This data was last updated on 11 August 2020.
History: The earliest members of the New England Hindu Temple first started gathering on a weekly basis in 1978 in the Knights of Columbus Hall in Melrose, and then at the Needham Village Club. It was at this time that a temple dedicated to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity, was envisioned and plans to buy land and build a temple got underway. Each member donated $101, an auspicious amount, to the temple project. In 1981, the temple committee purchased twelve acres of wooded land in Ashland. Once the land had been excavated in 1984, a ground-breaking ceremony was held at this site and a Ganesa pooja (worship service) was performed. Construction proceeded according to the ritual instructions of Agamas, Hindu texts that codify temple worship. In 1986, a grand-opening ceremony was held. It was at this time that the temple received the appropriate permits to hold formal worship. Over the next few years, the temple began to take the physical form that we see today. Artisans from India were brought over specifically to work on the gopurams (towers) which are indicative of traditional South Indian temple style. The structure was finally completed in 1989 and in May 1990, the Kumbhabhishekam (consecration ceremony) was performed. In 2005, fifteen years after the Kumbhabhishekam, a renewal consecration ceremony was held and attended by approximately 2,000 people. Priests chanted Vedic mantras and tended fire altars, sanctifying the space as well as kumbhas (pots of water). The water pots were later taken to the roof of the temple to be sprinkled on the gopurams, as well as inside the temple to be poured over the murtis (images of the deities).
Description: The Rajagopuram, or primary tower marking the entrance to the temple, stands fifty feet high. Inside is a large central space known as the mahamandapam which holds all of the murtis. Lining the walls of this space are Sri Ganesa, Sri Lakshmi, Sri Venkateswara, Sri Nataraja with his consort Sri Sivakami, a fire altar where homas (Vedic fire rituals) are held, Sri Subrahmanya with his consorts Sri Valli and Sri Devasena, Navagraha (the nine planets), Sri Hanuman, and Sri Ayappa. In the center of the room, Garuda, traditionally the consort of Vishnu (of whom Sri Venkateswara is one form), stands facing Sri Lakshmi. There is also a smaller room off to the side of the main sanctum where board members hold their monthly meetings. The basement is where language and sloka (Sanskrit chants) classes are held for children, and where any larger events such as weddings, concerts and speakers are held. Across the parking lot, separate from the temple structure itself, are three apartments owned by the temple. They house the temple priests as well as the temple library and reading room.
Community Concerns: Since the construction of the temple on its current property, the Sri Lakshmi community has lived in relatively peaceful coexistence with its neighbors. One incident occurred on Halloween night in 2003 wherein vandals spray-painted racial slurs on the Sri Lakshmi temple grounds, causing more than $5000 of damage. A 17-year-old male was convicted of the crime in November 2003, and police officers treated it as a hate crime.
Activities and Schedule: Daily, weekly, monthly and yearly religious ceremonies are held at Sri Lakshmi. For a full list of worship services, visit www.srilakshmi.org. Most of these services are centered on one of the temple deities and are performed by one of the temple priests. No one service throughout the week is upheld as central to all worshipers. Individuals and families come to the service/s they feel are most important according to their tradition (i.e. while most Hindus worship all the deities at the temple, some worship deities associated only with Vishnu or Shiva). Approximately 30 children regularly attend language and sloka classes at the temple. They are taught by temple members on a volunteer basis. Some of the languages currently offered are Tamil, Telegu, and Sanskrit.
Demographics: There are approximately 400 dues-paying temple members from all over New England. Large celebrations such as Diwali and Navaratri draw up to 3,000 worshipers. Approximately 50-70% of those who come to the Sri Lakshmi Temple are originally from South India. Others come from North India, Nepal, Trinidad, and other places outside India with Hindu communities. In order to accommodate all visitors, temple signs are written in English, with a few chants printed in Sanskrit.
Temple Leadership: Since 1989, the New England Hindu Temple (later known as the “Sri Lakshmi Temple”) has had at least one full time priest to perform daily poojas as well as private ceremonies such as weddings. There are currently six full time priests employed by the temple. A Board of Trustees made up of twelve temple members runs the temple administratively.