New tower at Pontiac Hindu temple draws devotees

To countless visitors, the granite structure rising above the Parashakthi Temple in Pontiac is more than the ornately sculpted figures greeting their steps.

Devotees at the Hindu site believe the 54-foot monumental tower, known as the Rajagopuram, is the first of its kind in Michigan: divinely designed for world peace and protection in turbulent times.

As such, thousands of supporters from across Metro Detroit and around the world — including those who identify with other religions — flocked there this month to celebrate the official grand opening for an edifice they say transcends earthly boundaries.

“The fact that this Rajagopuram is in America is a very special and auspicious thing,” Ayesha Khan, a musician living in Texas, said while wearing all white nearby on a recent evening. “It shows this unification of all people, regardless of race, color, ethnicity. It’s very exciting.”

Throughout the “Maha Kumbabhishekam” celebrations, Oakland County leaders, U.S. lawmakers and even members of India’s parliament offered congratulations or joined well-wishers at the site expected to “draw a lot of attention” in coming years, said Rakesh Katragadda, who has long been active with the temple and helped coordinate the Rajagopuram efforts. “It will become a popular destination.”

The origins of both the temple and its tower, members say, are supernatural.

Dr. G. Krishna Kumar, the founder, president and spiritual director, said he was inspired to launch the site by a vision attributed to Adi Para Shakthi, whom Hindus consider the Divine Mother goddess — “the source of everything past, present and future,” according to the website.

The temple opened in 1999 on a bucolic plot near Osmun Lake and remains an annual destination for thousands of devotees focused on spiritual consciousness, Katragadda said.

While members believe the Divine Mother wanted the temple “built to protect the world from great turmoil,” Kumar wrote in a letter to devotees, a unique Rajagopuram also was needed as a way to “promote peace, harmony and love” amid global troubles, he said.

“Periodically, the world goes through major crisis, at which times, the Divine manifests in various forms and protects the world,” temple officials wrote in a booklet about the tower opening. “The reason for the Rajagopuram, as foretold by the Divine Mother, is that the whole world is going to go through major turmoil in the current millennium, and She has manifested to protect the world and promote global love, peace and harmony at Parashakthi Temple which is a vortex of energy as confirmed by renowned Gurus and mystics.”

So, with divine instruction, temple leaders sought to erect the tower, which depicts some 520 devathas — deities and manifestations of the Divine Mother representing numerous cosmic forces.

A group of artisans called shilpis painstakingly crafted the structure over about three years, following specific methods also observed during the construction of ancient Egyptian pyramids and Mayan monuments, Katragadda said. Among the requirements: the granite had to be procured without using modern blasting techniques.

The estimated 450-ton tower was carved in India then shipped in parts to the U.S. and assembled “like a puzzle, so it was very complicated,” chief architect S. Santhana Krishnan said after proudly pointing out the elaborate levels this month.

Other Hindu temples in the U.S. and India have a Rajagopuram, which can mean “royal tower,” but those generally are regarded as “an architectural element that acts as a threshold,” said Tracy Pintchman, a professor of religious studies at Loyola University Chicago who is writing a book on the Oakland County site. What distinguishes this one as unique, she said, is the view that it’s connected to the goddess and “has become through the installation process an agent or instrument of her power. That is unusual.”

Since worshipers consider the tower both an architectural and spiritual marvel, the festivities at its opening were similarly devout.

As the sun set on a recent evening, scores of guests gathered there ahead of a fire ritual with priests. Some wore traditional priestly garb, forehead markings and colorful saris while walking barefoot across the grounds. Mantras were chanted in a covered area as a forklift nearby crossed sand fronting the tower, preparing to begin stringing a long garland of red, pink and yellow flowers days before a rite involving pouring holy water around the top.

Sana Khan, a doctor from Royal Oak who was raised a Muslim, accompanied her mother, sister and husband — a Catholic — for the events.

Admiring the scene, she called it “so important for everyone.”

“It’s not just about being Hindi or being of one faith — it’s about spirituality,” she said. “It’s so profound that they were able to construct this and get this done and that it’s here. The fact that it’s finished and is complete and can start to do its job of protecting and energizing is just amazing in and of itself.”

For more information on the tower and temple: