#34; Hindu Center of Virginia


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Last week my friend and I headed to the Hindu Center of Virginia in Glen Allen for prayer #34.  Upon entering the puja, we took our shoes off and placed them in the foot cubby that was strategically placed beside the entrance door. 
To be blunt, the idea of going to a temple where the people worshiped 3000 gods, some having the appearance of animal heads with dozens of arms, kinda frightened me a bit.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm fairly certain that my one God could out-wrestled all 3,000 of their gods put together with His hands tied behind His back, but regardless, I still felt a bit out-numbered.  I knew from my limited amount of research that Hindu's were a peaceful bunch so I wasn't worried about the nature of the people, but more so about my inexperience or ignorance of the religion itself.  It's hard entering that type of environment when you're unsure of the traditions.  I tried to find out as much as I could but they have 3,000 gods who all do different things.  There's a lot to remember.  What do these gods do, I wondered?  Are they nice gods? Are they like hanging out hovering above and around us all the time? Did they communicate with these Hindu's? Well, I was soon about to find out. I opened the double doors and braced myself for the Hindu experience.  I soon realized, there really wasn't much to it, and I had absolutely nothing to be afraid of.  Was I confused?  Yes.  A bit dumbfounded by the way they chose to worship?  Uh...definitely.  But there was certainly nothing to be afraid of.  
There was a rather intense, yet familiar aroma that danced throughout the temple. If I had to try and identify the source of the smell, I'd guess a nice mix of cinnamon air freshener, feet and green curry.  Since I chose to go during the week day service, the attendance was fairly sparse.  While a few people trickled in and out, there were never anymore than 6 people in the room at a time.  The space was set up a bit like an auditorium.  It was completely bare except for a few gold and red Persian styled rugs randomly placed throughout and a stage where all the statues were displayed.  An Indian man, who later identified himself as the Hindu priest, chanted some stuff quickly in a language I couldn't understand while he paced rather frantically back and forth throughout the room.  He had a couple yellow and white lines painted on his face.  The yellow line ran from the top of his forehead down the center of his nose while the other two ran vertically beside it.  I was dying to know what the face paint meant but I was just too chicken to ask.
Most everyone I made eye contact with gave me a glance that I translated as "what the heck are you doing here?" followed by an incredibly genuine smile that I translated as "regardless of why you're here, we sure are happy to have you."  I felt really welcome in this home where we were clearly the only strangers.  My friend was brave enough to politely interrupt the Hindu priest from his constant chanting to inquire about what we might do there.  Everyone was just standing staring at these statues, I guess we both figured with all those gods, and Hinduism priding itself on being the oldest religion, there had to be more to it than that.  But honestly, that's pretty much the gist of it.  

When asked, the Hindu priest gave us a quick Hindu 101.  The priest likened his role to that of a parent.  His responsibility was to care for these statues like if they were his young children.  He boldly proclaimed, "You see, we worship idols.  These statues, we believe they themselves actually contain our gods based on legends.  We believe that the gods were manifested once on this earth, but now they are living in these statues, and one day they will return to the earth again.  Every week, I cook them a sweet fried bread and feed them.  I also give them flowers as do other Hindus.  We adorn them with jewelry, we bath them, oh...and then we all drink the water we bath the idol with."  Okay, I had to take a double take on this one.  I pressed rewind and replayed his last sentence in my head.  "We bathe the statue, *or ahem* the idol, and then everyone takes sips of the dirty water we bathe them in."  Okay, yep.  I heard him right.  They all drink the idols dirty bath water.  Check.  
He went on to tell us where each god was from.  When asked about the amount of arms the gods had, the priest said that each arm of a Hindu deity carries a certain symbol - like a musical instrument, a weapon, or a benediction. It is to emphasize the omnipotence of God. He used Ganesha for an example. He's the one with an elephant head.  Ganesha carries a rope which signifies the need to reign in attachment. His elephant head signifies wisdom because his extra large ears are a symbol of how he listens twice as much as he speaks.  So each idols physical attributes symbolize something spiritually significant about the deity. Even with the incredible amount of history in the Hindu religion, the service itself was fairly simple.  Mainly the point is to just come to these temples, sit on the rugs or walk around and pray for the statues.  Not for each other, not for more faith, or for things in ones life or for mankind, but for the colorful gold, purple, and red carved statues sitting on this stage in Glen Allen, VA. 
Since there was really nothing for us to do there other than pray for these statues, which, I admit, I did silently in my head, we left soon after receiving our 101.  As I was walking out, I saw the priest take some metal thing that resembled an oil filter you'd use for your car and started placing it on everyone's head. I had to resist the urge to run back in and ask what was going on but it looked like these Hindus really know how to have a good time.  I wish I had a better understanding of the religion so I could talk more intelligently about it, but like I said, I just left there way more confused than when I came.

