Chary Tamirisa started the Sri Ashtalakshmi Temple in southwest Houston in 1995 because he wanted a small place where a teacher could come and talk. It would be a place where everybody was welcome.
“There is no denomination that is not welcome, because we have Hindus, Christians, everybody,” he said. “Everybody that believes in God can come and worship. As a matter of fact, all of our prayers end up praying for universal peace and prosperity. So we pray for all.”
People came to the temple that started in a small trailer at 10098 Synott Road and then expanded to a 15,000-square-foot structure in 2008. People are coming in such numbers that a much bigger temple is planned, with an architect in India drawing up a design that will include a building in the shape of a lotus flower, which has symbolic meaning for many Asian religions, especially in India. In Hinduism, the lotus (padma in Sanskrit) primarily represents beauty and nonattachment.
“The flower lotus represents the Lord in our culture,” Tamirisa. “The way the Lord is constructed is so beautiful, so we will be making the temple in the shape of lotus, with a pond, and we will have a concert of the Lord in three different forms: standing, sitting and lying down, displaying the different forms of nature.
“We want to make a unique place so it’s not just a run-of-the-mill place. It must be something peaceful and tranquil. That’s what is missing for us nowadays. Nobody has any peace. So when we go there, we have to be at total peace. Sit down for 10 minutes, close your eyes and meditate upon your own mind, and you’re at peace. That’s the whole idea.
“We want it to be a place Houstonians should be proud of-a place that there is nothing like. We have to have library, classrooms, auditorium. We need to create water around it. It’s going to be a nice place.”
Tamirisa, 62, estimates that $15 million will be needed, so they are embarking upon a capital campaign to raise the money.
To kick off the campaign, the Sri Ashtalakshmi Temple is presenting Siddhendra Yogi Natyotsavam 2013 – aChandalika Kuchipudi Dance Ballet – at 4 p.m. Dec. 28 at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center, 5601 S. Braeswood Blvd., in Houston. All donations will go toward the temple project.
“We need to get some local people to help us out,” Tamirisa said. “We are all a bunch of doctors or engineers trying to do this, and none of us is really trained in how to raise the money.”
The temple has worship daily from 6:30 a.m. to noon and 5:30 to 9 p.m. On the weekends, many functions draw 500 to 700 people. More than 900 attended the Festival of Lights, or Diwali, on Nov. 5.
“We believe that light signifies knowledge and darkness signifies ignorance,” Tamirisa said. “So when there’s light, darkness is gone. And when there is no light, it’s full of darkness. Because of wisdom, light signifies victory. So we celebrated the victory of good over evil.”
The previous month, the temple celebrated Bathukamma Sambaralu with record attendance of 1,200. Bathukamma is a popular festival in several southern regions of India that brings people closer to celebrate life. Bathuku in Telugu means life and amma means mother.
It is essentially a floral festival, with a flower stack arranged with seasonal flowers on a plate-like base in several concentric layers. Preparing bathukamma is an activity for the entire family – more than 70 bathukammas in distinct colors and sizes were specially made for the occasion by the participating families.
Tamirisa said the fundamentals of the Sri Ashtalakshmi Temple are derived from the teachings of Ramanuja, an Indian Brahman theologian and philosopher who was born in 1017 an died in 1137. He is regarded as the single most influential thinker of devotional Hinduism and provided an intellectual basis for the practice of bhakti (devotional worship) in three major commentaries: the Vedartha-samgraha (on the Vedas, the earliest scriptures of Hinduism), the Shri-bhashya (on the Brahma-sutras) and the Bhagavadgita-bhashya (on the Bhagavadgita).
“He said that all human beings are the same,” Tamirisa said. “He made Vishishtadvaita. It means God is microform in all of us. Human life is the most supreme form of life that God ever gave. We have as human beings discrimination in thinking. No other creature has the property of discrimination in thinking.
“Our teacher, Ramanuja, said the easiest way to reach the lord is bhakti, unconditional surrender to the Lord. It simply means you do your duty, and that’s what called karma. Karma is nothing bur forming your own duty. People say, “I don’t do any karma.” That’s wrong. If you don’t breathe, you will die. Karma is essential for survival. You do your duty. As a surgeon, I operate to the best of my capacity. But I don’t know what the result will be. Will the body heal? It’s really not in my hands. So the teaching is, ‘do your duty to the utmost,’ but you don’t take responsibility of the results because the results are not in your hands. That is unconditional, total surrender.
“The basic philosophy of our temple is that all human beings have the same supreme Lord in a form in themselves. In India, when we greet somebody, we say namaste. We don’t say hello. It means, ‘This is not mine. This is yours. Oh, Lord, everything is yours.’ If I see a black man and white man or somebody in front of me, if I see that is the same God in him as me, I can never hate him. The hatred doesn’t exist. Our philosophy is, serve your own and respect all. That’s our motto. We see God in every human being. It could be a dog, it could be an animal, it could be a tree, it could be a stone. It has a life in it. We regard everything in nature as life and a form of the Lord.”