It was a sultry morning in the summer of 1996. Excitement filled the air and everyone was looking forward to the “Bhumi puja” the ground breaking ceremony. Torrential rain during the night had dampened the floor covering under the rain soaked tent but not the spirit of devotees. They kept arriving by the hundreds; after all they had waited for years for this day. This was the day when on the sacred grounds sanctified by the water from the holy rivers of India and ashes from the 108 kundi Maha Yagnya, a temple was to be built. Not just another building, but an authentic Hindu temple, beautiful and majestic, grand and ornate with Indian carvings, was to rise from the ground. Although still a distant dream, the community was one big step closer to realizing it. After three days of nonstop rain, the clouds disappeared, and it seemed as though the heavens granted its approval, to complete the joyous celebration. With limited funds but abundant enthusiasm the ground was broken. It was around twenty years ago, when the community was small and scattered, that the idea of having a Hindu temple had been conceived. Without a central place to share and celebrate the spiritual traditions and values, the children were growing up in a cultural vacuum. It was then that a single family home was purchased and was utilized by the community as a worship center with the following vision in mind above all else, to be committed to preserving and upholding the spiritual values of Sanatana Dharma the eternal principles of righteousness. The goal was to promote religious, educational and cultural activities for the sole purpose of cultivating faith and devotion, thus helping the spiritual evolution of one and all who visit this sacred shrine to receive divine grace.
As the community expanded and became more diverse, the need for a broad based Hindu temple that embraced regional and cultural diversity of the Hindu diaspora, but remained firmly anchored to the timeless principles of Sanatan Dharma was envisioned and thus the South Florida Hindu Temple was born. The temple was then incorporated on May 3rd, 1993 by members of the organization. Incorporation was done with minimal funds and no place to call home. Yogi Hari, a local yoga teacher had an ashram and one of the rooms was utilized for worship every other Sunday but not for long. Yogi Hari had to sell his place and the temple lost its temporary home. Fortunately, a devotee’s old home in Miami had a large basement and that is where devotees gathered on Sundays until the first phase of temple construction was completed. Shashi Patel was the architect; Bharat Shah the land planner, Shanti Patel did the engineering work and Joe Miranda was the builder for this phase. The South Florida Temple opened its doors at the current location on January 30, 1998.
Soon after opening, people gathered for regular worship. Hindu festivals from all regions of India and from diverse communities were celebrated with a sense of oneness, for, were they not bonded by a common faith and belief, even though they may have spoken different languages at home. People came to celebrate their birthdays, solemnize their weddings and pray for the departed souls. The temple became the focal point of community activities. Educational programs which had begun even before the ground was broken, flourished and around 170 children attended Balvihar. A functional temple existed, but the vision of an ornate and majestic temple had yet to be realized. More funds were needed. A devotee, who headed the fundraising efforts for South Florida Hindu Temple since its inception, had a monumental task before him. Early on, it had been resolved that this sacred temple will not be built with borrowed funds, regardless of how long it took. It should be built only with donations given with “love and devotion” after all this was going to be the abode of Almighty.
God in His infinite mercy and grace did help the community to keep their resolution of not borrowing any money. Founding donors and other founders were joined by benefactors, in making generous and timely donations. The community at large also came forward and donated with unprecedented generosity, and this temple unlike most temples in the country carries no debt.
November 23, 2002, a grand fund raiser was held and for the first time funds raised crossed the scheduled target for the first time and that, too, at a time when the country was passing through an economic recession. This demonstrated the will and the commitment of the Hindu community in South Florida to see their dream of an authentic temple come to fruition. While the temple has been officially open since 1998, it was yet to have its Kumbhabhishekam.
Those who attended the banquet were treated to a beautiful slide show depicting the journey of the temple from its humble beginnings in homes to its present form with carvings being done by the shilpis. The funds raised touched the whopping $640,000 mark just as midnight approached. The founding fathers were visibly happy in seeing their hard work of almost a decade come to near fruition.
