The Story of Little Gods building a Temple; much like other God’s homes elsewhere
Respectfully submitted by Prakash Babu
For Temple’s Board of Volunteers
HHC incorporated as a non-profit, religious institution: 1994 March 15
Many Temple visitors to Hindu Temple of Central Illinois (HTCI, formerly known as Hindu Heritage Center, HHC) today wonder why a Hindu Temple was built here, and ask to hear the story behind the creation of such a landmark in Central Illinois.
The story takes us back to early 90s when the community was very small and the concept of building a Temple got started. While the Temple got registered as a nonprofit religious organization in early 1994, the journey really began much prior to. Many Hindu families in the area got together at each other's homes to pray starting in late 80s. With so many churches in the area, the families longed to have a Hindu Home of Worship. Thus began the quest for building a Temple.
The Temples in North America at the time were predominantly located in large metropolitan cities like Pittsburgh, Chicago and New York. The general feeling was that smaller communities like Peoria, could not afford to have a Temple of their own. Our wish to have our own Temple would always be a dream. A group of us at the time decided to beat the odds and embark on the journey.
Each of us pledged so much money, not knowing whether the building was going to be of a certain size; whether it will be a prayer hall or a community center where the community came together. We filed with the State to charter the organization as a nonprofit religious organization. Upon registration, we began to function as a religious institution under the registered name “Hindu heritage center”. We observed major religious festivals by getting together in rented school auditoriums, and at times in church halls.
The name, Hindu heritage center, was chosen for a number of reasons at the time. Initially, we did not want to engage in a long drawn debate about whether we would have a Temple, if so what type of a Temple, what deities would we have and so on. Our vision was simply that this would be a place of worship, and we would showcase Hindu religion and culture. We would retain the option to pray to any deity of our choice. Perhaps, this would be a worship hall, where we would worship the sacred symbol “OM”. Thus, we avoided debating many facility design related issues. However, in our later years, we were counseled by the governmental bodies that we would be misunderstood without the Temple in our organization’s name and had to change the name to Hindu Temple of Central Illinois (HTCI). We would also realize that the facility can hardly be a Temple without the Deities present.
The community connected and built momentum. At every major festival we observed in a rented facility, the longing for having our own got stronger. With nearly $200K raised, the quest began for acquiring a piece of land where we would build our Center. We resisted desires to get started quickly by buying an existing facility. Any such purchase would lead to extensive remodeling and be costly in the long run. The build option would be challenging but get us started with a clean slate.
Offer made on a 25 acre tract in Limestone Township: 1996 August 15
With the world wide recession ending in the late 80s and the global economy reviving in the 90s, the real estate in Peoria area had become pricey. We felt that we would need at least 4 to 5 acres of land. On the main drag, such available land was over $200K. Our affordability target required that we would spend about $70K on the land and $200K on the facility. While there was farm land available, we had to purchase 100s of acres with a much higher price tag. Our search was discouraging at best. We toyed with the idea of purchasing a large parcel of land and subdividing it for Temple, and a few homes that some of us would purchase. We did not pursue the idea as it would cause conflicts of interest and divert our focus.
We had our feelers out for a suitable Temple land in Peoria metro area. A news paper ad for a 25 acre tract just outside of Peoria city for an incredible price of $65K caught our attention. A brief visit to the land revealed that this was a divine find. The land presented a spectacular serene wooded setting; none of us had dreamt of such a divine setting for our Temple. In the later years, many have commented that this land had been preserved for decades amidst many major developments for a God’s Home to be built.
The 25 acre parcel was a piece of a larger heavily wooded 100 acre land which had been land locked with a subdivision two lane road entry that prevented it from being developed. The land was preserved under Peoria County’s environmental corridor requirements. Fifty acres of this land had been held by Peoria park district and the other 50 acres were cultivated for timber by an investor. The neighbors generally enjoyed the park like setting but were displeased with the owner harvesting timber. They had opposed many land development proposals citing concerns regarding potential increase in traffic on Prairie Lane.
We saw the Prairie Lane land to be an ideal Vastu location (high bluff area with the terrain sloping west to east) for the Temple. Proximity to the interstate highway and to Peoria business centers made it attractive. We were, however concerned with the remote forestry setting and the acceptance by the neighborhood. We held a get together with neighbors to explain to them who we were and why we would like to build a Temple and the positive impact it would have on the neighborhood. We tried to allay their fears as they would view us practicing some kind of a cult religion. We felt enough comfort in our discussions that we decided to make an offer on the land.
