History of Hindu Temples in the United States: A Pantheon of Gods
These temples are a source of great pride for the increasingly prosperous and thriving Hindu-American community, serving not just as a place of worship, but as a home away from home.
With the high visibility and increasing importance of the highly educated and prosperous community of Hindu Americans in the United States, despite their relatively low population, the Hindu religion too punches much above its weight in the country. Hinduism may be said to be thriving in America, with Hindu temples dotting the length and breadth of the country. These temples are well attended, and can be found brimming with activity, especially on weekends. Here, we discuss the rich and interesting history of Hindu temples in the United States. Do read on.
The history of Hindu temples in the United States begins with the one event that made Americans conscious of and raised awareness about the great religion of Hinduism. Of course, we refer to the incredibly famous speech given by the legendary Hindu saint, Swami Vivekananda at the 1893 - World Parliament of Religions, Chicago. The American public was charmed and completely won over by this extraordinary man, who stressed on the genius of Hinduism, and what made it so special.
The most tangible contribution of the great Swami to the United States, however, was the Vedanta Society, which he set up in New York. This was soon taken to other cities in the United States as well, by his disciples. It was the Vedanta Society that built the very first Hindu temple in the country, the famous San Francisco temple, in 1906. Others followed, such as the Hollywood temple (1938) and the Santa Barbara temple (1956). These were the earliest temples built in the country. The inherent spirituality of Hinduism, rather than rituals, were stressed upon.
The Hindu temples in the United States may be classified into ISKCON temples, favored by Euro-American followers of Hinduism (which had minimal traditional rituals), and non-ISKCON temples (which were more ritualistic), built by recent immigrants to United States from India, which tended to be far more traditional and served as a base for the fast growing Hindu immigrant community to get together establish a sense of fellowship and unity.
Temples were built in all cities in the United States that saw a sizable growth in their Hindu communities, with professionals and business owners making important contributions. The intention was to establish and promote the Hindu culture and religion in the country, and also to provide a sense of belonging to the new generations of Hindus born in the United States. Indeed, the primary motivation for Hindu immigrants to contribute massively towards the building of these temples was to make sure that their children didn't lose touch with Hinduism, its culture and traditions.