Are Lavish Temples Necessary?
The forum continues this month as more letter writers weigh in with opinions on the article published in the February 2008 issue of Khabar.
Look beyond the lavishness to see the impact of the organization
I read with a heavy heart the ignorant blabbering of some letter writers on the temple issue. If you hear something from a scientist but do not understand what is said or done, you try to understand it, not criticize it. In the same vein, one has to approach spiritual scientists like His Holiness Swaminarayan and the current Swamiji Pramukh Swami Maharaj with humility, studying their lives, their work, and their service to humanity.
Those who criticize this temple should first acquaint themselves with the great service of the organization that built it, in the fields of health, disaster relief, environmental protection, social service, women’s rights, education, and moral and spiritual care. Temples are perhaps just the most visible part of this great organization.
Some people get happiness by going to Disney World or Six Flags for which there is an entrance charge of $50 to $100; some go to the temple free of charge and get even more satisfaction. When you consider that the temple will still be standing a 1000 years from now (as many of India’s temples have), its cost is more than justified. How do you put a value on a place of worship which gives mental peace to thousands of devotees? One just needs to sit back and look at the beautiful architecture—a masterpiece for eternity to enjoy.
Then there is the letter writer who laments that he cannot answer his daughter’s questions regarding why we worship so many gods, some with animal faces. Despite the wealth of information available on the world-wide web and wonderful literature in the form of books written for all age groups and intellectual capacities, he cannot answer his child. He is failing in his duty as a father and as an Indian American. If his daughter prefers to go with her school friends to a church, could it be because she was not exposed to and educated about Hinduism? Is it really because she enjoys biblical philosophy or because she just enjoys the company of her classmates? Has this father then taken the time to go to church also? It is said that, “the family that prays together stays together.” If you study both philosophies and find that Christianity answers all of your spiritual questions, by all means go together as a family and pray in a church regularly and enjoy the benefits.
Another letter writer claims that living together before marriage is embracing American culture and values, and eating sreekand is Hindu culture. If one wants to live a promiscuous life and defend it as embracing American culture, one is doing injustice to American culture. American culture is still represented by church-going, disciplined, responsible married couples with a strong work ethic and community spirit.
India’s historic temples have always been more than just places of worship; they have also been cultural centers of Hindu art in the form of sculpture, painting, dance, music and harikathas or scriptural discourses. If one visits the temples of Mahakaleswar in Ujjaini, Lord Jagannath in Puri, or Meenakshi in Madurai, all of which were built hundreds of years ago, one will see how inspiring they are and how they have continued to give solace to humanity for generations.
Dr. G. V. Raghu
President, Chinmaya Mission, Atlanta
Trustee, Hindu Temple of Atlanta
Warner Robins, GA
Why Not Grand Temples?
When I read the two articles on grand temples and the subsequent letters against building such temples, I had to step back and re-read the original articles. When I first read them, I understood where Desai was coming from and even agreed with his points against lavish temples. After all I’m a social worker and I believe strongly in charity and helping others.
But on further consideration, while charity and service taps on a set of human emotions such as satisfaction, happiness, justice, and peace, it may not do much to instill pride in one’s culture and heritage. To truly feel a sense of pride in one’s religion or culture, one needs to also feel the awe or grandeur of it all.
All architecture and art displays the passion, strength, and pride of the people who commissioned them. Without words, it speaks volumes about who they are and what they believe in. To see this, one only has to look at the many gorgeous cathedrals, mosques and temples around the world.
The Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, India is the very first temple that I felt a connection with as a young child. It will forever embody the beauty and depth of my faith. It’s a work of art and architecture. It is lavish. It is historic. It is monumental. And, it is an important piece of the history of Hinduism.
How can we not give our youth the opportunity to feel at home in their spirituality? To say that they don’t need such a place because they aren’t going to believe in it anyway is a defeatist attitude. To believe that by not spending money on building these temples, these same people will set aside that same donation to a “nobler” cause such as homelessness is fooling ourselves.
The most practical option is to give the youth of today such places of worship, teach them the faith the parents believe in and hope that they will carry it into the future to their children and grandchildren.
Ignorance of one’s own heritage is appalling
It appalls and saddens me to read the responses to the temple issue. One writer contends that he cannot answer his daughter's questions regarding Hindu philosophy and believes that temples are irrelevant. It is sad to see such laziness regarding knowledge of one’s own religion and heritage. In this age, when so much information is available at the click of a button and when there is so much freedom to think without censorship, it cannot be anything other than sheer lack of effort to not know your own heritage!