The land was zoned residential restricted to building one home in order to preserve much of the nature. To build a Temple, a special use permit had to be obtained. We made the offer on the land subject to obtaining a special use permit. The request for a special use permit was filed on Sept 9, 1996.
Drama Leading to Peoria County Board approval: 1996 December 10
The Planning and Zoning Commission assessed our request for a special use permit and found that the use of the land to build a Temple was proper use of the land and called upon the Zoning Board to approve. We were elated by the finding and assumed that the approval was imminent.
A few weeks later, however, we were told by the Zoning Board much to our dismay that our request had to be denied in view of neighbors’ concerns regarding potential traffic increase on Prairie Lane. While the Zoning commission had made the recommendation to approve on technical grounds, the Zoning Board consisting of elected officials was responding to neighbors’ concerns. We were then told that we can appeal the denial decision to the County Board who can possibly reconsider. Our appeal was scheduled to be heard on Dec 10. The month preceding, we educated the 18 Peoria County Board members on who we were and why we wanted the Prairie Land for our Temple. We mailed a formal document to each of the Board members and followed up with phone calls. The opposing neighbors presumably canvassed as well.
At the Dec 10 County Board hearing, both sides presented their differing views. The neighbors argued that the Prairie Lane will have heavy traffic and they have to foot the expense for road repairs. There could be safety concerns with Temple devotees driving fast. They suggested that the Temple should have its own entry from the Kickapoo Creek road. We argued that most churches are located near neighborhoods and add value to them. The creation of our Temple likewise will benefit the Prairie Lane neighborhood. Together, we will maintain the roads better. The emergency vehicles can turn around in the Temple’s parking lot; the school bus with the ability to turn around can pick up kids on Prairie Lane. The Temple devotees would be good citizens and comply with residential driving regulations. There would unlikely be any traffic jams either on Prairie Lane or Hill Top and Farmington Road intersection as the attendance at the Temple would be sporadic or staggered. Any entry from Kickapoo Creek road was considered not practical because of the steep drop of nearly 200 feet and any road building per the required grade code would not be practical as concluded by Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) in a study. IDOT went on to say that the entry could be only through the Prairie Lane. While the development could be low density, the land could not be blocked from development. The neighbors could have purchased the land on their own if they deemed an adjoining private park would be in their best interest.
The County Board members listened to the arguments and voted 11 to 7 to approve the special use permit. It was an emotional, yet a historical moment. The history of Central Illinois Hindu Temple would have been written differently if two or three of the 18 members had thought otherwise. (A videotape of the historic proceedings is available in our archives).
Upon the issuance of the special use permit, the 25 acre Prairie Lane land was acquired & the title policy issued on April 18, 1997.
Groundbreaking Ceremonies: 1998 August 27
The special use permit had a two year life. The land development had to begin and the construction plans approved for the intended use within two years. Much work began to detail the design of the Temple facility. The Community had steadily grown in size since the 1994 launch. No longer would a small facility with a $300K construction budget be adequate. In our festival gatherings in rented halls, we saw over 400 people participate. We started to lay out a facility that could accommodate 600 people, but would stretch our affordability.
In addition to the Temple/Prayer Hall functionality, the facility would have the provision for a banquet hall, kitchen and a performance stage. We would build a Temple and a Community Center all in one. With the imminent needs of a growing community, this had to happen in months. With affordability and multiple functionality issues, we had to think out of the box.
We ruled out the idea of a traditional architecture Temple from the get go because of cost, time and climate considerations. We would build a modern architecture facility but Vastu compliant. We would take advantage of the terrain of the land (an elevated bluff location with the land sloping gently from west to east) to create a day light lower level with minimal incremental expense. We would use locally available commercial and residential building processes to avail of the economies of scale and maximize the square footage and value. A pitched roof would be used to better cope with the local weather conditions of heavy rain and snow fall. The Temple we were scoping would look more like one of our homes in the area. However, a copper roofed tower (Gopuram) would adorn the Sanctum and give the facility the Temple look. Many would recognize this as a feature found in Temples of Kerala and Japan.