The South Florida Hindu community proved once again how much they valued their heritage and the need to leave a legacy for their children. The continued support from the community to help complete this monumental task is a testimony to the confidence they have in the leadership of the temple.
The world famous temple builder and tapathi, Padma Shri Muthiah Sthapati was retained to fulfill the vision of a grand ornate temple. Hindu temple architectural elements were incorporated from all the major regions of India in keeping with the theme of unity in diversity from the basic design stage. Step by step, pillar by pillar, steadily the grand ornate temple that had been envisioned years before began to take shape.
The temple is the core for the society and the venue for socio-religious activities. According to the Agamas and Upanishads there is correspondence between the structure of a temple and the structure of the human body and soul. A Hindu temple is a visual manifestation of the cosmos, which reflects the Hindu philosophy of the Universe as a macrocosm and Man as the microcosm. The temple building is an analogy of both the Universe and the Human body. The purpose of temple architecture is representational rather than structural. The design draws upon principles put forth in the “Vastu Shastra” engineering and architecture guidelines, to fulfill the needs of devotees and the multitudes of events that take place on the premises.
The Vastu Shastra, revealed by Bhagwan Vishwakarma, is possibly the oldest known architectural treatise in the world. It provides a grammar book of visual forms that are required for the design and execution of the architectural structures and construction. Shilpa (sculpture) refers to the vision or form that appears in the inner space of the sculptor, complete with all the features and measures that go into the composition of a sculptural form – virtually a visual poem.
The Brahmasthanam of the temple houses nine vimana garbhagrahas, one of the unique features in the design reflecting the plurality of the congregation. The entrance to the Brahmasthanam is through an elaborate torana (gateway), adorned with sculptures of rivers, flowers, snakes and birds. The nine garbhagrahas (abodes of the deities) starting from the left are: Ganesha garbhagraha, Saraswati garbhagraha, Shiva Parivar garbhagraha, Durga garbhagraha, Rama Parivar garbhagraha, Krishna Parivar garbhagraha, Balaji garbhagraha, Lakshmi garbhagraha and Hanuman garbhagraha. Each garbhagraha has a unique shikhar or vimana, ornamentation, and column designs inspired by mythological associations with the deity.
Each element of the temple, such as the walls, columns, doors, windows and Brahmasthanam are decorated with sculpted decorative motifs inspired by traditional Indian design motifs such as flowers, birds and animals. Imagine an ancient temple in the midst of a rural setting with elements of nature such as trees, plants, flowers and accompanying fauna adoring its environs. While those same flora and fauna cannot be present on the interior of modern day temples, they nevertheless continue to adorn the temples with the same elements of nature. They depict the origins of Hindu religion, temples and the very way of life in the simple rural ashrams where great sages performed deep meditations and rituals.
This temple’s architecture is mainly based on the North Indian Gujarati style and each and every “vargam” space is carved as per the Silpa Sastram; Prasada Mandapam; Viswakarmya Vasthu Sastram and Samarangana Suthrataram.
All of the temple vimanams are based on Gujarati style architecture while the Sri Balaji shrine is built based on South Indian style. The inside main shrines of Sri Ram Parivar, Durga, Krishna, Matha ji, Shiva, Balaji, Lakshmi, Ganapathi and Hanuman were all constructed below the roof level. The top vimanams were constructed in such a way that it was exposed above the roof. The temple has 3 vimanams over the garbhagarahas of the deities and two other shikaras, one at the North entrance and one at the East entrance. Ash ivalingam and Sri Balaji vigrahas were carved in black granite stone and the rest of the vigrahams in marble stone.
This 11113 square feet temple was built strictly as per the sastras under the supervision of Shri Muthiah Sthapathi. A group of ten shilpis came from the southern part of Tamilnadu, India and created a master piece..
Recognizing the cultural diversity of Hindu diaspora in South Florida Shri Muthiah Sthapathy has done an outstanding job in blending the architectural styles of different regions of India so that a Hindu from any part of India can sense familiarity and feel at home. This architectural blend does make South Florida Hindu Temple unique.
