Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago (HTGC)

This profile was last updated in 2006

MEMBERSHIP/COMMUNITY SIZE

Though there are over 14,000 names on the temple’s mailing list, the temple sees about a thousand devotees every week. Those devotees who see this temple as their main place of worship are usually from all over the Chicago area. There are others who come from other Midwestern states for major festivals and holy days. Lastly, there are also occasional visitors from other parts of the country.

DEMOGRAPHICS/ETHNIC COMPOSITION

The visitors are mainly Indian-American Hindus; however, within the Indian community, there are ethno-linguistic communities. Of these, there is a large contingent (approximately 30-40%) of Telugu people from Andhra Pradesh attending the temple. They are also the founders and major donors of the temple. Other communities are evenly divided: 10-15% being other South Indians, another 10-15% being Gujarati, and the remaining 30% being North Indians.

This temple has seen a shift in its demographics that indicates this temple’s place at the heart of its community. At its inception, most were first-generation Indian-Americans who brought their families so their children would grow to have respect for their roots and culture. Of course, the core of the visitors to the temple are still first-generation Indian-Americans bringing their Americanized children and/or their elderly parents from India. Recently however, the temple has started to also see second-generation Indian-Americans who grew up in America bringing their children to the temple to educate the third-generation about Indian religions and cultures. Moreover, there are many more interracial couples (many of whom are second-generation Indian-Americans who married other non-Indian Americans) bringing their children also. The temple’s Sunday School parents/students are evidence of this multi-generational and trans-cultural phenomenon.

AFFILIATION WITH OTHER COMMUNITIES/ORGANIZATIONS

The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago does not have any formal ties to any organizations. Nonetheless, the temple often co-sponsors cultural, educational, and religious events held by local ethno-linguistic groups (such as the Telugu Association of Greater Chicago) and the spiritual centers such as the Vedanta Society. Local groups and community associations will also rent out space in the Community Center (newly constructed in 2001) or sponsor pujas for particular gods at the temple.

HISTORY

In 1977 the president of the Telugu Association of Greater Chicago met with a few people to discuss the idea of building a center to serve the needs of all Hindus. Their vision integrated all Hindus from the various regions of India; they recognized the differences in the practice of Hinduism and therefore, chose to highlight the flexibility and unity of this religion. They also hoped for this center to serve as a place of cultural, artistic, and educational activities. After four years of fundraising, increasing membership, and gathering support for such a center, in 1981 a group of architects from India and America were chosen to draw up the blueprints. A building committee labored to design a building that would satisfy the various regional styles. By early 1982, a site was chosen and the plans were exhibited at the Second Convention of Asian Indians in America in May 1982. When a statue of Lord Ganesh from Andhra Pradesh, India arrived in January 1983, worship services were temporarily moved to Downers Grove. Even this temporary location drew crowds of several hundreds so temple planners knew they were filling a much-needed gap for Hindus living in the Midwest. Finally, at a groundbreaking ceremony in June 1984, the Chief Minister (a.k.a. Governor) of the state of Andhra Pradesh laid the foundation stone for the Ganesh temple. Starting in 1985, the temple observed many religious festivals and even classical dance programs. Lata Mangeshkar (a world-famous singer from India) even helped inaugurate the temple in June of 1985. That year a Hindu Heritage youth camp was co-sponsored with the Chinmaya Mission of Chicago. Additional land was also purchased to increase the total acreage of the temple to twenty acres and the Ramalaya (Rama temple) was under construction. The next year saw the modest beginnings of the Sunday School. 1986 also saw the installation of the Sivalinga (a special stone statue symbolizing Lord Siva) in the Ganesh temple as well as the opening ceremony of the Rama Temple. In 1987, the temple started its Sanjeevani Donor Tree program to commemorate its major supporters. Plans to expand the Ganesh Siva temple were made in 1988. Slowly progress was being made and things were running smoothly. In 1989-1990 the temple acquired two more acres and invited dignitaries like the Indian Ambassador Abid Hussain. This helped to increase the number of devotees and the demand for a community center. In 1991, the youth group, In The Wings, was formed and the following year saw expansion into the current GSD temple and larger parking lot. Four years later the tall entrance gate project was started, Akshaya (a group for young professionals) was formed, temple archives were formalized, Ekantha Seva (a monthly music program), and Lord Hanuman’s Puja were started. 1997 marked the twenty year anniversary; the President started to focus on future projects to ensure the temple’s existence and strong presence in the Indian community in Chicago.