The Temple design would provide the functionality to host large gatherings in an Auditorium setting with the services rendered in the Sanctum/ Prayer Hall. The attached adjacent building will have a two story atrium with rest rooms, office room, conference room and mezzanine class rooms. The lower level would be completed in Phase II to host additional rest rooms and class rooms, banquet hall, performance stage and a commercial kitchen. The 22,000 sq.ft. facility would be built with an initial Phase I expense of $800K; a much larger expense than originally planned. With only $300K cash reserve, a $500K construction loan account was created with a Bank on Oct 23, 1998.
The facility was designed with the involvement of a General Contractor to ensure that the design was cost effective and met the desired quality and aesthetic requirements. With volunteered architectural effort, we could afford much iteration and field input from many. At the tail end, we consulted with a Temple Sthapathi to achieve further improvements.
As we went in for building approval, we were told that the recently passed codes required us to add an elevator and a storm water retention pond to our design. We would therefore incur additional expense (nearly $100K). We also would meet green parking lot and landscape requirements of the County. We would build in fire and smoke detection and continued security monitoring.
With much of the planning behind (within the two year special use permit driven deadline), we celebrated Ganesha festival with the Temple’s Groundbreaking on August 27, 1998. The land was cleared and the floor plan was laid out to mark the North East corner of the building to conduct the Groundbreaking Homa. The Temple’s plans were unveiled to nearly 200 devotees that had gathered in a sweltering 100 plus heat index day. Spirits ran high. As we did the Homa, we prayed to Lord Ganesha that the venture would be obstacle free and to give us the strength to overcome any eventuality.
Construction Begins: 1998 November 11
The storm water retention pond design was approved by state EPA and the construction began in November 1998. In late December, a monolithic 400 feet long (12 feet high) Temple foundation wall was poured continuously with 30 concrete trucks lining up on Prairie Lane. The steel trusses and the lumber for walls and roofing were procured through the winter months and the construction resumed in early spring 1999.
Temple’s Tax Exemption Approvals: 1998-2006
The Temple was awarded the state sales tax exemption status on Dec 11, 1998. With the construction just getting underway, we saved sales tax dollars on thousands of dollars of material procured.
We concurrently applied for property tax exemption; but were turned down much to our dismay. The department was skeptical that with a name such as “Hindu Heritage Center” whether we truly functioned as a religious institution. We obviously appealed. We were given a hearing on March 23, 2000 in Springfield. We presented our Temple history and showcased what we did as a Temple in an hour long hearing. We were later awarded the property tax exemption status on May 17, 2000.
We had functioned as an IRS 501©3 organization guidelines from the get go. Like any other religious organization, we had not sought formal IRS tax exemption status. However, in view of tighter scrutiny post World Trade Center Sept 11, 2001 disaster, we decided to seek formal recognition in late 2005 and were awarded the IRS exemption status as a religious and charitable institution on Feb 21, 2006.
Sanctum Stage Design and Murthis Procurement
Our facility plans called for the Sanctum hall to be a square 50 feet by 50 feet. As we developed the Hindu Heritage Center from the concept to the physical facility, we had deliberately avoided any discussion as to whether we should install any Deities. We soon recognized that most of us are not evolved enough to reach out to Almighty by meditation and we would need idols to create the focus. So, we decided to tackle the inevitable.
We launched the Sanctum stage design within the built up 50x50 feet raised area. We would decide how many Deities of what size we could accommodate. All Deities would be perceived of equal status with all of them facing east. We would stagger the Deity platforms in an inverted “V” configuration to achieve a depth proportionate with the breadth for aesthetic effects. We would live a 4 foot Prakara around the Sanctum to conduct Pradakshina. That made the Sanctum stage to be 42 feet wide. We felt four foot high Murthis would be the right size and they would sit on 6 foot by 6 foot platforms. So, within the 42 feet framework, there can be only seven Deities.
We sent out a survey soliciting input from the community on the choice of seven Deities; they were given a list and they had to rank their choice. At this point, it became known that several of the Founding Patrons on the Board were staunch followers of Swaminarayan and Mahavir. They made a strong case for representation. With all the input considered, we ended up with eight Murthis: Ganesha, Shiva Parivar, Ram Parivar, Balaji, Radha Krishna, Durga, Swaminarayan and Mahavir. We had only seven platforms on the Sanctum stage. Fortunately, with enough depth yet left in the raised area, the eighth platform could be built in front at the entry into the Prayer area.
