Shri Gaayatri Mandir

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 1 April 2013.

Phone: 651-322-5161
Email: rkimal@comcast.net
Website: http://www.shrigaayatrimandir.org/

History

The Shri Gaayatri Mandir was founded in March of 1993. It began as a small weekly gathering of five families in a member’s basement. Within one year, attendance at the service swelled and the need for a larger facility became obvious. Members of Shri Gaayatri Mandir then rented a small room within the Gita Ashram, a facility located in Brooklyn Park, used as both a mandir and a cultural center by Hindus from the Indian subcontinent. The Shri Gaayatri Mandir has now built its own temple at 2555 California Street NE, Minneapolis. Volunteers and community members donated materials and labor for the construction. The temple was officially opened on August 20, 2004.

Mission Statement

The mission of Shri Gaayatri Mandir is to "foster the development of spirituality, religion, education and culture within the community." The temple has established four central objectives, which include: 1) Spiritual Development: To provide opportunities and a conducive environment for members to worship, learn and practice the teachings of the scriptures. 2) Membership Growth: To recruit and retain members through active needs assessment and having programs and activities to meet the needs of the community. 3) Youth Development: To provide programs/activities to encourage and develop our youth spiritually and culturally. 4) Cultural Promotion: To encourage the cultural aspect of our religion through singing, dancing, drama and other similar activities. Founded to develop a better understanding of Hinduism among its followers, The Shri Gaayatri Mandir emphasizes the need for the knowledge of Hindu texts. One of its central goals, according to the temple president, is to give greater significance to this knowledge over rituals. He hopes that through this understanding, youths of the community will remain actively involved in their religion and culture. The members of Shri Gaayatri Mandir also encourage equality between men and women in their services. This is illustrated through the mixed seating of the congregation, which differs greatly from temples in Guyana, where men and women sit on opposing sides of the temple. In addition, there is a female priest, who regularly conducts puja services, a rare occurrence in Hindu temples. Females can also participate in all pujas or rituals and several women hold positions on the executive board. The promotion of equality within Shri Gaayatri Mandir is extended to all members of the congregation. This is best seen in the refusal of temple members to recognize or endorse the caste system in all temple and community events. This decision is part of a larger trend within Hindu Indo-Caribbean temples, both in the Caribbean and in the West, to liberate Hinduism from this system.

Leadership Structure

Leadership at Shri Gaayatri Mandir is divided between priests and lay persons. Three priests, each from Guyana, share the role of religious leader in the temple. They conduct weekly hawans or pujas, lead the celebrations of major Hindu festivals and perform ceremonies marking rites of passage for community members, including marriages, births and deaths. In addition to the spiritual leadership of the temple, there is an executive board, comprised of lay leaders. This board appoints the priests of the temple. The executive board consists of the president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, bhajan sammelan coordinator, special events coordinator, community relations coordinator, youth development coordinator and youth representative. Temple members elect these positions. A board executive is limited to serving two terms in the same position. Temple membership is open to anyone who is interested and above the age of sixteen. The executive board makes all decisions at monthly meetings held after the Sunday morning service. These meetings loosely follow parliamentary style. All members of the temple can attend the board meetings and voice their opinions and concerns. Decisions are made by a majority vote. Committees are created to oversee various temple events.

Demographics

In the past five years, Shri Gaayatri Mandir has grown from five to eighty families. The temple members are almost entirely Indo-Guyanese Hindus. Approximately fifty percent of adults in the congregation have migrated directly from Guyana. The rest migrated from various parts of the United States, including New York, New Jersey and Illinois. Most of the adult members in the community have been living in the United States for more than fifteen years. The congregation also includes the parents of such members, who migrated to live close to their children. Twenty-five percent of the community members are under the age of sixteen. When one scans the congregation of the temple, one notices the presence of extended, multi-generational families, including grandparents, in-laws and cousins. The temple attracts members from various parts of the Twin Cities, including its surrounding suburbs. In a survey conducted, the majority (approximately eighty percent) of temple participants identified themselves as members of the lower middle class. There is a greater presence of blue-collared workers than at the Hindu Mandir in Minneapolis, which consists of Indians who have migrated from Indian subcontinent. In conversations at the temple, English or Creolese English is the only language spoken. The prayers and bhajans at the temple are all in Hindi or Sanskrit. However, books with transliterations, translations, and explanations of each prayer are distributed within the congregation.

