Significance of places of worship, relics and prayer rooms

One must strive to understand the psychological purpose behind every action in the spiritual path, otherwise it degenerates into a mere mechanical act followed out of fear, habit or superstition.  With that in mind, here we explore the role that can be played by places of worship, relics, shrines, and prayer rooms in the spiritual path.

Photo: Angkor Wat. (Flickr Creative Commons. Click image for source)

The vast majority of people visit temples, mosques, churches, synagogues, etc. for a variety of mundane reasons: to pray to God for material favours, to gain the support and affection that comes by being part of some community, or purely as a habit or  tradition inculcated by the culture one is born into.  Those who seek union with the Divine may also chose to visit a place of worship but their purpose is more sublime; they go there to seek that aura of tranquility that inhabits the place, the aura that has been created through the ages because people have engaged in contemplative activities, chanting and other devotional activities.  Until one has acquired the ability to enter into a state of trance effortlessly, one needs such a harmonious atmosphere in order to reinforce the wavering will-power and calm the vacillating mind.   Unfortunately, all too often, places of worship deteriorate into parochial and commercialized shrines where prayers are mechanically offered without any psychological introspection, self-giving love or surrender.  What is worse is that people tend to become attached to some chosen place of worship, and even start wars to secure control over it.

The Mother Mirra Alfassa offered another perspective on this topic based on her occult insights.  She discovered in the course of her travels that some places of worship were in fact controlled by inimical vital entities, whose purpose was antithetical to the spiritual  pursuit.  She also found that shrines where animals are slaughtered ostensibly as sacrifice to God in reality attract malevolent occult spirits which aggrandize themselves by feeding off the stimulating and putrid life-forces that are released during miasmatic acts of mass slaughter (1).  In the following passage, she relates some of her insights:

In all religious monuments, in monuments considered the most…   well, as belonging to the highest religion, whether in France or any other country or Japan – it was never the same temples or churches nor the same gods, and yet my experience was everywhere almost the same, with very small differences – I saw that whatever concentrated force there was in the church depended exclusively upon the faithful, the faith of the devotees. And there was still a difference between the force as it really was and the force as they felt it. For instance, I saw in one of the most beautiful cathedrals of France, which, from the artistic point of view, is one of the most magnificent monuments imaginable – in the most sacred spot I saw an enormous black, vital spider which had made its web and spread it over the whole place, and was catching in it and then absorbing all the forces emanating from people’s devotion, their prayers and all that. It was not a very cheering sight; the people who were there and were praying, felt a divine touch, they received all kinds of boons from their prayers, and yet what was there was this, this thing. But they had their faith which could change that evil thing into something good in them; they had their faith. So, truly, if I had gone and told them, “Do you think you are praying to God? It is an enormous vital spider that’s feeding upon all your forces!”, that would really not have been very charitable. And that’s how it is most of the time, almost everywhere; it is a vital force which is there, for these vital entities feed upon the vibration of human emotions, and very few people, very few, an insignificant number, go to church or temple with a true religious feeling, that is, not to pray and beg for something from God but to offer themselves, give thanks, aspire, give themselves. There is hardly one in a million who does that. So they do not have the power of changing the atmosphere. Perhaps when they are there, they manage to get across, break through and go somewhere and touch something divine. But the large majority of people who go only because of superstition, egoism and self-interest, create an atmosphere of this kind, and that is what you breathe in when you go to a church or temple. Only, as you go there with a very good feeling, you tell yourself, “Oh, what a quiet place for meditation!” (2)

Mausoleums (samadhi or dargah) where enlightened sages have been buried are said to emit favourable vibrations.  These may not exhibit the drawbacks associated with a place of worship.  That of course raises the question: “How long do the vibrations of a departed sage last?” which cannot be answered easily.   One has to awaken to the deeper aspects of one’s being to determine the benevolent vibrations in such places, and often that happens only due to some miracle and Divine grace.

