Visit to the Hindu Temple

Part of a series about My Faith Journey.

On May 8th, 2017 I visited the Sri Ganesha Hindu temple in Salt Lake City. I had learned a few things about Hinduism in years past, so I was interested in visiting a temple. I have some Indian coworkers and I expressed an interest in visiting a Hindu temple with them. They loved the idea. A fellow American coworker joined us as well.

Here are some highlights of things I've learned about Hinduism over the years:

We went on a weekday during lunchtime, so I didn't get to see a formal worship service, but I got to see a fair amount of the temple. When we arrived, I noticed that the worship space was very large, and the room was surrounded by shrines to various gods. As we approached the central shrine (containing a statue of Ganesha), a priest came out and said some ritualistic words while circling a censer around the statue of Ganesha. He then offered us some holy water that we could anoint our heads with. Finally, he gave each of us a piece of fruit, either an apple or a banana. (I got a banana.)

On two occasions I got chided by the priest: once when I tried to eat the banana in the worship space, and once when I tried to take a picture (above). On both occasions, he shook a finger at me and said "No, no, no." My two Indian coworkers contradicted him saying, "Don't worry, it's okay." Bit of a mixed message there.

We visited each of the shrines and learned the names and domains of the various gods depicted. I was pleased to see Hanuman (the monkey god) represented. I had heard of him in the Indian Epic of Ravenna and I always liked him. (Aside: There's a Terry Pratchett quote I'm fond of: "Humans are the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape." Hanuman embodies the sentiment in that quote for me.)

We went down the hall and saw the other rooms. There was a large kitchen and a "multi-purpose" room that could be used for dining or for performances. There was a hall full of children's artwork, including pictures of their family members or pictures of various gods & heroes from Hindus stories.

One thing that really leapt out at me was when a coworker of mine began telling me a complaint he had with the way funds / offerings were managed in India. He was saying that worshipers had given amazing treasures in the past (money, gold, artwork, artifacts, etc.) but for the most part they were locked up in vaults inside the temples. He said he thought they should be released and used to help care for the poor. The temple officiators would often reply, "The treasures belong to the gods," but my coworker was unsatisfied with that reasoning, saying that the gods didn't need the treasures as much as the people did.

I just stood there marvelling at this moment: Here was a believer, talking to an unbeliever inside his own temple, expressing a criticism he had about his own religion. The idea of this happening inside a Mormon temple was just absurd to me.

All in all, it was a very nice visit, and I'm glad I went.