Since 1997, the temple has seen the construction of the Community Center in 2001, gopurum (embellished cone-like top) renovations for both temples, the installation of the Swami Vivekananda statue, and the incorporation of many more cultural/educational activities with community organizations, ethno-linguistic social associations, and spiritual centers, etc. In general, the temple has become a more vibrant unifying focal point of the Indian community in Chicago.

ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES

There are patron members (those who have donated $10,000 over three years) and regular members (those who either made a one-time donation of $1000 and those who make an annual donation of $100) at the temple. Of the 120 or 130 patron members, 10 are elected and 6 of the regular members are chosen for the Board of Trustees. The position is a four year term; therefore, one fourth of the Board of Trustees is up for election every year. Elections are held every first Sunday of December. The Board of Trustees chooses the Executive Committee (president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer) to handle the temple’s administrative affairs.

The Executive Committee oversees various other committees in charge of particular aspects of temple administration. Though the President’s term is only for one year, most usually stay for two years. The President of the Executive Committee also acts as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He selects Committee Chairpersons and supervises the smooth functioning of the corporation that is the temple. All Committee Chairpersons as well as heads of youth groups and the coordinator of the Sunday School all report to and observe Board Meetings, even though they do not have voting rights.
There is even an Advisory Committee consisting of past presidents who act as administrative supports to the Executive Committee. Committee Chairpersons will submit proposals to the Executive Committee and then the President will, in turn, submit these to the Board of Trustees for their voting approval. In fact, all proposals requiring more than $1000 need the Board’s endorsement.

ACTIVITIES AND SCHEDULE

The religious services at the temple are regular weekly events. The temple is open every day; however, Sunday is the holiest day so many services take place on this day. For example, Lord Rama’s puja is done every Sunday at 10:30 am and at 6pm Lord Krishna’s puja is observed. Similarly, other gods’ prayer services are performed on the second, third and fourth Sundays of the month. Other regular prayer services to various gods are performed on other days of the week. The temple also has regular educational/cultural activities throughout the month. Yoga classes are held on the first and third Sundays of the month following Sunday School (a set of religious and language courses meant to teach young children about Hindu mythology, festivals, and Indian languages such as Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, etc.) The Eknatha Seva Monthly Music Program invites a classical Indian musician for a concert every second Sunday of the month. Courses on the Bhagavad Gita as well as Akshaya (a group for young professionals and recently married second-generation Indian Americans), In The Wings (a youth group for adolescents aged 12 to 18), and administrative meetings are also held regularly every month. For a full/detailed listing of the regular schedule of activities at the temple, please consult the website at www.ramatemple.org/RegEvents.htm.

