History of the North Texas Hindu Mandir
The North Texas Hindu Mandir began in 1992 as CHANT (Carribean Hindus of North Texas), a small, loosely formed congregation. CHANT met in the homes of its members. In 2002, CHANT leaders purchased the current facility, which was then a synagogue, and repainted the interior, including a sky ceiling. They then chose their current name, the North Texas Hindu Mandir. The congregation has grown, and families come from across the region, from Carrollton to Rockwall.
The 2015 president of the mandir, Shiva Maharaj (named after the Hindu god), was our correspondence contact. Other notable figures we met included the Pandit, or service leader, and Dr. Amal Mukherjee, who works as a founding leader to merge the congregation’s Indian and West Indies heritage.
The governing body of the Mandir is elected by all members, and a constitution keeps the leaders in check.
Globalization and Shared Identity
According to Jürgen Osterhammel and Niels P Petersson, globalization can be defined as “the expansion, concentration, and acceleration of worldwide relations” (5). These religious scholars point out that “the outcome of cultural change through globalization is also often interpreted as ‘hybridity,’ meaning the result of new cultural elements being creatively adapted to mesh with existing ones” (7). This expansion and merging of cultural elements perhaps best explains the origins of the North Texas Hindu mandir.
The North Texas Hindu Mandir (NTHM) is a microcosm of the global identities in Dallas, TX. With members from Canada, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, India, and many other countries, the organization is a conglomerate of diverse beliefs, often diverging from common characteristics of Hinduism in India.While individual members also hold diverse beliefs regarding Hinduism, they coalesce to worship together.
Prior to becoming the North Texas Hindu Mandir, the group was known as CHANT: Caribbean Hindu Association of North Texas. This is fascinating for two reasons. First, the group stems from primarily Caribbean Hindus whilst Hinduism was founded in India. Second, this is a group of Caribbean Hindus that ended up settling in North Texas. The location that they settled in is another prime example of globalization. First, the building is located in the middle of your typical suburb. Also, the building that they now practice in used to be a Jewish synagogue and previously a Christian church. Just as startling, down the block from the building is a Mormon ward, representing a clash of differing beliefs and cultures that coexist peacefully in 75218.
Returning back to globalization’s definition, Osterhammel and Peterson describe it to be producing the “Space-time-compression” which “produces the prerequisites for worldwide social relations, networks, and systems, within which the effective distance is considerably smaller than the geographical” (10). This applies to the group in two ways. First, the globalization not only gave rise to the North Texas Hindu Mandir, but is the reason why it continues to grow, as members are from all over the globe. Secondly, the effective “shrinking” of the globe affects the mandir in day-to-day activities in their ability to connect worldwide Hinduism to their mandir.
Essentially, globalization has deeply affected the mandir’s practices. In India, especially South India, Hinduism is seen as a group of tenets one must follow. Usually, he or she did not understand why he or she must follow these, but did so out of respect for ancestral traditions. The West prioritizes individualism, encouraging believers to find personal meaning and identification with their religions and communities. This has shaped how individuals of the NTHM worship. Unlike traditional temples, the murtis (idols) sit on
a scarcely raised floor and right next to each other, not on their own pedestals with plenty of space. This allows accessibility to the congregation to touch their idols.
Modernity and Technology
Technology has played a major role in the increasing connectedness of the world. This is a key facet of modernity, as Immanuel Wallerstein describes modernity as “a trajectory as inevitably progressive as that of technological advance” (472).
The North Texas Hindu Mandir has embraced the idea of technological modernity, as they incorporate the use of videos into services. Moreover, the mandir leaders told us about how they have used Facebook. By doing so, they have been able to gain more exposure in the community. This is a clear marker of not only the embracement of technological modernity, but also of the aforementioned “Space-time-compression,” as their social media presence can be easily accessed all over the world.
Religious institutions embrace and adapt to technological innovation, for the benefit of their members. Wallerstein states, “The term modern is a conceptual framework of the presumed endlessness of technological progress, and therefore of constant innovation” (471). The mandir has indeed adapted by using modern technology to interact with the community.
In services, they utilize projectors for people to see the words of their hymns, and they also have a website which allows its visitors to be informed of what the service will be about.
Shiva explained to our group how the temple interacts with the community through social networks like Facebook to alert the community of events. For example, their website’s “Upcoming Events” section includes a calendar of events in each month. Another aspect of this religious community’s modernity is the calendar it observes. While the traditional Hindu Astrological calendar is difficult to understand, most Hindu temples in India follow it, basing several decisions on astrological movements. The NTHM also seeks to follow this calendar, but understands that it may be inefficient to ask members to sync to a calendar unlike the one they follow each day. The NTHM integrates the Hindu calendar into the Gregorian calendar and posts it online, a symbol of modernity of technology.
