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Magazine Web Edition > July/August/September 2009 > Feature Story: Siva's Sanctuary in Tropical Hawaii
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Feature Story

Siva's Sanctuary in Tropical Hawaii

Discover the ineffable alchemy of a Chola-style granite temple nestled in a lush jungle in the middle of nowhere



Sample spread from this article

View this article in all its graphic richness on page 10 of the free PDF Edition.


Untold centuries into the future, travelers will encounter a finely carved granite temple set like a gemstone on a Hawaiian island--one such as only the Tamil Chola kingdoms of South India could build. Puzzled, they may wonder what age, what civilization it belonged to. They will hear about a vision, a blaze of faith and a celebration of Hinduism that began in the late 20th century, and about a seed from the Tamil lands that sprouted far away.

Hinduism was not carried here by maritime traders or travelers but by a modern-day rishi, who--with the blessings of his Sri Lankan guru--created a Saivite citadel called Kauai's Hindu Monastery and trained two generations of monks who aided him in his pioneering mission and live here still.

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (1927-2001), founder of Hinduism Today, is the spiritual genius that set it all in motion. When he first set foot on this site in 1968, Gurudeva, as he is affectionately called, realized how special the land is, charged with prana and palpable sanctity. He chose to make it the headquarters of his Hindu church and monastic order. A few years later, on February 15, 1975, he had an extraordinary experience. "One early morning, before dawn," he recounted, "a three-fold vision of Lord Siva came to me. First, I beheld Lord Siva walking in a valley, then I saw His face peering into mine; then He was seated on a large stone, His reddish golden hair flowing down His back. This was the fulfillment of the quest for a vision of what the future might hold." [See artwork on next page.]

In the Hindu tradition, there are two types of temples: those founded by men and those rare and most auspicious ones founded by the Gods through visions. Gurudeva explains how he seized the opportunity: "I felt certain that the great stone that Siva was sitting on was somewhere on our monastery land and set about to find it. Guided from within by my satguru, I hired a bulldozer and instructed the driver to follow me as I walked to the south edge of the property that was then a tangle of buffalo grass and wild guava. A tree deva directed my attention to a spot where there was a large rock--the self-created lingam on which Lord Siva had sat. A stunningly potent vibration was felt. The bulldozer's trail now led exactly to the sacred stone, surrounded by five smaller boulders. San Marga, the 'straight or pure path' to God, had been created. An inner voice proclaimed, 'This is the place where the world will come to pray.'" These visions inspired him to begin this exquisite temple, unlike any in the world. Since that day, pujas have been held daily at the spot, which will one day be sheltered with an elegant, open-air pavilion.

Today, 34 years later, the San Marga Iraivan Temple is a miracle nearing completion. It is a piece of India--its religion, culture, art and even the stones--manifesting on Kauai island. Each of the nearly 4,000 stones (the largest weighing 14,000 pounds) was hand-carved in India and then transported across the ocean to this Pacific island 8,000 miles away--about 80 container loads in all. Iraivan Temple is believed to be the only Hindu temple in the world moved block by block from one part of the globe to another. "Arguably the most elaborate Hindu temple in the United States" is how it was described in the Architectural Record by Brian James Barr, who noted that it is the only temple known to be entirely hand-carved in modern times.

During Gurudeva's travels to South India in the early 1980s, he enlisted the services of Dr. V. Ganapati Sthapati, India's foremost temple architect, who designed the temple strictly according to the Agamas and Vastu Shastras. Sthapati was especially inspired by Gurudeva's edict to carve the temple entirely by hand, in the old way, without the use of modern machinery. To create it, in 1991 a small village was set up for 70 traditional sculptors, called silpis, and their families, in Madanayakanahalli, near Bengaluru. It was there, on an arid parcel known for its cobra snakes, that each stone was sculpted.

In Hawaii, rotating teams of six silpis (first brought over in 2001), helped by monks and local workers, have nearly finished assembling the temple. When complete, it will weigh 1,600 tons (3,200,000 pounds) at a cost of $16 million, which includes an $8-million endowment to permanently support the temple and its surroundings.

While Gurudeva decreed that ancient technology be used for the temple, his monks, dressed in hand-woven cotton Indian robes, used cutting-edge Macintosh computers to design the panel art that is found on many of the pillars to create a library in stone. Among other high-tech features, sunlight is channeled into the inner sanctum via fiber-optic cables, and web conferencing and iPhones are being used to coordinate every detail of the work. The new and the traditional dance together in Iraivan Temple.

The temple's central murti is so rare that it may seem an innovation, but it is, in fact, of a kind lauded in olden scriptures. Iraivan's inner sanctum enshrines the world's largest single-pointed quartz crystal--a 700-pound, 39-inch-tall, six-sided natural gem, a sphatika Sivalingam that started growing 50 million years ago in a deep cave in Arkansas and was acquired by Gurudeva in 1987. Few know that such a crystal is, according to the Agamas, the most exalted of Sivalingams. Ganapati Sthapati explains, "In the Hindu culture of worship, Sivalingams are made of many materials, such as earth, wood, metal and gems. Among gems, the sphatika (quartz crystal) is considered very significant and sacred because it is spotless and transparent, like space. If all of the crystal Lingas in India were put together into one, they would still not equal the power of this one."

Iraivan Temple is being built to channel and focus the spiritual power of this rare crystal Sivalingam, evoking the blessings of the Supreme God, Siva.

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