In smaller communities the temple apart from being a source of spiritual or religious comfort, also serves as center for education and recreation.
A temple is also a treasure house of art and architecture, designed according to the principle of Vaastu Shastra, characterized by their majesty, serenity and beauty of intricate sculpture and designs. A temple evokes in the visitor a sense of beauty in art and in life as well. It lifts up his spirit, elevates him to a higher plane dissolving his little ego. At the same time, it awakens him to his insignificance in the grand design of the Creator.
The most significant aspect of the temple worship is its collective character. Peoples’ participation is both the purpose and the means of a temple. The community is either actually or symbolically involved in temple worship. The rituals that dominate temple worship are therefore socio- religious in character. Temple worship marks a clear shift from the Vedic way of submitting prayers to the gods.
The Yagas and Yajnas of the Vedic age were performed at various convenient sites or at the premises of their sponsor (Yajamana). They were not tied to a particular place or to a site. No idols were involved in such Vedic rituals. The oblations were submitted to various gods through the median of the formless Agni, the fire.
A temple, in contrast, is a permanent structure established on a site that was well chosen and considered most proper after examining and verifying its suitability from various aspects.
The life and the principal focus of a temple is the idol of the deity in the Garbhagriha, presiding over the entire temple complex.
The worship practices also differ from the Vedic rituals. Here , a series of services (Upacharas) are submitted to the deity; flowers, water, incense and other adornments are submitted with great devotion to the image (Prathima), revered as the living representation of the deity ; and, mantras, hymns and prayer verses are recited throughout the duration of the worship.
Unlike in an Yajna, where it is performed for the benefit of a particular sponsor, the worship of the temple is conducted on behalf of the village-community as a whole ; and particularly for all those who attend and pray at the temple; it is both congregational and individual, at once.
The worship in a temple has to satisfy the needs of individuals as also of the community. The worships that take place in the sanctum and within the temple premises are important; so are the festivals and occasional processions that involve direct participation of the entire community. They complement each other. While the worship of the deity in the sanctum might be an individual’s spiritual or religious need ; the festival s are the expression of a community’s joy , exuberance , devotion , pride and are also an idiom of a community’s cohesiveness .
The appointed priests carry out the worship in the temple on behalf of other devotees. It is hence parartha, a service conducted for the sake of others. Priests, generally, trained in ritual procedures, pursue the service at the temple as a profession. As someone remarked, “other people may view their work as worship, but for the priests worship is work.” They are trained in the branch of the Agama of a particular persuasion. The texts employed in this regard describe the procedural details of temple worship, elaborately and precisely.