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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 31, 2003

Kaua'i temple rising with rock of ages

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

Shanmugam Sthapati, right, supervises work on an edifice he expects to last a thousand years. The white granite, quarried in India, is shaped and fitted by a team of 70 stonemasons. Work on the temple is expected to take a decade.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

WAILUA, Kaua'i — The creation of a millennium temple on the shores of Wailua River came out of a vision, but it is being hammered into solid rock.

San Marga Iraivan Temple, rising on the grounds of the 33-year-old Saiva Siddhanta Church monastery, is built of Indian white granite and formed by Indian stonemasons.

It is fulfilling the vision of the late Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, known to his followers as Gurudeva, founder of the church and its monastery. Hindu pilgrims from around the world are arriving daily to worship at the edifice.

The temple has been several years under construction and has at least seven more years before it is complete. Its designers intend it to last 1,000 years. Its concrete foundation, 68 feet by 168 feet and 3 feet thick, was cured under a 10-foot-thick load of dirt. It was designed not to crack, even under the estimated 3.2-million-pound load of a massive granite temple structure.

The granite is being hand-quarried by 70 stonemasons near Bangalore in India. Beams and blocks of stone are shaped there, then shipped to Kaua'i. Final shaping and fitting is done on site by a team of Indian masons under the supervision of master builder Shanmugam Sthapati. The masons have a small blacksmith shop nearby, where they build and resharpen their tools using a hand-made forge.

The heart of the temple has a special chamber that will contain a 700-pound crystal called the Sivalingam, which now is in the monastery's smaller Kadavul temple.

San Marga Iraivan is a Chola-style temple of the southern part of India. It is dedicated to the Hindu god, Siva, also spelled Shiva. Many of the figures carved into its walls and pillars are traditional Indian images representing the tenets of the Hindu religion, which is more than 3,000 years old.

On the Web:

Learn more about the San Marga Iraivan temple and the Saiva Siddhanta Church, including schedules for visiting the temple: www.hindu.org/ka

Hindus believe in a universal soul or god called Brahman and other deities that are aspects of Brahman. Central to the religion is the belief in reincarnation — a cycle of birth, death and rebirth that is governed by karma. It is not a single unified religion.

"Hinduism, though it is primarily in India, is global. Hinduism in Bali and Nepal is very unique and distinct from India. Each new environment is reflected to some degree in the sculpture," said Gurudeva's successor, Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami.

The temple is drawing visitors from all over the world, including India. Bodhinatha estimated that three-quarters of the visitors are from North America.

"Gurudeva envisioned it as a place of pilgrimage," Bodhinatha said. "Hindus are encourage to take a pilgrimage annually to a distant place. This is a convenient location for North American Hindus. Already we have lots of people coming every month."

Gurudeva was an American who traveled to India as a young man, studied the Hindu religion and was dispatched by his teacher to return to the United States to minister to its Hindu practitioners. He had a temple in San Francisco before establishing the monastery at Wailua in 1970. He died in 2001.

Images of Hawai'i, such as these turtles, are hewn into the stonework of the San Marga Iraivan Hindu temple on the edge of the Wailua River.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

San Marga Iraivan is a $16 million project, with half going to the construction and half to an endowment to run it. The monks are putting money into the endowment as they build, putting a dollar away for every dollar that's spent on the building. Bodhinatha said about $5 million has been raised so far, and the pace of the construction is largely determined by the flow of cash. There is no debt, and there will be none.

Bodhinatha said the concept of the temple grew out of a vision Gurudeva had in 1975. Visions are commonly the sparks for the development of Hindu temples, he said. The sect sought out noted Indian architect Thiru V. Ganapati Sthapati to design the structure, and he remains the primary guide in its development.

When not working on the development of the granite temple, the monastery's best known work is its active publishing effort. It publishes the quarterly glossy magazine, Hinduism Today, a range of books on Hinduism, and various pamphlets.

The monastery temple is open from 9 a.m. to noon daily, and there is a weekly guided tour of the premises that includes the San Marga Iraivan temple, though not always on the same day of the week. Call (808) 822-3012, Ext. 108, for details. On nontour days, if a monk is available, visitors may see the San Marga Iraivan temple.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.