From May 17th to 18th this year, after many delays and years of dedicated hard work, ISKCON Houston will finally celebrate the grand opening of its brand new Vedic temple.
The temple was originally set to open in November 2010, then later in 2011, but was delayed by multiple challenges. Amongst them were city permit and structural issues, as well as the shocking theft of small utsav deities Sri-Sri Radha-Giridhari on October 6th 2010.
Around 15,000 people are expected to attend the opening, including members of Houston’s large Hindu community, ISKCON devotees from all over North America, and members of the general public.
“This is probably one of the most unique structures in the city of Houston,” says Anish Pillai, who works on communications for ISKCON Houston. “People often pull over in their cars on the side of the road just to take a photo of this wonderful sight. So I think a lot of people in the city now know that there’s this beautiful building coming up, and are interested to learn what it has to offer.”
It's no wonder, considering the 24,000 square foot Orissan-style temple, with its multiple gold-tipped domes and 90-foot-high central dome.
Around 350 select members of the local community will be the first to get the inside scoop at a special formal banquet on Friday May 16th, the evening before the official opening festival.
These will include media contacts and members of yoga centers and the interfaith community that ISKCON has developed relationships with over the years. The Mayor of Houston has also been invited.
The next day, on May 17th, devotees will begin the festival proper by celebrating the installation of new Deities of Sri-Sri Radha-Giridhari, as the original Deities were never recovered. The large presiding Deities of Sri-Sri Radha-Nilamadhava will have been moved to the new temple prior to the event.
During the festival, the general public will get a chance to see what the temple has to offer: they’ll be taken on tours of the new facility, and will be able to learn about the history of ISKCON and its founder Srila Prabhupada, and get an experience of Bhakti yoga at a variety of educational booths on the grounds.
The festival will also include special presentations by senior devotees from the early years of ISKCON Houston including Kalakantha Das, one of the project’s first temple presidents, and Hridayananda Das Goswami.
Goswami was one of the very first ISKCON pioneers to introduce Krishna consciousness to Houston back in 1972, along with Vishnujana Swami and Dina Bandhu Das.
They were followed by the late Tamal Krishna Goswami, who oversaw ISKCON Houston’s growth from 1978 onwards, expressing that he wanted to see a temple that would attract people of all backgrounds in this most diverse city. The project remained close to his heart until his passing in 2002.
The new temple, on which construction began in 2004, is seen as a realization of his dream for Houston.
And what a temple it is.
The sprawling 24,000 square-foot Mandir sits on a lush green seven-acre landscaped property on Houston’s West 34th Street. Modeled after the famous Jagannath temple in Puri, Orissa, it features four smaller domes and one ninety-foot high central dome, topped with a golden chakra, as well as two terraced pyramids.
Inside, the temple room has a marble floor and walls and an octagonal ceiling. It is surrounded with seventeen BBT paintings depicting different pastimes of Lord Krishna.
The teakwood altar, which took a team of artisans in Kerala, South India several years to handcraft, will be home to Giriraj Govardhan, Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, Sri Sri Radha-Giridhari, and life-size Sri Sri Radha Nila-Madhava, the largest Radha Krishna Deities in the US.
It has several unique features. “On the inside of the altar are paintings of different pastimes, which only the Lord can see,” says Anish Pillai. “All the backdrops for the altar will be preinstalled, and will be electronically changed by remote control on a daily basis. And the altar is lit with LED lights that will change color every day to match the Deities’ outfits.”
Beyond the grand opening, there are other exciting plans in the temple’s future. The first likely to materialize will be a restaurant. This will be followed by a Bhakti lounge offering vegetarian cooking classes, yoga classes, and Ayurvedic treatment and massage.
“We’ve also purchased land across the street from the temple, that we’re developing into a fifty-unit apartment complex for devotees,” says Anish. “There’s one bedroom, two bedroom and three bedroom units. With such a big temple complex, we’ll need devotees nearby who can help to maintain the services.”
Meanwhile, the upstairs of ISKCON Houston’s Gauranga Hall, where Sunday School classes currently take place, will be converted into an accredited elementary school, which will start next year.
“We’re going to start off teaching a few grades, and hopefully that will grow over the years,” Anish says.
The new temple and school are expected to attract between twenty and twenty-five new families within the next five years.
“I think this new temple is going to be a huge impetus to give Krishna consciousness to the greater Houston community, in line with what Tamal Krishna Goswami envisioned,” says Anish.
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