A harmonious atmosphere at home (and the significance of relics)

If one cannot find a shrine which exudes benevolent vibrations, one can create a harmonious atmosphere at home.  After all, the Divine is everywhere.  It is not necessary to periodically visit some place of worship to reinforce one’s spiritual aspiration.   In the next passage, the Mother Mirra Alfassa outlines how one can go about the task of manifesting such an atmosphere at home.  The passage also briefly alludes to the significance of relics.

It goes without saying that a (spiritual) seeker should create around himself an atmosphere of pure thoughts, ardent aspiration, good will and harmony; that becomes, as it were, a kind of magnetic field whereto higher currents of life are drawn naturally and his spiritual endeavour receives a constant reinforcement. At the same time the opposite, negative movements in the surroundings are thrown back automatically, without any conscious effort on his part. All this is more or less psychological in character, but there is another step that is important and that is the creation of a physical atmosphere.

The physical surroundings in which one lives: have a marked effort on the individual, especially if he is engaged in a spiritual pursuit. Unclean, disorderly and chaotic conditions act as a wet blanket. They attract confusion, impurities and falsities of all kinds. The grounds must be cleared.

The house or at least the room where one lives and practices has to be kept clean and an order maintained in the arrangement of things; there should be a link between the things and oneself. One should know exactly what is where: a rapport in consciousness must be built up. That way even physical objects around oneself share in the growth of one’s consciousness and become friends and helpers in their own way. They absorb the vibrations of the aspiration and the response thereto, and retain them even longer than the life-time of the user.  (Incidentally, this is the significance of the tradition of relics)  The entire place is lifted up and is awake with a perceptible stir of the Spirit.

The place should be purified by such means as incense which clears the air of gross impurities, checks subtle intrusions of the hostiles and promotes an atmosphere of purity and solemnity. As far as possible, only persons of like aspiration should be welcome. Those that are hostile to that aspiration, those that indulge habitually in movements contrary to the seeking, should not be allowed to contaminate the air. For every physical impact of this kind leaves its subtle effect which prolongs itself long after the physical cause is withdrawn.

Reading of good literature, mentation on sublime themes, prayers, willings of consecration, quiet meditations -all these contribute to the establishment of the needed climate and in turn are supported by it. The room or the house turns into a circle, cakra, of consecration, of adoration and worship. The atmosphere absorbs continually these vibrations and it not only works as a powerful stimulus to maintain and intensify one’s aspiration and seeking, but acts beneficially on others as well.  It becomes a temple, a spiritual centre, ksetra. (3)


  1. Mother’s Agenda, Vol. 2, April 29, 1961
  2. Collected Works of the Mother, Vol 6, p 195.
  3. M.P.Pandit. Mother of Love, vol 4, pp 101-103.

See also

  1. On some customs and traditions of Hinduism
  2. Is fear and awe of God necessary?
  3. The occult spirits which influence our actions
  4. Stabilizing the body before meditation
  5. How to rise above the ordinary life?
  6. The foundation of spiritual relationships
  7. Interplay of Faith and Doubt in Yoga
  8. Karma can be changed. Your destiny is in your hands
  9. Hermeneutics: how to read holy scriptures
  10. How to read holy books
  11. The purpose of idolatry and its limitations

30 thoughts on “Significance of places of worship, relics and prayer rooms

  1. KalpanaS

    Mother’s statement ”I saw that whatever concentrated force there was in the church depended exclusively upon the faithful, the faith of the devotees” shows how much it is a projection from human minds. What you believe, you create[a subjective experience]. Might explain why an atheist might be immune to benevolent/malevolent effects in such a place. On the other hand, such places might have some physical basis for effects to be felt [irrespective of belief] , such as radioactivity, high/low ions in the air. Your thoughtful article invites one to reflect on how we can create ‘spiritual space’ in a ‘physical place’.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Kalpana: On the other hand, such places might have some physical basis for effects to be felt [irrespective of belief] , such as radioactivity, high/low ions in the air.

      I don’t think occult vibrations have a physical basis in ions or even quarks for that matter(no pun intended!). After all, there are other planes of consciousness (vital, mind, psychic) which are both internal and external to us. I would love to see a reference proving this question either way.

