India is a country with multiple languages, subcultures, culinary styles and traditions, so when the Hindu Temple of The Woodlands began operating in 2011, one of the first questions the founding members began to address was: How do we bring people together? They quickly realized that the way to do that was through shared experiences.
Given that Hindu culture and religion are expansive and expressed in various ways, the members of the Temple needed a way to connect despite their different beliefs. To do that, they established three guiding principles: the expression of their collective faith, preserving and enhancing knowledge and culture, and community service. Rather than homogenizing the traditions in the Temple, they respect and keep these separate distinctions but celebrate together.
The congregation had their first Woodlands’ Holi festivity in 2011, Holi is an ancient Hindu festival of colors celebrating the coming of spring. The Temple has seen attendance grow from 150 people in 2011 to 2,500 in 2019. Holi is unique because it celebrates music, food, color and diversity; the festival symbolizes love and friendship and people from all walks of life can enjoy it.
The Temple also holds an annual Diwali festival honoring light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance, all of which are values that can be universally appreciated. Diwali is celebrated by the Temple every autumn for two days, based on the lunar and solar calendars.
“We are trying to create the complete Indian experience in the Temple and are expecting 5,000 people this year,” mentioned Sudharsan Arunachalam, President of the Temple’s Executive Committee. All of the food offerings are homemade and made from scratch by volunteers. Attendees dress up in beautiful attire, enjoy food and sweets, exchange gifts and pray for the general well-being of the community and their families. People have many different ways of celebrating Diwali, as each region of India has a myriad of customs and traditions. Given the diversity of the Temple’s members, the holiday can be enjoyed by Hindus and Non-Hindus alike.
Diwali and Holi, as well as the other festivals celebrated by the Hindu Temple of The Woodlands, are all about multicultural exchange. Every member of the community is welcome to join in, free of charge, and enjoy an enriching experience with their family and neighbors, including live performances and activities that epitomize the incredibly vast range of Indian culture.
A Center for Culture and Devotion
“Hinduism is a set of beliefs; it is a platform of expression rather than a religion and the Temple welcomes people of all faiths,” mentioned Praveen K. Gottipati, Chairman of the Temple’s Board of Trustees. The Temple offers many activities: yoga and meditation classes as a platform for higher reality and enlightenment, youth and senior programs, as well as Hindi, Sanskrit and other Indian language classes. They also offer classical Indian dance, percussion and vocal singing lessons.
“We are so excited to see so many people do yoga with us, celebrate festivals with us, get some education about what we are doing; it’s a wonderful way that we are progressing as a community within the larger community,” mentioned Beth Beckwith Kulkarni, an American-Hindu and volunteer worker who was recently awarded the Lifetime Community Service Award by Hindus of Greater Houston for being an active community member for over 40 years.
The Temple is operated by volunteers, and relies on monetary donations and time contributions. Throughout the years, an active gardening community has formed among the congregation. The herbs and vegetables that they grow are used for their Annadanam Program, where every Sunday, 150 volunteers cook a meal and serve about 150 devotees and visitors.
Showing remarkable long-term vision and care for the environment, the Board of Trustees and Hindus in our community are working to protect the future of the planet. The Hindu Temple is environmentally friendly, gets its energy from solar panels, and has replaced plasticware with biodegradable plates in all of their festivities. Recently, the Temple had to remove some trees to make room for new facilities, but with the help of their youth program participants and The Woodlands Township, they have planted over 1,000 new trees.
To expand and offer additional programs and services to the community, soon the Hindu Temple will start construction of a new building. It will have a multipurpose hall for performances, events, dance recitals, concerts and more. It will also have a full kitchen, seating area and activity rooms. “Indian celebrations mean cooking, eating, and dancing,” said Rashmi Gupta, a Hindu Temple board member and resident of The Woodlands for 22 years. Gupta exemplifies the Temple’s success in bringing the community together by building bridges of understanding and acceptance. “I feel very close, and I feel the whole community as a family,” she remarked.
The Hindu Temple members invite families in The Woodlands to come out and experience the next Diwali Festival on October 19th and the Holi Festival in March of 2020.
Article by: Ana Beatriz Priego