Community

Eastern Iowa's Indian community grows, and so will Hindu Temple

Leaders planning for big expansion in a new Robins temple

CEDAR RAPIDS — After Suresh Kavula accepted a job in 2005 in Cedar Rapids, the first thing he did was call the Hindu Temple of Eastern Iowa.

“If there’s a temple, that means there’s an Indian community here,” said Kavula, who moved here from out of state.

Temple leaders helped him find an apartment and welcomed him to Cedar Rapids.

“For Indian communities, the temple is sacred, a place to meditate and spend time with family,” Kavula said.

The Indian community, however, has outgrown the 5,000-square-foot temple at 1700 Naoma Drive SW, with more than 600 families regularly attending special events there.

A temple outgrown

On Monday, the Hindu Temple celebrated the first day of Ganesh Chaturthi, a 10-day festival marking the birth of the elephant-headed deity Ganesha, the god of prosperity and wisdom.

Cars were parked the length of Naoma Drive SW. Tables and chairs decorated the lawn as people filled the cafeteria inside and spilled out of the building.

Kavula said the temple hosts special events over two to three days to accommodate everyone who will walk through its doors. He would like to see a larger facility built so everyone can celebrate together.

“This space is not comfortable,” Kavula said.

Since the temple moved into its current location in 2004, attendance has tripled, growing from 200 families to over 600 families who attend regularly, estimated Krishna Iyer, chair of the Hindu Temple Association of Eastern Iowa.

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In 2015, temple leaders purchased 28 acres of land at 1600 W. Main St. in Robins. After several fundraising pushes, they hope to break ground in October toward building a temple that’s double the current size.

The Hindu Temple of Eastern Iowa is one of only two Hindu temples in Iowa. The Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Iowa is in Madrid, north of Des Moines.

The Hindu Temple of Eastern Iowa pulls in visitors from Iowa City, North Liberty, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Dubuque, Ames and the Quad Cities, Iyer said.

Doing something more

The Hindu Temple of Eastern Iowa started in the 1990s when a “small Hindu community” sought to do something more, said Iyer, who in 1994 moved to Cedar Rapids from India.

Leaders rented a building in North Liberty one day a month, bringing together about 80 families.

In 2004, they purchased the building in Cedar Rapids and added a kitchen and dining hall. When statues of deities were brought over in 2008 from India to Cedar Rapids, that’s when it became an official Hindu temple, Iyer said.

Since then, the temple has only grown with families traveling from across Iowa for puja — a prayer ritual performed by a Hindu priest to a deity to receive blessings or good fortune — or religious celebrations.

“If my kid has a birthday, or my wife and I have an anniversary, we would come here and do a special puja,” Iyer said.

People who go to the temple also can simply spend time praying, meditating and in fellowship.

Plans for Robins

The land in Robins meets the requirements necessary for a Hindu temple, Iyer said. The land slopes slightly, perfect for constructing the southwest side of the temple a little higher and the east side a little lower.

“Typically, the lord faces east and should be slightly higher in elevation,” Iyer said.

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The footprint of the new temple will be similar to the current building, with a prayer area, a community center and a kitchen. The leaders also hope to add offices and a library.

The building committee estimates construction to cost between $1.5 and $2 million. Members have raised $400,000 to secure a bank loan.

“Our mission is to begin construction as soon as possible,” Iyer said.

Another mission is to incorporate environmentally friendly initiatives into the new building, such as geothermal heating and solar panels.

Iyer said the temple generates about $30,000 to $40,000 a year from donations received during religious celebrations and people paying for pujas.

Before breaking ground for the new temple, a Bhumi Puja festival will be held to pray to goddess earth, Iyer said.

“If we are able to do that, that means our project has started. That’s a big milestone,” he said.

‘A bit of home’

Satya Kondiboyina moved to Cedar Rapids from India in 2003 before Diwali, a festival of lights celebrated by Hindus.

“I wasn’t sure where to go or how to celebrate,” Kondiboyina said. “I looked online and found the temple celebrating Diwali.”

Ajay and Surekha Parandkar travel from Iowa City to attend the temple. They moved to the United States from India in 1999 and found support at the Hindu Temple. The couple, who have a 10-year-old son, said that the temple is a way for him to engage in their culture and have those values imparted.

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Annapoorni Venkat, from Marion, said the temple gives her a sense of identity and something she can relate to.

“This brings back a bit of home,” Venkat said.

Venkat, too, raised her children in the Hindu Temple, and said that when it comes to religion, you learn by doing.

“When you see others do it, you have a motivation to understand what we do,” Venkat said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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