Indian-American Hindu Temples
Indian-American Hindu Temples
6850 Adams Rd., Troy, MI 48098
The Bharatiya Temple grew out of an informal meeting held by a group of first-generation Indian Americans in Detroit, Michigan, in January 1975. (Bharata is the ancient name for India.) An ad hoc committee prepared a constitution, which was adopted two months later. The group elected a board of trustees, created an organization to erect a temple, and purchased land in Troy, a Detroit suburb. During the years of construction, biweekly religious meetings were held at the Unitarian Church in Southfield, Michigan. The temple was dedicated in July 1981. Swami Chinmayananda, head of the Chinmaya Mission West, and Sant Keshavadas of the Temple of Cosmic Religion participated in the dedication ceremonies. The temple has become a gathering place for Detroit’s Hindus and is used by many other Hindu organizations for public programs. The yoga center offers beginner-level classes.
The temple has a board consisting of 15 trustees (12 elected and 3 appointed). The Executive Committee consists of a president, president-elect, secretary, joint secretary, treasurer, joint treasurer, and committee coordinator; these members are appointed annually.
Bharatiya Temple. www.bharatiya-temple.org/home/index.shtml.
43-38 Bowne St., Flushing, NY 11355
The Bochasanwasi Swaminarayan Sanstha, also known as Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, is the American branch of an international Hindu movement that originated in western India at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Its founder, Shree Sahajanand Swami (1781–1830) (popularly known as Swaminarayan), was born in Uttar Pradesh, India. He followed the teachings of the Vaishnava leader Sri Ramanuja, who in the twelfth century advocated theistic worship as opposed to the idea of an impersonal divine reality espoused by Shankaracharya; he also taught the necessity of bhakti yoga (devotional service) as a means to salvation.
Swaminarayan emphasized Ramanuja’s teaching that God manifests himself on earth through both his incarnation and his fully realized saint. Swaminarayan was named the successor to his guru, Swami Ramanand. Shortly after assuming the mantle of his guru, he proclaimed that he was Lord Swami Narayan, the supreme being, manifest on earth, and he is so considered to this day by members of the movement. Worship of Swaminarayan is central to the life of the movement. His work, concentrated in the Indian state of Gujarat, led to a revival of religious life and the establishment of centers throughout western India. Since his death the movement has been led by a succession of high priests, through whom Swami Narayan’s presence continues to reside in the world. The movement remained small during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth but has grown rapidly under the vigorous leadership of the present high priest, Pramukh Swami Maharaj (b. 1921).
The Swami Narayan movement was brought to the United States by the immigration of devotees in the late 1960s. In 1970, the high priest, Yogi Maharaj, toured England, where a center had been created. While he was there, an American devotee traveled to England and requested that the movement be organized in America. In response the high priest sent four monks to America with a list of known devotees. Touring the country, they established centers wherever they found a small concentration of devotees. A correspondence network was established around the center in Flushing, New York. In February 1972 the group in New York incorporated. The following year property was purchased, and in 1974 the high priest Pramukh Swami Maharaj (on the first of his many tours to include the United States) visited America for the installation of deities. Some 1,500 people attended the ceremony.
Since that time the movement has spread across the United States. There are major centers in Flushing, New York; Piscatway and Edison, New Jersey; Boston, Massachusetts; Erie, Pennsylvania; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas and Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles, California. Deity statues were installed in the Chicago and Los Angeles temples during the 1984 visit of the high priest; in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Toronto, Canada, during the 1988 visit; and in Edison, New Jersey, and San Jose, California, during the 1991 visit. Internationally, there are major across India and in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Australia, Belgium, Germany, England, Canada (Toronto and Kitchener, Ontario), Singapore, and Thailand. The international headquarters are in Ahmedabad, India.
In 1991 there were an estimated 60,000 devotees in the United States organized around nine main temples and 43 other centers. The temples are in New York, Edison, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Toronto. Membership is largely confined to the Gujarat Indian American community. B.S.S. has a worldwide following of millions of devotees with 450 saints and more than 3,000 centers.
