All in the Temple
Hindu mandir Builds a community into a family
When I learned that a Hindu temple had opened in Wilton, I was intrigued as there are only a handful in the entire state of Connecticut. Set in a residential neighborhood off Route 33, the Hindu Mandir (mandir means temple in Hindi) has been attracting residents not only from Fairfield County but also from Hindu communities in Westchester.
When the temple doors opened, the soothing sounds of religious songs sung in Sanskrit, accompanied by familiar musical instruments engaged my senses and immediately transported me back thousands of miles and many years, to my childhood in Tamil Nadu, in the southeastern part of India. I clutched the hands of my four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son and entered the Mandir, feeling curious and hopeful.
An orange-robed Swami with a broad smile, framed by a long black beard, warmly greeted us. I subsequently learned that Swami Balgopal is a humble man of few words, and it was his unique vision that helped establish the temple in October of 2014. After having traveled and taught in over 125 different countries around the world, he was drawn to the community feeling and the lush greenery of Wilton. “I am very proud of this temple,” he told me. “This town reminds me of where I grew up.”
Born in the mountains of Nepal near the base of Mount Everest, the Swami first joined a monastery at the age of two. He later moved to New Delhi, India, and continued his education and training at another monastery. With extensive monastic experience and advanced degrees in Hindu philosophy, he founded a non-profit: The American Hindu Religious & Cultural Organization, in New York. The organization assists Hindu immigrants coming to the US, and operates on the core beliefs of peaceful living and respect for diversity.
Although Hindu temples in India are much grander in size and more ornate in detail, the main hall inside the Hindu Mandir in Wilton manages to create a similar atmosphere of divinity. Jasmine-scented incense fills the room as devotees of all ages sit on the carpeted floor singing ancient songs about the lives of the gods. A young girl in the corner plays a constant rhythm on a set of hand symbols. Figures of various gods and goddesses worshipped across India and beyond are displayed on a stage and around the periphery of the room. From the beloved Ganesh, the god of beginnings and remover of obstacles, to Panchmuki Hanuman, the god of five faces and a symbol of strength and knowledge, each god is beautifully adorned with rich fabrics and colorful flowers.
As I sat in one corner and shut my eyes to experience the moment, a feeling of calm swept over me along with a sense of being part of something bigger. I turned around to check on my children and was surprised and delighted to find them sitting quietly, completely engrossed in their surroundings. I realized that my son and daughter had been deprived of a large part of Hindi culture––something I had been steeped in throughout my youth.
When the singing ended, Swami Balgopal performed the arati, a purification ceremony with lit copper lamps with wicks soaked in ghee, offered to the deities, a privilege generally reserved for the priest. When he unexpectedly passed the lamp for us to hold in turn, I was thrilled. For the first time, my family and I performed the arati together.
After the service, the room was filled with the chatter of families catching up and the laughter of happy children running around. A few women headed to the kitchen to bring out food they had prepared, while the men gathered up the children. A distinctive rhythm flowed through everyone present.
Swami Balgopal offered us his wisdom. “The temple is open for all, American or Indian. No five fingers are equal. Our cultures might be different, but the Supreme Being blesses us all endlessly with life, love, and peace.”
Later, as we walked out the door, I looked back, seeing Swami Balgopal amongst the men, women and children. What I saw was a large family that had come together to pray, to eat, and to enjoy a special bond created in this house of worship. Although half a world away from India, the distance suddenly felt a little smaller, and my world felt a little larger.