Growing Indian community celebrates new Hindu temple

Rhys Saunders

The opening of a Hindu temple in Chatham this week not only gives local worshippers a new place to meet and pray, it’s another indication that the Indian community in central Illinois is growing.

Members of the Hindu Temple of Greater Springfield believe in teachings based on “Sanathana Dharma,” or Ageless Wisdom, whose tenets are truth, love, peace, right conduct and non-violence. Their mission is to preserve and promote the Hindu religion, culture and philosophy.

The inaugural ceremonies for the Hindu Temple of Greater Springfield, 1001 W. Walnut St. in Chatham, began Monday night as members circled the building three times while praying in mantras. The temple’s priest, Sri Vasudev Ravuru, led the procession as others carried pictorial representations of Hindu deities.

The ceremonies will continue through Thursday, with a visit by an eminent Hindu saint, Bhagwan Sri Viswayogi Viswamjee.

“With the temple, there is a certain science behind how you choose a place and how we inaugurate it,” said Dr. Romesh Khardori, 57, of Springfield, vice chairman of the group.

“We circle around the place to make sure we have peace with all the deities and God to oversee this property and make sure we have its blessing.”

Khardori estimates there are 250 to 300 Hindu families in the Springfield area, as well as a sizeable number of single people working within the city and students at the University of Illinois at Springfield and at Urbana-Champaign.

“As an important ethnic group, we want to have our presence felt, number one,” he said. “And because we have a lot of elders and middle-aged people ... this is driven by people who are my age and older.”

After Monday’s processional, several people ceremoniously broke coconuts on the ground, an act symbolizing a good omen.

Also, Chatham Mayor Tom Gray presided over a ribbon cutting and unveiled the temple’s sign.

“I know this is the type of community I want, one that’s diverse and one that welcomes everyone,” Gray said.

Before entering the temple grounds, or the temple itself, Hindus take their shoes off as a sign of respect, something visitors are encouraged to do as well.

“Any place where you want to enter, if it’s supposed to be a peaceful house of God, you want to show some respect,” Khardori said. “Not only by just removing shoes, we also cover our heads. Men will use handkerchiefs, and women will use a (shawl-like material).”

After the inaugural ceremonies, several people gathered inside the temple to pray.

“Through these rituals, what we’re doing is installing life and energy in the statues of the gods and deities,” said Anita Patel, 38, of Springfield.

“That has to be done before they can be put on this platform (at the front of the room). Then it’s like coming and worshipping through a real person.”

Anita’s husband, 39-year-old Manish Patel, agreed the prayers provide a greater energy to the temple.

“The temple has a specific energy to it, there’s inner peace,” he said. “Putting all the energy into the statues … that’s the whole idea.”

Rhys Saunders can be reached at (217) 788-1521