  2. KalpanaS

    Occult means hidden/concealed, not supernatural. One could think of the hidden energy within matter in such a way. The right mantras [or indeed scientific] formulae can unleash that energy [extreme example- splitting atom, rhythmic chanting – walls of Jericho, etc]. So perhaps temples, places are ‘activated’ thus. With regards to ions, sacred places are sometimes near waterfalls, natural environments which are conducive to a peaceful response [negative ions]. Similarly when there is an impending thunderstorm the opposite is the case. Sacred sites like stonehenge etc are also built with astronomical calculations in mind, so there is an awareness of the physical influences. However, by this I do not mean that the physical takes precedence over ‘supreme consciousness’, which is its cause not effect. What I am trying to say is that the occult is not supernatural. An occultist taps into existing/hidden powers within matter, working with its properties rather than against them. Well, these are just my thoughts.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Kalpana: The right mantras [or indeed scientific] formulae can unleash that energy [extreme example- splitting atom, rhythmic chanting – walls of Jericho, etc].

      I know I had seen this somewhere and found it now. In the Evening Talks, Sri Aurobindo offers his view on dematerialization:

      Disciple : There is an idea of materialisation and dematerialisation in the case of occult phenomena. For instance if a material object appears, and then disappears, what is the explanation?

      Sri Aurobindo : But what is dematerialisation? In fact, we must ask : what is Matter? It is made of certain forces or a play of forces holding up, or maintaining, the physical form is it not ?

      Disciple : In that case can we not speak of “life” Of an atom?

      Sri Aurobindo : The explanation can be that when an object is made to disappear in the fourth dimension of space then it is dematerialisation and when it is put out from the fourth dimension into our space then it is materialisation, because then the object appears to us.

      (Purani, Evening Talks, First series, p 230)

      See also :

  3. sriramin

    Mother has advised her devotes to create their own atmosphere wherever they may be dwelling, even in battlefield (as Sri Aurobindo suggests). One who is in contact with the psychic feels elevated whenever they have darshan of Sri Aurobindo/Mother or sacred placed charged with spiritual vibrations like Brindavan or Puri. when they All the temples and other religious places of interest are swarmed with hostile forces and thats why people when they visit such places couldn’t concentrate on God and instead bring their wish list for material ends. The crime rate of people taking advantage of ashrams or temples for their own selfish purposes is very high and there are innumerable instances happening everyday. Holy places are now desecrated whether it be Ganga, benares, or mecca. Reading of scriptures or any other works are of little use. Only those who have the inner call, aspiration, faith, surrender and devotion can feel the pulse of the divine.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Well, we have to keep trying, however imperfect the circumstances, always remembering the words of the Gita 4:17

      “yada yada hi dharmasya
      glanir bhavati bharata
      abhyutthanam adharmasya
      tadatmanam srjamy aham”

      Whenever dharma declines and adharma increases, the Divine himself (and herself!) shall descend

    2. Sandeep Post author

      Mother has advised her devotes to create their own atmosphere wherever they may be dwelling, even in battlefield (as Sri Aurobindo suggests).

      I found the relevant anecdote in Champaklal’s book “Champaklal Speaks”, page 63.

      “…I (champaklal) took the box to Guest House (where I was then living) and started working in the courtyard where at present Green Group children play in the evenings, Naturally it made a big noise and one sadhak (aspirant) came out of his room and began to grumble that it was disturbing his meditation. In those days sadhaks (aspirants) were very fond of meditating.

      When I informed Mother about it, she said: “Sri Aurobindo and I are not disturbed by noise. If one cannot meditate amidst noise it only proves that one is not truly meditating. One must be able to meditate on the battlefield. We are not particular. If they are disturbed there, you may work here; disturb here.”

