The Hindu Temple of Atlanta comes to a spiritual crossroads next week with the dedication of a new temple at the Riverdale complex and a 12-year anniversary ceremony of cleansing and re-energizing the main temple.
The tower atop the new temple to Lord Siva (Shiva), under construction since January, can be seen from Ga. 85. A bare concrete ziggurat, it stands in stark contrast to the highly ornamented, brilliant white tower over the adjoining temple to Lord Venkateswara, or Vishnu.
Eight days of ceremonies begin Monday to dedicate the new temple and rededicate the older one. They culminate Memorial Day weekend with dance, song and prayer. Attendees also will hear addresses from Satguru Bodhinatha Veylansami, leader of the Saiva Siddhanta Temple in Hawaii.
On Tuesday, the temple complex buzzed. Bulldozers graded the land around the unfinished Siva temple, while workers nailed up Sheetrock. In the older, Venkateswara temple, a priest chanted prayers and rang a bell in the main hall, where spice-daubed murthies (or statues) of such deities as Nataraja and Siva lay in wooden boxes, half-covered with mounds of raw whole-grain rice. They are temporarily on display in the main hall before being installed in the Siva temple. Downstairs in the education building, young women practiced vocals and classical dance movements for the upcoming ceremonies.
The Hindu Temple of Atlanta is dedicated not only to worship but to revitalizing traditional Indian culture. Classes for children at the Balavihar (or Sunday school) building take place alongside adult refresher courses in such classics as the Bhagavad-Gita. “All of us are relearning what we learned when we were kids,” said Shobna Raghupathy, a transplant from India and a volunteer teacher at the school.
Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are the Hindu trinity representing the forces of creation, preservation and destruction. Dr. Krishna Mohan, a Fayette County cardiologist and former president of the temple’s board of trustees, said that Westerners should understand that the destructive aspect of Siva is a positive quality for Hindus, representing transcendence or salvation from the wheel of birth, death and rebirth.
“One god, many names” is Mohan’s concise description of Hinduism.
A tradition of prayer and ritual is connected to each deity, and in India followers of one tradition or another tend to congregate in separate temples, said Dr. Ravi Sarma, temple secretary. In the United States, combined temples are less rare — for example, the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in the Washington area.
The bare concrete block surface of Atlanta’s Siva tower will be “Indianized” over the next two years with the addition of intricate carvings of Vedantic images, said Mohan.
Next month, ground will be broken for another Hindu temple in Lilburn, northeast of Atlanta. The Swaminarayan mandir (or temple) will be devoted to a fast-growing sect that originated with the 18th-century spiritual leader Bhagwan Swaminarayan.