Tucked away on a hill beyond a vast commercial landscape are the first two Dharmic temples to exist in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin.
The 22 acres that are home to the Hindu and Jain Temples of Wisconsin were situated in “the middle of nowhere” when they were built in 2001, according to Sarvesh Geddam, the secretary of the two congregations. Now, the area is laden with fast-food restaurants and surplus warehouses, and Pewaukee, a village next to Waukesha in Milwaukee’s far-west suburbs, has become home to two more groups: devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba, a 20th-century Hindu saint, and BAPS, or Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, a larger Hindu denomination that follows gurus, or swamis, and is often recognizable for its grand temples.
When the Hindu and Jain temples were finished 20 years ago, the community was decidedly unmarked by South Asian culture. Even today, outsiders might wonder that the Wisconsin suburbs — and a state known predominantly for its freezing temperatures (as well as its dairy farming and its importance in national elections) — would draw people from the homelands of Hinduism and Jainism.