The new location for Shri Krishna Vrundavana Hindu temple in Sugar Land still looks like what it once was – an event hall for hosting quincineras.
Disco lights hang from the ceiling and its previous name, “La Festa Hall,” is painted on the floor of the entryway.
But on a recent Monday evening, the temple’s worshippers, who purchased the facility at 10223 Synott Road for $1.3 million in October as their first permanent location, made the hall their own. Oriental rugs spanned the floor, canary yellow and deep purple saris sparkled and an altar bearing idols, flowers and lanterns lined the wall where a DJ might have once been stationed.
“We are very happy,” said Raghuram Bhat, the temple’s head priest. He smiled as he looked at the worshippers, and the sound of devotional music played in the background.
Shri Krishna Vrundavana is the fifth branch in the United States of the international Udupi Puthige Matha, and is part of a Hindu sect which was founded about 800 years ago in Udupi, a town in southern India. Most of the temple’s worshippers are originally from that region.
The Sugar Land location is the only temple within a 1,500-mile radius where Hindus can worship the Saint Raghavendra Swami.
The sect’s current pontiff, Shri Shri Sugunendra Theertha Swamiji, founded the Sugar Land temple in 2011 in a rented house that could fit about 50 people near U.S. 59 and West Bellfort. He also appointed Bhat as head priest.
At the temple’s inception, there were only 200 worshippers. Now, there are more than 800, member BN Murali said.
“Obviously the space we were in was too small,” Murali said.
Before Shri Krishna Vrundavana’s establishment in Houston, its followers attended other Hindu temples. However, at those temples they could not worship the same deities and saints as at Shri Krishna Vrundavana.
For any major festival or event, the worshippers had to rent a larger facility. The new site has 9,000 square feet and capacity for 450 people.
Along with other worshippers, Murali helped raise funds to buy the new site.
Swamiji still visits annually and came in November to officially inaugurate the location as part of a day of events that spanned from 4:30 a.m. until late at night. As the pontiff entered the building, clad in the neon orange cloth signifying his sainthood, worshippers rushed to the doorway, knelt and threw puffed rice at him as the sound of drumbeats and cymbals grew louder and louder.
Optimistic that the temple’s membership will continue to increase, Murali and other worshippers are already raising funds for renovations. The previous owners of the facility have the building rented for events until the end of December; worshippers will be able to start cosmetic renovations, like building an altar in the entryway hall and putting up new decorations in January, Murali said.
By the end of 2016, Murali said he hopes that the worshippers will have about $1 million raised to create a new entryway in the hall to serve as a sacred space for idols.
Right now, statues of the idols are not in the main hall but in a separate single-story building on the property that looks like a one-bedroom house.
Throughout the renovations, the temple will offer services including “puja,” or prayers, three times per day and “anna daana,” the serving of free food to the community, twice per day.
“This has been a long cherished dream for a lot of us who left India a long time ago,” said Murali, who has lived in the Houston area since 1988. “We never thought that we would one day see a Raghavendra Swami temple in the United States, let alone in Houston.”