Hindu (Jain) Temple, Augusta, Georgia
Description : Augusta has an estimated Hindu population of one thousand, according to one member. The Hindu Temple Society of Augusta is the largest and oldest of two temples for Augusta's Hindu population. HTS has served as a prominent religious and cultural center for Hindus and Indian Americans in the area.
The HTS also provides space and resources for Augusta's Jain community. While there is no separate Jain center in Augusta, local Jains participate in HTS activities, as well as have some separate prayers and services.
Demographics : According to Sathyanarayana, the temple's priest, approximately four hundred families are affiliated with the HTS. Some may also be members of other religious centers in town, such as the Sikh gurdwaras or the Swaminaryan Temple. Indeed, some Christian Indian families attend cultural events at HTS. The vast majority of members are of Indian descent, although there are a few Caucasian members, and a small minority who are Indians from Africa, particularly Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania. Approximately forty-five members of the HTS are estimated to be practicing Jains.
Activities and Schedule : The HTS gathers as a congregation for pooja, or prayer service, every third Sunday of the month, at 10:00 a.m. This is the most broadly attended service at HTS, and ten families sign up in advance for cooking the meal that follows it. In addition, every Monday evening at 7 p.m. there is a Shiva pooja (specifically directed at the deity Shiva), which is typically attended by 90-100 people. Other poojas are scheduled regularly in accordance to the Hindu almanac. In the month of August 2004, for example, there are at least two scheduled each week, including poojas honoring Ganesh, Devi, and Balaji/Rama. There is also a separate Jain pooja. Every Monday evening there is a yoga class, and weekly meditation classes are offered. A celebration of importance is Diwali (or Deepavali), the holiday known as the Festival of Light, which happens in the fall of each year. Diwali is celebrated with a collective pooja that involves not only local Hindus and Jains, but also often the Sikh community. The Diwali celebration also includes large temple dinners and parties. One of the most important regular activities at the HTS is the balshala, or children's school. Every Sunday during the school year, approximately 60-70 children and young teenagers learn about the Hindu religion: deities, stories, comparisons with other world religions. Classes and activities are led by older teenagers, who act as counselors, and might include theatrical or musical performances. This helps to keep the younger generation in touch with traditional Hindu practices, something several members identify as an explicit temple goal.
Other temple activities focus on particular groups within the congregation. There is a senior citizens' program that seeks to get elderly members of the community together to work at the temple or mentor young people. In addition, the HTS Sports Secretary coordinates a sports program, which includes a youth group basketball team that competes in Augusta's interfaith basketball league, and in informal cricket games at Patriots Park in Columbia County. Some HTS programs also point to its importance as a cultural - rather than strictly a ritual -- center. Groups from the HTS also participate annually in Arts in the Heart of Augusta, a large art and food festival held in downtown Augusta each fall, and have won prizes for best presentation, best display of native dress, and best food. The temple offers classical Indian dance, in both the southern and northern styles, for children and teenagers. They also host monthly performances by classical singers and dancers from India and elsewhere. There are also activities more specifically geared towards the wider Augusta community. Members of HTS make regular trips to a local soup kitchen. There is an annual blood drive at the HTS that has had involved a high level of participation in the past.
Organizational Structure : Decisions at the HTS are made by the Executive Committee (for day to day business) and the ten-member Board of Trustees (for longer term concerns). The Executive Committee includes offices such as president, secretary, and media relations, and is composed of subcommittees for sports, youth activities, publications, and cultural activities, among others.
History : The first known Hindus in the Augusta area arrived in the 1960s, and were predominantly physicians and Ph.D.s and their families, who arrived to take faculty positions at the expanding Medical College of Georgia. By the late 1970s, a group of families had come together to form a local temple. The Hindu Temple Society was officially established in 1979. The first temple building was a former storage area for a construction company. In the early days, the community carried out as many rituals as they could without a priest, and the results were sometimes a bit disorganized, according to members. "We read from books, we got people who knew a little bit about it to lead things. Some of us from the priestly class tried to share what our forefathers knew," one member recalls. In the 1980s, however, the Hindu population grew by leaps and bounds. After the 1987 opening of Plant Vogtle (a nearby nuclear power facility) and new opportunities at Savannah River Site, a nuclear weapons management plant, large numbers of engineers and their families relocated to Augusta, including many Hindus. Additions were built to the original temple to accommodate this increase in numbers.
By the 1990s, some members of the HTS executive committee perceived the need for a new temple building, although the decision to build one was fraught with questions. "It was cost-prohibitive," one member involved in the decision-making recalls, "so we asked ourselves, 'Do we really need this temple? Or are we just trying to satisfy our egos?" The consensus was that a new temple was necessary, and fundraising efforts led to its successful construction in 1996. The new temple building faces the east, although it "is not built according to traditional temple specifications," says a member, and was designed with practical ends in mind: as a place to conduct weddings, cultural programs, and large events. The smaller old temple building, which still remains on the temple grounds, is now rented out and used for more intimate functions. Since the first priest was hired at the temple twenty years ago, the ritual aspects of the temple have become more organized, members say. There is only one priest in residence at the temple now, although other priests may travel from Atlanta or Columbia, South Carolina to assist at poojas.
Description of the Center : The Hindu Temple is located east of the city of Augusta. The road it is situated on is small and wooded, lined with modest manufactured homes and unpaved driveways. A cardboard sign indicating "Hindu Temple" marks the turn for visitors. The HTS itself is a sizeable campus with large parking lots, two smaller buildings near to the street - the priest's house and the old temple - and the prominent main temple, lined with magnolia trees, sitting further off the road.
A visitor to the temple building is greeted first with a lobby, with access to a shoe and coat room for removing one's shoes and preparing oneself for respectful worship. The lobby also offers access to restrooms, drinking fountains, and a large kitchen, which also opens into the main hall. The main hall is an enormous, square carpeted room, adorned with lines from the Gita in both English and Sanskrit. There is a wide stage with lights for cultural performances along one wall, access to the kitchen along another, and a line of seating for the elderly along a third. The focus of the room, however, is the wall lined small tiled tiers topped with images of various deities. These images are both created in black, in the South Indian fashion, and in white, in the North Indian fashion, which is one way in which the HTS seeks to draw upon different cultural traditions within the congregation.
Additional details for this page requested from Readers
Page Sponsorship also welcome from Readers.
Contact for details in this regard
Mail to :Ahimsa Foundation