Monday, July 27, 2009

Church Experiment #30: Hindu Temple

For some reason, I felt super anxious about attending the Hindu Temple (www.cincinnatitemple.com). I hadn’t felt that nervous since the Church of Scientology back in February. Not completely sure why, but here are a few factors that I know added to my angst:

1) The Temple was in the middle of nowhere on the east side of Cincinnati (at the end of a long, narrow, winding gravel road). It was the stuff of horror movies.

2) The property had a gated entrance. Any building with a gated entrance makes me nervous. Why do they need to keep people out? Or do they want to keep me trapped inside? Either option seemed ominous.

3) When I pulled into the parking lot, there were five other cars. I sat in my car for fifteen minutes wishing the lot was full so I would feel much more anonymous inside.

So, I prayed. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but for whatever reason, I almost never formally pray before I walk inside the churches I visit. But the prayer helped me relax, so I got out of my car and walked toward the building.

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.

27 comments:

Lori said...

You were 2 miles from my house and you didn't stop to say hello? Oh well Thanksgiving is in a few months.

The Reverend said...

Very interesting.

Also, that picture of the outside of the temple, with the clouds and sun in the background, beautiful!

Liz said...

Those are beautiful pictures- I can't believe they were taken with a cell phone!

Throughout this whole experiment, I keep thinking how hard it would be to go to all these different churches alone. I have a hard enough time going alone to a church where I generally know what to expect and the kind of people who will be there. It takes a lot of guts to actually go inside...especially places like this where you really have no idea at all what to expect, what to do, or how you will be received.

Cyndi said...

Is it bad that I thought your post was funny? Some may have thought it disrespectful - but it was truly a blog from a Christian's perspective.

I'm not a fan of monkeys, but I really like bananas. Not eating them as much as just the yellow fruit itself. Loved the video. :)

Steve Fuller said...

Cyndi,

No disrespect intended. One thing I try to do is communicate how I experience rituals from any give faith community. Just an outside perspective. I am sure outsiders view many Christian traditions in the same way.

Lydia said...

Great post, Steve.

This is way out of the box for someone from a Christian perspective. Love the banana... I think I would have cracked up through the whole thing -- so I'm glad you didn't do that.

Hopefully there will be someone around to explain some of the rituals that were happening. It would be very interesting to learn!

Thanks for sharing the experience!

ylmurph said...

why do you hate bananas?

bound4glory said...

I’m Not a Practicing Christian

Interesting read and I have to agree with most of his perspective. Maybe a little harsh on the someone we all know but we will see.

http://www.rapturealert.com/2009/072509practicing.asp

bound4glory said...

Sorry the page is http://www.rapturealert.com/2009/072509practicing.asp

bound4glory said...

Your blog is cutting off my href, is should end with .asp

Christine said...

While I've never been to a Hindu service, in Detroit, there's a Hindu temple that is in the Fischer Mansion. Interestingly, there are some similarities between that place and the one you visited this week.

First, since it was originally an auto-baron's mansion, it was also gated. I think they do it now to keep the peacocks in. Plus, it's in an otherwise rough neighborhood, so maybe they're keeping the riff-raff out.

They did not have statues of gods at the Detroit temple. I got to see the inside when I took a tour of the mansion, which included a look-see at the temple. They have these larger-than-life paintings of their gods on one wall, which are a little cartoon-like.

One time I made the mistake of taking a college friend of mine on the tour, and when we got to the temple, she started to laugh almost uncontrollably. It was pretty embarrassing, although the Hindi man who was doing the tour for us remained in control and did not react to her faux pas. Afterwards, I asked her what had struck her so funny.

She said, "Did you see the pictures of their gods? Didn't the one in the middle look JUST like Marvin the Martian?"

Anonymous said...

Dude, I've read your blog for a couple months now and always basically liked you and what you are doing, and I can't say I DISlike you now but, man, to be honest, what you wrote about the Hindu temple smacked of total shitty disdain for a very old religion. I dunno, maybe you were describing your feelings and experiences in an honest way, and I know this IS your blog and you can and should write whatever you wish, but I felt rubbed the wrong way by this entry. It was as if you were making fun of Hindu worship in a way I have not known you to do when present for any other form of spiritual expression. Well, that's my two cents worth. I'll be back here next week.

Steve Fuller said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for reading, but I have to respectfully disagree with you. I went back and reread my post and I do make a couple jokes about the banana (which are like two lines of the whole post), but if you have read every week, you know I have made jokes about almost every visit.

If anything, I have been harder on the Christian churches.

Maybe I am missing it, so if there are other instances besides the comment about the banana (or the peanuts), please be more specific so I can better understand your point.

Anonymous said...

That's a really interesting post. I did a research project on the Hindu religion when I was in college. I came away with more questions and less understanding then when I started researching. A very complicated - wide reaching religion. I wonder if it's something many people convert to, or if it's something you have to grow up with??

And - I am looking forward to your Mennonite visit in a few weeks. I grew up Mennonite. My family & ancestors have been anabaptist/mennonite for 500 years. Our family tree is traceable back to the Reformation. I however - left the Mennonites about 10 years ago and now go to a Vineyard...And hey - since you are staying for potluck(wise move on your part) let me leave you with this.
http://mennonitegirlscancook.blogspot.com/

Sarah said...

i always wondered what the inside of that building looked like. hmm..
and nice video. you're weird.

