Second area Hindu temple opens in Milford
Hindu temples were few and far between in Connecticut just two decades ago. Now there are at least 15 in the state with the latest one just opened in Milford.
At the moment, the temple at 25 Research Drive isn’t much to look at as Hindu temples go. It’s a former industrial, warehouse and office building that was built in 1975.
But with its 17,000 square feet and its large open spaces, leaders say there are plenty of possibilities for the building.
The temple in Milford is a member of the BAPS (Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha) denomination, one of several Hindu spiritual lineages.
Its two principal deities, Swaminarayan and his successor, Gunatitanand Swami, stand at the center of the elaborate shrine built inside the sanctum. They are flanked by statues, or murtis, of seven other deities and photos of five of the most important gurus in the BAPS linage, including the current spiritual successor Mahant Swami Maharajwho took over in 2016.
“This is significant because we’re the 100th BAPS temple to open in North American,” said Harshav Ravel, one of several volunteers on hand for opening day on Oct. 7. Joining him were more than 300 BAPS followers, the women dressed in colorful silk saris.
“Mahant Swami Maharaj speaks about a lot of things, and one of his most important messages has to do with unity — unity within the family, within the community, within the temple and also unity within the world as well,” said Ravel. “He teaches that we should see good in others, and that’s one of the most important reasons for this temple — to pass these ideas on to the next generation.”
At the opening ceremony, scores of plates brimming with sweets were placed in front of the shrine by members as a demonstration of their devotion to the deities and their teachings.
Ravel said the purpose of the temple goes beyond that of the teachings of Mahant Swami Maharaj and his predecessors.
“It’s also keeping the culture of India alive — the music, the dramas and language,” he said.
The temple also has a small shop that sells items from India.
Since 1985, the Milford building was owned by the Teamsters Tri-State Health Insurance Plan. It was appraised at $1.8 million.
“This temple is a work in progress,” said Falgun Patel, another volunteer. “Come back in a few weeks and you’ll see some real changes.”
The new Milford temple joins another recently opened temple in Stratford, the Hindu Cultural Center. That temple is on Chapel Street in a building that used to be owned by the Unitarian Unilateralist Church. For a time, temple officials rented the building from the Unitarians, then bought the building outright a few years back.
HCC Vice Chairman Renu Vij admits that Hinduism can be mind-numbing to the newcomer.
“The are so many books and so many deities,” she said. “You really have to grow up with it.”
She explained that, with all Hindus, there are three principal gods that form the backbone of the religion: Brahma, who created the universe; Vishnu, who preserves the universe, and Shiva, the destroyer of evil.
“At HCC, the deity that is the most important is Durga, the goddess of strength,” Vij said. She added that HCC doesn’t belong to any one Hindu denomination.
“We are open to all — Hindus and anyone else who would like to come,” she said.
HCC is also a growing temple that’s undergoing improvements, Vij said.
As for language, HCC, the Milford temple — and all Hindu temples in the U.S. — are struggling with second-, third- and fourth-generation Indians who have a less-than ideal grounding in Hindi. And the preferred language in BAPS temples is Gujarati, a language spoken in Gujarat, the northwest Indian state where the BAPS originated.
“The religious lessons can be difficult for the children because of the language barrier.” Vij said. “But some children take to it well — they know the chants, and they dance and sing.”
In Milford, followers meet for services, or pujas, Sundays from 5 to 7 p.m. There’s also an assembly for children that takes place at the same time. The HCC pujas take place on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Weddings and funerals within the community rarely take place in the temple.
Some of the families that belong to HCC have husbands or wives who aren’t from India. For them, cooking classes and yogi lessons offer ways to participate, Vij said.
“I’m losing touch with Hindi myself,” Vij admited. “I can’t write it well as I used to, but, these days, you can set the keyboard on your phone or your computer to Hindi.”
Hindus aren’t evangelical — they don’t try to convert others to their faith.
“You really have to be born into it,” Vij said.