Pramukh Swami Institute of Electronics, Vidyanagar, Gujarat State, India • School of Architecture, S. P. University, Vidyanagar, Gujarat State, India • Pramukh Swami Science College, Kadi, Gurjarat State, India •
Akshardham-Centre for Applied Research in Social Harmony (AARSH), Gandhinagar, Gujarat State, India.
The fellowship encountered strong local opposition from residents of Independence Township, near Washington, New Jersey, where it had purchased land for a large religious-educational complex. Residents were concerned about the negative impact on the area by the development of the group’s land.
Bochasanwasi Swaminarayan Sanstha. www.swaminarayan.org/globalnetwork/america/newyork.htm.
Dave, H. T. Life and Philosophy of Shree Swaminarayan. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1974.
Fisher, Maxine P. The Indians of New York City. Columbia, MO: South Asia Books, 1980.
Priyadarshandas, Sadhu. Pramukh Swami Maharaj: An Introduction. Gujarat, India: Swaminarayan Aksharpith, 1995. 54 pp.
Vivesagardas, Sadhu. The Immortal River. Gujarat, India: Swaminarayan Askharpith, 1997. 95 pp.
Williams, Raymond Brady. A New Face of Hinduism: The Swaminarayan Religion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
10915 Lemont Rd., Lemont, IL 60439
The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago was founded in 1977. It is one of several such associations within the larger Indian American community of Chicago. In 1980 it purchased 17 acres of land near Lemont, Illinois, and began construction of the Shri Rama Temple and Community Center. The groundbreaking ceremony for the temple was held in June 1984; the next year the temple was dedicated and opened for public worship. In 1990 an additional five acres of adjoining land was purchased. In 1991 a new youth branch was founded.
Approximately 13,000 families.
Newsletter. Send orders to Box 697, Lombard, IL 60148.
Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago. www.htgc.org/test.
45-57 Bowne St., Flushing, NY 11355
The Hindu Temple Society of North America was founded January 26, 1970, and has centered its activity on the construction and maintenance of the first Indian-style temple built in the United States according to strict Vedic standards. It was dedicated on July 4, 1977, by Sri La Sri Pandrimalai Swamigal of Madras, India. The central shrine of the temple is dedicated to Ganesha (Maha Ganapati), the deity known to be the remover of obstacles. Other shrines are dedicated to Siva (and his consort Parvati), Shanmukha (and his consorts Valli and Devayani), Vishnu-Venkateswara, and Lakshmi.
The temple was designed to serve all segments of the Indian American community. The temple supports a number of charities in India and the United States. The temple runs a school, Ganesa Patasala, on the weekends to teach religion, languages, Hindi, Sanskrit, and advanced English.
The Temple has an active youth club that is involved in organizing various seminars and other activities. Construction of a community center was completed in June 1998.
In 2001 the society reported 17,500 members.
Hindu Temple Society of North America. www.nyganeshtemple.org.
Ehrlicher, C. C. “The New Hindu Temple: India Comes to Flushing.” The New Sun 1, no. 9 (September 1977).
1600 Las Virgenes Canyon Rd., Calabasas, CA 91302
The Hindu Temple Society of Southern California was formed in July 1977 by a group of Indian Americans to fulfill the religious needs of the Hindu Indian Americans in the metropolitan Los Angeles area. The group decided to construct a temple dedicated to Sri Venkateswara, the popular deity and incarnation of Vishnu. After an extensive search the society purchased a site near Malibu, California, in December 1979. Construction of the temple began in 1980, and the shrine to Lord Genesh—the son of Siva who is often worshipped as the remover of obstacles— was completed before the end of the year. Construction was immediately begun on the main shrine to Sri Venkateswara, and in May 1984 the shrine was completed, and the deity’s statue was installed with appropriate ceremonies under the direction of the Brahman priest Varadaraja Bhattar. Other shrines have been added, including one dedicated to Krishna (installed October 1985), another incarnation of Vishnu, and construction continues.
Although the Sri Venkateswara Temple is primarily a Vaishnava worship center, shrines have been constructed immediately adjacent to the main temple for Saivite worship in recognition of the temple’s function within the Indian American Hindu community. Ceremonies are scheduled daily at the temple, with special services on weekends and in observance of major Hindu holy days.
