Chants of ancient Sanskrit hymns, the clanging of temple bells and the scent of incense filled the worship hall of a half-constructed Hindu temple in the Malibu hills Saturday as Indian immigrant devotees enacted a ritual rich with the flavor of their homeland.
Brahman priests presented offerings of coconut, banana and rice, then sprinkled holy water on new marble statues of Krishna and his wife, Radha. Decorative garlands of chrysanthemums were placed on the images as tokens of love and respect.
Part of a weekend festival, Saturday's ceremonies at the Lord Venkateswara Temple focused on invoking the spirits of Hindu gods to sanctify brass pots of holy water. The water will be used today in rituals installing the images of Krishna and Radha in a side shrine, bringing one step closer to completion the largest Hindu temple to be built by Indian immigrants anywhere in the United States.
"This temple is a legacy we will leave behind to our children, so they can cherish their ancient culture and heritage and pass it on to successive generations," said Raman Raghavan, temple manager.
Saraswathi Narayanaswami, a Northridge resident who was one of about 30 participants in Saturday morning's ceremony, said that Indian immigrants had wanted "a place where we can get together and worship."
"With all the pressure in your daily life, when you come here it gives you peace of mind," she added. "You calm down."
The temple also introduces immigrants' children to their Indian heritage, she said.
"In our Indian culture, music and dance--everything--is devoted to God," said Vasan Srinivasan, secretary of the Hindu Temple Society of Southern California, which is building the 26,000-square-foot temple and cultural complex. "Our culture is so much mingled with religion that you cannot separate them."
Srinivasan added that in Hindu culture, "you are not supposed to live in any place without a temple."
Construction of the temple was launched in early 1982, and daily worship has been conducted there since the consecration of the main deity of Lord Venkateswara on May 13, 1984.
The temple was financed largely by a State Bank of India loan backed by the collateral of 30 families who guaranteed repayment. More than $1.1 million has been spent on land and construction to date, Srinivasan said. The total construction cost has been estimated at $1.7 million, and the society is presently attempting to raise funds to complete the project.
India Setting Recalled
The mountainous 4.5-acre site at 1600 Las Virgenes Canyon Road was chosen because it recalls the setting of Southern India's Tirupathi Temple, a famous temple dedicated to Venkateswara, Raghavan said.
"There are seven hills surrounding the (Tirupathi) temple," Raghavan said. "This place has got a little similarity."
Of the Hindu temples built or under construction by Indian immigrants in the United States, this temple is the largest, Srinivasan said. It is built in the architectural style of the Chola Dynasty, which ruled in Southern India more than 1,000 years ago, he added.
Columns of the main temple hall are decorated with scenes from the Hindu Scriptures, decorative flower designs and mythological lions with oversized heads and bulging eyes that are symbols of strength.
Raghavan said he believes that the temple will become "a landmark as a tourist spot."
"This is a temple not only built for Hindus," he added. "All people, all classes, all creeds are welcome. . . . All the religions ultimately teach the same truth. There are only different paths. Rivers have many tributaries, but ultimately all the rivers join to the ocean. Like that, there are different paths to see God face to face."
The Hindu Temple Society of Southern California decided to build a temple primarily dedicated to Lord Venkateswara because he is a popular deity worshipped by all social classes throughout India's regions, Raghavan said.
Both Krishna and Venkateswara are considered incarnations of Lord Vishnu, one of the Trinity of three supreme Hindu gods.
"Lord Vishnu, in all his manifestations, is the great provider and protector of the Hindu religion," said R. Narayanaswami, who went to worship Saturday with his wife, Saraswathi, and their 13-year-old son, Sekhar. "Worshipping Lord Venkateswara and Lord Krishna is equivalent to worshipping Lord Vishnu."
Sekhar Narayanaswami, a student at Harvard High School in Studio City, said he was born in the United States but has visited India many times and feels a strong tie to that country.
"I feel lucky," Sekhar said. "A lot of people in India don't have the comforts we have here--the cars and televisions and stuff. And my roots are in India. So I've got the best of both countries."
Sekhar and an 11-year-old friend, Kumaran Ramamurthi of Thousand Oaks, also born in the United States, joined in the chanting of Sanskrit hymns at Saturday's ceremonies.
'A Virtuous Life'
Kumaran said he had learned about the life of Krishna and many other stories from the Hindu Scriptures, as well as learning of the ethical values contained in them. "It's like you shouldn't cheat, steal or lie," he said. "You should lead a virtuous life."
Religious celebrations will be held at the temple throughout the morning and in the evening today, and a cultural program, with Indian food available, will run from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Raghavan said.
The cultural program will feature singing and dancing in the cultural complex on the first floor of the temple, he said. Some of the dances will enact scenes from the life of Krishna, who came into this world, Raghavan said, to protect good people, destroy wickedness and teach a code of ethics by which to live.