In addition to these regularly scheduled events, there is a wide array of events occurring every day. Because of the temple’s visibility in the Indian community, all ethno-linguistic groups hold cultural events at the temple. For example, simultaneous to the Telugu Association of Greater Chicago’s Classical Performances Night in the cafeteria, was an Oddisi Dance Performance in the Community Center. There are also occasional lectures sponsored by the Vedanta Society or the Chinmayya Mission, etc. There are even lectures/discussion sessions coordinated by In The Wings or Akshaya about the issues of bridging the gap between different cultures. These youth groups and even the temple’s Humanitarian Committee also hold community service events that benefit the Chicago-land area as well as other locations experiencing hard times. For example, during the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, the temple organized a donation of over two truckloads of clothes, books, medicines, etc. as well as $25,000. In addition, they also had a 9/11 fundraiser; they invited the Lemont mayor and Police Chief to a ceremony where $20,000 was raised. They also arrange annual food donation drives during Thanksgiving. In an interfaith effort they often invite Congressmen, Aldermen, and other officials to major events.
One of the most important activities of the temple is to generate a continuous flow of donations and support for the temple’s maintenance/continuation. The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, like many other temples, has come up with creative programs to publicly display the names of major donors and indirectly encourage others in the community. In fact, their website has a webpage dedicated to improvement projects and it lists the amounts they expect to raise for each project. The Sanjeevani Donor Tree is this temple’s oldest and biggest revenue generator. The program honors major donors with an inscription on a leaf, rock, or trunk (depending on the size of their contribution) of the large tree bearing an illustration of Lord Hanuman (the god known for his loyalty and dedication to Lord Rama) at the entrance of both the Rama and Ganesh-Siva-Durga temples.
Lastly, the temple also holds fun community events to bring everyone together at the temple not only for a religious reason but just to enjoy all that the community has to offer. The annual Summer Picnic and Fall Bazaar are very busy commercial events where all sorts of vendors/merchants are welcomed to sell their wares/goods. Booths are even given to community service groups like AID-India, a group which hopes Indian-Americans (being that they are a very wealthy minority group) will donate towards development projects in India such as building schools, eye clinics, and/or bridges in villages. There is even a fireworks show that the temple puts on during Deevali (a.k.a. the Festival of Lights.)
This temple aims to give a space to every aspect of this community; their efforts to strengthen their community here in the United States (even encourage local Indian businesses) as well as increase awareness for their religion/culture in America and give back. They even allow a space for the dissemination of development efforts for Indian villages, etc. The temple also encourages community awareness in the political sphere by inviting local officials to fundraisers and major festivals.
Fliers and announcements for all sorts of upcoming events are handed out frequently at the temple’s gift shop and bulletin boards as well as on the website.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

The entrance into the parking lot of the Hindu Temple is adorned with a tall, thin, white concrete gate. The temple is not visible when facing the parking lot; however, a large stone gazebo with an enormous statue of Swami Vivekananda at the far end of the parking lot.