Apparently, it is unfashionable to be a Hindu. It is so easy to follow the path of least resistance and imitate the people around you. However, temples provide a focal point to bring out our heritage. If cultural halls could replace temples, there is something lacking in the temples that have made the attendees so cynical about their own religion. Please take the time to learn about our religion before making a hasty decision about it!
Can’t fathom the purpose of lavish temples
I have a 15-year-old who was born in this country. When he visited this temple, he was troubled by the fact that they spent so many millions on this temple, when they could have used the same money to improve the roads, public restroom, street lights and schools in India.
I do agree with him, and with others who have responded, that it is for our satisfaction and status that we build temples like this, and not to please God. A case in point: the prominent display of the names of people who donate to these temples.
The functional and the ornamental—both have a place
Why do people go out to eat (often at a substantial cost) when there is food available at home? Because eating out enhances the pleasure of eating. Similarly, although God is everywhere, temples help to bring out thoughts of God, spirituality and the sublime. The functional and the ornamental all have their place in the scheme of things.
Not many people leave a temple without offering at least a small donation to the collection box. Most temples usually divert some portion of their collections to do good to their community.
Temples, lavish or otherwise, are an important need for a community and a culture. The BAPS temple reminds me of the beautiful granite temples of Belur and Halebid from my part of the world, built nearly 1000 years ago. These temples still inspire me and fill me with pride as to what great deeds the hands of man are capable of!
Grandeur and service to humanity are not mutually exclusive
I'm a 22 year-old college student who grew up in Atlanta. In the interest of full disclosure, I must say I was born into the BAPS faith and have been a follower my whole life.
We spend hundreds of thousands, and even millions of dollars on our own homes. We spend so much time and effort decorating and filling our own homes for our comfort and lifestyles. No one questions us for spending limitlessly on our homes. How, then, can we feel content in giving God anything less? How can we give Him a mere corner in our home?
As to the question of charity and relief efforts, it is wise to research before making unfounded judgments. BAPS has built thousands of homes for those who were victims of the earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat, in 2001. For countless months, BAPS provided three hot meals everyday for hundreds of thousands of people affected. It has also built several state-of-the-art schools and hospitals throughout India, and provides many people with free medical care.
In the U.S., BAPS was one of the first organizations on the scene at the time of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Its formidable volunteer force and resources have made considerable impact on relief efforts in the aftermath of tragedies such as the California earthquake in the ’90s and the Sept 11 terrorist attack. These examples hardly begin to scratch the surface of the massive relief efforts of BAPS throughout the world.
It is nothing but ignorance to look only at the “lavishness” of the temple while being clueless about the organization, its mission, about the significance of temples in Hinduism, and about its heritage of grand temples.
[Please note we are now closing this topic in Readers Write.]
The other side of the presidential election
Your editorial, “Rising above self-interest” (March, 2008), about the American presidential election presents only one side of the coin. The other side is not pretty; nevertheless, I would like to expose it.
American politics has devised a two-party system over the years and these parties control the government. It takes a lot of money (almost $500 million between two parties) and a lot of time (almost 2 years) to run for the presidency.
Theoretically, a third party candidate or an independent can contest the presidential race; but he has no chances no matter how good he is simply because he cannot compete with a party politician’s ability to raise money. If he is rich, he can spend his own money with no guarantee to win because seasoned politicians will run negative campaigns against him and destroy his chances. That is what happened to Ross Perot in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections. In 2000, Ralph Nader of the Green Party got less than 3 percent of the popular vote. Running as an independent in 2004, he got even less ¯ a mere 0.38 percent.
When candidates talk about issues such as universal healthcare, economy, or ending the war in Iraq, etc., they twist the facts and give false hopes and promises. Most voters are naive and get carried away with speeches and vote for the candidate who makes more headlines.
They say politics in general is dirty, but American politics is even more so. They spend a lot of money in TV ads against each other; most of these ads are negative, and have nothing to do with solving the problems of the country.
Love the magazine
I’ve been reading Khabar for years and really enjoy the articles, especially those relating to Indian Americans who grew up in the U.S. like me. It was good to read “When an ABCD Mom Stays Home” (December 2007) and realize I’m not the only one who has observed negative attitudes by many in the Indian community. Unfortunately, I've even seen some Indian moms who do stay at home but also complain and don't seem to make the most of the opportunities or resources available to them these days.
The article titled “An Indian Overdose in America?” (January 2008) was very well written. The question (what about balance?) the author raises is so true. Hopefully more Indians will start participating in their local American community more often.
Thanks for putting out such a great magazine!
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