Founder of Albany Hindu Temple

Mattur Balakrishna, (cq) stands beside the statue of Lord Krishna inside the Albany Hindu Temple, on August 13, 2014 in Loudonville, N.Y.  (Tom Brenner/ Special to the Times Union) Photo: Tom Brenner / ©Tom Brenner/ Albany Times UnionMATTUR BALAKRISHNA

BACKGROUND: Born and raised in Karnataka State in India in 1940, where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he immigrated to America in 1966 and earned another master’s degree from University of Iowa. He retired in 2003 after working for 37 years as an environmental engineer in state government. He and his wife, Jayamma, live in Clifton Park and have two children and three grandchildren.

You were one of founding members of the Albany Hindu Temple in 1976.

When I moved to this area in the mid-’60s, there was no place of worship for Hindus. Even New York City didn’t have one. The closest was in Pittsburgh. We felt the need for a temple here.

Even observing the dietary laws was very difficult. Nothing was available for vegetarians. If you didn’t make food yourself, you stayed hungry.

The only thing we could eat was bagels. There were no Indian restaurants or ethnic stores. We had to go to an Italian store and buy the closest substitute, like beans for lentils.

We purchased the old building on Albany Shaker Road and inaugurated it in 1976 with Rep.Sam Stratton and Lt. Gov. Mary Ann Krupsak. There were eight or 10 of us founding members. There is a plaque in the temple with all the names.

We moved to the new building and began using it following an inauguration celebration with the Hindu diety Ganesha on Jan. 15, 1992.

It is a custom in India, and considered auspicious, to inaugurate after Jan. 15, so even though the building was completed in Nov. 1991, we waited till Jan. 15 for kumbabishekam, an elaborate ceremony lasting several days and invoking the five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth. We are born with these, and we go back to these whether we are buried or cremated.

All the statues in this temple were made in India and shipped here. We sprinkle special water on them, use fire and sanctify them. They are called moorti

This custom goes back thousands of years.

In 1985, we had a volunteer priest to conduct services. He stayed for a few years. Before and after that, we took turns doing daily and weekly services.

Now we have three full priests taking care of the community’s needs. This will be the 38th anniversary of the temple.

How many people does your temple serve?

Membership is more than 1,000 families. About 300 to 400 people attend festivals, like the annual midnight festival for Lord Krishna, held at that hour because he was born at midnight.

There are new immigrants with tech factories coming to this area, more than 100 families in the last couple of years.

There are celebrations at the Hindu temples this month, including birthdays of Lord Krishna and Ganesha.

We will celebrate Shri Krishna Janmastami on Saturday; in India, it is celebrated the next day, on Aug. 17.

A Hindu calendar has been created for North America. It is a lunar calendar. This holiday is on the 16th of the month of Shravan, which is the fifth month and considered very good and sacred.

The birth of Lord Krishna is reincarnation. In Hinduism, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Shiva is the destroyer. Ultimately, all are one: truth is one. Baby Krishna is worshipped with freshly made butter. He was very fond of butter so we use butter as an offering. It is made at home with cream.

We invoke God and bathe the icons with milk and water, decorate them, chant the glory of the Lord for two or three hours till it is midnight. Then we welcome the birth of Krishna. Someone will do a dance in his honor this time. Krishna had danced near river Yamuna. He was 7 or 8 at that time and danced to subdue snakes and to move them away from where the cows grazed and drank water. The dance on Saturday will depict this.

It a joyous occasion, celebrated with food, particularly fried foods. For the kids, there is a pot of candy that they will break while blindfolded, like a pinata.

Lord Vishnu is the preserver and Lord Krishna is one of his avatars. The Lord takes birth again and again to destroy evil and bring good and to establish harmony whenever there is imbalance.

We will celebrate Ganesha Chaturthy, the birthday of Ganesha, son of Parvati and Lord Shiva, for 10 days: Aug. 29 through Sept. 7. It is celebrated on the fourth day of the month of Bahadurpata.

He has the head of an elephant, the body of a human and four arms. We worship him before we do anything else. We don’t undertake anything without asking for Ganesha’s blessings.

His vehicle is his mouse, which represents human ego. The significance of riding on a mouse is the complete conquest over one’s egoism.

He is worshiped as a Lord of wisdom and power. We offer him foods to make him happy.