Columbia’s Indian community gathered March 11 to celebrate 10 years of worship in the Hindu temple, with an eye toward future plans.
Shanthi Mandir Hindu Temple and Community Center of Mid-Missouri, 2006 Holly Ave., opened Sept. 7, 2005. It was Ganesh Chaturhi Day, the festival of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha.
“Ganesha removes obstacles,” said V.S. Gopalaratnam, founding president of the temple’s executive board. “It was very symbolic.”
The temple is in a former church building.
“As it already housed a place of worship, it was a natural fit for us,” Gopalaratnam said.
Before the temple opened, Columbia’s Hindus met in homes to worship, celebrate and socialize, Gopalaratnam said.
“It’s brought the community together,” he said of the temple. “We celebrate most of the important Hindu festivals. Most important, we have a place to worship.”
Meera Chandrasekhar, chairwoman of the temple’s anniversary committee, said having a permanent place to meet has been great.
“We know we can go to the temple,” Chandrasekhar said. “Celebrating the Indian festivals has taken a major step forward since the temple started.”
Gopalaratnam said he thinks the temple has benefited the Hindu community and the entire Mid-Missouri community.
“This place really provides us with an umbrella of unity to bring all activities together,” he said. “It allowed us to offer new activities. Service projects have blossomed.”
Those service projects have included collection of nonperishables for The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri at cultural and devotional programs; a winter clothing drive; preparing a vegetarian meal each month for residents of St. Francis House homeless shelter for men; and volunteering and donating supplies after the 2011 Joplin tornado.
“I think the temple has been a real, positive force,” Chandrasekhar said. “It’s given us a place to gather. We see ourselves as having multiple roles in what we do in the community. It has given us a place from which we can expand our activities.”
Gopalaratnam said area Sikhs also use the temple for worship and that the temple holds nondenominational prayer services on Thursdays, which have drawn Christians and Buddhists.
There have been yoga and meditation classes for the community, he said. The temple also has offered classes on Indian languages for children so they can stay connected to Indian culture, Chandrasekhar said.
Gopalaratnam said the temple conducts cultural outreach to schools and universities and that many students have visited the temple.
Ravi Thawani is president of the temple’s executive board. He said the temple has been an all-volunteer effort for 10 years. Members have taken more ownership of the temple because of that, he said.
He said the temple has hired a priest from India and that temple officials are working to secure a visa for the priest. Thawani said that might take another six months.
“We want to grow,” Thawani said. “We can’t reach people if our doors aren’t open. With a priest, we can keep the doors open every day for prayers or conversation.”
There have been discussions about renovations needed to the building.
“The membership has grown to where we need to get a larger place or make this place larger,” Thawani said.
The March 11 anniversary dinner at Peachtree Catering & Banquet Center was a special event, participants said. There was dancing, a meal catered by an Indian restaurant in St. Louis, and entertainment featuring songs from popular Hindi, Tamil and Telugu movies. About 270 people attended the event, Gopalaratnam said.
For the 10th anniversary, the temple also published a second printing of its popular “Masala Magic” cookbook, first published in 2012. It’s sold on the temple website at shanthimandir.missouri.org.
Gopalaratnam said the temple itself is a big benefit, but the people who fill the venue truly make it meaningful.
“It really is the spirit of the community that is much more important than the physical structure,” he said.
Posted in Spiritual Life on Saturday, March 19, 2016 12:00 am.