We then began the Murthi procurement process. The Moola abhisheka vigrahas of Ganesha, Shiva Linga (along with Basava and Turtle) and Balaji would be carved in black granite in Mahabalipuram. The alankara murthis of Swaminarayan, Durga, Shiva Parivar, Ram Parivar, Radha Krishna and Mahavir would be procured from Jaipur. They would all be 4 feet high standing and 39 inch high sitting. The processing of all Murthis was per shilpa shastra and supervised to ensure the best quality possible.
Facility Dedication & Inauguration of Murthis: 1999 November 6
The facility construction proceeded smoothly during 1999. Ganesha Chathurthi was celebrated in August when the facility was under the roof but the interior was still a shell. Hundreds of devotees saw the facility being completed for the first time. Excitement was mounting. We made a commitment to open the Temple by 1999 Diwali, a year after the construction began.
Much preparation got underway for the Nov 6, 1999 Facility Dedication. Much of the facility finishing had to be completed. The marble Murthis had to be finished and air freighted in time for the event, while the granite murthis would be procured separately and later.
As we got closer, we heard much to our dismay that truck drivers went on strike in India. The Murthis had to be transported by road from Jaipur to Delhi. After much pleading, the trucking company did truck the Murthis to Delhi using the back roads from Jaipur. Lufthansa airline air freighted the cargo to Frankfurt as planned. As the freight was delayed coming to Frankfurt, there was no cargo flight that would bring the Murthis into Chicago in time for Nov 6 event. Many nervous moments were spent pleading with the captain of Lufthansa cargo, who finally would air freight the Murthis to Chicago in a passenger plane. We had custom clearance expedited in Chicago and arranged for trucking to Peoria. The trucks carrying the crates containing Murthis arrived at the Temple facility the evening of Nov 5 just in time for the dedication ceremony.
The crates were scissor trucked into the Auditorium from the Southern entrance. We uncrated all the Murthis and discovered that Shivaparivar was a monolithic carving nearly 1800 lbs in weight. All the other Murthis with the exception of Mahavir would be hand carried and placed on their respective Sanctum platforms. Shivaparivar presented a yeoman challenge as we had no mechanical means to launch it into the Sanctum. It was sheer devotee power that moved the Shiva Parivar Mountain; it was indeed a miracle that the drama ended happily all in time for the dedication ceremony.
Grand Inauguration of the Facility: 2000 April 29
Subsequent to the Temple opening in Nov 1999, volunteers kept the Temple open every night and conducted nitya aarati. Volunteers gathered during weekends to maintain the facility. The entire facility was painted by volunteers. Much focus was created on volunteerism as we discovered volunteers made the best devotees and selfless donation of labor was deemed as important as the monetary donation for the well being of the Temple. Volunteerism took roots and had been the cornerstone of the Temple ever since.
Further improvements were made to the facility including the creation of a 110 car paved parking lot and a paved road around the facility. The parking lot was lit with two towering lights. The mezzanine area was enclosed with glass walls to create two conference rooms. This made the mezzanine area safe and functional to hold discourses, gita classes, and music and dance classes.
Granite Murthis of Ganesha, Shiva Linga, Balaji, Basava and Kurma along with many brass/bronze articles arrived from Mahabhalipuram by ship into New York. The crates were trucked to Chicago. Upon custom clearance, they were trucked to Peoria. A bronze statue of Goddess Lakshmi was procured as well.
A Temple souvenir was published to commemorate the grand inauguration of the facility coincident with Ramanavami celebrations on April 29, 2000. Many articles were contributed and the souvenir was artistically put together for a long lasting value. The sponsors of the Grand Inauguration event were given a copy of the souvenir. Visiting dignitaries and performing artists and Swamijis conducting discourses are routinely recognized by presenting them with a souvenir.
The weekend Inauguration ceremony was well attended. The evening cultural program was addressed by an Illinois State senator who had helped us with the legal issues in Springfield.
Full Approval of the Facility by the Zoning: 2001 November 1
With the elevator, wheel chair lift operating, parking lot and landscape completed, fire and smoke protection in place, the Facility was approved by the Zoning commission on Nov 1, 2001.
Phase II Begins: 2002 July 15
With $500K outstanding debt, much discussion occurred whether we could afford to complete the lower level. Volunteers had been cooking food for festival gatherings in a make do kitchen. Initially we had no running water. Portable propane stoves and microwave ovens were used. The lower level got very cold during winters. The cultural programs were held on the Sanctum stage; performers and many in the audience felt that this was disrespectful to the Deities.
