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Former Baptist Church to Be a Hindu Temple

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After six years of worshiping in private homes, a Hindu group will soon begin regular services in Northridge--in a church that a Baptist pastor with a tiny flock vainly fought to keep from the buyers he called “pagan.”

With escrow on the $650,000 purchase set to close by Nov. 30, Hindu leaders said their dozen four-foot-tall marble statues of Hindu deities will come out of storage and be installed in the geodesic dome church for services before year’s end.

“This fulfills the dream of my late wife, who started holding services in people’s homes in 1989,” said Yag Dutt Kapil, president of the 75-member group, called the Hindu Temple Society, California.

There are tens of thousands of Hindus living in Southern California, but permanent temples are few and far between. Only 12 are listed in a recently published directory of the regionwide Federation of Hindu Assns., based in Artesia.

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The Northridge temple will be only the second permanent Hindu site in the San Fernando Valley. Once the pews are removed (Hindus sit on the floor for worship), the temple is expected to accommodate about 200 people.

Membership at Valley View Baptist Church, which now occupies the facility, has dwindled to 10 people, and a portion of the building is rented out to a small Korean congregation.

Valley View pastor Arthur Houk had launched a nationwide letter-writing campaign within the Conservative Baptist Assn., trying to put pressure on the denomination’s regional headquarters not to sell the property to the Hindu group.

However, because the congregation had deeded the property to the association’s district headquarters two years ago, the denomination was free to negotiate a sale. Conservative Baptist officials said they need the money the sale will bring. Houk sued, but a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Nov. 10 declined to block the sale.

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Houk said the Korean group plans to move out before Thanksgiving. So Sunday’s worship will be the final service in the building for the two groups.

“We did not want [the property] to be sold to anyone,” said Houk, who remains disappointed that the church will be converted into a Hindu temple. “There will be a pagan practice where the Gospel used to be preached,” he said.

Countered Bal K. Sarad, vice president of the Hindu temple: “I was surprised that a professional priest would use any language like that toward any religion. God is one; if we did not believe in God, we would not be saying our prayers.

“Hinduism uses various statues and images, but they are actually manifestations of the same supreme power,” said Sarad, a textile engineer who lives in Granada Hills.

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The Hindu congregation “feels lucky” that the building was already a religious site, Sarad said. “To us, it is a sacred place that will continue to be used for a sacred cause.”

Sarad said most Hindu families dedicate a small area in their house for prayer, so the lack of a temple has not deterred area Hindus from worship.

But the creation of a temple is important because “we want to have social and cultural gatherings also, and our long-term goal is to have a library and a full-time priest,” Sarad said.

Sarad, Kapil and his wife, Madhu, began raising money for a temple soon after the Hindu group was formed six years ago. By the beginning of this month, the fund had $295,066.10. “I keep track of every penny,” Kapil said.

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Kapil has taken the group’s Saturday night worship ceremonies to the homes of families throughout Southern California. Last week, the group met in Fontana. In coming weeks, while the new temple is readied, they will be gathering in Canoga Park, Cerritos, Bellflower and Yucca Valley.

“Everybody likes our performance--just as people like Michael Jackson,” Kapil said, referring to their singing of religious songs and leading of prayers.

All Hindus, regardless of their sect or favorite deities, will be welcome at the new facility, Kapil said.


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