The Youth and Children
The mandir’s approach to integrating children and adolescents has helped to strengthen the community environment, both in the ceremonies and the community atmosphere.In other traditional Hindu temples, children have marginal roles within the services. In general, they are do not include children in their services, and kids are expected to sit quietly or are herded into an other room. They may have an environment like Sunday School to educate them, or they may be allowed to participate in prayer.
This is drastically different from the environment at the mandir. Children ran throughout the elaborate birthday ceremony we witnessed, and helped to throw petals, chant, and clap along with musicians. They were active and valued participants, spoken to by adults with the affection of a real parent.
The mandir’s belief is that religious education can begin from a very young age. A child will most likely learn the basics of HInduism from their parents, and so the mandir seeks not to teach them an overview but rather allow them to witness the mandir in action. The children can watch rituals and performances, listen to the words spoken, and soak in the community atmosphere, slowly shaping their place within it. The children also get hands-on learning experiences. They may perform pujas and prostrate before murtis.
The mandir’s religious modernization is displayed in their disregard for conventional Hindu practices and their attempt to find a more personal meaning for themselves and their children.
The adolescents of the mandir have taken on a role of responsibility. Together the teens serve as an outreach committee, helping to facilitate charitable drives such as cans for the North Texas Food Bank. They also help to plan events such as Diwali and Festival of Lights.
The teens’ attitudes during and after in the mandir activities seemed to be just as enthusiastic as those of the adults. Teens shook the hands of visitors eagerly, and some engaged us in conversation as soon as they noted our presence. One girl we spoke with asked us if we had ever seen the preceding ceremony before, and then explained its significance to us so that we would feel included. Another teenager, a college student, introduced himself and asked about our school experiences while sharing his own. And one sat patiently as we spoke with the mandir’s leaders, waiting to chime in and offer youthful insight for our project. She described her experience of having best friends of other races and religions, and told us how accepting and interested they were in her faith, despite being Christians themselves. It was refreshing to hear about tolerance among the youth, and, moreover, a genuine interest in unfamiliar cultural practices.
The younger generations of the mandir demonstrate a promising future. The inclusion the teens were given as children surely fostered their kindness and consideration towards visitors.
A Visitor’s Perspective of Services and Events
Driving up to the mandir, our group was startled by its relative neighborhood. Suburban homes, all somewhat old, surrounded the building. Hindu temples are traditionally ornate and of grandiose proportions with vibrant colors, so pulling up to a one-story building that resembled the fraying houses was a surprise. All the same, however, the mandir has Indian-fashioned doors, a testament to globalization, as the mandir does fit within its area while maintaining some aspects of Hinduism’s cultural identity.
Walking inside was another matter. A line of idols sat on the floor to one side of the temple, while members in decorative Indian clothes brought trays of flowers and candles to worship. The temple has kept some aspects of traditional Hindu temples, keeping these murtis (idols) for devotees to venerate and throw petals at.
Our group participated in an interesting celebration they call tassa. Tassa is when worshipers throw flower petals on the head of a person having a birthday while the congregation plays music for him or her. The temple’s members bring themurtis some milk since milk symbolizes purity from its white color. In return, the gods purify the congregants’ minds and bodies from any unholy acts. The congregation of the Hindu mandir temple all dress in traditional Indian clothing to keep their traditions intact. Other traditions include gathering for pujas, serving trays of lamps, and eating mahaprasad.
Community and Culture
At the North Texas Hindu Mandir, specific eating, clothing, and ritual practices are used to create a shared community. While all the members at the North Texas Hindu mandir are Hindus, there shared sense of community mainly stems from a shared geographical origin – the Caribbean. This is perhaps the biggest challenge that the mandir faces because of the slight differences in Hindu beliefs that occur since the mandir is organized on geographical, not ideological terms. The main way in which this challenge is dealt with and overcome is through trying to maintain shared rituals. This idea of shared experiences were prevalent throughout our visit and talks with members, as the congregation was performing a tassa, a birthday celebration, as we were arriving, and even invited us to participate. By doing so, it helped to foster a sense of community and inclusion.
This sense of community is furthered even more so following the service, as the group always has a large meal after, where the congregation stays and eats together, while socializing with other members and families. This allows for the group to stay unified, as they form a group identity that unites their different backgrounds through food and culture.
The mandir and its surrounding community get along exceptionally well. In April, the mandir was vandalized in an apparent act of religious hatred. Rather than ignore the incident, the neighbors stepped in to help the mandir re-paint. Volunteers restored it to its original condition much faster than the mandir could on its own. The mandir’s president said he had asked them what they would do if the mandir was again vandalized, and someone said, “We’d be right back and we’d do this all over again for you.”