A couple of things I found interesting:

Hinduism embraces a diversity of beliefs.  There can be a wide variety of beliefs about the nature of God, many even conflicting and at odds with one another and yet they can all be considered truth.  This belief is encompassed in a well known Hindu statement as  "Truth is one; sages call it by different names."   However, even the open-minded Hindus do have some fundamental beliefs: 

a)  Vedas (the oldest Indian sacred texts) and the Brahmans (priests) are the ultimate authority here on earth

b) The existence of an enduring soul that transmigrates from one body to another at death (reincarnation)  This includes reincarnation to animals and insects as well. If one sins much, they can come back as a gnat.  I wonder what good work one must do as a gnat in order to come back as a fly?

c) The law of karma determines one's destiny both in this life and the next. What moral actions you make in this life, have some direct correlation to your afterlife and how this life is played out.

Most Hindus are devoted followers of one of the 3 principal gods: a) Shiva, b) Vishnu or c) Shakti, however, even though Hindus believe in thousands of gods, each deity is just but an expressions of one ultimate being commonly referred to as "the One"

The ultimate goal of all Hindus is to escape the circle of life and death by doing enough good deeds.  By this, one no longer needs to be reincarnated and instead, is good enough to be in God's presence.  

However, in Hinduism, there is not just one life purpose (Dharma) for human life, but four:  They are prosperity, desire, sexuality/enjoyment, and enlightenment.

And now a couple of REALLY interesting things to note:

Sacred Cow

Sacred Cow

In India's history, having a large number of cows was a reflection of prestige and prosperity. Cows were actually treated like a family member and looked upon with great respect in the Hindu society.  This is dramatically decreasing with the decline of vegetarianism throughout the country.  However, cows are still sacred because they were a favorite pet to the Hindu gods.  Many Hindus also take cows milk and offered it to their god statues.

2% of Hindus still use cow dung to make some tiny sculptures in certain sections of the society while worshiping.

Traditional Hindus still have arranged marriages

The cutting of the feminine breast has been a peculiar practice among some Hindus.  In Gujarat there is the story of a woman who was traveling to a neighboring village and was attacked by some tribal men. To defend herself, she snatched a sword from one of the men and cut off both her breasts. She then perished and is now worshiped as a goddess because of it.

Hindu rituals are practiced from early morning until late evening.  Some include giving flowers to idols, praying for the sun, marking ones forehead with tilaks (religious colorful marks), feeding and cooking for idols, bathing them etc.

"AUM" is considered to be a very sacred word.  When it is joined as a prefix to other words, the word itself becomes divine and the vibration of the word can change the consciousness of everything in comes in contact with, therefore when chanting to god and goddesses the word is often used to make certain that the desire of ones heart comes true by attaching the word to the divine chanting.

To learn more about the Hindu Center of VA and to see the gigantic temple they're building right smack dab in the middle of Glen Allen, check out their website at http://www.hinducenterofvirginia.org/



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  • Scott

    Scott October 10, 2010

    Jeremiah 2:26-28 As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets,  (27)  Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us.  (28)  But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah.

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