Neighbors invited into Hindu temple Dedication: The new house of worship has aroused curiosity in Carroll County. Organizers will welcome visitors at opening ceremonies this weekend.

December 12, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

For months, the 48-foot lighted tower poking mysteriously above the billboards, pastures and new large-lot developments of Finksburg raised speculation and, at times, fear among its neighbors.

Patrons of nearby Jubilee Foods pushed their shopping carts and gawked. At various stages of construction, the gleaming building has been mistaken for a synagogue, a shopping center and a Mexican restaurant.

The questions and stares came as no surprise to the founders of the Baltimore region's first Hindu temple.

In predominantly Christian Carroll County, few residents practice the 2,500-year-old teachings of Hinduism. Fewer still have had the opportunity to worship at a Hindu temple.

During a three-day dedication of the $2.3 million Greater Baltimore Temple -- which began yesterday and will continue through tomorrow night -- organizers are opening the doors to the public to dispel any mystery.

Early yesterday, five Hindu priests lighted incense in the temple and led 50 worshipers in chants, awakening the gods and asking permission to open the temple.

"By constructing the temple, we have disturbed mother earth. We may have disturbed the little things living in the soil," said Ramesh Ganachari, a member of the temple from Timonium.

Permission apparently was granted. The priests continued with offerings of fruit, flowers and other foods to the gods.

More than 1,000 people are expected to participate in this weekend's cultural programs, meals and ceremonies. The highlight will come tomorrow when priests install five statues of gods on marble pedestals at the head of the temple hall. The ceremony is set for 11: 05 a.m., a time determined through astrological study to be the most auspicious.

Five more deities will be installed in the spring, the next auspicious date.

The first statue scheduled for consecration is an image of Ganesh -- a stout, elephant-headed god beloved for his attentiveness to devotees and his ability to remove obstacles -- carved from granite found beneath a riverbed in India.

Placing Ganesh and nine other deities under one temple roof is an accommodation Hindus often make outside India, where most temples are dedicated to one god.

"Here we don't have only one. We are putting all the deities in one place," said Chitrachedu Naganna, a Westminster cardiologist and president of the temple building committee.

Thousands of deities

Hindus believe in one divine power but worship thousands of deities, each a different aspect of that unity. Because there is not enough space for statues of all the gods, one pedestal will be left empty so that families can bring their own deities to worship.

The number of gods in the temple reflects the diversity of the 1,600 Hindu families in the metropolitan area and southern Pennsylvania who will worship here.

For Naganna, the dedication of the Greater Baltimore Temple ends a journey of nearly 30 years. In 1969, Naganna, just out of medical school in India, came to New York to study cardiology.

His friends persuaded him to pursue a career in the United States. Looking to practice in the countryside, Naganna rejected a prestigious offer to practice at Johns Hopkins Hospital and became Carroll County's first cardiologist.

"We started from scratch," he said.

So did his dream of a Hindu temple. Naganna and others in the Baltimore region explored the possibility of a temple in the 1980s, as the Hindu population grew.

Hindus in the Baltimore region traveled as far as Pittsburgh and Chicago to worship during religious holidays.

In 1991, a Hindu temple was opened in Lanham, outside Washington. But the community in Baltimore had grown large enough to support its own temple.

One year later, after being rejected at three other sites, the trustees of the Greater Baltimore Temple purchased 5 acres on a hill in Finksburg. After five years of fund raising, they had enough money to break ground.

A practical site

The location is somewhat spiritual but primarily practical. A temple on a hill places its worshipers closer to the gods, Naganna said. In the end, the lot's proximity to the Baltimore Beltway and Interstates 70 and 83 were the deciding factors.

The 14,000-square-foot building, which faces east, includes a temple hall, a library and a 4,800-square-foot community center with space for 350 people. It has two kitchens, one for the chief priest to make offerings to the gods and a second for community functions.

Topping the one-story glass and concrete building is a tower that rises above the marble pedestals where the deities will be placed. At night, lights will illuminate the tower.

Neighbors were suspicious of that feature, complaining that it would block their views and that the lights would keep them awake.

"When neighbors first saw architectural drawings of the temple, they did not know what to think. They saw the tower. They got scared of that," Naganna said.

After explaining the tower's traditional importance in a temple, Naganna found the neighborhood receptive.

Temple organizers have plans for a second phase of the project, a school for dance classes and religious instruction so children can preserve the culture and heritage of their parents.

"This is more for our kids than anyone else," said Sushma Swani, secretary of the temple building committee.

Sanat Jani, an anesthesiologist from Westminster, agreed, recalling how difficult it was to raise children in an area with no temple.

"On Monday morning, I would go to work and people would be talking about going to church on Sunday. They would ask me where I went. I didn't have an answer," Jani said.

Now he does.

Pub Date: 12/12/98

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