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In Minnesota, Big Moment for a Temple for Hindus

In Minnesota, Big Moment for a Temple for Hindus

Author: Christina Capecchi
Publication: The New York Times
Date: June 29, 2009

Amid the soybean fields and silos on the outskirts of this town, a testament to the Hindu faith, a 43,000-square-foot temple, has risen.

The location, direction (facing east) and elevation (at the highest point in the vicinity) of the building have been chosen according to Hindu rules. Even the minute of the temple's final consecration - 12:01 p.m. Sunday - was chosen because it was considered the most auspicious time.

The Hindu Society of Minnesota began constructing the temple, which came with a $9.5 million price tag, five years ago, and worshipers have been able to use it since 2006. But it was not considered complete until this weekend, when its 65-foot tower was consecrated.

When building began, the society's database consisted of 1,000 families. Now the group claims 4,000 families, but it is also $6.5 million in debt.

"We decided to take on a very substantial risk, and we're absolutely confident that we made the right decision," said Varadarajan Chari, the former chairman of the temple's finance committee, who along with his wife, Mythili Chari, the temple president, has been involved with the building of the temple from the beginning.

Mr. Chari said that he was encouraged by the "exponential" membership growth that had followed the construction of other North American Hindu temples and that he hoped temple membership would reach 7,000 families.

Ms. Chari said the need for the temple was urgent.

"We need this right now," she said. "Hinduism is a very tolerant religion, and that is very relevant in our community and in this day and age."

Minnesota is home to about 25,000 Hindus, Mr. Chari said, but the Hindu Temple of Minnesota is intended to serve Hindus across the upper Midwest. Before it was constructed, some local Hindus worshiped in an old Episcopalian church in Minneapolis, which is southeast of Maple Grove. Shivanthi Sathanandan, 28, a law student from St. Paul, traveled much farther, making a 13-hour roundtrip journey with her family every weekend to worship in a Chicago temple.

At least 10,000 people attended the formal opening of the temple in Maple Grove this weekend, according to temple officials. It was a long time coming for the volunteer planners, who have struggled to reconcile city code with religious code. Enforcers of each supervised closely. The Fire Department, for example, was concerned about the temple's fire pit, which is sacred to Hindus.

Perhaps the greatest diplomacy was needed among fellow Hindus, managing the tangled politics of religion. They come from various parts of India, where favored deities vary as widely as the dialects and cuisines. Temple planners decided to embrace that diversity, so they incorporated 21 hand-carved minitemples that replicate real Hindu temples across India into the building.

Arriving at that compromise, and executing it, Ms. Chari said, caused some friction.

"It can be a challenge sometimes," she said, "but we also realize that we are so far away from home that we want to do our best to get along and work together."

The temple combines marble from Northern India and granite from Southern India. Eight-armed Durga, who is praised for victory over conflict, sits across from the elephant god Ganesha, worshiped for successful beginnings.

"Even in India you don't have a temple like this," Ms. Chari said. "But because all of us are immigrants who came here years ago, we were each yearning for our own parts of home."

Now the same place feels like home to many Hindus in the area.

"This is home - the sounds, the smells, the colors," said Vidya Subramani, 48, a banker who lives in Minnetonka.

A moment later, she cupped her hand above a flame to absorb Ganesha's divinity. In a year of layoffs and foreclosures, this temple is imperative, she said. "This gives you a sense of hope that a door will open," she said. "When you bring in good spirits, they will vibrate all around."

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