June 16, 2011
Jyeshtha Krushna Pratipada, Kaliyug Varsha 5113
PHOENIX — A Hindu temple affiliated with Puthige Matha, an 800-year-old institution in Udupi in the Karnataka state of India, became the Valley’s eighth Hindu worship center when it opened last week in Tempe.
Sri Sri Sugunendra Theertha Swamiji, a Hindu leader in Udupi, presided over the June 8 opening of Sri Venkata Krishna Kshetra, a center to worship and study for an estimated 30,000 followers of the Hindu religion in the Valley.
A 4,000-pound black-granite statue of Venkateshwara, a form of god Vishnu, was brought from India and ritually installed as the focal point of devotion.
The Hindu leader’s position is comparable to that of the pope for Roman Catholics, said Narasinga Rao, a devotee.
A soft-spoken man, the leader said, “The congregation is jubilant, and it’s overwhelming. I’m very glad to see their reaction.”
In 1997, the leader, who continues the 800-year-old movement founded by Madhwacharya, broke with tradition to venture out of India to serve his followers.
Since then, he has established similar worship centers in New Jersey, California and Toronto and is working to establish a school for priests in Niagara Falls, Canada.
The Vedic scholar is also the president of the World Conference on Religion and Peace.
“We must strengthen our beliefs and work together in harmony as brothers and sisters, understand each other and lead a cooperative life, leading to peace in the world that would ultimately help the economy,” he said.
In Arizona, the center had until now existed as a priest house in a rented Chandler house. When the priest house was established 10 years ago, there were no Hindu temples in metro Phoenix.
The Sujnana Religious and Charitable Foundation tried unsuccessfully in 2008 to build a temple at Dobson Road and Galveston Street in Chandler, but was blocked by neighbors.
It took a decade for followers to collect the $990,000 needed to buy the temple site, a former 11,500-square-foot church near University and Priest drives in Tempe that Rao called “exactly what we wanted.”
The main prayer hall also contains large idols of the goddess Lakshmi, lord Shiva and lord Ganesha — three Hindu dieties.
A fellowship hall also will be used for gatherings, including weddings. It overlooks a kitchen where priest Jayarama Kumar prepares offerings for the deities and vegetarian meals for the congregation.
Prayer services are conducted three times a day. Young people study Sanskrit, the language of the Hindu religion.
“There’s no membership,” Rao said. “It’s open to everybody irrespective of cast or creed. Anybody can come, and it’s run by voluntary donations.”
While Kumar is respected for the food he prepares, chief priest Kiran Kumar is in demand within the congregation, as well as across the country, to preside over weddings, housewarmings and religious services.
Devotee Hari Kandadai said Puthige Matha has a solid education system for priests.
“When priests come over here, you see the quality of the services that are being provided — it’s unparalleled,” Kandadai said.
The temple is expected to serve about 1,000 families from across the Valley.
“Given the attractions this place has — beautifully decorated Venkateshwara, prasadam and bhajans — they weave the social fabric for the entire community,” Kandadai said.
Source: Daily Reporter