As we have mentioned in our previous post, our group of incredibly intelligent students
have been meeting to discuss course readings, contemporary news in Tamil Nadu
and Kerala, and our anxieties, expectations, and hopes for our upcoming trip. On the
morning of November 4th, our Elon group together with Professor Allocco joined to visit
the Venkateswara Hindu Temple located in Cary NC, about forty minutes from Elon
University. This multi-million dollar temple was originally designed and built in India,
then constructed in Cary. The mission of this temple, as stated on their website, is to “operate
a Hindu temple in Cary, NC built according to Agama Sasthras, perform and uphold
Hindu religious activities as defined in the Vedas and Upanishads.” The website includes
a brief history of the temple, the current community and members, pictures of the temple,
and how one may become involved with the community.

After taking off our shoes at the entrance, we first circumambulated the outside of the
temple clockwise and were astonished by the intricate designs of the building (see
below). On the ground outside the temple were many painted kolams, South Indian
designs that may signal worship of the Goddess, or Devi. As Hindu tradition suggests,
visiting the deity Ganesh (Lord of Beginnings) should happen before entering the temple.
We saw his image, or murti, and enjoyed looking at his beautiful adornment as well as
the flickering oil lamp, placed at his feet. After entering the temple, noticed that many
deities were housed inside the temple in smaller shrines. The temple’s focus was on the
shrine located in the middle of the temple in which Venkateswara, another manifestation
of Vishnu (the Lord of Preservation), was installed. His black stone murti was displayed
in silver armor underneath a silver archway. As part of the puja, or worship, that
was offered to Venkateswara’s image by the Brahmin priest many flowers decorated
the statue andofferings (mainly fruit) had been placed at his feet. The jewelry adorning
the deity was beautiful and captured the wealth of the offerings provided for such a god.
The Brahmin priest was performing arati, circumambulating the oil lamp in front of the
deity, while we stepped up to get a closer look. Then the priest blessed us symbolically
with the “feet” of Vishnu and offered us rose water as an auspicious blessing. We
then sat, watching another ritual and listening to mantras chanted by a Brahmin priest in
the Sanskrit language. On our way out of the Venkateswara temple, we received prasad,
blessed substance of the deity that was once an offering, with our right hands.
We then visited the more modest temple dedicated to Siva, the Lord of
Destruction and Transformationnext door. We saw images of the deity and his consort
and children inside and also received prasad in the form of apples. After collecting
our shoes, our group traveled ten minutes to an Indian restaurant called Tower that
specializes in south Indian vegetarian cuisine This gave us the opportunity to try some
of the food that we will be eating on a regular basis in India as well as discuss what we
noticed at the temple. Our previous reading, “Alaya,” written by Vasudha Narayanan,
helped us understand temple space/architecture and worship before our visit to the
temple. After our visit, we used this essay to reflect on our experience at the site. Our
group benefited from visiting a temple in a familiar place before our visits in India which will be more fast-paced.


(Elon Group in front of Temple)


(Lunch at Tower, an Indian restaurant in Cary, NC)


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