Description

The newly constructed temple is located in a leafy residential area of upper Minneapolis. The white building rests on about one half of an acre of land at the corner of California Street NE. Surrounded by a large fenced parking area, the temple is one-story in height and approximately 1,500 square feet. The main entrance of the temple is located at the west side of the building. Shoes are left at a small gray rug in the corner. A few steps forward takes one into the spacious main hall. The hall is approximately 500 square feet and white in color. The north side of the hall serves as the central worship area. This area used for all activities of the mandir, including the Sunday worship service, yagnas, board meetings and classes. Devotees at the temple sit on the carpeted floor for the programs. A large wooden platform, located along the east end of the mandir, houses the temple murtis or icons of God (all approximately two feet in height). A murti depicting God as Krishna serves as the central icon of the altar. It is surrounded by murtis of Ganesh and Saraswati. Painted images of Shiva, Lakshmi, and Hanuman hang at the sides of the altar. Brass diyas (small lamps) and incense adorn the base of the murtis. A large simhasan stands to the left of the altar. Approximately eight feet high and shrouded in saffron and burgundy saris, the simhasan is used as a seated platform by lecturing priests during religious functions. Dried mango leaves hang from its top- a symbol of a completed yagna or a religious function in Guyana. The south side of the hall is used for the distribution of prasad or the lunch meal after worship. Six brick pillars, decorated with vibrant streams of colored tissue paper, support the center of the building. Strands of red tinsel and decorative Indian art adorn the temple walls and ceilings. Strings of white lights bedeck the main entrances.

Activities and Schedule

Steven Vertovec, Professor at the University of London, describes worship in Indo-Caribbean temples as consisting of a medley of weekly pujas and satsanghs; samskaras (rites of passage; including weddings and birthdays); kathas (the recitation of sacred texts), bhagwats or yagnas (series of discourses on a specific text, such as the Ramayana or the Bhagavad Gita); and other religious classes.1 The central event of the Shri Gaayatri Mandir is the weekly satsangh service. This service occurs every Sunday morning from 8:15 AM to 12:30 PM. The satsangh begins with a series of prayers and dhuns (short chants), which is then followed by the completion of the “hawan” or puja. Then, all attendees recite either chapter twelve of the Bhagavad Gita or the Hanuman Chalisa (a series of verses composed by the medieval Hindi poet, Tulasidas, in praise of God as Hanuman). There is then a short discourse (approximately 30 minutes) delivered by one of the officiating priests or a visiting lecturer. This is followed by an address given by one of the temple youths, which pertains to an important teaching in Hinduism. The service ends with aarti and closing prayers. After the service, a lunch meal is served and everyone partakes in the food and conversation. Typically, sixty temple members attend this event. The congregation consists mainly of multi-generational families. One of the unique functions hosted by the Shri Gaayatri Mandir is the monthly Bhajan Sammelan. The Bhajan Sammelan, literally “A Meeting of Songs,” is a monthly gathering held at the home of a temple member on the first Saturday evening of every month. On average, fifty or sixty community members attend the Sammelan. The Bhajan Sammelan Coordinator assists the host family in preparing for the program. At each Bhajan Sammelan, attendees take turns singing various bhajans. The harmonium, tabla, dholak, dhantal, and majeera are played in accompaniment, as people join the chorus. After the bhajans, a large meal is served. The temple president describes the Bhajan Sammelan as “A social gathering put in a religious context. A more informal meeting of the community members, where we sing, eat, laugh and converse.” The Shri Gaayatri Mandir celebrates all major Hindu festivals, including Diwali, Krishna Janamasthami, Ramnaumi, Shivratri, and Raksha Bandan. In addition to these festivals, the Gaayatri Mandir also celebrates both Mother’s and Father’s Day. Two of the largest events at the temple are the annual Holi and Diwali Cultural Shows. These cultural programs, which include music and dance, serve as fundraisers for the temple. Organized by the youth branch of the organization, these events highlight the involvement of youth in the temple. The Gaayatri Mandir prides itself in its outreach to youth members of the temple. In addition to the Diwali and Holi festivals, there is an annual Youth Retreat hosted by the mandir. This event held is the summer merges religious teachings with cultural activities, such as dancing and cricket. There are also weekly harmonium and dholak classes offered at the temple. The officiating priests also invite youth members to participate in the puja ritual. In the near future, the Shri Gaayatri Mandir plans to launch regular Hindi classes, a weekly religion class and a community tutoring service. An integral element of Indo-Caribbean Hindu worship is the yagna or bhagwat, a series of nightly discourses on a specific text, such as the Ramayana or Bhagavad Gita. Throughout the year, the Shri Gaayatri Mandir hosts several yagnas, led by visiting lecturers. Nearly two hundred community members attend each event. The Shri Gaayatri mandir is also used for personal or family events, including samskaras (rites of passage). These include the weddings, birthday celebrations or death rites of a family. 1 Vertovec, Steven (1994). “ ‘Official’ and ‘popular’ Hinduism in diaspora: Historical and contemporary trends in Surinam, Trinidad and Guyana.” Contributions to Indian Sociology, 28. 123-47