Dream Leads Hindu Priest to Flushing Store With Temple


Kumar Natarajanaidu in the temple he set up in the back of his DVD and flower shop in Queens

Kumar Natarajanaidu flipped the cassette in his old tape player and resumed his trance, kneeling on a folded New York Jets blanket and rapidly chanting prayers in Tamil, leaping up each time a customer entered seeking DVDs or flowers.

From the street, an unremarkable commercial stretch of 45th Avenue in Flushing, Queens, this shabby storefront with no business sign seems somewhat forbidding, and certainly not an obvious choice for a spiritual sanctuary.

But inside is an opulent shrine built single-handedly by Mr. Natarajanaidu, 47, an Indian immigrant and charismatic Hindu priest who opened the P. V. Amman Temple in the storefront seven years ago.

It was all laid out for him, even the location, in a vision, he said, foretold by an Indian goddess who appeared in a vivid dream he had at age 10 in India.

To pay the rent, Mr. Natarajanaidu uses the front portion of his temple to frame pictures and sell videos, flowers and religious apparel.

But beyond the DVD counter, the temple begins, pieced together by his untrained hand. It is a hodgepodge of cleverly rigged curtains and shrines made from stray planks, tape, string and ornate wall coverings. The carpet segments are duct-taped together, and overhead is a water-stained drop ceiling.

But as if by divine intervention, it all comes together as a glowing, opulent holy place, with a seductive mélange of colors and a flood of fragrant incense. The space is decorated with candles, oil lamps and brass statues of Shiva and Vishnu and Ganesha. The shrines are lavished with flowers, fruit garlands and posters.

When the ragas are playing and Mr. Natarajanaidu is chanting and tossing offerings onto altars, your senses are buffeted by layers of colorful splendor and the whole thing seems nearly psychedelic.

“I figured this all out myself; no one taught me,” he said, echoing a religious resourcefulness common among new immigrants in this ethnically diverse area of Queens, where mosques, churches and temples have been created in basements, one-family homes and converted synagogues.

Many local Hindus worship nearby at the huge Ganesha Temple, whose congregation dwarfs Mr. Natarajanaidu’s modest following of needy Indian immigrants.

“If they are poor or sick, or they want to succeed in a court case — whatever the problem is, I pray for them,” he said. “I had one person who couldn’t evict his bad tenants. After I prayed, they were gone in two days.”

On Tuesday, he was dressed in his usual shirt and tie, white warm-up jacket and long white robes. Mr. Natarajanaidu, a bachelor who owns a house nearby, is roughly five feet tall and drives a Lexus.

He comes from a long line of Burmese and Indian healers and grew up poor in a small village, he said. At 10, he said, his legs mysteriously became paralyzed and he found a religious figurine in the Ganges River that began his spiritual life. The paralysis was miraculously cured after an overnight stay in a temple where Kali, “the mother of the universe,” appeared to him, he said.

“So many miracles have happened in my life,” Mr. Natarajanaidu said, adding that the most recent one was the unexplained appearance of a live snake near his main altar on Halloween. He showed photographs and brought in his landlord as proof.

As a teenager, he was taken by a charitable couple to Canada and then to New York. He began working in a picture framing shop, and one day in 2006 was strangely pulled to the Flushing storefront, which was for rent after a long string of businesses had failed in the space.

Sensing “a very high spiritual vibration here,” he opened a video store, but for the first year, the space seemed to be cursed and haunted, and he kept hearing mysterious jangling noises.

There were water leaks, sales were poor and he grew ill. After much praying, including trips to temples in India, he concluded that the place was haunted by Kali, whose bangles dragging on the ground, he reasoned, must have made the jangling noises.

“Now I’ve made peace with her and she removed the black magic,” he said.

That idol he found in the Ganges as a boy now occupies a central spot on the main altar, and Mr. Natarajanaidu will conduct special ceremonies on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

“Hindus, Christians, Muslims — everybody — we all worship the same,” Mr. Natarajanaidu said. “When you’re rich, you can afford to say, ‘My god is the greatest.’ But the poor will accept help from any god.”

Source: New York Times