As preparations for the Maha Kumbhabhishekam began, the search for a capable priest to under take such an auspicious, once in a life time event started in all earnestness. The detail and precision required to ensure that the ancient traditions were maintained on this occasion, was crucial. The search led them to Shivacharya Devanathan who has been a devoted and loyal priest for the Greater Cincinnati Hindu Temple for over 10 years.
After Shivacharya arrived and during the course of the week, A he coordinated with the nine accompanying priests from various parts of the United States. The congregation arrived early for the havan ceremony early in the morning, which followed the Kalasha yatra around the temple. As the final touches were made on the temple and they got ready for the big event, it gave them a unique occasion to review all the parts that made this temple, the visible design features and decorations, the principles, philosophies and ideas behind those. Nonetheless, equally vital were the invisible aspects, viz. the spiritual, the social and the cultural. The visible beauty, forever cemented in this structure houses the immortal; it is the home of the Hindu faith.
A beautiful cultural program was presented by the students of temple, depicting the Krishna Lila, an original dance composition performed in the traditional Bharatnatyam style. The event was graced by Bhramacharni Aparna Chaitanya, Chinmaya Mission, Pujya Swami Jyotirmayananda’s Yoga Research Foundation, Shri Yogi Hari, Baladev Mahashay and the guest of honor Dr. David Frawley who mesmerized the crowd of over one thousand people. Every one squeezed into the temple hall waiting for the curtains to open in order to reveal the newly ornate devasthanam which had the deities consecrated earlier that morning. Using a helicopter, devotees flew over the temple offering flowers blessing the shikaras and temple.
The Maha Kumbhabhishekam, which is a sacred ritual, was attended by over one thousand Hindus. They came from across the USA and priests from Boston, Cincinnati and New York took part in the festivities including the Pranaprathistha Mahotsav. The ceremony invokes spiritual energy that transforms sculptured images into the vivid incarnation of divinity. The event marked the end of a decade of planning and building.
In the Hindu faith, the dedication of a new temple is a very sacred event, and something that happens very rarely. The temple is expected to serve 10,000 Hindus in the South Florida area. Currently more than 1,000 people use the facilities on a regular basis, many from India or the Caribbean. One of the founding members said that the organisation spent nearly a decade raising almost $5 million to build the ornate temple, which was partly designed by master temple builders from India. The temple is open daily for Hindus to perform pujas.
We have currently one priest, Shree Shivachrariarji Devnathan, who is familiar with our temple and the spiritually connected to it since he was the presiding priest for our Kumbha Abhishekam and Prana Pratishtana Mahotsavam. He caters all the needs of the community at the temple and at home as required.
The South Florida Hindu Temple provides and educational program for adults and children consisting of 11 classes for religious studies and 5 classes for language studies. They utilize the Chinmaya Mission curriculum. Adult study groups take on various books or topics of interest for discussion purposes
The State of Florida has declared February as the Hindu Heritage Month. In honor of this declaration, the temple puts together educational events for both the Hindus and Non Hindus every weekend. Many communities are invited to see the displays which are meant to break the myths and misconceptions of Hinduism and educate them on the facts. The temple offers classes in Bharatnatyam, tabla and yoga on a weekly or biweekly basis and is blessed to have devotees who work hard selflessly.
Sanatana Sandesh is the newsletter, full of important information on the scriptures and events at the temple. It has a wonderful outreach program and hosted an interfaith meeting where clergy from various religions met to discuss a specific issue of Women in Distress. The clergy from various faiths such as the Catholic, Jewish, Bahai, Hindu and the Sikh came together to listen to a professional speaker, rather than talk themselves. The temple participates in the World Religion Day every January.
The community has finally realized its dream, which would never have been possible without the leadership of the founders who brought the vision to this point, without the selfless work of so many dedicated community volunteers, the support of so many generous donors, and most importantly without the Grace of the Almight, for people can build structures but it is only with Divine Grace that a community gets blessed with a sacred temple. What is seen now is truly a masterpiece which will serve as a glorious vehicle to pass the grandeur of the ancient Vedic heritage to the future generations in form and in spirit.