Dr. Vasudha Narayanan is distinguished professor of religion at the University of North Florida. She was instrumental in the founding of the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions at the University of Florida. Dr. Narayanan became a Pluralism Project affiliate in 1998 and profiled Hindu temples in Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and California.
Profiling Hindu Temples in Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and California
Dr. Narayanan focused her research on religious organizations which have an explicit “Hindu” agenda (devotional, meditational, and/or service) and inter-faith institutions which have strongly recognizable Hindu elements in them. The mapping and creating of profiles focused on Georgia, North Florida, parts of Michigan, and California and covered 18 institutions. For each institution, information was gathered about the following:
- A brief history
- Purpose and mission. Is this primarily a devotional organization (eg. Sri Venkateswara temple, Atlanta), an organization focussing on meditation and acquisition of wisdom, (for example, the Brahma Kumari centers) or one that provides humanitarian service (like the Gayatri Parivar).
- Deities installed.
- Are there any unusual/interesting elements? For example, some temples ritually sacralize the land using a number of strategies. These may take the following forms:
(a) Devotees physically consecrate the land with waters from sacred Indian rivers and American rivers.
(b) Devotees compose songs and pious Sanskrit prayers extolling the state that they are in. Dr. Narayanan focused specifically on a Sanskrit prayer which glorifies every American city where Venkateswara, a form of Vishnu, has a temple. For example, this Sanskrit poem, called “Appearances of Venkateswara in America,” hails Texas as the majestic state garlanded by the Rio Grande river, a land where Vishnu sports with the Goddess Lakshmi and so on. By singing about the place, it is ritually claimed to be part of one’s tradition.
(c) Worshippers adapt Sanskrit Puranic Cosmology by identifying America as one of the “dvipas” or islands quoted in the texts. These formulas are used in the performance of all rituals.
- What kind of architecture and spatial arrangements are negotiated?
- Who participates in leadership and ritual functions? Where do the priests/ monks come from?
- What kind of people come to this center (ethnicity, approximate economic class, gender, laypeople, or renunciants, etc.).
- Specific classes, programs, visiting specialists.
- Contact person, priest, ritual specialist, internet/webpage addresses.
- Primary means of communicating with devotees/members (internet, email, newsletters etc.)
Where appropriate, Dr. Narayanan highlighted the architecture and spatial arrangement of the religious center. There are correspondences between the physical environment of the center and group’s beliefs and/or compromises with the environment. Specifically, the architecture and spatial arrangements may reflect the group’s negotatiated peace with the larger American milieu; compromises worked out between Hindu traditions and other South Asian traditions (usually Jainism, but occasionally Sikhism), north and south Indian forms of Hindu worship, between Shaiva, Vaishnava and Goddess traditions, caste/ community traditions; and finally, the institution’s financial situation and prognosis for the future.
Hinduism in Gainsville, Florida
Hindu Temple of Atlanta
Shridi Sai Temple (Inverness, Florida)
Hindu Temples in Michigan, Illinois, and California
Selected Links and Publications
- Faculty webpage: Dr. Vasudha Narayanan
- Website: Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions at the University of Florida