July 30, 2009

A Hindu Temple in the USA

A friend and I visited a 'Mandir' (Hindu Temple) located near Princeton a few days ago and that lead to some very interesting discussions about religion: its place in a given culture, and its perception outside of its natural home. Given that my friend had never ventured into a Hindu Temple ever before, I was curious to know her reactions, and she agreed to let me post those, and here they are:

1. The inside (of the temple) setting was very informal, and contrary to what she had imagined. The few people in there were chatting and some were sitting in groups on the carpeted floor as that was the only available seating.

2. The statues had identical faces and expressions, yet each had a unique embellishment to set it apart like a musical instrument or a weapon. All the idols were light skinned, had European features, and some even had light eyes. They all looked serene, almost benign.

3. "It did seem strange to see people praying before those figures. In a Catholic church the people pray (often very intently) before statues of saints or Christ, but these statues represent real people that once lived and are remembered for some particular reasons. The statues in the temple were not representing anything real, which is why I asked you if they represent an idea. My very first thought when I saw them was these are the "false idols" we were always taught about as children in religion classes, and the people who worship them were the "pagans" we were supposed to feel sorry for, because they didn't know "God." I always thought it was silly to feel sorry for them. I was quite sure they were very satisfied with their gods who had as much meaning for them as mine did for me. I guess I never was the ideal Catholic student. I asked too many questions. Did you ever read Bless Me, Ultima? That Catholic church was the one I knew, and Ultima's religion was the one that made more sense to me."

Makes me wonder about my first reactions to the different places of worship I have entered for the very first time ...


Mariana Soffer said...

Intresting memory, the reaction you have the first time you entered a religious place of a kind. I remember very vividly the first time I entered a church, I run away to the outside, it was awfull to me, jesuschrist on the cross with the nail, blood, it scared me a lot. That was the most impressive to me.

Eshuneutics said...

What a gentle, thought-provoking post. The effect doesn't just change from religion to religion, but even within the religion. I can remember standing in an old and beautiful Anglo Saxon Christian church. The effect was so still and full of echoes. I also remember standing in York Minster. The grandure was frightening. God magnfied. It was not a place I wanted to be. Mosques change so much in character too. Thanks for this train of thought.

berenice said...

oh dear ID, thank you for this lovely post about religion, I love to visit churches or temples, or any religion, they are sacred places no matter what religion it is, usually churches have a strong feeling of mysticism and even though some other ones feel more 'mundane' or 'terrestrial' their walls seems to absorb all those wonderful spiritual vibes people tend to leave there. I do love icons and images too, so I've learn to appreciate from a crucified Jesus to a multi-arms goddess Kali, for me all these images deserve the same respect because they mean something important for another person :D

and thank you for that link with the history of religion. I always learn something new when i read your blog :D

Georg said...

Bonjour Id,

It is always slightly strange to visit places of worship belonging to a "foreign"religion.

Whereas one visits own temples of worship with a spiritual eye, the foreign ones are seen as they are.

Thus, when I visited in Cairo/Egypt one of those very big and ancient mosques, the only thing I remember was and is that it smelled strongly of unwashed feet.

Now the question is if those Muslims who go there for worship do they smell it, too or do they feel it worthwhile to mention?