Sarah said...

Come to IT!! www.itlexington.com IT will definitely make an interesting post/chapter in your future book! (whatever IT is) :) Just make sure to get here extra early--the entire city has been invited...so...
Beautiful pics in this post, by the way.

David Stiles said...

Hi Steve,
A mutual friend told me about your project. Sounds like you're on an interesting adventure. Here's where my thoughts took me after reading a few of your posts yesterday:

http://davidstiles.blogspot.com/2009/07/what-is-church.html

God bless,
-Dave

Varsha said...

Hey,

I figured, since I am a Hindu, I'd explain some things that you saw. I should mention here that interpretations to pretty much every Hindu custom changes with personal belief and experience and stuff like that.

a) Yeah, Hindu temples in the US usually are in the middle of nowhere. An ideal temple in the US would be atop a hill, preferably overlooking 7 other peaks (the biggest temple in India is in a place like that-Tirupati- and of course, one of the biggest attractions of a temple to Hindus living in the US, is the memory that a scene like that would evoke).

b) Gated entrance: the idols are usually covered in gold, diamonds and precious stones. You'd mentioned that many of the jewels seemed fake to you. Fake jewels are the adornments for a normal, nothing-special kind of day. On 'special' days, ALL the adornments have to be genuine. In fact, the pride, joy (and ultimately the worth) of any temple is the number of real gold, jewellery, diamonds and stones that it has in its possession. During some festivals, the idols are left overnight dressed like that. Hence the gates.

c) There is no specific time to visit a temple. Like you observed later, there is no daily "service" as such. So people would just come by whenever they felt like it.

Now, for the specifics that you raised:
a) Nope... no chairs ever. Chairs are too modern, man! People across India sit on the floor or on rugs most of the times, and always when praying.

b) Chanting: prayers in Sanskrit or Tamil or any other Indian language. If it was in Sanskrit, even reciting it would sound like chanting, because the language is like that- pretty musical.

c) Bells: Anytime you want the attention of God, you ring a bell!

d) "baptism"- nope... what is a more likely reason is this: it was the girl's birthday, hence the trip to the temple. The parents would have prayed, and then asked the priest to offer prayers too. Prayers by priests are usually accompanied by fanning of the God (it gets hot under all those clothes and jewelery and not to mention, the Indian sun!), ringing the bell to get His attention and more chanting. The pictures would have been taken to show the folks back in India (bet you anything that the kid was wearing traditional Indian clothes).

e) "ceremonial robes"?? Have you, perchance, heard of a saree? Not ceremonial, traditional. And believe me, any Indian girl would grab the chance to dress up in some traditional clothes after days and days of only wearing Western business or casuals!

f) The banana business: So, you've gone all this way to say hi to God, you would like to bring something back, which has been blessed by Him. So really, it could be ANYTHING. Temples in the US give bananas as offerings because of a variety of reasons: they're cheap, they're easily available, plus, it is also found in India! The temple in Pittsburgh (where I live) offers almonds, raisins and other similar things too. In my home, I give God what I feel like eating: chocolates, peanuts (yes!) and so on. Then once it's been blessed (or when I believe that God has had enough time to taste the food), I eat them all up myself.

Varsha said...

Part II
g) Different priests with different chants: depends on which God they're praying to, and which prayer they are reciting.

h) "For example, people walked up front and the Pandit would put something in their hands. They smelled it, tasted it, and wiped it on their heads. Then, the Pandit would pick of a pot-looking thing (like a huge candle snuffer), and place it on their heads."
The something in the hands: holy ash... just like Christians have ash on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
"pot thing": It's more like a crown, actually. It has the feet of God carved on them and it always rests at the feet of the idols. The priest places it on the heads of the devotees- it's like saying 'You're under the protection of God'

i) Nope, Hindu temples (especially South Indian Hindu temples, which is what this sounds like) are nothing like Buddhist temples. They are for socializing: with God, with each other.


Phew!

Hope this helps.

Never realized how bewildering it might be to someone not used to these things, until I read this.

Steve Fuller said...

Wow, Varsha, that was excellent information. Thanks so much for your willingness to share it!

Jen - Mom of 4 said...

Varsha,

Just wanted to Thank You for the wonderful explanation of your church. It does make more sense. I grew up Catholic and when I brought my then boy-friend to Mass, he was almost as confused at Steve, since it was Ash Wednesday with Signs of the Cross right afterward! :0)

Fuzzy said...

Varsha, wow, thanks for the great explanations about Steve's observations. You helped me understand what was happening, and I so appreciate that you weren't at all defensive about "outsiders'" observations but instead just explained simply and in good humor. Thanks!

Deano said...

And I thought the Lutheran Church was confusing....lol

Anonymous said...

this is very offensive really banana.

Anonymous said...

i went to a hindu temple on a skl trip and they explained everything to us, this was rather offensive though, u should be ashamed and there is nothing to laugh about there...

Anonymous said...

i went to a hindu temple on a skl trip and they explained everything to us, this was rather offensive though, u should be ashamed and there is nothing to laugh about there...

Steve Fuller said...

Anonymous,

I'm sorry you were born without a sense of humor. Or the ability to use capital letters.