As one goes toward the Vivekananda statue, a driveway is visible on the rising hill to the right. When near the statue, the road curves around the hill and the temple is visible at the dead end as one advances on the road. There are two temples; the one with the smaller gopurum (elaborately carved cone-like top on the outside of the building) is the Rama Temple and the one with the larger gopurum (currently, this one is under renovation) is the Ganesh-Shiva-Durga (GSD) Temple. The white building connecting the two is the recently-built Community Center. Though a smaller entrance leads to the Rama Temple, the main entrance of the temple complex is through a one-story long hallway. To the left is an area for the gift shop.
Across the isle from this area is a large bulletin board announcing upcoming regular and special events/schedules.
Past the gift shop area are administrative offices. There is a small room containing leaflets/advertisements/brochures and announcements of upcoming events and regular programs at the temple. Past this room is a slightly wider hallway with shelves/coat racks to the right and restrooms to the right. One is to take off their shoes (a customary practice in Hindu temples) before entering the temple. At the end of the hallway, there is the kitchen and to the right of the kitchen is the cafeteria. Meals are served here for a nominal price; the revenues from which go to supporting the daily expenses of the temple. To the left there are stairs leading to the GSD temple upstairs. Along the walls there are bulletin boards publicizing temple events and clubs’ activities. The whole area from the gift shop to the cafeteria is essentially a long hallway. The lighting is dim and there is almost no natural light. Moreover, the walls are made of stone/concrete and the ceiling is low; giving the feel of a basement. All these stylistic/architectural choices also age this part of the building considerably.
Upstairs is the GSD temple. To the left of the entrance is a large glass case with a Sanjeevani Tree with names inscribed on it. This is a special on-going donation program the temple started to generate support for the temple within the community. As one steps past the entrance, the actual temple seems spacious and contains one main rectangular room which is carpeted for the most part. There are two smaller rooms to the right and left sides. The large statues of the deities have are not only statues but also shrines unto themselves; however, small closet-sized rooms are not dedicated to each deity (essentially forming its shrine) as is common in Hindu temples. The front part of the large center room has a raised ceiling because this is where the gopurum sits on the outside of the building. The back part of the room has a lowered ceiling. This temple’s space is not greatly decorated; there are white walls and clean floors for the most part. However, the deities’ statues/shrines are heavily decorated and elaborately carved as this is typical of Hindu temples. The deities are often also dressed in gorgeous/fancy saris and flower garlands. This temple also uses white christmas lights as decoration around the shrines of some deities. Along the sides of the large center room, the left and right walls are window panels looking out onto the Community Center and temple grounds.
In order to enter the Rama Temple, one may simply enter through the Community Center or the smaller Rama Temple entrance from the outside. When inside the complex, one may go back to the gift shop area and take a left when facing the main entrance. After climing up the few stairs, one is in the Community Center. This area is whiter and of a more modern style than the long hallway leading to the GSD temple. It is clear that this building has been newly constructed. It is mainly a square hall way surrounding an entertainment hall. The entertainment hall has its own separate entrance. Inside is a large stage with row seats; much like at a theater. In front of this entrance is a hallway which acts as a registration/tabling area when events are being held at the Community Center. At the sides of this hallway are stairs leading downstairs into the basement of the Community Center. The basement is very brightly lit and has another full kitchen. There is also a large, all-purpose hall with restrooms.
Upstairs, one can walk through the registration/tabling hallway in front of the stage room to the Rama Temple. After stepping through double doors, one enters into another coat/shoe room. There are stairs which lead downstairs to the Rama Temple. Again, this temple area has poorer lighting and an older design; therefore, demarking its older age. There is another Sanjeevani Donor Tree in a glass case at the entrance of this temple as well. Because we are in the basement, the ceiling is low and this temple does not seem as spacious as the GSD temple. However, the narrow hallway leads to a wider room (this is where the smaller gopurum is on the outside of the building.) This square-shaped room is more typical of a South Indian temple containing gods which are more popular in South India. To the left is a large shrine/area reserved for Lord Rama and his consort, Sita as well as his brother, Lord Laxman. It is not a room unto itself but rather an indentation in the left wall. Straight-ahead are three rooms/shrines which are much to small for anyone but the priest to enter. The one in the center is for Lord Venkateswara. On the wall to the right are more deities’ room-like shrines. To the right of the entrance are the Navagrahas, which are a total of nine small statues which are to be walked around by devotees.
The main deities in the Rama temple are Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Venkateswara, Sri Hanuman, Mahalaxmi, and the Navagrahas. The GSD temple houses shrines for Lord Ganesh, Lord Siva, Sri Durga, Sri Parvati, and Lord Kumaraswami. For a more detailed description of these deities and the spiritual ideology of the temple, consult the visitor’s guide on the website at www.ramatemple.org/visguide.html.

UNIQUE FEATURES

It is common for Hindu temples to have a main deity and for that god to be Siva or Vishnu. This temple is unique in that it houses both deities at one place at the GSD temple.

One of the most special visual treats on the grounds of this temple is the enormous Swami Vivekananda statue. This is the largest such statue outside of India. Swami Vivekananda was one of the earliest proponents of increasing awareness for Hinduism in the west; especially in America in the early part of the 20th century. The Vedanta Society (which carries on his mission of spreading the teachings of Hinduism even today) was unable to install the statue on its property and therefore, donated $35,000 to have it installed at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago.
A very exciting and significant project that is in the expansionary plans of the temple’s administrators is the construction of a Vivekananda Educational Center adjacent to the statue. The ever-popular Sunday School program as well as yoga/classical dance classes and spiritual lectures would have a permanent home at this new center. The construction of this temple and its strategic linking to Vivekananda would truly be a unique asset as well as ultimately establish this complex of temples/centers not only as a place of worship for the Hindu community but as a focal point for the Indian community.