Hindu Temple of Wisconsin

This profile was last updated in 2003

RELIGIOUS LEADER/TITLE

There is a head priest who leads large ceremonies or prayers; however, he is always aided by other priests and even some lay persons. There is also a Religious Committee, which is part of the Administrative Committees at the temple. Priests determine decisions regarding religious services while those regarding religious focus as well as outreach is determined by the Religious Committee after consultations with priests.

HISTORY

There had been several attempts to build a temple in the Milwaukee area since 1980. However, for various reasons, all previous efforts met an end. In 1995, another effort was made by a persistent group. They formed an Exploratory Committee and started to excite/mobilize others in the Hindu community living in southeastern suburbs of Milwaukee. Collectively drawing on the strengths of each individual’s work experience, they started out visiting various other temples in the Midwest to get ideas and learn from others’ experience. They even met with Mr. Mahajan (a founder and Board Member of the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago) to talk about the struggles his team faced. Simultaneously, the challenge was to gather the seed money. Businesses and professionals in the community were reluctant to contribute towards an effort that had failed in the past and one which had nothing to show but an idea. So it also weighed heavily on the planners to illustrate that money was being well spent and that the community’s values were being incorporated into the construction. So, after talking with Mr. Mahajan, the Exploratory Committee decided that though the initial financial limitations existed, they should build a temple that could not only handle the present need but future growth. Furthermore, they became keenly interested in representing the whole Hindu community; i.e. not have any one regional interest/style dominate the project and alienate others. In that effort, they did extensive surveying of the Hindu community for six months. Prior to the building of this temple, Hindus used to gather at local churches and homes for services on holy days. During these gatherings the Exploratory Committee would post blue prints of the proposal to both increase awareness of the project as well as get feedback on the needs of the community. Since it is common to have the various regions of India following one or two specific gods, they asked the community to decide which gods should be housed in the temple, which deity should be the main deity, and what its name should be. At the same time a physical plot of land and its location were being strategically discussed. At that time, both the Jain community and Hindu community were vying for the same piece of land; so the planners decided to have an agreement between the two communities to have both facilities housed on the same land. The planners wanted a location in southeastern Wisconsin not too far from the Green Bay/Fox Valley area, Madison, and Milwaukee. Once the current plot became available, they spent their energy becoming familiar with those in the town of Pewaukee to gain acceptance and bring awareness for their proposed center of worship. The neighboring churches, businesses, and residents were very open-minded and welcomed the construction. Then, a team of Indian architects in the Milwaukee area were given the job of drawing up the blueprints for the temple. Having spent over four years discussing and planning its construction, they finally held a groundbreaking ceremony and invited then-Governor, Tommy Thompson. The project was completed in under a year! This temple has physically existed for only half the time it took to coordinate its construction! As a result, most of the significant history of the temple consists of the wise planning choices made by the administrators. The history of the temple since it opened its doors in 2000 has been positive. The debt burden has been slowly decreased as the temple’s popularity and attendance have been rising. Temple administrators are planning for phase two and phase three of its expansion once their debt burden lessens to under $1,000,000 (currently they still have $1,600,000 left.) Phase two involves the creation of an India Community Center for cultural events, which need a venue but not a necessarily religious one. Phase three has not yet been discussed at length; but it tentatively involves the construction of an elderly assisted living complex and priests’ quarters. This temple’s administrative matters seem to be in good hands if administrators are planning such large projects only three years after the temple’s opening.

MEMBERSHIP/COMMUNITY SIZE

The temple hopes to serve the needs of the Indian Hindu community in the state of Wisconsin. Occasionally, there are visitors from other states; one can see license plates from all over the Midwest in the temple’s parking lot.

DEMOGRAPHICS/ETHNIC COMPOSITION

Of the Indian community in the state of Wisconsin, this temple draws support from a balanced representation of India’s ethno-linguistic communities. From the South, there is a strong presence of those speaking Telugu. The Western region of the Indian sub-continent is mainly represented by Gujurati people and the East by the Bengalis. There are also a number of people of North Indian descent attending this temple. In addition, administrators have been encouraged by the support of Muslim, Christian, Jain, and Sikh Indians who see this temple as a meeting ground for all of Wisconsin’s Indian-American community. This community’s socio-economic status is relatively high; for example, a community of a few thousand Indian-Americans in the state of Wisconsin were able to afford this multi-million dollar project for their community’s needs. Furthermore they are well educated and value family, culture, faith, and community. There are a few families who have been living in the United States for more than fifteen years, but most of the Indian-Americans in Wisconsin arrived in the 1990s; so this temple’s devotees are mainly first generation parents (in their 30s and 40s) with young/adolescent children. The temple’s administrators and a few other families, having been here for decades, are older and have children who are also married with children. There are also many elderly parents of first-generation of Indian-Americans who attend the temple.

