Balaji Temple Rose from Small Beginnings
BY: DOUGLAS MARSHALL
Aug 25, WEST MIDLANDS, UK (BBC) More than 30 years ago a group of Hindu worshippers had an ambitious plan to build a giant temple in their part of the West Midlands. Now, after decades of searching for a site, a flirtation with bankruptcy and furious opposition from some locals, the founders say their dreams have come true.
They have built the Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple, which is the largest Hindu temple in Europe. And during the next five days more than 10,000 devotees are expected there as ceremonies are carried out to sanctify the building.
One of the founders, Dr K Somasundara Rajah, said he remembered the idea from the mid-1970s.
The Hindu temple is the largest in Europe and is based on the Tirupati-Tirumala Temple in south India.
He said: "We used to have the use of another temple but then the congregation got bigger and in 1974 some of our group thought we should get our own temple. We said we should build a replica of the Tirupati Temple in South India."
That temple is one of the most sacred sites in the Hindu world and has a distinctive architecture that has been followed in the West Midlands. The group spent more than two decades trying to get funding and finding a suitable site for the replica. Eventually, in 1987, the then Black Country Development Corporation gave them the 13-acre site in Dudley Road East in Tividale, which had formerly been a tip.
Crucially the land came with planning permission in place for a temple. "In spite of this we had a lot of opposition from the locals - there were rumours that dead bodies were going to turn up in the river," said Dr Rajah.
"We organised a meeting and nearly got lynched. But we went ahead with it anyway."
He said they wondered at times if they were too ambitious, and three of the founders had to put in £100,000 each to stop the temple going bankrupt. "It came from small beginnings and it is wonderful seeing it being celebrated. It is a dream come true for all of us," said Dr Rajah.
Scores of sculptors from India have worked on intricate carvings of Hindu deities which adorn the walls, pillars, ceilings and roof of the temple.
It has cost £6.5m to build and will need a further £1m to complete the landscaping around the temple, which is dedicated to Lord Balaji, an incarnation of the god Vishnu.
A number of deities will be introduced into the temple during five-days of ceremonies this week.
Some 15 priests have flown in from India and will perform ancient rituals in Sanskrit, calling on the gods to enter the temple, during the five-day festival.
Dr. VP Narayan Rao, the founding chairman of the temple, said: "With the chanting of the Sanskrit only these people can do it. They are trained from the age of seven.
"They will also climb on to the roof of the temple and pour holy water over the whole building. Then it will be a sacred building."
Doctors Rajah and Rao have spent 30 years planning the temple.
The new ISKCON San Diego temple, currently in the planning stages, will have Sri Sri Radha-Krsna and Sri Balaji in residence. Like the West Midlands temple, it too has been designed in the South Indian style.
Drawing of ISKCON San Diego
Sri Venkateswara (Balaji) is a Vishnu incarnation. His manifestation is described in the following passage, "Contest between Adisesha and Vayudeva", from Sudarshana.org:
"During the Dwaparayuga, Vayudeva (the Wind God) went to Vaikuntam to pay his obeisance to Lord Sri Vishnu. The Lord was reclining in the company of Sri Lakshmi. The doorway was guarded by Adisesha. Vayudeva was incensed when Adisesha prevented him from entering Sri Vishnu’s mansion. Adisesha and Vayudeva began to fight with each other.
When Lord Vishnu intervened, each was boasting of his superior valour and supreme might. To test who was stronger, the Lord suggested that Adisesha encircle the Ananda hill, an off-shoot of the Meru mountain on its northern side, and that Vayudeva blow hard to try and dislodge the Ananda hill from Adisesha's hold. The contest waxed furiously, and as the World trembled, Brahma, Indra and the other Divine Beings requested Adisesha to yield victory to Vayudeva for the welfare of the world.
Obliging them, Adisesha released his hold on the hill. As a result, Adisesha and the Ananda hill were blown away to the banks of the river Swarnamukhi. Adisesha was dejected by his defeat. Lord Brahma and the others appealed to him by saying that he would be merged with the hill Venkatadri and Vishnu would reside on him. Adisesha then metamorphosed into the vast Seshadri, with his hood manifesting itself as Venkatadri sustaining Sri Venkateswara, his middle as Ahobila supporting Lord Narasimha, and his tail as Srisailam bearing Lord Mallikarjuna (Lord Siva)."