Update, Jan 2016: This post of mine has been my most popular one in 2015. I thank the readers profusely for all the love and appreciation. Many have been kind enough to share pictures of their mandirs which were inspired from what they saw here. Please visit Reader’s Gallery to view them. If you have pics that you’d like to share, please post them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For most people from India, the home’s pooja mandir (altar) is a very pious corner of the house. It could be a corner in the kitchen counter, a single shelf in a bookcase or a special piece of furniture we call pooja mandir, where we house our favorite idols. Most of these idols are passed on from one generation to the next, revered and respected by each one of them. Idol worshipping goes back a long way in the Indian culture. I would think most of the world finds this concept alien and maybe doesn’t even agree with it, but for us it is holy corner of the house which pulls together all the positive auras of the house .
A pooja mandir is a place to gather, to bow, to worship, to pray, to hope, to dream, to focus, to meditate, to chant, to learn, to teach, to thank. Every god/goddess is not merely a statue, but a virtue the devotee aspires to imbibe. At the heart of this mandir is the diya (lamp) that symbolizes the happiness in the home – the triumph of good over evil , the light to conquer all darkness in the hearts and outside.
In India, most homes typically have a tiny room dedicated to house the gods.
People living in apartments/smaller homes buy a small piece of furniture( that looks like a decked up wardrobe) . This piece of furniture called the pooja mandir is available in all different sizes and designs. It mostly mimics an actual temple with a garbha gruha ( inner sanctum) where the primary idol is housed and a pyramidal roof that extends several stories high.
I live in the USA and finding a mandir here is possible, but a very expensive affair (about $500 to $1000) and so is buying the product in India and shipping it. For years, I used a few shelves on a bookcase as my mandir. My home needed a better one. Space wise I didn’t have much room. I had to work with a corner in the kitchen, which needed to double up as storage, had to ensure that the diya and incense sticks were at a height my toddler couldn’t reach. I like DIYs, but not the intense kind. Mine mostly are the decorative DIYs with simple tweaks to store bought stuff to suit my needs.
The budget I had for this was about a $200 including the storage cabinet. I spent about $150 and was glad to be under budget. For the expenses split, scroll across to the end of the post.
IKEA has rescued me several times and it didn’t fail to this time either. During one of my several visits to the store, I found a specific book case which fit my requirements. The good part about this bookcase was it covered both my needs – lower closed shelf for storage and an upper open display shelf for my mandir. I took off one of the adjustable shelves since I needed one of my shelves to be high enough to hold the bigger idols. This formed the basic mandir structure that I needed.
Now, the next step was to indian-ise it.
I used a fabric pen to draw these handmade murals (rangolis/kolams) on the inside of the bookcase. A fabric pen, you ask? Yes, I experimented with several markers and even a paint brush. What I discovered was that the fabric marker was opaque enough to show the drawing well with one coat. It was wipeable when wet and once dry, sturdy enough that it wouldn’t come off with a gentle wet wipe, but would if I used a plastic scrub. This gave me the freedom to correct mistakes as I went along.
(The kolam/rangoli is traditionally used to adorn the entrance of a house. The beauty of symmetry is best portrayed by the kolams. If you look closely, the basic design is extremely simple and repetitive. For more information on how to draw these beautiful kolams go here.)
While you create this backdrop, also picture roughly where you want your primary idols to be placed. Create focal points as necessary.
It was shaping up great, except for the roof. It looked too flat for my liking. Guess what I used to create the “shikara“/tower? I bought a tapering floating shelf and inverted it and used double sided tape to attach it to the top of the shelf.
To mimic the toppers that you see in traditional temples, I decorated the top with some wooden beads I found in Micheals. In the pictures below, you can see how they were put togther to give it the classic shape. To keep the beads from falling off I used the eye pins that I got from Micheals to try some jewelry making project ( I lietrally worked with whatever tools I had at home )
A few accessories like lighting, bells and fancy knobs and you’re done. I went with battery operated LED lights that I found in Lowes because I simply dint want to drill any holes/hide wires.
I was lucky to find the floating shelf and the beads in the same shade as my shelf. I prefer to buy furniture in common colors like brown/while so that I can co-ordinate accessories easily, though you can always paint/polish to get the shade you desire.
Supplies I used:
- Borgsjo book shelf from IKEA ($95)
- Allen Roth floating shelf from Lowes ($27)
- Knobs from World Market($8)
- Metal bells from India($3)
- Beads and other tools from Michaels and Home Depot($15)
- Fabric Pen used – “DecoFabric” in white. ($3)
- Battery operated LED lights from Lowes ($13*2)
Until next time. Happy Making!
Update, Mar 2016: Looks like Borgsjo book shelf is no longer available in IKEA. An alternate shelf, Brusali High cabinet, also available in IKEA looks equally good. Pls. see Padma Priya’s work in Reader’s gallery to see her beautiful work with this cabinet.