LITTLE ROCK — Who is Ganesha?
Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, is seen as the god of wisdom and success,
as well as the remover of obstacles in the Hindu religion.
It is said that Ganesha, the son of the deities Shiva and Parvati, so annoyed his father one day that Shiva cut off his head. But Shiva repented and replaced his head with that of an elephant. Today, people ask for Ganesha’s help in undertaking new projects.
Krishna, the deity the new temple will honor, is an incarnation of Vishnu, who is seen as the preserver within the Hindu triad that also includes Brahma, the creator, and Shiva, the destroyer.
Sources: The Harper-Collins Dictionary of Religion and Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary
BENTONVILLE - When Murthy Kolluru, a native of India, moved to Northwest Arkansas 13 years ago, people could tell he wasn’t from around here.
“[When] I went to a Wal-Mart people would talk to me in Spanish,” Kolluru said.
Since that time, the Indian and Hindu communities have grown dramatically in the region, from a few families to more than 1,000 residents. Kolluru said the growth means his fellow Indians and Hindus are less of an unusual sight here in the Bible Belt.
“Now they know we are Indian,” Kolluru said.
Members of the Hindu Association of Northwest Arkansas hope to give the public an up-close glimpse of the rituals and traditions of their ancient faith Saturday as they celebrate the opening of a new temple. The hours-long ceremony will include worship, the chanting of sacred Scripture and Indian cuisine.
The event coincides with Gita Jayanti, a holy day with special significance to Hindus. It celebrates the day when their sacred text, the Bhagavad-Gita, was revealed to the world.
“It’s our holy book, like the holy Bible,” said Kolluru, association president. “It’s an important day.”
The Bhagavad-Gita contains 700 verses and is essentially a conversation between Krishna and a human warrior, Arjuna. In it, Lord Krishna talks to Arjuna as he prepares for battle and teaches the mortal how to attain oneness with God. Known as the “Song of God,” the text is part of the Mahabharata, an epic poem that is a sacred text for Hindus.
Ubhaya Vedanta Sriman Venugopala Swami Gattu, a Hindu priest from Tulsa, will lead the ceremony and will chant the 700 verses of the Bhagavad-Gita in Sanskrit, the first time the elaborate service has been held in the area, organizers say.
Arumugam Jayavelu, vice president of the association, said the Gita Yagna, the recitation of the sacred text, is being performed for the good of all mankind, to ensure peace and prosperity, but above all to sanctify the temple, which will honor Krishna, an important Hindu deity.
The service will begin with Shree Ganesha Pooja (or Puja), which Jayavelu said is a ritual of worship of a specific deity. Temples are typically dedicated to a particular deity within the faith, and an image or symbol of the deity is kept there and worshipped by chanting mantras and verses.
This service will begin with worship of Ganesha. According to The Harper Collins Dictionary of Religion, Ganesha is an elephant-headed god known as a remover of obstacles and a bringer of success.
The multiple deities in Hinduism can be confusing to those outside the faith, but Jayavelu said Hindus ultimately believe in one God.
“Hindus accept the existence of several gods, goddesses and deities in the forms of animals and planets. Hindus also believe that all these gods and goddesses are not separate entities but different forms of the same supreme reality,” he said.
Adherents believe God manifests himself in these various forms for specific purposes. Ganesha is one of the many forms of God, although a unique one.
“We have free will to choose any form of the supreme God to worship and pray,” said Jayavelu. “Whichever form they may choose to pray or worship, ultimately it leads to the supreme God.”
After the opening service, the Scriptures from the Bhagavad-Gita will be recited, followed by Aarati, which involves waving lighted wicks before the deities as a sign of humility and gratitude. After more worship, the crowd will share the food that has been offered to the deities.
Hinduism has roughly 900 million followers worldwide, making it the third largest organized religion in the world behind Christianity and Islam. According to the Hindu American Foundation, there are more than 2 million Hindus in the United States.
The Hindu population of Northwest Arkansas has risen dramatically in recent years, mostly due to job opportunities at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and with the company’s many vendors. Sudhir Katke said when he first arrived in the area in 1997 there were about 50 Hindu families in the area and the small group formed the association the following year.
Members initially held meetings in houses and local churches, and the group built a prayer hall in Gentry in 2005 as membership grew. The closest temple with a priest is in Tulsa, so the prayer hall served as a worship space for Hindus from as far away as Joplin, Mo., and Fort Smith, as well as families in communities throughout the area. But the prayer hall, on a dirt road in rural Benton County, wasn’t easy to find.
Kolluru said group members hoped the land, which is near the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, wouldn’t remain isolated. But the development they envisioned hasn’t materialized, so they decided to move to a more convenient location.
“As the community is growing everyone wants a place to worship, so the importance of having a place here [in the city] was increasing more and more each day,” Kolluru said.
They found a 3.75-acre plot with a three-bedroom house on Arkansas 12 in a growing area of the city. The plan is to use the house as a temporary prayer hall while money is raised to build a true Hindu temple. Kolluru said the group hopes to have enough money to begin construction late next summer. They plan to build in phases, including a temple for worship and a community building.
“We believe the structure will help strengthen the area and lead to even more diversity,” Jayavelu said.
Once the temple is complete, the group will search for a priest to lead the community. Until then, services will continue to be led by local members, or what Kolluru calls “makeshift priests” with a priest from Tulsa occasionally leading worship services.
The men hope to see more involvement by members once the new location is sanctified. There’ll be no more excuses about the long drive and the dirt road, Kolluru said.
All are welcome to attend the ceremony. A large tent will be on the site to accommodate the crowd, which is expected to be about 500 or more.
“They can get to know Hindu culture,” Katke said.
The event will begin at 8 a.m. with Shree Ganesha Pooja, followed by the chanting of the Bhagavad-Gita. Aarati will be at 12:30 p.m., followed by Prasadam or the sharing of the offering at 1.
The new temple is at 2500 S.W. Regional Airport Blvd. Information is available at nwahindutemple.org or by calling Murthy Kolluru at (479) 464-4560.