      When the poor sadhak (aspirant) who had complained came to know of this, he was very sorry and asked to be pardoned. Of course I had not said anything to him. Thus I did not have to change the place of work and when the cover was completed, Mother was very happy – happy both for the completion of the work and the change in the sadhak. (aspirant)”

      1. sriramin

        Very apt. There was another instance retold by Mother when there was a storm accompanied by heavy rain in Pondicherry. Mother went to check Sri Aurobindo’s room in order to close the french windows and to her surprise there everything was calm and not a drop of water seeped into the room. Sri Aurobindo was absorbed in his writings oblivious of the situation. No power of nature or otherwise could impact his silence and poise, even physically. This is a wonderful example of samata which we have heard about in Gita.

  4. KalpanaS

    We are fortunate in being able to visit cyberspaces dedicated to Mother and Sri Aurobindo, such as this one by Sandeep. The posts and links are a great aid for swadhyaya. Thanks.

  5. Sandeep Post author

    In this essay, M.P.Pandit, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, discusses the significance of relics:

    “The institution of Relics is ancient. It is not a part of religion though it may enter into the system of rituals in some way or other. It is based on a sound principle of consciousness. We have known the tradition of not using things associated with men of evil. Objects used by them or owned by them, carry the taint of evil and communicate it to those who come into possession of them. So also things belonging to those with a broken destiny are known to carry a strong negative force in them. These facts are well-known in occult circles and something of this knowledge has percolated in the common traditions of the people.

    The reverse is equally true, perhaps more true. Things used by developed persons imbibe the consciousness of the person concerned. The quality of the person permeates the object. This is specially so with holy persons, spiritual personalities. Their consciousness is of a high order, with special potency and whatever has been handled by them for long, is instinct with their power. The consciousness of a God-realised person is of a distinct kind; it is eternal, divine. If the objects associated with such a person carry the charge of his consciousness, it is much more so with anything that forms part of his body. Each part absorbs continuously the consciousness that is housed in the body. That is why in our spiritual tradition, those who have attained to divinity are not cremated. When they pass away, their bodies are buried so as to preserve their divine vibrations for the good of the world. That explains why Sannyasins are not cremated; they are supposed to have absorbed divine vibrations in consciousness. Of course some saints expressly leave instructions for cremation, that is a different matter.

    This is the broad background. We have known in history the importance paid to the Tooth of the Buddha. It is not any religious superstition that sways the masses. There is a sound spiritual truth underlying the institution. Sri Aurobindo, as all know, went beyond the traditional God-realisation state, the jivanmukti realisation. Basing himself upon it, he worked to invoke and embody the highest Truth- Consciousness in himself in order to establish it on Earth for the benefit of mankind. In other words he strove to divinise his physical body. A distinct testimony to this feature of his life was provided by the unique fact that even after he withdrew from his physical body, it continued to emanate the glow of the supramental consciousness; the body would not disintegrate for full five days. Naturally his vibrations continue to emanate from the Samadhi where his body has been interred. Nobody can escape this impact in the environs of the Samadhi.” (M.P. Pandit, Selected Works of M.P. Pandit., Vol. 1, p. 266-268)

    For more, see, including the pdf file at the bottom of that webpage

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Aha, your first comment on my blog.
      Mangesh Nadkarni’s remarks are eloquent and erudite as expected.

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  8. Tusar N. Mohapatra

    [On the significance of the relics by Alok Pandey
    A talk given on the occasion of the installation of Sri Aurobindo’s relics at Sri Aurobindo Sadhana Peetham in Lodi, CA, on 19 April 2008
    These relics too are not just some parts of Sri Aurobindo’s body. They are surely not meant just to perpetuate a tradition, to keep alive through a tradition some form of the past, or some remembrance of Sri Aurobindo. The Mother who broke free from all traditions, who gave this beautiful prayer to the children of the school—“Make of us the hero-warriors we aspire to become; May we fight successfully the great battle of the future that seeks to be born against the past that seeks to endure. May we be ready for the new things that are waiting to manifest”—She would not send the relics just to perpetuate an old tradition. She started the institution of relics, if we may use the word institution. Not only did She send the relics, she took great, great care. It was as if Sri Aurobindo himself was going. So She did not start the journey of the relics just to keep alive a tradition. In fact, there were places were relics were sent for which she would say that Sri Aurobindo must receive a State honor. And even now in Orissa and in some places in India, when relics come, there is a State honor which is given. …
    It is not just portions of his body, it is a portion of the Divine embodiment. It is the physical atmosphere of Sri Aurobindo coming to us. To those of us who have been privileged to feel that physical atmosphere in the vicinity of the Ashram, and how it envelopes all creatures there. It is his physical atmosphere, something of himself which comes here.]