The Board was divided on whether to pursue the completion of the lower level to meet the needs of the community with a commercial kitchen, banquet hall, rest rooms and performance stage. One school of thought was that we should not entertain any new projects until we retire the debt entirely. The other school of thought was that we had 10,000sq.ft.of usable space that can be made functional with incremental cost to better serve the community. All decisions until now had been made by reaching consensus. The decision to finish the lower level had to be voted on. The majority supported the decision; however, the Board required that our debt would not exceed $600K.
The Phase II construction began during the summer of 2002. As we progressed we raised monies to minimize borrowing. We spent nearly $250K to finish the lower level and our debt did not exceed $560K. We saved over $50K by having volunteers do the entire electrical work. This was an amazing feat considering we had assumed the electrical contract work and committed to completing in allocated time and not hold up the rest of construction. In effect we had subcontracted electrical to ourselves. We worked weekday evenings and weekends to install 20 some 20 amp commercial circuits and 300 some ceiling fixtures. The finish painting was done by volunteers as well to minimize our expense and to stay within budget. The major expense of Phase II was in the creation of a commercial kitchen.
With the completion of the lower level, the festival dinners could be served in the banquet hall. Many cultural programs primarily focused on children performance could be showcased. With a nice kitchen with all the modern amenities and appliances, we could launch Sunday Annadhata program. Families came together to adopt a Sunday at the Temple. They would cook and serve a meal and raise as much as $300 to $500. The tradition continues today and now we have a Saturday Dosadhatha program. The weekend Annadhata program at this Temple is a hallmark project that epitomizes volunteerism at its best. Much energy goes into preparing a meal for the devotees that visit the Temple, many of them from a distance. Many are bachelors longing for a home cooked meal. This is a great service provided while raising money for the Temple. Annadhata volunteers exhibit teamwork, planning and organizing and a great sense of servitude for a noble cause.
Phase III: August 2003 to May 2005
Much of the work since the inauguration had been on enhancing the facility functionality while the Sanctum remained unfinished. Our attention now shifted to deciding what the facility aught to be into the future. As we envisioned Hindu Heritage Center at the get go, none of us had imagined that we would have a Sanctum with so many Deities. We had a multi denominational place of worship and devotees were finding solace. We had to make the next leap to transform a heritage center into a full fledged Temple. Thus began a new journey with renewed commitment. We would finish the Sanctum, conduct Prana Prathistapana and Kumbhabhishekam and have a full time Priest to provide daily services.
We set the bold goal to conduct Prana Prathistapana and Kumbhabhishekam during 2005 Memorial Day weekend. A nearly two year project would be self funded with the monies raised without adding to our debt.
We had procured Moola and alankara Murthis and conducted elaborate poojas during major festivals with invited Priests and evening aaratis with volunteers. We had not talked of how we would install the Murthis in a finished Sanctum. We consulted Vasthu and Shilpa shastra experts. With Ganesha, Shiva and Vishnu in the same Sanctum, Ganesha would be installed in the south west corner and all three Deities would be placed centrally. We therefore proposed placing Moola vigrahas of Ganesha, Shiva Linga and Balaji centrally in the Sanctum in that order. While Ganesha had to be in the south west corner, Shiva Linga was placed in the middle with Shiva Parivar (Alankara Murthi) behind and Basava and Kurma in front. The central alignment of Shiva Parivar, Shiva Linga, Basava and Kurma and with granite murthis of Ganesha and Balaji on either side proved an aesthetic balance amidst all other marble alankara Murthis. While the placing of the Moola Vigrahas was critical, the other Murthis could be placed with some latitude. We decided to poll the Board members on their thinking; they had to rank three scenarios with consideration of vastu stipulation. The current Murthi arrangement was approved with majority of the Board opting for.
The granite selection for the Sanctum floor and walls had its own journey. With both granite and marble Murthis in the Sanctum and our desire was to ensure that Murthis would be highlighted. After much deliberation and intense selection, we opted for dark blue pearl for the floor and light blue granite for the walls. This turned out to be a very pleasant setting.
The Prayer Hall floor and the floor around the Sanctum would be durable engineered hard wood floor. As we finished the Sanctum and Prayer Hall floors and walls, we also did the lower level stage floor with hard wood floor as part of Phase III.