AFFILIATION WITH OTHER COMMUNITIES/ORGANIZATIONS

The Exploratory Committee initially made an agreement with the Jain community to have both the temples built on one site. In addition to that, however, there have been no formal agreements made with other religious communities (both Indian and non-Indian.) There are occasional church groups, which visit the temple to learn more about its mission and activities as well as Hinduism. The Religious Committee has a strong sense of the benefits of interfaith activities and welcome any exchange of ideas. In terms of non-religious connections to the community, the various ethno-linguistic groups such as Andhra Samajam (for Telugu speakers from Andhra Pradesh), or Tamil Groups, or Gujuarati Samaj, etc. volunteer their services at the temple as well as conduct pujas on special festivals/holy days at the temple. Occasionally, these groups as well as other private parties will also rent the auditorium downstairs for entertainment events. Again, there is no formal agreement or contract between the organizations; just an understanding of collaboration and mutual support. In addition to each such association encouraging its members to fund and support this temple, they also encourage members to volunteer their time cooking meals to be sold at the temple to fund its day-to-day operations. Moreover there are even administrative and special events’ volunteers. In addition, there are several All-India community groups such as the Wisconsin Coalition of Indian Associations and the India Religious Society which recognize the potential of this place of worship to also be a community center and therefore, lend their nominal/collaborative support to it.

ACTIVITIES AND SCHEDULE

Though the temple is open every day, Sunday is the busiest by far. Devotees attend for their weekly service early in the morning and then stay for a mid-day meal at the temple. Monday through Friday, the temple is open in the morning and in the evening; however, Saturdays and Sundays it is open from morning to night. Their weekly prayer schedule for the various deities is listed at www.hindutemplewis.com. Special prayer services for holy days and festivals is advertised in the temple as well as in their periodic newsletter and website. One may also sign up to receive email notices of upcoming events by visiting the website. The prices for sponsoring a puja at the temple and in one‘s home (this is done if one wishes not only to observe the prayer but also wishes for the priest to personally bless the devotee and his family and/or to take part in the prayer) are listed at www.hindutemplewis.com/TempleServices.htm. The temple has two main revenue generating programs that it relies on. One, its public listing/display of major donors and second, selling food. Temples often have creative donation programs to entice devotees to financially support the temple’s efforts. The “Sponsor A Day” program at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin encourages devotees to contribute $500 to cover that day’s temple expenses. Therefore the devotee is the temple’s sponsor for one day as the name implies. In turn, the devotee’s name is listed on the “Sponsors for a Day” plaque in a prominent place in the temple lobby. There are other rewards as well; however, the public recognition of its donors is a strong draw for many devotees to contribute. There are large plaques listing the names of major donors in the temple lobby and staircase. In addition, their names are reprinted in temple announcements/newsletters, etc. Another creative program is the “Pick ‘N Save” program run in coordination with a local grocery store, Pick ’N Save. If a devotee signs up for this program, when he/she shops at that particular grocery store a percentage is donated to the temple. Forms for all of these funding programs are available in the temple lobby as well as online. Occasionally, the temple will have entertainment events in their auditorium. For example, a South Indian classical dance troupe from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India was invited to come and perform in the auditorium. Dinner was also provided prior to the event. Such dance troupes from India often do tours around the United States visiting temples and community centers. In addition, there might also be events put on by local ethno-linguistic groups such as Andhra Samajam (a socio-cultural club for Telugu speakers from Andhra Pradesh, India.) The auditorium is also rented to private parties wishing for a religious highlight to their wedding or birthday celebrations, etc. Educational classes are held at the temple throughout the school year. Hindi Class has three sections divided by age of the pupils. Classes meet on Sundays. Similarly, there are even Yoga classes. Religious/spiritual classes include a “Balshiksha” course for young children to learn about Hindu mythology/gods/folk tales. Children as young as three may join these classes. For older children there are classes on Hindu religion/culture as well as recitation of the Vedas. All of these classes meet on a weekly basis and require a small registration fee of about $15. The temple’s Religious Committee also makes it a point to create space for a spiritual dialogue in the Hindu community through retreats and talks by the Spiritual Enhancement Program. The SEP is a main user of the temple listserv to publicize for their community service events, their retreats and lectures. The lectures and retreats are free for all to attend. For instance, the third summer retreat is being held on the weekend of September 26th, 2003 at the Jain temple building. A detailed itinerary of events and bios of the monks was distributed in a recent email on the temple listserv. Every so often they also coordinate lectures by L. K. Bharadwaj (a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) on multiculturalism, spirituality, and the struggle to bridge gaps between cultures. There is also a regular call to donate clothes and books for the needy in India. They send frequent emails about donation days and various drop-off sites. In addition to the community service efforts arranged through the SEP, temple administrators also hold annual service events such as donating meals on Thanksgiving Day. In the aftermath of September 11, temple administrators invited local officials/Congresspersons and devotees for a special service in the auditorium. In a span of a few hours, they managed to raise $65,000 in donations to the Red Cross. Their efforts to serve the local area are evidence of their desire to establish themselves as Americans and become a part of the areas in which they live. Even today, there are two signs on the door of the temple entrance to signify their solidarity with mainstream America in mourning the events of 9/11. For upcoming events, directions, logistics, and to learn more about these activities/programs, please visit the temple’s website.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

