Nashua Residents Look To Build Hindu Temple

Jun 18, 2008

About 4500 people living in New Hampshire were born in India. And more than a third of them live in Nashua. They do their best to keep their connections with their culture through their cooking and recreation - Nashua alone has five cricket teams. But one thing they don't have is a place to pray. Now a group of local residents is saying it's time to open a Hindu temple.

Ravi Singh owns an Indian grocery store in south Nashua. He outgrew his original location five years ago. "We had to move out from that location because the Indian population grew drastically. This is four times bigger than what we had in 2001." Singh’s experience is born out in statistics. Ross Gittell has co-authored a report on the state’s foreign-born population at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute. He says that the state’s Indian population has increased 40 percent since the year 2000. "And that 40 percent is from a relatively low base, but that base is significant. And that group represents the second largest country of origin group in the state behind only Canada."

Karthi Chandra, of Merrimack, sits at her kitchen table, stirring mint from her garden into a glass of lemon water. Chandra is one of thousands of Indian immigrants who migrated here for jobs in the computer industry. There was a great need of programmers. They’re pretty much settled here, and are now raising families here. Like the majority of Indian immigrants, Chandra is Hindu. She walks over to her puja, a sacred space in her home adorned with religious prints, statues, and incense burners. Chandra points to her collection of deities. "This Shivaling. I got it from my grandmother. It’s about 70 years old." Sheryl: "What is this large one?" Chandra: "This large one is a symbol of Subramani. Every day I light the lamps, make some offerings of fruit." And while Chandra finds comfort in her household shrine, she misses having a communal place of worship. "You know, I’m part of a meditation circle. The energy when you all sit, concentrate, and meditate is unbelievable." Chandra is a member of the newly-formed Hindu Temple of New Hampshire. That organization is raising funds to rent a hall with at least 1800 square feet and plenty of parking. They’ve already hired a priest.

Dorswamy Subramany is president of the Hindu Temple organization. Perhaps the group’s biggest challenge, says Subramany, is creating a one-size-fits-all place to worship, India, he says, is not a homogeneous nation. "If you go to the southern part of India, you have four states, but you have four different languages, Then, if you go up north, there are about 12 different languages, 12 different cultures. Each culture builds a temple to their likings. What we’re trying to do in Nashua, we’re trying to make it for all the communities in this area."

Sishani Chowdhury directs public policy at the Hindu American Foundation in Washington, D.C. She says the mixture of cultures is not the start-up group’s biggest problem. "Their biggest challenge -- is definitely -- the finance to get a temple running. It may be easy to get a hall and hire a priest, but to maintain that for extended periods of time may be more difficult."

"It is a very long process to collect all the donations, and stuff like that." Indira Shelat owns a small vegetarian restaurant in Nashua. And especially, the way the economy is right now, it will be hard to get the donations. But like many Indian residents here, Shelat pines for a temple that’s nearby. She remembers when she was a young girl. "We used to go to temple every single day. We went in the morning and in the evening. That’s how we were brought up." Shelat now attends a Hindu temple in Lowell. Most Indian-born residents in New Hampshire, however, travel to the larger temple in Ashland, Massachusetts. The Sri Lakshmi temple in Ashland, cost four million dollars to build. Subramony, New Hampshire’s temple president, says this state is two to five years away from building a temple of its own. Meanwhile, the group is struggling to come up with the funding to rent a temporary space.