Gifts of Love
The building of Iraivan Temple, a project so complex in scope and details, entails boundless time and enormous expense. It is the generosity of thousands of devotees that has been making this vision a reality. Gurudeva directed that the temple be built without any debt. That means that efficient and continuous fund-raising is a must.
Palaniswami recounts, "We have raised $12 million toward our $16-million goal. Though we have received a handful of large donations, by far the majority of all funding has come in the form of small, regular donations from our 12,000 contributors in 58 countries around the world."
In Gurudeva's trips to India, he saw many majestic temples that had fallen into neglect, with too little funding to maintain them, staffed by a handful of underpaid priests. Determined that Iraivan never suffer that fate, Gurudeva established a maintenance endowment, stipulating that half of every dollar donated go into that endowment. In this way he ensured that Iraivan Temple will continue to flourish in the future. Once the temple is consecrated, the endowment will be $8 million, providing sufficient income that the monks will never again have to raise funds to care for the temple. Iraivan's endowment has been set up so that its principal cannot be spent under any circumstances, but generates income year after year.
Sannyasin Shanmuganathaswami, the monastery's financial administrator, describes the fund-raising efforts: "First, Gurudeva concentrated on paying off the land. It was the late 80s before we started raising funds for the building itself. Fund-raising was hard in those days because there was no actual building to point to. Starting out with just a few close devotees, the monks used the modern tools of technology to get the word out." Swami explains that ground-breaking technology was, to his guru, a wonderful tool for productivity that he enthusiastically embraced. Gurudeva might even have created the world's first photo blog in 1998, when he instructed his monks to post photos and daily news--before the word blog was coined. This daily news site is called Today at Kauai Aadheenam, or TAKA.
The monastery has a user-friendly, resource-rich website (www.himalayanacademy.com) with vivid images and text bringing Iraivan Temple into the homes of devotees. Contributions have come from people who have never set foot on Kauai. The list of countries involved is astonishing. One might ask, does it include faraway places such as Norway? Yes it does. What about mother India, colorful Guadeloupe, Brazil, Mauritius, Trinidad, Australia? Yes, donations come from those places as well. No country is too far for Siva's devotees to be touched by the dream of Iraivan Temple. For them, instantaneous darshan available with a click of the mouse is important. On TAKA, these virtual pilgrims in faraway lands can see, day by day, Iraivan rising with their contributions. They hope to worship, one day, at the temple they are helping to build.
Most temples are based around a local community and are a reflection of its population. In contrast, Iraivan has a global flavor. This has been motivating, especially for Hindus outside of India who resonate to the pure Saivite tradition that thrives in this place of tranquility and peace. Wherever they live, however troubled the times or the region, they find solace in the fact that on Kauai things are right with the world.
The monastery's printed newsletter has also been a vital tool in getting the word out, since it lists everyone who has given to the temple in the previous month, as well as the total raised. This inspires people who are new to the project to start giving regular donations to help bring Gurudeva's vision into manifestation. "It has worked well, and it has set a model for other temples on how to keep in touch, as a well-knit family weave," Shanmuganathaswami attests.
Malaysia plays a special role in this project. Dedicated Malaysians, constituting one-third of the sishyas of Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, Gurudeva's successor, have shown their commitment by raising funds to cover the cost of Iraivan Temple's rose-colored floor. Malaysian devotees are creative fund-raisers, holding lively meetings and engaging in projects such as producing key chains to sell, with pictures and Saivite motifs, usually a photo of Gurudeva.
Personal stories color each pound of stone. Nageswaran and Rajeswari Nagaratnam of Sydney, Australia, volunteered to fund the carving of the gomukai--the stone that holds the water pouring out from the sanctum after an abhishekam--becoming the first, in February, 1993, to sponsor a single temple artifact. Another sponsor donated $108,000 for the capstone. Faithful Nandi, Siva's sacred bull carved in black granite, was sponsored by devotees from Singapore. Most donations come in the form of an ongoing pledge, setting up an automatic charge on one's credit card or bank account for a modest sum every month. The constant flow such donations bring is key to the project's stability.
Shanmuganathaswami tells us there are ways to support a Hindu temple with money that would normally be paid to the government in the form of taxes. "We've been encouraging people to put the temple in their wills. We hired a planned giving consultant to help devotees write effective estate plans to help their family finances as well as the project. It's a situation where everyone wins, but few people realize they can make their legacy continue to work for what they cared for in life." Many people remember the temple in their wills. One donor took out a $750,000 life insurance policy, making Iraivan Temple the owner and beneficiary.
Iraivan Temple's fund-raising is not immune to bad economic times: the Hindu Heritage Endowment suffered losses in 2008, along with everyone else. But Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami assures, "For us, what matters is the long-term performance. When the market eventually comes back up, so will our endowment's assets." We can all learn from a monk's patience, and for a temple being built to last for a thousand years, this certainly rings true.