Chambersburg contractor building Hindu temple in Md.

Designs are created by artisans for the Sri Bhaktha Anjaneya Temple in Ijamsville, Maryland.

FREDERICK, MD. >> A local contractor is coordinating artisans flown in from India with steel and framing contractors in expectations of finishing a small temple before Labor Day.

“It’s like choreographing a dance,” said Murali Pathy of Germantown.

Pathy, a software engineer, serves as the liaison between the Sri Bhaktha Anjaneya Temple and Brechbill & Helman Construction Co. of Chambersburg, Pa. The yellow dust of the construction site clings to his shiny black, tasseled loafers.

“Brechbill & Helman has been involved in understanding the culture and the limitations,” Pathy said. Both the temple entrance and the deities must face east, for instance.

A general contract for the 5,000 square foot Hindu temple at Ijamsville is a first for Brechbill & Helman. The company has managed the construction of 14 churches in its 48-year history, but never a non-Christian religious structure, according to Gregg Thompson, director of marketing.

“We met with the priests and representatives and found them to be warm, gracious people,” Thompson said. “They have been very good to work with.”

Brechbill & Helman also is negotiating for the contract to build a Hindu temple in Pittsburgh, he said.

The nation’s Hindu population has more than doubled since 1990, according to the U.S. Census, even so the country has fewer Hindus than either Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims or Buddhists.

“We pound on a lot of doors. This one opened,” Brechbill & Helman project manager Harold Shipp said. “The project is very, very interesting.”

Sri Bhaktha Anjaneya Temple will be located at 10747 Fingerboard Road, Ijamsville, Frederick County Maryland.

Sri Bhaktha Anjaneya Temple will be located at 10747 Fingerboard Road, Ijamsville, Frederick County Maryland. (courtesy — computer image)
Decorative building

Under flapping tarps, barefoot artisans shape wet portland cement into the ornamental domes that will cap the shrines to five Hindu gods. In a similar manner, they are decorating the masonry walls of the shrines on the concrete pad for the temple. The exterior window trim and roof edge will get a similar treatment.

“Where in the U.S. could you have 20 people doing that task? You couldn’t afford it,” Shipp said.

The artisans are visiting the U.S. on religious visas, Pathy said. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service visited the site months ago to verify the project before issuing visas.

The artisans do not speak English, but that’s not really an issue for Shipp. Industry protocol requires that the general contractor speak to the subcontractor, not the worker.

“You always have to go to the project foreman on the job,” Shipp said.

The artisans work for Silpakala Nilayam, a company based 8,000 miles away in Chennai, southern India. For 10 generations the family-owned business has been building Hindu temples.

Harold Shipp, left, project manager, Brechbill & Helman Construction Co., Inc., joins Murali Pathy, temple liaison, and Priest Ganesan Gurukkal at the work

Harold Shipp, left, project manager, Brechbill & Helman Construction Co., Inc., joins Murali Pathy, temple liaison, and Priest Ganesan Gurukkal at the work site for Sri Bhaktha Anjaneya Temple. (Markell DeLoatch — Public Opinion)

The artisans fashion their tools from simple steel rods and carry on a tradition that is largely unchanged in more than 600 years, according to architect Allen E. Neyman of Rockville. Some decorative elements are cast from molds. Others are applied in layers and shaped by hand.

The concrete domes for the five shrines at the Anjaneya temple are being constructed over three-foot-square styrofoam blocks. The relatively lightweight domes will be lifted onto the shrines before the roof is placed on the building. It’s a departure from the usual method where artisans work inside a temple on an entire shrine.

The shrines are meant to be short-lived.

The temple is a prototype for a 60,000 square foot temple already on the drawing board. The final temple will include a 36-foot stature of Anjaneya, a Hindu god whose attributes are power, will power, health and being at the right time and the right place.

When the main temple is built, the original will become a hall for hosting banquets, birthday parties and other gatherings.

Hindu devotees

The temple is centrally located in a region with about 3,000 to 4,000 Hindu devotees, from the Baltimore-Washington area to Hagerstown and Mechanicsburg, Pa., according to Pathy. Devotees, unlike church members, are not affiliated with a temple.

“Everybody goes to every other temple,” Path said. “We believe in multiple gods.”

The nearest Hindu temple is the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham with 17 deities, including the two for which it is named.

Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion behind Christianity and Islamism, but fewer than one percent of Americans say they are Hindus.

Hindus in America are largely professionals. The U.S. Hindu population is more educated, makes more money and has fewer children than the national average, according to the Pew Research Center. Nearly two-thirds of Hindus earn more than $75,000 a year, compared to 21 percent of U.S. general public. About 57 percent have at least some graduate education beyond a college degree, compared with just 12 percent of all Americans.

Temple organizers chose to hire outside professionals to steer clear of internal politics, according to Pathy. Devotees, many of whom work in design and construction, have assisted as volunteers. Devotees also donated the money to build the temple.

The construction is very expensive, according to Thompson, who declined to disclose the contract price.


The concept of the temple is similar to a church — a place to worship, offices, a kitchen and dining area. The however are very different.

The outside of the white box-like temple belies the vibrant colors inside. Rose and pink granite and brass inlays will trim the green granite floor of the main prayer room. A seven-foot wainscot of pink marble will rise to the windows. The shrines will be painted in several colors to accentuate the details. Silver and brass jewelry is being fashioned in India to adorn the idols.

Neyman said the energy efficient temple will have radiant heat in the floor and a skylight in the ceiling.

Excavation started in March before the site had water, sewer or electricity, Shipp said. Contractors have connected three wells and will build a small sewer plant and bring in wires.

“They wanted to get things started once they got their design far enough along,” Shipp said.

Priests will conduct a three-day consecration ceremony at the end of August when the idols are installed, Pathy said. The priest will “bring the stone and cement to life” by sprinkling holy water on them. The water comes from the seven rivers of India, according to Priest Ganesan Gurukkal.

According to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey, Asian American Hindus regularly practice their religion:

— 85 percent attend worship services at a temple at least a few times a year.

— 78 percent have a religious shrine in their home.

A temple is open around the clock for worshipping, according to Thompson. There is always a noontime meal.

“The temple is open for everyone,” Pathy said.

“All the people for all the blessing,” Gurukkal said.

Gurukkal is one of five priests who will live in the simple houses being built behind the temple. The priests have the equivalent of doctorates in their respective specialities, Pathy said.

Neyman has been charmed to learn about a new culture while working on the project.

“I look forward to every invitation I get,” he said. “A lot has to do with the food The service is very uplifting. The music is great. It’s hard to find, even in India.”

The music is Carnatic, Indian classical music from southern India, the same performed by a fabled sitarist, the late Ravi Shankar, and his daughter, Anoushka.

The temple will take its place on the rolling hills of Frederick County in the neighborhood of the St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, Mount Hope Christian Church, Whisky Creek Golf Club and Green Meadows Petting Farm.

Source: Public Opinion Online