Sunday, June 14, 2015

Photo Essay: A Tale of Two Temples

I'm pretty adventurous, but for certain things, I believe in safety in numbers. Raised Catholic, I feel comfortable wandering into a Christian church or even a Jewish temple, but I feel like I need an invitation to storm in on somebody else's worship.

But I've been lucky enough to experience Chinese New Year at a Buddhist temple, dance with the Hare Krishnas, and learn about the Aetherius Society since moving to LA. I'm making my religious rounds, that's for sure.

So when I was invited to visit a nearby Hindu temple with a friend, I didn't hesitate. I'd missed out on visiting the Hindu temple in London in 2009, and had regretted it since then. For as much as I do, there's always something for which there's no time to do.



But instead of arriving at the Hindu temple, we actually first found ourselves at a Thai temple...



...another new experience for me...



...and a total happy accident.



I grew up with pretty serious Catholic iconography of sacrificed lambs and fire and brimstone...



...but the walkways and prayer areas at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Buddhist Temple...



...are bright and shiny...



...and downright whimsical.



We weren't sure if we were welcome...



...but we tiptoed around to take photos outside...



...before being beckoned inside...



...where visitors are welcome during the weekend.



We could've stayed for a Thai lunch...



...but, as much as we liked it there, we were still on the search for the local Hindu temple, which is a totally different thing.



Of course, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is actually quite easy to find, clearly visible from the 71 freeway, which we quickly discovered.



The visitor's center (the Haveli) was completed in 2007...



...with intricate wood carvings both outside and in.



Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside any of the buildings here...



...which is a complete travesty in the case of the Mandir, which opened in 2012.




Although its hand-carved exterior of imported Indian pink sandstone is certainly impressive...



...and elaborate...



...the interior is absolutely jaw-dropping...



...with hand-carved Italian marble...



...and shrines to various deities and gurus (Murti)...



...like Shri Ghanshyam Maharaj, Shri Nilkanth Varni, and Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj.



Architecturally this place is fascinating: because it was so recently built, it can take advantage of modern technology and energy efficiency, fusing traditional Indian architecture with modern construction techniques. Forty base isolators allow for lateral movement during an earthquake, so the upper portion of the Mandir will "float" above the moving ground and foundation. It's also powered by solar energy.

You have to be brave to have experiences like this. Someday, someone might ask you to leave. But the prevailing experience I've had, despite my trepidation, is being welcomed. "Is this your first time?" they ask at the entrance gate. When I nod, they say, "You are welcome here."

And when I tiptoe inside, barefoot, someone else asks if it's my first time. And when I say yes, they offer to show me around.

Sometimes, just getting yourself up to that entrance gate is the hardest part.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Dances and Dioramas of Hare Krishna in LA
Photo Essay: The Decorations, Wishes, and Faces of Chinese New Year
Photo Essay: Lake Shrine
Photo Essay: Pico-Union Project, From Temple to Church to Mosque