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Question of the Day
WAILUA, Hawaii — In a clearing within Kauai Aadheenam’s lush gardens, the ping, ping, pinging of metal chipping at stone can be heard over the sounds of bird calls. A half-dozen artisans from south India put the finishing flourishes on the Hindu monastery’s legacy for the ages.
Hand-carved in granite and shipped in pieces to the island from India, the Iraivan Temple is faithful to the precise design formulas defined by south Indian temple builders a thousand years ago. The $8 million temple to the god Shiva is the first all-stone Hindu temple outside of India, according to the Kauai monks. The project is a rarity even in India.
The ranks of skilled Indian carvers have dwindled in recent centuries, as stone has yielded to concrete and steel. Design modifications in new temples outside India have become a necessity to make worship at the traditionally open-air spaces bearable during the winters in Canada or New York City.
Lush, tropical Kauai, known as Hawaii’s Garden Isle, doesn’t have that problem.
“Actually it’s the first all-stone temple made anywhere in quite a while. I think our architect in India said he’s made two in 50 years,” said Sannyasin Arumugaswami, a generously bearded monk enveloped in an orange cotton robe.
Construction began in 1990 and could take another 10 years to finish because of the mass of the structure and the skill needed to build it. The temple has already incorporated 80 shipping containers worth of stone and is surmounted by a gold-gilt cupola carved over three years by just four men.
The temple is the vision of a former ballet dancer and Californian who founded the monastery back in 1970, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami.
Mr. Subramuniyaswami, who died at 74 in 2001, embraced Hindu monasticism in the late 1940s. Today his Kauai monastery is home to 22 monks who spend their days in prayer at the monastery’s current Kadavul Temple, tending the monastery’s fruit orchards and livestock, or putting out the order’s quarterly publication Hinduism Today.
While many of the Kauai monks are converts, hailing from about six different countries, the order’s focus, as reflected in its stone temple, is on tradition.
And the rules here are strict.
While day-trippers are welcome, the monastery doesn’t allow the curious to try out monastic life for a few days or weeks. The minimum stay is six months. And all the monks are celibate, single and male. Once they take their permanent vows, they do not speak of their lives before the monastery.
“It’s like the institution was picked up in India and plopped down here. … Something our founder purposely tried to do is not dilute it or change it seriously because of where it is,” said Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, the current guru and abbot of the monastery.
Still, the ascetics’ traditional orange, yellow or white cotton robes and shaved or bearded appearances belie their modern savvy. These monks have cell phones, digital cameras, podcasts and widescreen computer monitors to put out their magazine, with a worldwide circulation of 15,000 print and 5,000 digital. The monastery’s Web site gets up to 40,000 hits a day.
“If you start searching Hinduism on the Web you come to us in a hurry,” said Mr. Arumugaswami, who is also managing editor of the monastery’s magazine.
And the monks also don’t entirely eschew outside society.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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