Building Temples and Hindus, Padma Rangaswamy, 1994

The Hindu TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... of Greater Chicago sits on a wooded hilltop in the suburb of Lemont, Illinois. When this community dedicated its temple to the Hindu godsThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. GaneshaGanesha is the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati and the keeper of the thresholds of space and time, to be honored at the doorway and at the outset of any venture. He is both the “lord of beginnings” and the “remover of obstacles.”, ShivaShiva is one of the great Gods of the Hindu tradition. The name Shiva means the “Auspicious One,” although Shiva deliberately embraces and transcends what is considered inauspicious as well. He is also called Mahadeva, the “Great Lord,” or Vishvan..., and DurgaDurga is one of the names of the Devi as consort of Shiva. Both a mother and a warrior, she is especially known for slaying the buffalo demon, Mahisha. Her autumn festival Durga puja or Navaratri is one of North India’s great celebrations. in 1994, it published a souvenir program with reflections by community members on the American Hindu experience. A South Indian Hindu woman, Padma Rangaswamy, wrote about the special importance of Hindu templesA Hindu temple will be called a mandir in northern parts of India or a koyil in the south. There are many styles of temples and temple-complexes, but most temples are laid out according to precise dimensions and proportions and erected to be the symbolic ... and rituals for American Hindus.


It is a truism that many Hindus who live in India go through life without asking themselves what it means to be a Hindu. But we who live abroad as minorities in a multi-cultural setting are forced to ask ourselves the fundamental questions. How can we be Hindus in America? What do we want to learn about Hinduism“Hindu” was originally a word given by the Greeks, then the Persians, to the land and peoples beyond the Indus or “Sindhu” River. The term “Hinduism” came into common use only in the 19th century to describe a complex and dynamic pattern of li...? By subjecting our Hinduism to the logic of question and answer, and analyzing why we do certain things, we become shapers and interpreters of Hinduism. And our interpretations are no less authentic than those of the priestsA priest is the leader of a religious community or congregation, specially trained and often ordained to service, who leads members of the community in the rituals and practice of shared and individual life. Many traditions have forms of priesthood.In the... and the ascetics whose spiritual lead we often seek to follow.

The transmission of Hindu religious tradition is today an international phenomenon, spanning the globe, stretching across the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Here in North America, we are part of a tradition that recognizes the timeless and changeless nature of some aspects of Hinduism, but is not afraid to reinterpret traditional beliefs and practices in the light of our changing needs.

For starters, all of us from different parts of India have pooled our resources and established a temple in which we can worship in common. We are instrumental in the evolution of a trans-ethnic Hinduism that is responsive to the needs of Punjabis and Gujaratis and Tamilians alike, to name but three of the many linguistic groups who congregate under one roof. Our rituals may be somewhat different from our constituent regional traditions, but they represent a distinctly traditional Hinduism that reflects our perception of the continuity of our religious life from its ancient past.

Building and consecrating a temple is part of the process of understanding and explaining our religion to ourselves, our children, and our community. As we struggle with the important questions concerning the conduct of our lives, what choices to make regarding marriage, parent-child relationships, career options, we need to keep in mind that such choices will be far more difficult to make if we do not have any religious knowledge and if our ability to understand hidden, inner truths remains undeveloped.

The temple and temple-oriented religion are also important for us because they represent the only way we have of transmitting received tradition in a foreign setting. Without minimizing the significance of the inward or contemplative aspects of our religion, we must acknowledge the value of the ritual experiences, especially for the second and third generations who have no memory of experiences in the old country to fall back upon.

The temple can be a place for us to both remember tradition and create it anew. This is an invitation to the second generation to use your temple to learn about your religion in an open-ended process, to explore Hinduism all you want, and find out how it can meet your needs. Whatever symbolic interpretation we ascribe to the rituals we witness here on this auspicious occasion will tell us something of how we envision ourselves as Hindus in America.

[From Padma Rangaswamy, “On the Need for Temple Ritual,” Ganesha-Shiva-Durga Temple KumbhabhishekamKumbhabhishekam means the “sprinkling” (abhishekam) of the temple with sacred waters carried in a “water-pot” (kumbha). This consecration rite is the most important ritual in the life of a newly built Hindu temple. The main rites ordinarily take p..., commemorative souvenir (Lemont, Illinois: Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, 1994). By permission of the author.]