In the past fortnight, in the time some cretins have vandalised churches in India, at least two new Hindu temples opened in the United States. Hindus of Rochester, New York, birthplace of Eastman Kodak and Xerox, will no longer have to drive down to the Big Apple now to worship. They just inaugurated the third and final wing of their local $1.15 million temple. You'd think this temple in New York State's third largest city, home to around 7,000 Indians, will also serve nearby Buffalo and Syracuse, but no thanks: those university towns have their own little temples already, and no doubt they will get upgraded in due course, like the Rochester temple, which started off in 1986 in a small room. Further west in the Chicago suburb of Homer Glen, local Indians conducted a poornahuti (a complete offering) during a homa ceremony last week to dedicate a new temple that took even longer to realise. It sprang from the Vivekananda Vedanta Society whose origins go back to the great mystic's 1893 visit to the region. The 32,000-square-foot temple is set on 15 acres, has a library, meditation area, and bookstore. It's the sixth Hindu temple in the region, the most famous of which is the Balaji Temple of Aurora. No one knows exactly how many Hindu places of worship there are in the US, because a temple is pretty loosely defined. Most temples start off in a one-room dwelling, often in a house or a community centre. But there are now enough great structures in the US to merit two large coffee table books: Hindu Temples in North America: A Celebration of Life by Mahalingam Kolapen and Sanjay Kolapen, and Bharat Rekha in America: A Study of Hindu Temples in USA by Krishnamurti Panchapakesan. New York City itself has a dozen temples, including the Sri Maha Vallabh Ganapathi Devasthanam of Flushing, whose canteen dosas are venerated too, after it invited mouthwatering reviews from the New York Times food critic. The Washington DC area also has a dozen temples, including the Rajdhani Mandir in Virginia and the composite Siva-Vishnu complex in Maryland. California probably tops, counting more than 25 temples dedicated to a pantheon ranging from Radha-Krishna to Kali-Durga to Muruga-Ayyappa. The 'farthest' is the Iraivan Hindu Temple in Hawaii, and yes, there is also a temple in Sarah Palin country - the Ganesh Mandir in Anchorage, Alaska. Such proliferation of temples notwithstanding, no one has accused Hinduism of spreading its tentacles in America, although the Council of the Hindu Temples of North America states that its purpose is the "the dissemination of Hindu ideas and ideals." Of course, there are rare instances of graffiti and fire-bombing. Some right-wing nut cases, counterparts of the cretins we find in India, rail about the "pernicious" effects of yoga. There is even the occasional spat between the Hindu community and local authorities and residents. One such row is taking place in the capital region right now, where the local American community is exercised over the huge traffic the temple attracts on Hindu religious holidays. The worse that's come of it so far? Signboards in front of houses nearby that read "No Temple Parking Here Please." They don't go around leaving cow's head and pig's tail near places of worship; they don't lose their religion. In 1991, the year of our economic liberalisation, when Hindu temples first began to dot the American landscape with rising immigration, the alternative rock group REM released a song titled Losing My Religion that became a runaway hit. Contrary to what one might assume, the phrase "losing my religion" - an expression from the Deep South - actually means losing one's temper or civility. Going by the events in India, some folks are losing their religion.
6 months ago