The next challenge was the desire to create the Mandir look for the Sanctum. We would not create enclosed Mandirs for our Deities because of our desire to preserve full visibility. We would go with only two columns as four columns would obscure the Deities. The columns and the roof structure of the Mandir around the Murthis should be of light weight considering there was no poured foundation underneath each of the platforms. We settled on hollow but load bearing oak pillar and roof structure. The Mandirs created this way are matched with the surrounding hardwood floor around the Sanctum and contrast well with Sanctum granite. The Mandirs now surrounded the Deities and provided a proportioned setting against the tall granite backdrop. Prior to the placing of the Mandirs, devotees had complained that our back walls were too tall for the Murthis. With the Mandirs placed, the Sanctum now looked spectacular well placed with the cathedral ceiling and the tower. Much of our success is attributable to God’s grace and intentions. A very involved carpenter specialist worked well with our volunteer efforts to make the design manufacturable, cost effective to provide outstanding results.
The Murthis had to be removed to place granite tiles on floors and walls. This was done with utmost care and expert help as we could not take any chances of damaging Murthis in transit. Murthis were placed back in the Sanctum once the granite work was completed.
Volunteers repainted the entire Sanctum and Prayer Hall area ahead of granite work. This was an arduous task considering the heights and the complex slopes.
“OM on Sri Chakra” had been the Temple’s logo and sacred symbol from the beginning. It had been our vision to have this symbol displayed in the Sanctum and outside on the Sanctum tower (Gopuram). A 12 inch diameter wood carving by laser was placed on each of the Deity’s Mandirs. A much larger portrayal of the symbol, a 42 inch diameter three piece aluminum assembly, was processed by water jet cutting. One of these was placed over the Sanctum on the wall. The sound OM and the Shakti Chakra became additional forms of Almighty in our Sanctum as we had originally envisioned.
Three sides of the Sanctum tower were adorned with 42 inch diameter OM on Chakra carvings. Three feet high copper kalashas to be placed on the tower were fabricated in Mahabhalipuram. Once procured they were powder coated to a golden color, a finish that would be retained for decades. The aluminum carvings of OM on Chakra were powder coated to three different colors prior to assembly. Modern methods of manufacturing combined with ancient art work created a very unique product.
Almighty did not prescribe that His home should be built only with stone, brick and mortar. If He did, He would not have given us wood and metal.
In our journey toward operating a full fledged Temple, we procured two feet high pancha loha (bronze alloyed with small amounts of gold and silver) Utsava Murthis made per Shilpa Shastra in Mahabhalipuram. These Murthis were to be placed in the Sanctum alcoves. Devotees would visit with Utsava Murthis as they went around the Sanctum in Pradakshina. These Murthis made out of Pancha Loha Bronze would be the abhisheka murthis. Since we would not do abhisheka for marble murthis, bronze Murthis would partake in abhishekas. With Moola vigrahas installed and immovable from the Sanctum, Utsava Murthis would be carried in Pallakki (Pallakki Utsava) and/or in the Chariot (Rathotsava) during festivals.
In preparation for May 2005 Prana Prathista and Kumbhabhishekam, much land clearing occurred around the Temple. The 110 car paved parking lot was not sufficient to host large crowds coming to the Temple on major events. The grounds adjacent to the paved area were cleared and graveled to host an additional 100 cars. A large Yagashala was created adjacent to the storm water retention pond with land clearing and grass seeding. A large Homa Kunda was built to conduct outdoor Homas. All of this area would be further developed in Phase IV; a major part of the development would be to convert the storm water retention pond into a fenced fountain pond with a gazebo in the middle for conducting Teppotsavas.
2003 Constitutional Amendment to change name: HHC to HTCI
We had transformed our facility from a Hindu Heritage Center into a Hindu Temple that could operate as an Agamic Temple. Our Governmental bodies local, State of Illinois and US had difficulty scoping out what a Hindu heritage center would do and they would be more comfortable with the Temple name in our charter. We passed a constitutional amendment to change our organization’s name to Hindu Temple of Central Illinois during our 2003 General Body Meeting and filed the name change request with the State immediately thereafter. The transformation of HHC to HTCI was finally official.
Pranaprathista & Kumbhabhishekam: 2005 May 27-30
As we planned the transformation to the Temple status, conducting Pranaprathista and Kumbhabhishekam was a major undertaking for which we had no experience. With no Priest on staff, we called on an expert, a professor teaching Hindu religion at a US University. We wanted some one that had innate feel for vedic aspects of Hindu religion. Historically Temples in India have been built by the wealthy and run by the Priests. We needed counseling beyond the Prathistapana on how we would operate a multi denominational Temple. Our expert consultant counseled the Board members that aesthetics facilitate meditation and communion and we had done well with the Sanctum design and Murthi placement. He endorsed the thinking that the Priest is a technician who facilitates the communion; it is up to management to operate the Temple from the devotees’ viewpoint. While God is one, we have our favorites. God does not prescribe how His home should be built. The place of worship should induce devotion. In response to whether devotees should step into the Sanctum to bow to their favorite Deity, devotees should have the right to do so regardless of caste, creed or sex.
