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NYTimes.com Article: Holy Men (and a Cow) Consecrate Hindu Temple

visnu_sri_at_hotmail.com
Date: Tue May 29 2001 - 07:56:29 PDT

This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by geelakshman@yahoo.com.

Dear Bhagavottamas:
Since some of you could not get to the URL to read the NY Times article on Sri Ranganatha temple Maha Samprokshanam I am emailing the article(text) only.
adiyen
Lakshmana dAsan
 

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Holy Men (and a Cow) Consecrate Hindu Temple


By SHAILA K. DEWAN

 

OMONA, N.Y., May 27  Everyone crowded onto the fresh black asphalt
and stood looking up at the gods. There they were, monkey gods and
winged gods, sleeping gods and praying gods, posed around the
ornate onion- domed towers of the Sri Ranganatha Temple, awaiting
consecration.

 But how to attain the heavens?

 Today, the eight priests who had traveled from India for the
opening of the temple in Rockland County, their bare chests and
foreheads painted with a fierce symbol of "the footprint of God,"
ascended in a Genie TMZ-34/19 cherry picker. The helicopter was
delayed by fog.

 The temple is too new to have been landscaped, so a sea of sticky
mud separated it from the hundreds of devotees, women in bright
saris trimmed with gold, children in embroidered shifts, and men
who simply wore dhotis, long pieces of white cloth fashioned into
loose pants. But they did not hesitate to squish through it,
barefoot, for a chance to be sprayed with saffron-scented holy
water from the priests above. 

 One person opted out of the holy shower: Kimberley Camburn, who
had brought her Holstein cow, Hope, from nearby Stormville early in
the morning, and watched as Hindu women, many of them more at home
in front of a computer than an udder, milked her in the temple. 

 Some celebrants came from the nearby towns of Spring Valley, West
Nyack and White Plains for the camaraderie and pomp of the opening,
which ended today after a week of ceremonies and performances. The
Hindu temple, many in attendance said, is the first in Rockland
County, where Asians have increased by 50 percent since 1990,
according to the 2000 census.

 Trustees said 10 families took out second mortgages on their homes
to help finance the $2.2 million temple, whose 6,500-square-foot
sanctuary held a sea of people today who sat elbow to elbow on thin
rugs, chanting for hours and reaching out to touch a
camphor-scented flame that was carried about the room.

 "It's a very auspicious occasion, the beginning of the temple,"
said Bhakti Vijnana Swami, a computer consultant from Jamaica,
Queens, as he made his way past the embers of four ritual fires
that had been set outside the temple. "It's purifying but also
satisfying." 

 The temple also drew guests from places like Texas, Mississippi,
Alabama and Massachusetts, who came because Sri Ranganatha is said
to be the first temple in the country devoted to Sri Vaishnavaism,
a strain of Hinduism that is devoted to the god Vishnu and his many
incarnations and has its roots in southern India.

 Sri Vaishnavaites maintain that one can reach enlightenment but
still retain a separate identity, albeit one whose purpose is to
serve God. Initiates are lightly branded with the symbol of the
discus and the conch shell, one on each shoulder. The women wrap
their saris in a distinctive fashion, and the men wear dhotis at
religious functions. 

 "I never thought when I came here in 1973 that I would see a
temple this authentic and of this grandeur, following this very
prescribed way," said Nagu Satyan, explaining that it was built
according to the Vedas, or Hindu scriptures. Ms. Satyan, a senior
manager at a defense company who lives in Littleton, Colo., said
she was happy at last to have a place of worship dedicated to the
one god that Sri Vaishnavaites like her believe in, rather than the
multitude of deities to be found in typical temples. 

 "Most temples in the U.S.A. sort of modify to appeal to more
people," she said. 

 For non-Sri Vaishnavaites, attending the temple is something akin
to Lutherans' attending a Methodist church, some of them said. They
said they did not mind, and were just happy to have a place to
worship. 

 "We get a sense of belonging, putting down roots," said Aruna
Bharati, who has lived in the area for almost 23 years and who said
she had been a member of a group that tried to open a temple before
there were enough Indians to sustain one. "If you have no temple in
the community, you feel rootless."

 The Sri Ranganatha Temple was a long time coming. Fourteen years
ago, a Sri Vaishnavaite teacher in India asked one of his students,
a Pomona physicist named Venkat Kanumalla, to build a temple in
America. Dr. Kanumalla, who is also a Sri Ranganatha priest, began
to raise money by performing what he estimates amounted to 600
religious ceremonies, or pujas, in people's homes all over the
country.

 This afternoon he emerged after hours in the temple's inner
sanctum, where he had been attending to a granite Vishnu reclining
on a coiled, five-headed cobra, sheltered by its hoods. He looked
as drained and blissful as a victorious athlete. His "footprint of
God" had faded from sweat, his foot was smudged with yellow powder,
and he carried a wilting garland under one arm.

 Eight years ago, he said, he bought acres in Ladentown, a hamlet
Ladentown that straddles Pomona and Ramapo. But then, he said, he
had to work to quell fears among local Indian-Americans that the
temple would exclude those who were not Sri Vaishnavaites. And a
neighborhood group sued to prevent construction.

 Finally, in 1997, a construction permit was granted. And today the
conflicts over the temple's construction seemed well in the past.
"I've been in this country a long time," said Ms. Bharati, the
temple trustee, with no particular rancor. "If people don't know
what it is, they're afraid of it. They didn't know what to expect.
If it was just a church, I don't think we would have that problem,
because people know what a church is."

 But Ian Banks, who lives next door to the temple and is a Pomona
trustee and past president of the Ladentown Preservation League,
said the concerns had more to do with the size of the temple, which
he said had been larger in the original plans, and its effect on
traffic, noise and the neighborhood's rural character. "They try to
turn it into some kind of anti- religious thing, but it's not," he
said. 

 From Mr. Banks's shady backyard, where he spent the day replacing
the shingles on his old clapboard farmhouse, the temple presented a
striking contrast to the red barn and humble woodshed. Where horses
once grazed, fuchsia banners fluttered, anchored to golden balls
that crowned elaborate turrets. 

 And then, as Mr. Banks looked on, a stiff wind bent the trees in
his yard and caused the women on the temple driveway to clutch at
their saris. The helicopter, five hours late, arrived and opened a
hatch, depositing a heavy rain of multicolored flowers onto the
expectant crowd.  

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/28/nyregion/28TEMP.html?ex=992148189&ei=1&en=3238180304018618

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