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Hindu sect ready to build temple

St. Petersburg Times, USA
Dec. 6, 2003
Jorge Sanchez
www.sptimes.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Sunday December 7, 2003

A modest center will blossom into a 4,500-square-foot domed temple that will draw perhaps hundreds of worshipers – a few at a time.

INVERNESS – Hindus plan to build a worship center at the Florida Shirdi Sai Center on S Pleasant Grove Road (County Road 581).

The 4,500-square-foot domed temple should be finished in May, said Ila Patel, the center’s president.

“We’ve already got the county permits, and now we’re in the process of waiting for state permits from Swiftmud to come through,” Patel said, referring to the water management district.

The site is the residence of the Hindu priest, who welcomes visitors to the house, but it is not a formal Hindu Sai Baba temple.

The drive to build the Florida Shirdi Sai Center temple came after the Internal Revenue Service gave the organization tax-exempt status. A fundraising drive soon began, and Patel said the group has raised half of the $500,000 needed to pay for the temple.

“We’d like to do it through fundraising,” she said. “That way we wouldn’t have to take out a loan.”

Sai Baba is a branch of Hinduism. The devotees of Sai Baba worship Shirdi Sai Baba, an Indian philosopher who lived from the mid to late 1800s, and also Shatya Sai Baba, the religious leader who lives in India.

Devotees of Sai Baba believe the two men are direct incarnations of God who have descended to earth.

“Baba is considered a Hindu religious teacher,” Patel said. “All Christians have different faiths, such as Methodists or Baptists, and it’s the same with Hindus. The main Hindu god is Krishna.”

Shirdi Sai Baba gave his devotees 11 Assurances. Among them are:

“Trust in me and your prayer shall be answered.”

“Knock, and the door shall open. Ask and ye shall be granted.”

“Blessed is he who has become one with me.”

Hinduism teaches that people undergo a series of reincarnations before their souls go to God. Depending on how they live, they can be reincarnated numerous times, until their bad deeds are atoned for. Through study and good deeds, they hope ultimately to be released from this world.

Unlike adherents to most Western religions, Hindus worship as individuals, not as congregations. They go to the temple for special ceremonies, to view the gods and to eat food the gods have touched.

Hinduism also teaches that every action – good or bad – brings results and that the way to get to God is by practicing the basic principles of hard work, attention to duty and the pursuit of perfection.

The priest, or guru, at the Florida Shirdi Sai Center, 4707 S Pleasant Grove Road, is Ramacharyulu S. Mukkotipuram. He provides private counseling at the center and performs weddings and other religious services in people’s homes.

Mukkotipuram has been at the residence for about three years. He immigrated from India to Washington D.C., about 35 years ago. The priest is a vegetarian and dresses in the traditional robes of the Hindus.

He regularly keeps in touch with about 350 followers, and says the temple should attract about twice that number.

“This will be a family temple and the only Shirdi Sai Baba temple in Florida,” he said.

There are, however, several Hindu temples in Florida, including the Hindu Temple of Florida in Carrollwood, near Tampa, and temples in Orlando and in Davie, in Broward County.

- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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