belonging to the Saivite sect (see also Gurukkal)

Somavaram

Monday

Sthala Puranam

The legend regarding the origin of a sacred place

Sthala Vruksham

The sacred tree connected with the legend of the temple

Sthalam

A sacred centre

Sthupi

Pillar

Sunai

Water-fall

Sundarar

Sundaramoorthy Nayanar, one of the foremost of the 63 Saivite Nayanmar saints, associated closely with Tiruvennainallur and several other shrines.

Swayambu

That which comes of its own accord; that which is untouched by a tool; several of the Shiva Lingams adorning the sancta of temples, are believed to be natural mounds, held sacred for centuries.

Tapas

Penace

Tevara Patasala

A school to teach Tevara hymns of the Nayanmar saints

Tevaram

Collection of the hymns of the foremost of the Saivite Nayanmars, Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar; set to music; these ancient hymns have had a profound influence on the growth of Karnatic Music, and are even now sung in temples as part of worship.

Theertham

Sacred tank of the temple

Theerthavari

A festival during which the deity is immersed in holy water (see Aaraattu)

Theppa Utsavam

Float festival in which festival images of deities are led in procession in a float (Teppam), in the temple tank amidst the chanting of hymns and the playin gof music.

Ther

The temple car or chariot

Thirumanjanam

Ritual bath for the image of a deity (see abhishekam)

Thirunakshathram

One of the 27 asterisms under which a saint or a great person is born

Thiruppavai

A set of 30 verses in Nalayira Prabandham by Sri Andal in praise of Lord Vishnu. These hymns are held in great reverence in South India.

Thiruvadi

Sacred feet of the deity

Thiruvaimozhi

Devotional verses by Saint Nammalvar

Thrishoolam

The sacred trident

Tiruvacakam

Poetic work of Manikkavacakar dedicated to Shiva.

Tiruvempaavai

A composition of 20 hymns by Manikkavacakar - at the grand Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleswarar temple; sung ceremoniously during the winter month of Markazhi

Uchikala Pooja

Mid day worship service

Ugram

Fierce,powerful, angry

Urchavam or Utsavam

Festival

Urdhuva Thandavam

The cosmic dance of Lord Siva with one leg lifted in which He defeated Goddess Kali

Ushadkala Pooja

Early morning worship service

Utharayanam

The Sun's progress - North of Equator (January-June)

Utsava Murthy

An idol taken in procession and worshipped on festival days

Vadakalai

A sect among Vaishnavites

Vahanam

Divine Mount

Vaikanasa Agamam

A Vaishnava Agama

Vamana

Dwarf, the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu

Varaha

A Boar, the third incarnation of Lord Vishnu

Varam

Boon

Vel

A spear or lance of Lord Muruga

Vigraham

Image of a deity

Vimanam

The towered roof of a Sanctum; there are several types of vimanams such as the gajaprishta, ashtanga and sabha vimanams.

Yaga

A special sacrificial ceremony (see homam)

Yagasalai

The place in which a sacrificial ceremony is observed

Yanthra or Peetam

The seat on which the deity is placed

Yugam

An age of the world. There are four Yugasor aeons of time namely Kritha Yuga, Thretha Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga, each of which runs into several lakhs of years.

 

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