The Temple Is at the Heart of What Makes a Good City; ANALYSIS Hinduism Teaches That a 'Good City' Is One Which Works for the Good of the Individual, Community and Environment. Dr Sharada Sugirtharajah, a Senior Lecturer at Birmingham University, Explains

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Byline: Dr Sharada Sugirtharajah

Cities in precolonial India were not only centres of trade and commerce but also of learning, religion, art and culture. The city/village is seen as the locale for the encounter between gods and humans.

In other words, a traditional nagara or city is one where the sacred and the secular mingle. Temples have been an essential part of city/village life, and the link between the cosmic and the human is made visible through art, worship, poetry, music, dance and so forth.

Temples were not simply places of worship, but also centres of cultural, educational and social life.

The Hindu god Shiva, the Lord of the Dance, is the patron of arts, and even to this day classical dancers invoke his blessings. In this connection, mention needs to be made of Bharata's Natya Shas-tra (about 2nd century BC), a comprehensive and foundational work on dance, music, drama, poetry and other subjects.

Debates and discourses among scholars, music and dance performances, as well as the meeting of the local assembly to discuss civic matters including elections to local bodies took place, within the temple premises.

The temple also played a significant part in the economy of the village. Generous donations to the temple made it possible for temples to advance money to needy farmers and others as well as give employment not only to ritual specialists but also to teachers, musicians, dancers, tailors, accountants, florists and many others.

The city plays a significant role in providing the locale for the pursuit and fulfilment of the four aims of life (purusharthas) enumerated in Hindu texts: dharma (duty, righteousness, morality) kama (pleasure), artha (wealth) and moksha (liberation).

The last goal, moksha, or release from the cycle of rebirth, is often associated with the forest where one seeks to devote one's life to spiritual contemplation. Even within an urban context, the final goal (moksha) is relevant, but the emphasis in on fulfilling duties - the means to the goal rather than the goal itself.

The pursuits of material gain and pleasure are considered legitimate as long as they are regulated by the principle of dharma. Of the four goals, dharma is the foremost governing principle that needs to be applied in all situations and it is seen as a preparation for the ultimate end.

The focus is on affirming life in all its aspects - intellectual, artistic, sensual, economic and spiritual - regulated by the principle of dharma.

The subject of town planning was known as sthapathyam and a town-planner or civic architect was called sthapati - the master builder. In precolonial India, kings had their own civic architects and city superintendents with an array of assistants.

A civic architect was one who was not only well-versed in architectural knowledge and town-planning but was also required to have a thorough knowledge of sacred scriptures as well as other branches of knowledge such as mathematics, astrology and botany. …