Photos and video by Suhas Mehra, text by Beloo Mehra
Situated in the beautiful Nandi village at the foothills of the Nandi Hills, about 60 kms from Bengaluru, Bhoga Nandishwara temple presents a unique synthesis of architectural influences from several dynasties who ruled the area from 9th century onward. The temple’s deeper significance exists in its being a celebration of the brahmacharya and grihastha ashrama-s of life.
During the time we spent at this magnificent 1000-year-old temple, we saw a few newly married couples come there with their families to seek blessings of Ma Parvati and Lord Maheshwara who preside there in their rupa as divine couple. The temple has three main shrines and one of them specifically celebrates the Divine Marriage of Shiva and Parvati, drawing many newly married couples who come to seek Their blessings before starting their grihastha ashrama.
Let us soak in the grandeur and the beauty of a temple that celebrates this gṛhastha stage of life.
Human Development through Four Stages in Life
Our ancestors made a great attempt to mould the individual and collective life in the light of India’s spiritual conception of life and aim of human existence. This attempt acknowledged and celebrated the principle of gradual spiritual progress and evolution through various stages in an individual’s life journey.
They conceived of a naturally evolving scheme of human development which was based on the four aims of human life called in the Indian tradition as Purusharthas:
- Artha: Fulfillment of the material and economic needs and interests
- Kāma: Satisfaction of vital desires and enjoyment
- Dharma: The need of our higher mental and moral being for knowledge, values, ideals and right living
- Moksha: Finally, the spiritual need for the ultimate freedom, fulfillment and perfection.
These aims correspond roughly to the physical, vital, mental and spiritual needs of the human being. They form a system of shared values and are accepted almost by all the cultural traditions emerging from within the Indian thought. These purusharthas are based on the idea that our being must pass through different stages in its growth, and the legitimate needs and desires of each level of the human being have to be fulfilled before he can rise to a higher level.
The ancient Indian seers did not entirely leave the responsibility for an individual’s difficult growth through life to his unaided inner initiative. They recognised the need for a framework, something like a scale and gradation which could be made into a kind of ladder to support the individual’s growth through various stages of life. This led to the framework of aśrama.
An individual’s life was divided into four natural periods or aśrama-s, each of them marking a stage in the working out of the ideal cultural idea of living:
- the period of the student (Brahmacharya);
- the period of the householder (Grihastha/gṛhastha);
- the period of the recluse or forest-dweller (Vānaprastha);
- and the period of the free supersocial man (Sannyasa).
The student life was framed to lay the groundwork of what the man had to know, do and be. It gave a thorough training in the necessary arts, sciences, branches of knowledge, but it was still more insistent on the discipline of the ethical nature and in earlier days contained as an indispensable factor a grounding in the Vedic formula of spiritual knowledge.
Initially this training was given in suitable surroundings far away from the life of cities and the teacher was one who had himself passed through the round of this circle of living and, very usually, even, one who had arrived at some remarkable realisation of spiritual knowledge.
Subsequently education became more intellectual and mundane. It was imparted in cities and universities and aimed less at an inner preparation of character and knowledge and more at instruction and the training of the intelligence. But in the beginning the student was really prepared in some degree for the four great objects of his life, artha, kāma, dharma, moksha.
Entering into the householder stage to live out his knowledge, the individual was able to pursue there the first three human goals of life (artha, kama and dharma). He satisfied his natural being and its interests and desire to take the joy of life; he paid his debt to the society and its demands; and by the way he discharged his life functions he prepared himself for the last greatest purpose of his existence.
The Sanskrit word gṛhastha or grihastha (गृहस्थ) is a composite of two words, grih (गृह) and astha (अस्थ). Grih means “home, family, house”, and asth means “situated in, devoted to, occupied with, being in”. The word grihastha thus means that which is living in and occupied with home, family or simply a householder. This stage of life follows the stage of brahmacharya (bachelor student) and involves getting married, fulfilling the duties of maintaining a home, raising a family, educating one’s children, and leading a family-centered and dharmic social life.
This stage is essential to completing the full development of a human being and fulfilling the needs of the individual and society. It is in his stage that the individual actually applies all that he/she has learned in the student stage and engages in productive activity to generate wealth (pursuing the goal of artha), and thus contribute to the well-being of the family and society. This is also the phase of life for pursuing various legitimate desires (kāma) within the ethical-moral restraints of dharma, the harmonizing principle.
From a psychological perspective, both the individualistic and cooperative/group tendencies of an individual’s vital-emotional nature find expression and satisfaction in this stage of life. On an individual level, the person gets to experience a sense of fulfillment of his need to acquire and possess. The individual’s need for companionship, sexual satisfaction and procreation are also duly satisfied. The cooperative tendency in the individual, one that is satisfied by having close association with a group is also satisfied through the immediate and extended family circles.
“In the family the individual seeks for the satisfaction of his vital instinct of possession, as well as for the joy of companionship, and for the fulfilment of his other vital instinct of self-reproduction…. [The growing cooperative tendency in the vital nature of the individual] shows itself first in the family ideal by which the individual subordinates himself and finds his vital satisfaction and practical account, not in his own predominant individuality, but in the life of a larger vital ego. This ideal played a great part in the old aristocratic views of life; it was there in the ancient Indian idea of the kula and the kuladharma, and in later India it was at the root of the joint-family system which made the strong economic base of mediaeval Hinduism.”Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 25: 159