History of Hindu Temples in the United States: A Pantheon of Gods
These temples are a source of great pride for the increasingly prosperous and thriving Hindu-American community, serving not just as a place of worship, but as a home away from home.
The interesting thing about Hindu temples in America is that, unlike in India, they don't have a single presiding deity. A Ganapati temple, for instance, may also have Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, Hanuman, Ram and several other Gods. This is important because many Hindus have their own favorite Gods depending on the part of India they originally hail from, and so these temples cater to all Hindus in the country, regardless of whether they are from the states of Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh in India. This inclusive approach has paid huge dividends, as it assures Hindus that no matter which temple they visit in the United States, idols of their favorite Gods will certainly be present.
How were these temples built? While the earliest temples were built on land gifted by rich Euro-Americans of other faiths who were attracted by the inclusive philosophy of Hinduism, as the flow of immigration increased and Hindus in the country reached a critical mass, they began contributing as a community, bought land, and started building their own temples. The earliest temples built by immigrants, such as the ones built in the 1970s and 80s, were really modest structures built of bricks, and lacked the grandiosity commonly found in Hindu temples in India. However, as the Hindu community grew bigger, and more prosperous, from the 1990s onwards, lot of money was poured into the construction of temples, and they were quite elaborate affairs.
Expert temple architects and other specialists were invited from India, who imposed exquisite, traditional designs, comparable to the most beautiful temples built in India over the centuries. Elaborate steps were taken, such as the ritual preparation of the land on the building site as per the Hindu traditions. Being the absolute perfectionists that they were, the Hindu community had all the stones used in the construction imported all the way from India, giving the temples a perfectly authentic look and feel of an Indian stone temple. Also, traditional Hindu priests were brought all the way from India to take care of the devotional rituals or the pooja. Finally, after the structures were built and the priests brought, gigantic stone idols of Hindu Gods were brought all the way from India, and a Mahakumbhabhishekam ceremony conducted, and the temples were open for worship.
Some of the most popular temples built this way are the Venkateshwara Temple of New Jersey, the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, the Durga Mandir in New Jersey, and many more. In fact, there are over 200 elaborately constructed temples in the United States today, built with great love and care by the Hindu community. These temples are a source of great pride for the increasingly prosperous and thriving Hindu-American community, serving not just as a place of worship, but as a home away from home.