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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 25, 2005

A gentle collision of two traditions

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

WAHIAWA — The gods sometimes make themselves known in unexpected places. In this instance, the situation has left adherents of two radically different religious traditions struggling for a way they all can worship in peace.

Enshrined stones on California Avenue are venerated by some Hawaiians as healing stones, and by some Hindus as earthly representations of Shiva, their destroyer god. The Hawaiians want the stones out in the open, where they can be nourished by rain.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

At the center of the cultural divide are the Wahiawa Healing Stones. Once a tongue-shaped boulder from a historic site north of the town, it was broken into pieces, all enshrined in their present home.

Like many Hawaiian cultural objects, various stories circulate about the original stone's origins. According to one account, it marked the burial place of an ancient chief before it was moved to its present location, formerly a cemetery off California Avenue, and became a focal point for pilgrimage in the 1920s.

Then, about 17 years ago, a group of Hindus heard of the stone through members of a temple on Kaua'i. They began gathering at the Wahiawa site, believing the stone to be an earthly representation of Shiva, the destroyer god of their faith.

Now some in the Hawaiian community think the stone needs far more exposure to the restorative rain than it's getting, enclosed in a marble-paneled shelter.

According to their version of the story, the stone, known as Keanianileihuaokalani, originally was from around nearby Kukaniloko, where Hawaiian royalty gave birth. Thus, the story goes, it derived its power from the mingling of blood and water that produced the sacred rainfall, and it needs that rainfall to restore its power.

'It needs the rain'

Eda Kaneakua cleans the healing stones with 'awa powder. Hawaiians and Hindus have differing ideas about the stones but are talking to each other about them.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

"The stone is very much open to everyone; it needs to be open," said Elithe Manuha'apio Kahn, a practitioner of Hawaiian healing arts and a kahu (caretaker) of the stone. "It needs the rain."

The Hindu group, known as LOTUS (Lord of the Universe Society), has been worshipping at the site since 1988, said Dr. S. Ramanathan, a past president of the society. Their gatherings have been quiet and without publicity, he said, and members hope everything can be resolved with minimal fanfare.

"We don't own that place; we don't claim it," Ramanathan said. "We are just one of the worshippers."

The land where the shrine sits is public, he said: a streetside right of way owned by the city.

In 1996, LOTUS and its supporters renovated the concrete enclosure, which was built decades before the Hindus became involved, Ramanathan said. An overlay of Indian marble covers the raised platform and the enclosure, which has an open doorway and latticed windows but is solidly roofed above.

Last Sunday, LOTUS members gathered for a service at the stone, and were met by some Hawaiians concerned about the condition of the stone. Kahn said that some have found the stone slicked with oil or, sometimes, colored powder.

Ramanathan said the stone is not secured, so anyone might have been responsible for various treatments. His own group has in the past used small amounts of ghee (melted clarified butter) but on its own switched to anointing the stone with liquids easier to clean from its porous surface: milk, coconut water and plain water. After each service, he said, the stone is cleaned with water.

On Tuesday, a Hawaiian group came to clean the stone further, rubbing it with powder made from 'awa root.

Eda Kaneakua, a sixth-grade teacher at Wailupe Valley Elementary School and a student of Kahn's, stooped in the low enclosure with Simeon Alo and gave the stone a good rubdown with the powder and a bath with water they gathered at the Wahiawa reservoir.

She said her Wailupe students have begun a curriculum on the history of the stone and its care, setting coconut shells nearby to catch rainwater for its cleansing. Some have suggested drilling holes in the roof to allow rainwater in, she said.

Seeking a solution

The Hindu worship service on Sunday "was done in a very, very respectful way," Kaneakua acknowledged. "It was an impressive ritual."

Wahiawa resident Lani Kiesel joined the cleaning crew, helping to remove fading ceremonial flowers from the lei-bedecked stone. Kiesel, who watched the ceremony on Sunday, said the LOTUS members she met that day seemed willing to talk.

"They're very, very agreeable to an exchange in conversation," she said. "There's dialogue, and there's hope for a solution."

"It's two cultures that now need to share the stone," Alo said. "It's nice to put stones in temples, but in our culture, we're all out in the open, close to the land."

Ramanathan said the group is happy to meet with anyone who has concerns, but he emphasized that LOTUS already made overtures to the Hawaiian community. The group approached the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 1988 and was told the services would pose no problem, Ramanathan said, adding that LOTUS also has met with neighbors to gain their acceptance.

For the Hindu community, the stone has provided a place to gather.

"It's brought the community together," he said. "And it has done some good for the neighborhood. People tell us it's much more peaceful there now."

Others may doubt the stone's attributes, he said, but "I think he has got power.

"That's the way many of us feel," he said. "When you go there, you feel a kind of mental peace. There's no denying it."

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.