A Priest was brought on Temple’s payroll in March 2005 to help us get ready for the May big event. He was to coordinate the efforts with many volunteers involved. We had terrific response from the community; monetary sponsorship and volunteer engagement.
Much got accomplished by Gods’s graces and intentions in the months leading to Pranaprathistapana and Kumbhabhishekam. We achieved a total transformation from a Heritage Center to a Temple. The journey had begun a year early to finish the Sanctum; starting with moving the Deities out, painting, doing the granite work, moving the Deities back, doing the Mantap work and creating the fabulous Mandir we have today; similar transformation occurred with the Temple Gopuram with Kalashams. Procurement of Utsav or Abhisheka Murthis had been an important step in that direction.
Conducting Prana Prathsitapana and Kumbhabhsishekam (May 27-30, 2005) and subsequently Mandalabhishekam (August 7, 2005) were key milestones for our Temple. Thanks to nearly 140 sponsors, we had a great turnout. The concurrent Jain Prathista brought in Jains from around the Country. Much of this has been documented as a video (four part and one condensed; available in Temple archives) and on our photo website: http://peoriatemple.phanfare.com/album/111060#imageID=5991616
The four day Program proceedings are documented on the following Temple website page: http://www.hinduheritage.org/Default.aspx?pageId=44866
The Big Event was a devotional, emotional experience of a lifetime for all those that had converged. The weather was mystically marvelous. When the Moola Vigrahas of Ganesha, Shiva and Balaji were brought back into the Sanctum for installation, the attendees truly experienced a devotional climax.
Subsequent to Prana Prathista and Kumbhabhishekam, daily mandala poojas continued. The Temple and community, however, went through a difficult period with the Temple’s very first Priest having to leave citing incompatibility with Temple’s protocols. As if it was ordained, a very senior Priest (a 15 year St.Louis Temple veteran) returned from India to step in as the Temple Priest and carry out Temple’s Maha Mandalabhishekam on August 7 which included the Temple’s very first Pallaki utsava. Much learning occurred during this brief period and reinforced the volunteer/devotee focused Temple culture we had practiced since the inception.
The Temple’s very first Brahmotsava: 2006 June 16-18
Brahmotsava is observed by many Temples as the annual Temple festival. Appropriately, it can mark the anniversary of the Temple's Prathistapana and Kumbhabhishekam.
Soon after the August 7 2005 Maha Mandalabhishekam, we committed to conducting Temple’s very first Brahmotsava in 2007. In preparation, we would procure and install Temple’s Balipeeta and Dwajasthambha in Temple’s Yagashala. We would also build a Kalyana Mantap to conduct the various deva/devi kalyanas as part of Brahmotsava celebrations. We would also acquire a Rath for conducting Rathotsava. This was a daunting list of things to do.
We procured from an electric company a 45 foot treated pine tree pole to be the core of the Dwajashtambha. Measurements of the tree diameter were taken every five feet to procure ornamental brass sheathing which was designed and manufactured in Mahabhalipuram. The vendor in Mahbhalipuram also provided ornamental granite block work for putting together the Balipeetam and the base of the Dwajasthambam.
The shipment from India got delayed in Sri Lanka and we had to move the Brahmotsava out by two weeks to June 16-18. When the shipment arrived in New York, the weight of granite became an issue as the crates now had to be transported by surface to Chicago. Upon customs clearance in Chicago, we had to find trucks with lift gate capability to transport to Peoria as the Temple had no dock for loading/unloading. The shipper had two trucks with lift gate and one without. Upon arrival at the Temple, the unloading of the crates was a huge challenge; sheer determination of many volunteers made this happen.
Concrete foundations had to be poured to host Balipeetam and Dwajasthambha bases.
With no hired help available, a local granite business owner volunteered with us to excavate and pour the foundations. The utility company with their cherry picker placed the 45 foot pine pole vertically in the excavated pit while a concrete truck poured concrete around the pole. The assembly of ornamental granite blocks to form the Dwajashthambha and Balippeetam bases was a challenging task for volunteers with no prior experience. Sheer teamwork and dedication saved the day.
