by Susan Gosine
“If you take one step in the service of divinity, the Lord takes nine steps to come to your aid.”
It is designed to be the most majestic Hindu Shrine in the United States of America. And the Raja Gopuram, under construction at the Maha Vallabhna Ganapati Devasthanam, the Ganesh Temple, will climb, like a beacon of divinity, five stories into the sky.
Its base will open into a vestibule with 16 granite pillars upon which will be displayed sculptures of shodasa ganapathi, 16 forms of Lord Ganesh. It will be visible for miles around and devotees who are unable to visit the temple can see the Raja Gopurum and offer obeisance from wherever they are.
“When the Raja Gopuram is completed it will be seen from very far away. It will be a guide to pilgrims visiting the temple, they can see the top of the Raja Gopuram and follow it straight here,” said Ganapathy Padmanabhan, public relations officer (PRO) of The Hindu Temple Society of North America, which oversees the functions and upkeep of the Ganesh Temple
Patterned after the Ganapati temples in Maharashtra, India, Raja Gopurum, was conceptualised within the boundaries of strict religious considerations. Architect and builders with knowledge and experience in the intricate art of Hindu temple construction were brought from India to complete the project. Their work employs ancient basic proportions and rigid forms which has remained unchanged over the centuries. More than 95 percent of the raw materials, including the black granite, used in the construction were also brought from India. So too, were the murtis and the ten pundits who officiate at the temple.
“Everything has to be done according to the ancient scriptures. We cannot do renovations as if we are beautifying homes. These renovations have to follow certain directions based on the scriptures.” Padmanabham explained that the temple was designed in accordance with the Agama Sastras (scriptures relating to temple building) and the society logo was adapted from Sri Satya Sai Baba’s ecumenical symbol.
The Raja Gopuram and the Maha Mantapam are part of the society’s million-dollar temple expansion project which started two years ago. Located at 45-57 Bowne Street, Flushing, it includes the Ganesha Gift Shop, a canteen and dinning hall, an auditorium, a recording studio, a conference hall, two kalyana mantapam (wedding hall), offices and staff quarters.
Expansion on the Maha Mantapam, the main prayer hall, has been completed. It can now accommodate up to 200 devotees. Work on the temple’s exterior and the Raja Gopuram is expected to be completed in 2011. The Raja Gopuram, is so named, because it is the tallest and most majestic structure of the temple. It rises above the temple’s roof and has taken full shape.
Inside the temple are three completed shrines, all facing east. Padmanabham immediately stressed that the Gods must face east. Lord Ganesh, the main deity, sculpted in black granite stone, faces the entrance. The other two, his father Lord Shiva and Lord Shanmukha, a descendant of Lord Ganesh were also positioned nearby. Their reflections stared back from the gleaming marble floor. Stationed in various locations around the temple are the 32 forms of Lord Ganesh.
“Still, there is a lot more work to be done,” said Padmanabham, PRO for the past seven years. Two more shrines of the deities Lord Vishnu and his spouse, Lakshmi, were being made. At completion, a total of five holy shrines would be stationed at various positions in the temple.
In addition, a series of small murtis, vigrahas, of many deities line the inner walls of the temple. They are made in Panchaloha or five metals: gold, silver, bronze, copper and brass. Among them are panchaloha vigrahas Sri Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman, Sri Krishna and Radha, among others.
The interior walls are decorated with drawings depicting scenes from the Ramayan and the Bhagavad Gita.
A walkway lined with the 16 forms of Lord Ganesh leads from the road into the temple. In July, 2010, the temple will celebrate its 33rd anniversary. It was consecrated on July 4th 1977.
Last year, July, the temple held a five-day festival and a pooja involving the use if a live elephant and a cow was performed to reconsecrate the temple and three new towers that were built.
The society, a non-profit organisation, headed by president Dr. Uma Mysorekar, was incorporated on January 26, 1970. When the society purchased the site on which the temple now stands, it was occupied by a frame house used as a Russian Orthodox Church. The society has a membership of more than 17,000 on its mailing list in addition to the large volume of devotees that worship at the temple.