Before embarking on my site visit to Miami Lakshmi Narayan Mandir, a Hindu temple, I decided to explore and research the religion a little more first. Since I choose Hinduism as the religion I would visit and present on I had already started working on my presentation. I choose to focus on Hindu deities and the epic and elaborate stores that accompany them. In doing so I have learned about the vastness and dynamic nature of Hinduism; with its myriad amounts of stories and the way they interconnect and sometimes disagree with one another. In Hinduism, there are three main gods Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. They are called the Trimurti also known as “the Hindu triad” or the “Great Trinity”. These three gods are the highest manifestations of the one ultimate reality known as Brahman. However, Shiva and Vishnu and their incarnations such as Krishna (Vishnu) and Hanuman(Shiva) are more worshipped than Brahma. This is partly because Brahma simply creates the world while Vishnu and Shiva play a dynamic and active role in protecting the world from demons and evil. Subsequently Brahma is viewed as a less interactive and more passive deity. Another popular sect of Hinduism includes that of the Goddess Devī/Śakti; to her followers she is known as Brahman revealed in maternal form and as nourisher of the worlds.
I browsed through Miami Lakshmi Narayan Mandir’s website to get to know the temple a little better and saw photos of different religious festivals including Holi, which is considered the “festival of colors” or the “festival of love” and is celebrated during spring. It tells the story of how Vishnu protected his follower Prahlada from a pyre while Prahlada’s evil aunt Holika burned; the night before the Holi celebration a sacred fire is lit to commemorate the triumph of good over evil. The photos showed people of all ages throwing paint and shooting water (from water guns and sometimes buckets) at each other; it honestly looked like a lot of fun. They also had pictures from the Ganesh Chaturthi celebration which commemorates the God Ganesha. In the photographs, you could see people holding up this giant impressive Ganesha idol. Ganesh Chaturthi is a ten-day celebration, which starts on the fourth day of Hindu luni-solar calendar month Bhadrapada and usually falls in the Gregorian months of August or September. I also researched the means by which Hinduism was brought to The United states and subsequently to South Florida. One of the chef individuals that discussed and brought the topic of Hinduism to America was Swami Vivekananda via his address to the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. He traveled around America giving lectures on the philosophy of Vedanta- a philosophy founded on the Upanishads, especially in its monistic form with Brahman being the ultimate spirit of the universe. Due to Swami Vivekananda and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 Hinduism has spread to all corners of America.
The first time I visited the temple I was so excited that sadly I did not take into consideration the dress code. I honestly felt a little ignorant and was annoyed at myself for not researching the dress code first. I had called earlier to ask what time the temple would be open however it had not occurred to me to also ask what was appropriate to wear. There was a sign that stated no shorts were to be worn inside. I was not wearing shorts but a skirt that somewhat showed my knees. I didn’t enter because I wanted to be respectful. I decided to reschedule for the next day. Regardless that first day I did get to see the magnificent Vastu architecture of the temple. Vastu refers to the traditional Hindu system of architecture which translates to “science of architecture.” The Miami Lakshmi Narayan Mandir (Mandir translates to temple) was all white with many large windows enveloping the perimeter and also had several pillars. The temple opened to the public on June 2014 so it’s a relatively new structure, and was commissioned by the Hindu Society of America. During the 90’sThe Hindu Society of America set out to provide a location in South Florida which allowed the teaching of Hinduism; thought the years they finally acquired a plot of land, that actually used to be a mango grove, and decided to build this magnificent temple. I also got to see the beautifully adorned Murtis- which literally translates to any form, and are representations of a deities which itself is considered divine once consecrated. Since I already read up on Hindu deities I recognized some of the Murtis; they were Vishnu, Shiva, Devī, Ganesha, Lakshmi, Hanuman, and Saraswati among others. Shiva was in the center of the many different deities which led me to believe it was a Shaivism temple. Shaivism is one of the most popular Hindu sects that view Shiva as the supreme being. They all were beautifully adorned with flowers and were all on top of a stage. Through my research I came to understand some of the symbolism behind many Hindu deities. For example, Shiva’s trident represents the three aspects of consciousness – waking, dreaming and sleeping and the moon on his head represents wisdom beyond the mind.
The second time going to Miami Lakshmi Narayan Mandir I made sure to wear pants. I took off my shoes as stated on one of the signs on the front door. It was very quiet and empty when I entered the temple on the far-left corner sat a man. He was wearing a long orange shirt and white pants which I would later find out was called a dhoti and kurta. As I approached he stood and greeted me with Namaste. I was a little nervous and replied Namaste back; he took noticed of this and asked if it was my first time in a Hindu temple and told him yes. He very kindly asked if I had any questions and I asked if he could give me an understanding of Hinduism and what Hinduism means to him. I also talked a little about what I knew about Hinduism such as the Vedas specifically the Upanishads and the concept of Brahman. He actually told me that he did not consider the Upanishads as part of the Vedas, he said the Upanishads came later and was different from the Vedas. I actually remember the lecture during class when the point was brought up that the Upanishads was so vastly different from the rest of the Vedas that many don’t consider them to be together. He told me there were four books in the Vedas the Rig-Veda- which consists of story like hymns that usually portray a moral or knowledge, the Sama-Veda- which he told me had to do with the science and sanctity of music, the Yajur-Veda- which describe religious rituals and ceremonies, and the Atharva-Veda which he said were hymns of healing, charms, and curing curses. He also stated that a lot of the discoveries made in the Vedas were being verified by science, specifically NASA. One example he gave me was that Mars has attributes described in the Vedas that were proven by science centuries later; i.e. its color being red and the planet consisting of mainly sulfur. I tried looking this up but couldn’t find anything. He also told me that Hinduism has changed a lot since Vedic time and even from his generation to his children’s generation. He views Hinduism more as a philosophy than a religion; he analyses the gods not mainly as all powerful beings that can cause great joy or misery but as characters that show us morals and demonstration human aspects that will make us better individuals and in doing so connect our species and world as a whole. He said Hinduism used to be a God-fearing religion that just blindly followed what was expected without asking any questions; he then stated that was very bad and was an obstacle to achieving true knowledge. If you just blindly act because you feel obligated then the action has no meaning and can’t yield any results. Even if the action is sacred, if it’s done without any spirit it is obsolete. I really resonated with this knowledge and advice and found it to be inspiring and useful outside of a religious connotation. He also stated the importance of the relationship between mind and body and how stress and anger pollute the body and block us from finding peace. He then mentioned one way to relive this stress and anger is through the spiritual and physical form of ritual yoga; he stated yoga will allow the blood to run freely thought the body and detoxify pollutants it will also free the mind of any stress and worries. He mentioned that they were going to do yoga during a service later, however sadly I wouldn’t be able to make it to it. I really enjoyed getting to understand Hinduism more profoundly through my research and my conversation with the priest. Because of that I learned a great many things about Hinduism that I found to be very interesting and insightful.