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Garbhagriha in a Hindu Temple – Symbolism – Meaning – Significance

Garbhagriha in a Hindu temple is the place where the main deity is established. Meaning of Garbhagriha is the womb of the house – sanctum sanctorum. It is a small chamber and dark as a cave in a mountain. It is the main part of a Hindu temple constructed within and below the main structure. It is the innermost portion of the entire temple. This article explores the symbolism and significance of Garbhagriha.

The Garbhagriha is secret and mysterious. It is not only the house of the germ and embryo of the temple. It also refers to self-realization a person who comes before it achieves. The person attains a new birth in its darkness.

Darkness in the garbhagriha is the symbolic representation of the cosmic darkness that envelops the world at the end of a cycle of creation. The only source of light and creation is hidden in the darkness. This is the Supreme Truth or Brahman. In the Garbhagriha of a temple, this formless Supreme Truth takes a form to satisfy the devotee.

Garbhagriha is also the symbolic representation of the Supreme Truth within the human body. The body just envelops the Supreme Being. When the body is dropped what is left is the Supreme Truth.

Generally, the Garbhagriha faces east so that early rays of the sun can enter it and dispel the darkness.
The four interior walls are plain, massive with an entrance for darshan in the front wall. When the door is closed, there is pitch darkness in the interior.

All the superstructures that are on the outside merely support the consecrated murti in the Garbhagriha. They are mere ornaments. Symbolically the outer portions of a temple are the various forms of ignorance that a person has to shed before the person can commune with the murti in the shrine.

Garbhagriha is independent of time and space and by its name and form is a place of primary significance. It is a completely independent structure and is not connected to the outside structure.

The Garbhagriha is very rarely renovated. Additions and deletions are performed on the outward structure.

 The form of Garbhagriha can be square, round or oval. The interior walls are plain. In some very rare instances, it contains secret descriptions and images. The outer walls contain sculptures or paintings related to the murti found in the Puranas, epics or folklore.

The Garbhagriha in earlier times was a very basic structure. The prime focus then was on self realization. The structure was just meant to be a vehicle to understand the infinite, the Supreme Principle. This is the reason why many earlier temples were lost and not preserved. Once the structure serves its purpose, the person who built it has no attachment to it. Nature overpowers it until another devotee comes in search of truth and builds a new Garbhagriha.

The present strongly built Garbhagriha was the result of human settlement. Ignorance led to the belief that the Supreme Truth can be shut off from the outer world and that it can be kept a secret.

Selfishness, ego, arrogance coupled with ignorance made the Garbhagriha inaccessible to common devotees. A particular group kept out others. Or a particular group of people were denied entry. This kind of ignorance led to believers creating temples in the open under tree and on the banks of rivers.

Garbhagriha is the symbolic representation of the primordial womb. All animate and inanimate on earth is born in the womb and are transformed again in the same womb. Moksha is knowing that the womb as primordial soruce, merging in it, and not entering into the never-ending cycle of rebirth.
Garbhagriha holds the Hiranyagarbha, the golden egg.

The diya lit, or the light waved in front of the murti, is the symbolic representation the eternal flame or the unfathomable source of energy that keeps the universe alive.