Holy constellation abroad
The huge Shiva-Vishnu temple on a sprawling area of 32 acres, in Cleveland, Ohio, in the U.S., houses the Gods in prosperous and spotless environs, writes PREMA NANDAKUMAR.
Lord Rama with Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman ... in a serene milieu. Pics. by M. S. Nandakumar.
IT IS late winter in Cleveland (Ohio, U.S.) and the area has sheets of gleaming snow spread all over the earth and even on the bare trees. As I look out of my room at dawn, it appears like moonlight. Far away from the familiar heat and dust of India, I wonder whether my plans to go to the Shiva-Vishnu temple in this foreign clime will be upset by all the snow that has covered overnight the lawn, the patio, the trees that have shed leaves and has even topped the solitary evergreen like icing on a cake.
"Winter is never a problem for us. A temple is a must for the weekends", my host assures me as he wraps me up in a heavy overcoat. The car glides on the roads that have only cars or trucks. It is a new kind of pilgrimage for me no jalopy-honking, rickety hand carts, sad-looking cows and bulls, goats and people interweaving all over, no blaring of film music from the shops lining the temple road.
But bhajans pursue me. My host has switched on the tape. Prayers to Shiva fill the car with softness. "Thou on the snow-clad Himalayas, sporting with Uma Haimavati on the silvery slopes... " So appropriate after all, I tell myself watching the snow-clad areas through which the car whizzes coming to a stop at a solid structure, which rises impassively from 32 acres of pleasant scenery.
Outside the car it is freezing, but the moment we enter the temple's glass-panelled corridor, there is welcome warmth. Within a few feet are two massive wooden doors with beautiful carvings. We push them open and go in. A notice directs us to a side room where we leave our shoes and overcoats. A couple of glass doors then lead us to a large hall aglow with subdued lighting. All of 11,000 square feet, the hall is fully carpeted and spotless.
The main shrines in this hall are dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. Somanatha Shiva, in the image of a gleaming Linga is draped in silk, a Nandi facing the sanctum. The priest in attendance tells me that the Linga was installed on June 14, 1998, along with the image of Prasanna Parvati, in a shrine at the back. The earliest image to be installed in the hall was Ramana Ganapati (Ganapati who gives Joy) in 1997. Next to Ganapati and Parvati is the fane for Saraswati in white marble, and Lakshmi. In front of Lakshmi we have the other main deity of the temple, Vishnu as Badri Narayan, installed in July 1998. Seated in a benign pose with the two lower hands on the lap held together betokening utter peace, the Lord holds the conch and the discus in his two upper hands.
Like the two strands of a garland streaming from the Shiva-Vishnu combine at the centre, several deities have been installed on both the sides. As we stand facing the presiding deities, to our left is Pranava Kartikeya along with Valli and Devasena. The management of the temple has given choice adjectives to the names to help us meditate on the significance of image worship. In keeping with our aspiration for prosperity and peace, especially living in the shadow of international terrorism, we have here Shantaswarupini Durga and Sankatamochan Hanuman. There is also a niche for Swami Ayyappa. The priest tells me that the Chief Tantri of Sabarimala, Kantaru Rajeevan Thanthri himself came to the temple to install the image, in May 1999.
To our right is another set of deities, which makes us marvel at the fond manner in which the Vedic stream has held on to the ishta devata concept. Here we have Jagannath from Puri along with Balbhadra and Subhadra. Well, Puri immediately brings to mind the Chariot of Jagannath. Since the rath-yatra is an important festival, there is a moderately sized chariot, which stands gracefully in a corner of the hall. It is decorated with satin and tinsel and has a pair of fluffy, charming horses, ready to come alive.
Lord Vishnu as Badri Narayan at the Shiva Vishnu temple in Ohio ... a benign pose that captivates the believer.
Nathdwara is invoked with a soul-ravishing image of Srinathji, so dear to the followers of the Vallabh Sampradaya. There is a fane for Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman. Also one for Radha and Krishna. The integral power of the Vedic heritage holds together the varied manifestations in this hall in a devotional mandala that is solid and peaceful. The priest refers to the various festivals, which are celebrated with enthusiasm. Among them are Diwali and Mothers Day.
I take the lift down to come to a large community hall (5,000 square feet). A ceremony is being held and so I watch from outside. There is a large gathering. I follow the Telugu words of the presiding priest.
It is a nischayathartham function. A wedding is to be performed on an auspicious day six months hence in the same hall. The residence of the bridegroom's parents is an address in Andhra Pradesh.
"We have all these auspicious functions for private parties and our priests also go to houses to perform ceremonies. A fee has to be deposited at the temple office for the purpose.
This community hall has also a modern kitchen with dumb waiter facility" says my guide-priest. "Audio, video, havan-kund. We can provide whatever you want. We have even graduation and birthday parties here. Up to 400 invitees can sit in comfort in the hall."
There are four priests and a manager from India. The temple conducts Sanskrit classes and cultural programmes on a regular basis. Since there is a large Indian community in Cleveland, most of them in the medical profession, there is a look of prosperity about the environs.
As I walk out of the temple, I bow again to Somanatha Shiva and Badri Narayan brilliantly visible through the huge glass doors. My mind feverishly seeks to understand the brilliant verse from Pei Azhwar's Moondram Thiruvanthathi while I step carefully on the frozen snow to reach the car. Did the Azhwar see this temple hall in his prophetic vision?
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