In 1994 membership was reported to be over 1,000. Current membership not reported.
Hindu Temple Society of Southern California. www.hindutemplesoutherncalifornia.org.
4533 Larch Ln., Bellaire, TX 77401
In 1974 Hindus in Houston, Texas, formed the Hindu Temple Society of Texas. Land was purchased in suburban Bellaire, and construction of a temple begun. That same year a monthly newsletter was begun by one of the members, Dr. Lal Sardana. Members of the temple follow traditional Hinduism, which they interpret as a monotheistic religion. Om, the word chanted by many Hindus, is considered the symbol of the one universal monotheistic God, who is formless. That god is also symbolized in its three dimensions as creator (Brahma), sustainer (Vishnu), and changer (Siva), the main deities in the traditional Hindu pantheon.
In 1984 there were approximately 2,000 members of the temple, most residing in southeast Texas. Current membership not reported.
17130 McLean Rd., Pearland, TX 77584-4630
The Sri Meenakshi Temple Society of Houston was initiated in October 1977 by a group of some 30 Indian American families in Houston, Texas. Over the next year they adopted a constitution, incorporated, and formed committees to pursue the construction of a traditional temple dedicated to the worship of Sri Meenakshi, a Shakti (the dynamic energy of a Hindu god personified as his female consort) deity form. Land was purchased in suburban Pearland, and the first phase, the construction of the temple dedicated to Sri Ganesh (the popular elephant-headed deity considered to be the “remover of obstacles” by Hindus) was begun. That small temple was completed and the deity installed in 1979.
The second phase, the building of the main temple to Sri Meenakshi, commenced immediately. Beside the main sanctum housing the statue of Sri Meenakshi there are two other sanctums housing the prominent Hindu deity forms Lord Venkateswara (Vishnu) and Sri Sundareswara (Siva, the consort of Shakti). Dedication of the temple and installation of the deity statues were completed in an elaborate week-long ceremony in June 1982.
Integral to traditional shakti worship is the spreading of knowledge through yantras, mystic diagrams. The installation of the yantras, inscribed on thin metal plates, was an important part of the dedication services at the temple. This temple was the first important temple for tantric worship established among Indian Americans in the United States.
Radio broadcasts can be heard every Sunday between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. on KBRZ AM 1460 in Houston, Texas.
By 1992 the society had enrolled approximately 200 families.
Sri Meenakshi Temple Society of Houston. www.meenakshi.org/index.php.
“Inaugural Ceremonies Held for Sri Meenakshi Temple in Houston, Texas.” The New Saivite World 4, no. 2 (August 1, 1982): 1, 11.
1230 S. McCully Dr., PO Box 17289, Penn Hills, PA 15235
Among the first temples to be envisioned by the emerging Indian American community in the 1970s was the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Planning for the temple began in January 1972, and construction was initiated four years later on a site in Penns Hills, east of Pittsburgh. The main deities were installed in November 1976.
The temple is modeled on the Tirupathi Shrine in South India. The main deity is Sri Venkateswara, an incarnation of Vishnu. One enters the temple through a massive Rajagopuran (entrance tower). There are also statues dedicated to Padmavathi (an incarnation of Lakshmi, Vishnu’s consort) and the mother earth goddess Andal (or Bhooma Devi). Members of the temple, although following a full round of deity worship, view the idols (deities) as symbols of the one invisible spirit (God). Manavala Iyengar is the priest in charge of temple worship.
Saptagiri Vana. • Indian Youth Review. Both publications are available from Box 17280, Pittsburgh, PA 15235-0280.
Sri Venkateswara Temple. www.svtemple.org/temple/index.shtml.
1 CeCamp Ct., West Caldwell, NJ 07006
The United Hindu Temple of New Jersey was founded in the mid-1970s by representatives of a variety of Indian American organizations who wished to provide a place for traditional Hindu temple worship at a nonsectarian site. A coordinating council was selected, and by 1978 the first issue of a periodical, Konarak, appeared. The council took inspiration from Konarak, a town in Orissa, India, renowned for its beautiful temples.