Exploring Unknown Facets of Hindu Temples


Zeal Patel

Janmashtami is a festival annually celebrated in August or September to respect the birth of Lord Krishna, the eight avatar of Vishnu. To celebrate, followers fast the entire day, partake in devotional rituals such as kirtans, or songs of devotion, create flower garlands, read religious scriptures, and clothe and bathe a Krishna idol. At midnight, the fast is broken and a food is offered to the idol before consumption. Throughout the celebration, embroidered clothing is worn, especially the dressed-up youth.

Santiago Calderon and Zeal Patel, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Editor

As the world has become more culturally diverse and interconnected, it can be easy to overlook the independent importance religion has for people other than oneself. In particular, there are a lot of aspects that are commonly overlooked or misunderstood. However, a deeper understanding of the day-to-day functions of an Indian temple, the importance of holidays such as Navratri and Diwali, the rise of cultural organizations in Orlando, and the American-Indian influence of food, music, and dance is critical to expanding our society’s view of each other. By taking a deeper look into the importance of the Hindu religion on the everyday lives of many people in the Indian community, non-Hindu believers can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for a previously seldom examined worldview. 

The decorated statues, or murtis, are a representation of the many gods that make up the polytheistic Hindu religion. In the mandir in Lakeland, there are nearly two dozen images of deities, including the above shown Nar-Narayan murti. Three times a day, the swamis, or the Hindu religious gurus, dress the murti in beautiful embroidered clothing and place jewelry from head to toe. On the day-to-day, the general public prays to the murti in the form of the hymns, while the night concludes with aarti, a ritual of worship where light in the form of fire is offered as a respect to one or more deities.
(Zeal Patel)
The youth’s involvement in the mandir is most definitely apparent. Every Saturday, they help set up the mess hall, sweep and mop the main floor, help the kitchen, and other miscellaneous tasks—even the youngest pitch in. However, after a long day’s work a break is deserved. From playing soccer, basketball, and kickball on the fields outside of the temple to playing games on their devices, the youngest children enjoy their time in an inclusive environment with their friends. (Zeal Patel)
In preparation for the Annakut, hundreds of people participate in the preparation of food. From making traditionally Indian foods and sweets such as Kaju Katli, Ladoo, and Rasmalai to bringing in westernized foods such as homemade pizza and brownies, everyone’s effort is appreciated. After the Annakut completes, the food is then brought to the mess hall where everyone is able to enjoy the food.
The Shree Swaminarayan Hindu Temple located in Lakeland, Florida, invites a welcoming environment for guests. Whether you consider yourself a pious follower or a first-time visitor, the mandir, or temple, offers an opportunity for people to learn about Hinduism while surrounding themselves with people with shared interests. On significant days throughout the year, an Annakut is celebrated. This Hindu festival consists of devotees offering vegetarian food to Lord Krishna as a sign of gratitude for his beneficence. From sweets, neatly-designed fruit, and other homemade snacks, the Annakut is one of the most highlighted events throughout the year. (Zeal Patel)
In Ahmedabad, India, the Kalupur Mandir is the first Swaminarayan Bhagwan built in his presence. On this day, hundreds of people gather to celebrate the Poonam Utsav. During the celebration, people take part in garba, a dance that worships divinity, and other customary traditions take place alongside singing and dancing. Photo by Zeal Patel. (Zeal Patel)
While sitting during sabha, or assembled prayer, men and women gather in a main hall to pray. And while singing hymns, the instrumentalists play traditionally eastern instruments such as the dhol and tabla which are a pair of hand drums, each made from hollowed-out metal, preserved animal hide, and fine-grained rosewood. The room is partitioned by gender, while both sides can involve themselves equally. Moreover, women wear embroidered clothing from India when presenting themselves to the murtis. (Zeal Patel)
Holi, the festival of colors, marks the start of spring after winter. During the festival, large fire pits filled with dried leaves, twigs, and wood are thrown into the pyre to create a bonfire, symbolizing the followers’ divine love of Radha Krishna. In addition to the fire, powdered colors are thrown as a representation of celebrating the community’s involvement. Even outside of India, Holi has become increasingly popular in countries such as the United States because South Asians live around the world, giving an opportunity to spread Hindu culture. (Zeal Patel)
Diwali, the festival of lights, represents the “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.” Normally associated with Lakshmi, this holiday aims to celebrate this goddess of wealth and prosperity and is worshiped across India. In the Nilkanthdham Swaminarayan Temple in Gujarat, India, brightly colored lights are tied around the structure of the mandir. In an attempt to celebrate the five day holiday, families gather together for a Lakshmi puja, a prayer to the Goddess Lakshmi, accompanied with fireworks. (Zeal Patel)