Ramakrishna Universal Temple

Introduction

According to Swami Vivekananda, the temples of Sri Ramakrishna should be built for enabling the devotees to advance spiritually for realizing the truth with no hatred towards other faiths. The guidelines for building the temple of Sri Ramakrishna at Belur Math were laid down by Swami Vivekananda himself. Keeping this as basis, various other architectural features familiar to the region are added while maintaining its universal outlook. So various architectural elements and motifs found in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples and the churches and cathedrals of Europe are synthesized in this Universal Temple.

Darshan hours

05.00 am Shrine opens, Mangalarati
06.40 to 07.00 am Vedic & Gita chanting
07.30 to 09.00 am Puja
11.00 to 11.30 am Food offering to Sri Ramakrishna
(Shrine remains closed)
11.45 am Temple closes
03.00 pm Temple opens
03.30 pm Shrine opens
06.30 to 07.15 pm Aratrikam & Bhajan
08.30 to 08.50 pm Food offering to Sri Ramakrishna
(Shrine remains closed)
09.00 pm Temple closes

The Entrance Gateway

Adjacent to the main road in the west, the impressive 60 feet wide entrance gateway is placed in such a manner that its center line corresponds with the center line of the temple. From this gateway, it is possible to have not only the full view of the temple but also a partial view of the top part the Vimanam (central tower) over the Garbha Mandira (Sanctum Sanctorum). From the center of this gate, one can have a clear view of the marble image of Sri Ramakrishna installed in the shrine. The central part of the gateway is 20 feet wide on either side. The whole structure of the gateway is designed in original Vijayanagar style belonging to the Dravidian idiom of temple architecture.

The Forecourt

The treatment of this temple’s forecourt is similar to the ones found in front of the monuments of Mughals at Agra and Delhi – Tajmahal, Itimadud-Daula and Akbar’s Tomb in Agra, Red-fort at Delhi. It’s 30 feet wide central lawn is flanked by 15 feet wide pathways paved with colored ceramic tiles, and is well protected by an elegantly ornamented low parapet wall with eight light pedestals.

Grand Central Stairway

Whenever temples are constructed in the midst of human settlements (villages, towns and cities), the silpa sastras recommend that the level of the temple floor should be higher than the ground floor level of the houses around it. This adds to the grandeur of the temple. The prayer hall of the Chennai temple is at the height of 10 feet from the level of the paved path around the temple. The prayer hall is to be approached by a 16 feet wide stairway having 24 steps and paved with marble slabs. The railing of the stairway is decorated with balusters resembling the water pot (Kamandalu) usually carried by wandering monks. The side entrances of the prayer hall are also to be reached through 6 feet wide staircases, symmetrically placed on both sides of the temple. Their architectural treatment resembles the central stairway. On the two sides of the main stairway, two elegant pavilions, resembling the Mandapas, attached to the Garbha Mandira of the small temples of Orissa, have been built according to the Kalinga idiom. These shelters are mainly intended for distributing Prasad to the devotees.

Prayer Hall

The plan of this temple with a long flight of steps in the front terminating at the wide colonnaded entrance portico, its rectangular prayer hall (60′ x 110′), its square shrine and Puja-preparation rooms resembles the plans of the cathedrals and churches of Europe conceived in the shape of the Latin cross. As in the case of Buddhist Chaitya halls, this prayer hall is divided into naves and aisles and the naves have a ribbed vaulted roof rising to a height of 42 feet in the shape of a pointed arch resembling Anjali Mudra. The aisles of the prayer hall resemble the Parikrama path of the Buddhist Chaityas. Both the sides of the naves have a flat roof. The number of columns in the prayer hall is reduced to a minimum so that most of the people sitting there will have a clear view of the marble image of Sri Ramakrishna. The portraits of sixteen disciples of Sri Ramakrishna with carved wooden frames are fixed to the four sides of the four central columns of the prayer hall. Up to a height of 9 feet from the floor level, the dadoes of the interior walls and the architraves of the windows are clad with marble slabs and the floor of the prayer hall is paved with white marble slabs. The ornamentation of the high gable wall surfaces (28′ x 22′) in the eastern and western ends of the vault roof over the nave of the prayer hall is based on the rock-cut Bhima Ratha at Mahabalipuram, the gables in Gothic churches of Europe and Buddhist Chaityas. The prayer hall is well lighted and ventilated by several large windows (3′.0″ x 6′.6″) and 18 small windows (1′.6″ x 3′.0″) in its vaulted roof. All these windows have been ornamented with circular arches and brackets resembling Panjara, Mukha Nasi, and Alpa Nasi motifs which are usually found in the Vimanas and Gopuras of South Indian temples. The prayer hall is also fitted with an adequate number of ceiling fans for air circulation and lights to provide soft illumination which will not distract those seated in meditation. In short, one standing at the threshold of the main entrance will be met with the inspiring view of an aesthetically enriched interior of the prayer hall focussing its lines towards the center of the shrine.

Garbha Mandira

The central part of any Hindu temple is its Garbha Mandira. In this temple of Sri Ramakrishna, the Garbha Mandira is large and square in shape with each of its sides measuring 39 feet. The white marble image of Sri Ramakrishna is installed in the Garbha Mandira and in all respects it is identical with the one in the Belur Math temple. This is made by G. Paul & Sons who made the image at Belur Math. Sri Ramakrishna is seated on a fully bloomed lotus which is placed over a beautifully carved marble pedestal. This marble pedestal is placed in the rear half of the Garbha Mandira. The beauty of the image is further enhanced by framing it by four columns which are fashioned after the graceful marble columns adorning the Maha-mandapas of the Jain Temples of Mount Abu. These columns support the richly decorated shallow central dome. All wall surfaces of the shrine, right from floor level, extending right up to the ceiling, are panelled with marble slabs. For Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda, separate shrines are provided on either side of the Garbha Mandira. This is a special feature of the Sri Ramakrishna temple at Chennai. These shrines open on to the prayer hall.

Vimana

The Vimana over the Garbha Mandira soaring up to a height of 102 feet is the climax of this majestic temple. The concepts of “Tritala Vimana” of the temples of Tamil Nadu, belonging to the Dravida idiom of temple architecture, have been introduced in designing the 102 feet high Vimana of this temple. The central tower or the Vimana takes the place of the Sikhara which is the crowning part of the Vimana. The small towers at the corners of the two receding floors of the Vimana below the crowning central dome represent the Karnakoota motifs of the South Indian temple Vimanas. The central rectangular miniature towers between the square miniature towers at the four corners of the second floor of the Vimana, resembling Chandi mandaps of Bengal, can be considered to be “Bhadrasala” of the Vimanas of Tamil Nadu temples. In fact these small towers at the four corners of the two tiers of the Vimana are designed in the shape of temples with Eka Tala (single storeyed) Vimanas with Deva Koshtas (niches) where idols of subsidiary gods and goddesses are installed. These niches contain images of the Ashtadikpalakas ie Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirti, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera, Isana and also Vishnu, Dakshinamurthy, Surya, Rajarajeswari, Subrahmanya, Ganapati representing the Shanmatas as codified by Adisankara. The aim of this dominant feature of the temple is to make it look majestic and graceful like the bejewelled crown of the Lord. The pinnacle of the central dome of the Vimanam consists of a 5 feet high lantern made of stainless steel, with a 3′.6″ high gold coated copper Kalasa.

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