The brass sheathing for the Dwajasthambha was fabricated as a set of stackable pieces. These pieces upon uncrating were powder coated with paint prior to assembly on the pine pole. A cherry picker was used to lower the pieces from the top. All of this was accomplished just in time for Brahmotsava.
The construction of Kalyana Mantap was accomplished as planned in the Santum auditorium. The stage was built to be full 4 feet high. Every inch of the ceiling height was used to place the teak Mantap that came from India on the stage.
The Rath construction definitely required out of the box thinking. With the sloping roadway around the Temple, any Rath would have to have braking capability to be pulled by devotees. Searching the internet, we found a manufacturer in Canada that would make the chassis for a horse drawn buggy. The two ton chassis would have brakes to prevent any mishaps of run over. The chassis was procured with wheels, tires and brakes. The deck and posts were built at the Temple. The ornamental pillars that adorn posts were procured and placed prior to copper roofing. The Rath with the kalasha is 13 feet 6 inch high and falls within the bridge clearance limits for transportation on US highways.
Temple’s very first Brahmotsava with kalyana utsavas, Pallki Utsava and Rathotsava was a grand success. Much of it is documented pictorially on our photo website: http://peoriatemple.phanfare.com/album/97013
Temple’s First three day Ganesha Festival August 25-27, 2006;
“Make our God’s Home Debt Free” drive launched
Operating as a fully equipped Temple, it made sense to celebrate 2006 Ganesha festival in a grand way with small and large clay Ganeshas and a Rathotsava.
The event was well attended; glimpses of sights and sound can be found at
At this festival, a special drive to become a debt free Temple was launched. We had discussed debt reduction often, but had held off in order for us to execute Phase II (the lower level finishing), Phase III (Sanctum finishing and Prathistapana) and Phase IV (Temple Brahmotsava). It was remarkable that we had come this far in six years without adding to a debt level at $460K. We realized while we could be proud of the legacy that had evolved, the journey would not be complete without our God’s home becoming debt free. We would therefore do our share to leave a legacy that is debt free in three years (year end 2008).
Year 2007 YTD
Temple’s second Brahmotsava was conducted with great zeal; (http://peoriatemple.phanfare.com/album/300178#imageID=18162517). So were the other festivals during the year. Daily, weekly poojas are conducted with much commitment and devotion. Family sacraments are celebrated by devotees with Temple’s assistance. Adopt a Day at the Temple continues to grow; thanks to the selfless service of annadhata volunteers. Volunteerism is what makes the Temple run with an operating expense of less than $100K a year. In 15 months since the launch of “Let us make our God’s Home Debt Free”, the debt is reduced to $250 K; many thanks to the generous contribution of many.
In our journey to launch a Day Care Center at the Temple, the facility was certified by health department and fire marshal. Efforts are underway to build a children’s playground.
We expect the best is yet to come. We hope the story told here will be informational for all those that have or plan to embark on a similar journey elsewhere. We have stolen shamelessly and continue to do so.
Synopsis: Little Gods built this Temple; like all other God’s homes elsewhere
As elsewhere, all four forces came together: tana (physical), mana (mental, commitment), dhana (monetary), and tapa (penance, vision) to build this Temple. This was the righteous (Dharma) thing to do and we had to do it selflessly (Karma); we were mere instruments in a preordained journey.
The Birth of a Landmark
HHC incorporated as a non-profit, religious institution 1994.3.15
Offer made on a 25 acre tract in Limestone Township 1996.8.15
HHC’s request for a Special Use permit 1996.9.9
Peoria County Board approval 1996.12.10
Land acquisition & title policy 1997.4.18
Groundbreaking Ceremonies 1998.8.27
$500K Credit Line for Construction 1998.10.23
Construction Begins 1998.11.1
Sales Tax Exemption Status 1998.12.11
Property Tax Exemption Hearing 1999.3.23
Facility Dedication & Inauguration of Murthis 1999.11.6
Grand Inauguration of the Facility 2000.4.29
Property Tax Exemption Status Approval 2000.5.17
Full Approval of the Facility by the Zoning 2001.11.1
Phase II Beginning 2002.7.15
Phase III Beginning 2003.8.31
Pranaprathista & Kumbhabhishekam 2005.5.27-30
Maha Mandalabhishekam 2005.8.7