WILTON — When Swami Balgopal founded the Wilton Hindu Temple in 2014, he was looking for a safe, affordable location to serve the needs of the growing Hindu community in Fairfield County.
“When we chose Wilton, we came here for them,” he said. “Eighty families have moved to Wilton after we built the temple here.”
Based on his involvement with local Hindu committees in Fairfield County and the American Hindu RCO Mandir in New York for the past 15 years, Balgopal estimates that the Hindu population has grown from 4,000 to 20,000 members since 2010.
While offficial censuses no longer collect data on religious affiliation and the Association of Religion Data Archives provides a much lower count — citing only 1,579 Hindu adherents in Fairfield County in its 2010 report — Balgopal suspects his number to be more accurate because he keeps track of Hindu groups that may fall through the cracks of such reports, such as visiting family members who stay with students, H-1 visa workers or green card holders.
And since the Wilton Hindu Temple has no specific sect attached to its name, any Hindu is welcome to come at any time — which provides a greater representation of the Hindu community in Fairfield County, he said
Balgopal estimates about 5,000 to 7,000 Hindus visit the temple throughout the year and expects the number to grow.
“Every week I see new cars, new babies, new homes,” he said. “You can really see that the Hindu population is growing. It’s an amazing thing.”
Before the Wilton Hindu Temple was built, the only available temples were in Middletown, Flushing, N.Y., or Pomona, N.J. — so Hindu families were more likely to stay in New York and neighboring Fairfield County towns, Balgopal said. But once the Wilton Hindu Temple was built, more families were inclined to move into Wilton.
Such was the case for Rajesh Ohri, who moved from New York to Wilton a few months ago so that he and his family could be closer to the temple.
“The temple gave us new life in Connecticut,” he said. “When we came here, we felt so lonely. But Swami Balgopal taught us new things about how to live and how to worship to improve our lives.”
Artie Rokkam, who lived in Stamford for 10 years, also said her family and others have moved to Wilton in recent months, not only for the temple but also for a greater sense of cultural community.
“We are a young generation of Indians that have immigrated and we all have very young kids,” she said. “The desire to be able to raise your kids in knowledge and awareness of their roots is a common thread across the community.”
This same desire to fulfill spiritual and cultural needs also existed in the Hindu community in Fairfield County in the late ’60s — even when it only consisted of 50 to 70 people, said Janardan Upadhyaya, who moved to Stamford from India in 1968 and later moved to Fairfield in 1976.
“We used to get together and have a prayer at somebody’s house once a month,” he said. “From childhood, I had the opportunity to stay with my grandparents and they taught me what is Indian culture and why we need to pray to have peace of mind. I saw that and people got the knowledge and that way I started helping people how to pray.”
Upadhyaya said he makes sure wake up every day at 4 a.m. to pray to teach his grandchildren and younger Hindu members in the Fairfield community the importance of keeping faith with the religion, so that the Hindu community can continue to grow.