Also called Omkara Mahaganapathy Devasthanam is located in Temple, Texas. It is home to a colorful collection of devotees coming from a variety of religious denominations and countries of origin. The temple serves approximately three hundred families, as it is the only Hindu temple in a 60-mile radius. Upon opening its doors for worship in December of 2001, the Hindu Temple of Central Texas became home for the Hindu-practicing community of Central Texas to gather together for traditional festivals and communal support.
A key focus of the temple during construction was the authenticity of the architecture and the deities chosen to be sanctified within the temple. The architectural and artistry decisions reflect the values upheld by the devotees of a specific temple. These values were reflected clearly during my visit to the temple. The focus of community extends to those outside the religion as well. The temple attempts to serve as an educational center for those seeking understanding of the Hindu religion.
In my experience at the temple I was able to participate in one of these educational outreach programs, and attend a hatha yoga class that emphasized focused breathing and postures. Such yoga practices can be used to prepare for further spiritual practice. Because Hinduism is regarded as a henotheistic religion, the followers are able to temporarily revere one deity, that best fits their needs in this world, above others. Ganesha is the most revered deity of this temple. This god is the symbol on which they stand. Ganesha is the elephant headed child of Shiva and Parvathi, who serves as a protector god.
A 3300-pound idol of Ganesha sits in the center of the temple. The statue was carved from a black granite stone from India. Ganesha is a popular deity of worship, due to the god’s power as the “Remover of Obstacles” and his protection of success in new endeavors, both sacred and mundane.
The temple also contained idols of other deities in which the devotees of this temple have a strong affinity to. Sri Venkateswara (an avatar of Vishnu), Padmavathi (an avatar of Lakshmi), Shiva, Parvathi, Subramanya (god of war), and Navagraha (the nine celestial bodies of Hinduism) were all present in black stone, like the statue of Ganesha. The icon of Swami Ayyappa, god of growth, was in attendance in brass. Also in the temple, the idol of Ram Parivar (portrays Rama, his wife, Sita, his brother, Lakshman, and Hunuman), Amba Matha (the goddess Durga), and Radha Krishna (feminine and masculine realities of the Hindu God) were honored in marble. Each of these deities was imported to the temple from different parts of India. Each of the idols, or murtis, has a separate shrine in the temple. These shrines are called mandirs, and they were each designed to reflect the architectural design exclusive to each of the deities. This distinction relates to this temple’s specific mission to welcome Hindus with a variety of backgrounds to the temple and a make them feel at home in their worship.
In front of the temple lies a nine-foot tall statue with the “om” symbol engraved on it. The om symbol its closely linked to the deity Ganesha in the Hindu tradition. Ganesha, the principle deity in this has an om symbol behind his idol inside the temple. The temple leaders felt that bring the symbol outside would help tie together the theme of their beliefs. The statue was, like most of the other idols, crafted in India and transported to Texas. While associated with Ganesha, om is the vocalization of the most sacred Sanskrit syllables, /a/, /u/, and /m/. (Sanskrit is the classical Indian language in which most of the ancient Hindu texts are written.) The symbol is a concept stemming from the Upanishads, an interpretative text on the meaning of the Vedas.
Though these texts provide various meanings and uses of om, the central idea is that om carries a connection with the divine. Often called the “Essence of the Ultimate”, the symbol and its expression link one’s soul, or atman, with the essence of the of the Brahman. Om is used in the practices of the temple, such as to begin mantras or recitations of the Vedas during worship and during yoga practices to focus on the deific goals of meditation. The use of this symbolism both inside and outside of the temple helps emphasize the beliefs of the devotees. Such a resounding effort to call attention to their religious culture expresses the unapologetic nature of the practices at the Hindu Temple of Central Texas.
A key feature of the platform in which the om statue is located are the tiles used to make it. The special tiles resist warming. Summers in Temple, Texas have many days reaching temperatures over ninety degrees. Even in those conditions the tiles stay twenty degrees cooler than the ambient temperature. While this capability in itself is a feat, there is a practical, religious reason for their instillation. The devotees of this temple exercise the customary ritual of removing their shoes in sacred spaces. The platform serves as a meditation and prayer space for the temple goers. When the temperatures start rising the devotees are still able to use the space without burning their feet. The secondary reason for adding the mediation platform is not to limit the Hindu people from worship by the operating hours of the temple. The platform is available for a sacred prayer space twenty-four hours a day. The implications behind the accommodations the platform is that the spiritual world is always accessible to the believers.
One need not be wealthy nor powerful, just present and open to accepting the clarity that mediation is able to bring. Yoga is one of the six acceptable systems of darshana, or philosophy, to achieve a true understanding of the world. First mentioned in the Upanishads, Raja Yoga combines breathing techniques and postures, also known as asana, to achieve a state so focused that one free from earth and self, without thought or perception. There are many different types of yoga. Hatha yoga, which is what is taught during the community outreach program, is known as “the Yoga of Power”. This tantric style of yoga focuses on your bodies energies as a vehicle to achieving Samadhi, a trance of the mind. This school of yoga views the body as containing many nadis, or channels in which spiritual energy travels. Veins, arteries, and nerves are viewed as the three most important nadis. The nerves travel through the spinal cord and connect the cakras through the midline of one’s body from their genitals to their head. Hatha yoga prepares the mind and body for Samadhi. This yogic practice allows for outsiders to achieve a look in the window of how traditional yogis practice their religion.
It also reflects the value Hinduism has placed on the individuality of religion. Hatha yoga is guided, but not directed. One is not told how to feel or what to feel but they are given the freedom to search and explore their inner consciousness. The goal is only the state of mind. There is no guide on what one finds when that tap into that awareness. The visit to the Hindu Temple of Central Texas personified many characteristics of the religion in architecture, art, and practice. There was an undeniable sense of community was expressed through the freedom of nonbelievers to visit the temple, the worship space inside the temple lacking chairs, the readily available meditation platform, and the principle deity being Ganesha. The temple is designed for the success of a religious community far from its roots.