After driving down a one-lane, gently-hilly, road in one of the sparsely populated towns between Madison and Milwaukee one arrives at a relatively plain, white, wooden sign announcing the temple in black and red paint at the gravel entrance of the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin. After turning into the parking lot one notices to the left is a mid-sized, one-story white office building. This temple as well as the Jain temple (a smaller office building to the right of the main temple) sit on a twenty-acre plot. A ring of trees and dense shrubbery surrounding the plot give the feel of privacy and much of the temple is obscured from the main road. As one walks down the path to the door of the building, one notice the backside of the temple is at a much lower level than its front side. The building does, in fact, lie on top a hill (as is customary for Hindu temples) and therefore, the building seems to be one-storied from its front parking lot but its basement/downstairs auditorium opens to its back parking lot, thereby making it seem like a two-storied building from its backside. The front door of the temple is decorated with flower garlands and leaves; a motif which continues throughout the temple and shrines. Stepping through the front door leads to a rectangular shaped lobby. The floor is a crisp, white ceramic tile and the newness of the building and its style is apparent. Much of the temple’s areas have a generic, white, office building look. The ceiling of the lobby has four sun panels that bring a generous amount of sunlight into the lobby. Straight ahead are three steps and lead into the main worship area/shrines. In fact, as soon as one enters, the main deity, Vishnu is visible inside his decorated shrine. Directly above the stairs leading to the worship area is a grand sculpture of a famous scene from the epic tale, the Mahabharata. To the right of the stairs is a small office dedicated to the main office and administrative matters. There are more back offices for administrators to the left of the stairs. Around the corner (i.e. behind) the main office is a mid-sized room dedicated as a coat and shoe closet. Such a room is vital to any Hindu temple because shoes in the main worship areas are strictly prohibited. As one disposes of his shoes and reenters the lobby area, a staircase leading downstairs is visible straight-ahead as well as an elevator. To the right of the elevator is a small bulletin board. Above the elevator as well as above the main office and on the walls of the staircase are large plaques displaying the names of the major donors of the temple. Around the corner from the elevator is again the main entrance. As one faces the main entrance, one notices there are two large bulletin boards displaying temple as well as non-temple, community-related events. Many devotees often glance at these boards to update themselves about on-going activities and opportunities. To the left of the main entrance is a small gift shop area, which primarily sells books. On the left wall of the lobby is a television displaying computerized announcements of temple events. Underneath this television is a foldable table that is usually used to collect funds for certain pujas and also distribute prasad after a puja. Climbing the few steps at the center of the lobby leads to the actual temple and its shrines. There are a total of eleven deities inside the main temple area. Each deity is housed within its sculpted shrine. Upon entering the worship area, Lord Vishnu’s shrine is straight ahead. To the left of Lord Vishnu’s shrine are Lord Ganesh and to his right is Sri Venkateswara Swami. To the left of the entrance is the goddess Laxmi and to the right is Lord Hanuman and the Navagrahas. The outside of each shrine, made of marble stone, is painstakingly carved in a style typical of temples in India, especially in South India. No one but the priest may enter the shrine; the shrines are not large enough and besides, lay persons are not considered to be holy enough to touch/handle the statue. Therefore all devotees stand outside the shrine doors and pray. Each statue is adorned with an elaborate, brightly-colored costume of beautiful sari/cloth as well as several flower garlands, and jewelry. There are small safes at the foot of each statue with slits on top. These are so that devotees can place a small donation through the slit after praying to the deity. This practice is commonplace in Hindu temples. On the left and right walls are wall-sized bay windows allowing devotees to sit and look out onto the temple grounds. On one of these windowsills is a glass-encased scale model of the entire temple for the devotees to examine. There are few contemporary-style chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. This area is drenched with sunlight during the daytime due to another strip of windows along the ceiling. All the sunlight gives this temple a light and spacious feeling. On the floor there are two large sets of carpet divided by the middle isle. Devotees often sit on these carpeted areas during a prayer service to observe the priest. As one descends downstairs, he/she enters into a dining area. On Sundays and other special days when the temple offers a food service, there are foldable tables and chairs set-up here. Restrooms are to the left and to the right is a sectioned kitchen area. The ceiling is low and the lighting is bad. At the other end of this area is a glass door entering into a large auditorium. Here the ceiling is higher and the lighting much better. There is a sizeable stage to the left as one enters into the auditorium. Devotees also enjoy a meal in this auditorium if the temple expects a large crowd on special festivals. To the right are a row of glass doors leading out to the back parking lot.

UNIQUE FEATURES

This temple is relatively young and its administrators are very proud to have successfully undertaken such a massive and significant endeavor. The construction of the temple was smooth and swift, the finances of the operation are in good hands, and they are already planning phase two and three of expansions. This community’s sense of pride and dedication is evident when one visits the temple. It is easy to understand that this center anchors the identity of Indian-Americans living in Wisconsin as well as provides a way for them to give back and permanently become a part of Wisconsin.