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Stars Right for Early Welcome to Deities at Hindu Temple

The Malibu Hindu temple--already one of the largest Hindu temples in the country--is in the midst of a $1-million physical expansion that also promises to enhance the ornate complex’s spiritual breadth for devotees of the ancient Indian religion.

Having learned that this weekend would be astrologically auspicious, the temple’s priests are installing stone-carved statues of Shiva and two other deities in one hall, even though the building that will house them is still under construction.

Devotional and cultural activities at the temple, whose creamy white towers are visible through trees lining busy Las Virgenes Road, have attracted a constituency of more than 20,000 people in Southern California since it was erected 15 years ago.

The seven-acre complex is officially called the Venkateshwara Hindu Temple, named after a deity said to be a manifestation of Vishnu, the god of sustenance and protection.

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With the current construction of another wing featuring Shiva, the god of destruction, who is also regarded as a healer, the temple complex will finally have major representations of the two principal deities in the Hindu trinity. The third--the god of creation, Brahman--is ordinarily not depicted in artistic form.

Nadadur Vardhan, secretary of the Hindu Temple Society of Southern California, which owns the temple, said that even before the 1981 groundbreaking for the complex north of Malibu Canyon, the ultimate goal was to one day add a Shiva wing.

“In India, the temples may be just devoted to Vishnu or just to Shiva, but in this country the trend is to combine the deities in each place,” said Prithvi Raj Singh of Diamond Bar, president of the Federation of Hindu Assns. An estimated 200,000 Hindus live in Southern California, he said, with the federation including nearly a dozen affiliated temples and another 20 Hindu groups that meet in homes and rented facilities.

“Our philosophy and approach is to satisfy all Hindus as well as other Americans,” said Vardhan, an accountant who lives in Brentwood. He said that Beach Boys member Mike Love is among the temple’s many non-Indian supporters.

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The major addition to Venkateshwara Hindu Temple “demonstrates the underlying unity of Hindus, regardless of their different denominational, linguistic or regional roots in India,” said Lina Gupta, who teaches philosophy and religion at Glendale Community College. In Hinduism, “you choose your god or goddess as a personal favorite, but you show your respect to all other forms--because they are all manifestations of the one God,” said Gupta, who lives in Altadena but frequents the Malibu temple.

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Vardhan said that the temple society’s board of directors originally planned to wait for the new hall to be finished--complete with architectural decor on the exterior sculpted by artisans from India--before moving the idols, or deities, into their places on the altars.

But after consulting the Hindu almanac and an Indian spiritual sage, “it was decided to have the installation on June 5, 6 and 7,” Vardhan said. “The process of installation puts life and spiritual power into these deities by invoking all the elements of nature and holy spirits.”

The rites began Friday morning with mantra chanting and readings from sacred texts in front of the three figures placed on a temporary platform outside the new hall. Alongside Shiva were his two sons, Subramanya and Ganapathy. The latter is best known as Ganesha, the elephant-faced deity loved by Hindus of every sect, and whose spirit is invoked before new undertakings.

The ceremonies will culminate early Sunday with flower petals being showered on the festivities from a helicopter. An elephant, a horse and a cow will be brought to the temple as signs of success, Vardhan said.

“The cow represents wealth, the horse peace, and elephant victory,” he said.

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In an interview, Vardhan and the temple’s chief priest, Narasimha Bhattar, did not dispute reports that the temple leadership has at times suffered from internal controversies and conflicts. But Bhattar emphasized that at present--at least for the six full-time priests based at the Malibu Temple--the atmosphere is harmonious.

“We miss our families in India,” Bhattar said, “but we feel we are like a family in our relationship with the board of directors.”

Vardhan added: “In religious matters, the priests have total autonomy.”

Temple leaders hope to finish the Shiva hall by January, but plan to add to the complex in the future.

A long-range goal, Vardhan said, is to create a Hindu university, starting with a learning center to teach Sanskrit and Vedic literature to younger generations.

Musical and cultural events already draw large crowds, but certain holidays draw the most, with Jan. 1 luring the biggest crowd of the year.

“Nearly 15,000 people come on New Year’s Day, and the lines are so long that if you arrive in the morning, you might get into the temple by late afternoon,” Vardhan said. “Hindus don’t mind suffering the long wait, and almost feel that it is required to receive blessings for prosperity and health.”

’ The process of installation puts life and spiritual power into these deities by invoking all the elements of nature and holy spirits.’

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Nadadur Vardhan,

secretary of the Hindu Temple

Society of Southern California


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