    Click to access collab1008.pdf

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  10. Sandeep Post author

    An anecdote from the life of Swami Vivekananda on the power of relics:

    Swami Vivekananda’s disciple, Swami Nirbhayananda (Kanai), whom he had initiated into sannyasa in 1897 (see Chapter 12, Section X above), was suffering from fever, the temperature rising to 107 degrees, which brought on delirium, and his condition was critical. Swamiji was very anxious, since the temperature showed no signs of declining and it was feared that it would rise higher. (A temperature of 110 degrees, prolonged for a length of time, is incompatible with life, and usually signals impending death. In a few cases fever has risen higher and the patient has lived.) Seized by a sudden intuition, he went to the Thakurghar to worship Sri Ramakrishna and after washing the casket in which his sacred relics were kept (which he called Atmaramer Kauta), brought the water and gave the monk to drink. The fever, rising a little more, suddenly abated, and the patient recovered. The Swami said, “Behold the power of Sri Ramakrishna. What wonders can he not work?”

    (source: S.N.Dhar. A comprehensive biography of Swami Vivekananda, Madras: Vivekananda Prakashan Kendra:1975 , vol. 2, p 1384)

  11. Sandeep Post author

    The Mother Mirra Alfassa offered another perspective on this topic based on her occult insights. She discovered in the course of her travels that some places of worship were in fact controlled by inimical vital entities, whose purpose was antithetical to the spiritual pursuit.

    This is another dialogue where the Mother makes the same observation. The question she was asked is what the Gods look like:

    There is a force from beyond which manifests (in the form of Gods). But in these triple worlds of falsehood, truly man has created God in his own image—more or less—and there are beings which manifest in forms which are the result of the formative thought of man. And here, you see, it is truly frightful! I have seen some of these formations… (silence) and all this is so obscure, so incomprehensible, inexpressive….

    Some of the gods are more ill-treated than others. For example, that poor Mahakali, you know, what things are done to her!… It is so frightful, it is unimaginable! But this form lives only in a very low world… yes, in the lowest vital; and what it possesses of the original being is something… a reflection so remote from the origin that it is unrecognisable. However, usually, it is this that is attracted by human consciousness. And when an idol is made, you see, and the priest brings down a form—when the ceremony takes place in a regular manner, he puts himself in an inner state of invocation and tries to bring down a form or an emanation of the godhead into the idol in order to give it a power—if the priest is truly a man with a power of invocation, he can succeed. But usually—there are exceptions to everything—but usually these people have been educated in the common ideas according to tradition. And so, when they think of the godhead whom they are invoking, they think of all the attributes and appearances that have been given to it, and the invocation is usually addressed to entities of the vital world or at best to those of the mental world, but not to the Being itself. And it is these small entities which manifest in one idol or another. All these idols in small temples or even in families—some people have their little shrines, you know, in their homes and keep an image of the godhead they worship —these entities manifest in them; sometimes the consequences are rather unfortunate, for these forms are precisely so remote from the original godhead that… they are awkward formations. Some of those Kalis they worship in certain families are veritable monsters.

    I can tell you, believe me, that I have advised some people to take the statue and throw it in the Ganges in order to get rid of a thoroughly disastrous influence. In fact, this has succeeded very well…. Some of these are… unlucky presences. But this is man’s own fault. It is not the fault of the godheads. It would be wrong to put the blame on the godheads. It is man’s fault. He wants to fashion the gods in his own image. Some who are wicked make them still more autocratic; and those who are nice make them still more nice; that is, men have magnified their own defects a little more.

    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, pp 275-276)

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  13. Sandeep Post author

    The Ramakrishna mission has also enshrined the relics of Ramakrishna and Sarada Ma in centers around the world. At various points in his book “My Guru and his disciple”, Christopher Isherwood narrates the magical power of the shrine containing the relics which exists in the Hollywood center in Los Angeles:

    Diary entry from November 19. A lot of time has gone by, but little news. My position is exactly the same. The shrine is always with us. As long as some contact is maintained with it, all is simple and possible. As soon as contact is broken, all is horrible, tense, contused.

    (Christopher Isherwood, My guru and his disciple, New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980, p 147)

    During the Sunday lecture, the curtains were parted and the shrine exposed, decked with garlands of flowers and lit by candles in glass candlesticks which had sparkling pendants. It looked exotically pretty, and no doubt a casual visitor to the temple, seeing it for the first time, would regard it merely as a charming focal point in the scheme of decoration. But this shrine really was a shrine, in the primary meaning of the word. It contained relics of Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and some of their disciples, including fragments of bone which had been preserved after their bodies had been cremated. The Hindus, like the Catholics, believe that such relics generate spiritual power which can be communicated to worshipers who expose themselves to it. But this is only half of the process. What the worshipers receive, they must return to the shrine through acts of worship; thereby they “recharge” the shrine, and thus themselves, continually. It was therefore a rule that ritual worship must be performed before the shrine every single day.

    (Christopher Isherwood, My guru and his disciple, New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980, p 58)

    The “recharging” of the shrine that Isherwood refers to above is called Prana-Pratishta in Hinduism

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  18. mike

    This has to be the most disgusting spectacles on the face of the planet. God knows what these fools are bringing on themselves. lt’s hard to believe this is still going on in the 21st century. lt wouldn’t surprise me if something very unfortunate happens in nepal in the near future, in response to this horrific act of cruelty.

    Nepal’s mass animal slaughter under way
    World’s biggest sacrifice of animals at any one site kicks off in village despite protests from animal rights activists

    Hindu worshippers have started slaughtering thousands of animals in a remote corner of Nepal to honour their goddess of power, defying a growing chorus of protests from animal-rights activists.

    Devotees wielding swords were expected on Friday to turn the village of Bariyapur near the Indian border into the world’s largest abattoir during the two-day festival when animals ranging from buffaloes to rats will have their throats slit.

    “It is very festive here, everyone is excited,” said Mangal Chaudhary, the head priest at the slaughter site near a temple devoted to Gadhimai, a Hindu goddess.

    “All the morning rituals have gone smoothly and now we have begun the sacrifices.”

    Worshippers on the first day were expected to sacrifice only buffaloes, thousands of which have been coralled into holding pens in a large field, before moving onto other animals.

    Worshippers from Nepal and neighbouring India have spent days sleeping out in the open and offering prayers to the goddess at a temple decked with flowers in preparation.

    The festival kicked off at midnight amid tight security, with the ceremonial killing of a goat, rat, chicken, pig and a pigeon.

    An estimated 300,000 animals had their heads chopped off or throats slit during the last festival in 2009, making it the world’s biggest sacrifice of animals at any one site.
    The spectacle leaves pools of blood across the temple grounds, the air thick with the stench of raw meat, while authorities dump buffaloes’ heads into a freshly dug large pit.

    The goat and chicken flesh is distributed to devotees and villagers, while contractors bid to buy the buffalo and animal hides.

    Full story:

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Animal slaughter has existed in all primitive religious formulations. Since the article is posted on Al Jazeera, maybe they should also highlight the slaughter which occurs during Islamic festivals like “Eid ul Adha”

  19. mike

    Yes, sandeep, your right, there is a bias there l think. Athough, some of the comments beneath that article point out the cultural implications going way back through history. The jews were notorious for it around the time of Christ – rivers of blood flowing from their synagogues.
    Of course, this is only the animal side – human sacrifice goes way back too.

  20. Sandeep Post author

    “Religion without philosophy runs into superstition;
    philosophy without religion becomes dry atheism.”
    – Swami Vivekananda


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