Published October 2, 2004
Hindu sculptors travel world
By Mark I. Pinsky
KRT News Service
Like generations of Indian artisans before him, Nagaratan Nagaratinam
spends his days carving delicate, intricate sculptures of Hindu deities
such as the elephant-headed god Ganesh.
But the craftsman is thousands of miles from his home in the south
Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Since June 2003, he and more than a dozen of
his countrymen have been working their marvels in Casselberry, Fla.,
building a lavish, $2.5 million temple for the Hindu Society of Central
Crews such as this one from India have built similar temples around
the United States and in Australia and Great Britain.
"We are making history," Ramachandran Gowrishankar, 35, one of the
supervisors, says of his men's work. "We are doing God's work."
Before construction began, an Indian scholar came to Casselberry,
Fla., to choose the site and floor plan for the temple on the 10 acres
the center owns.
Central Florida's Hindus come from both northern and southern states
in India, and bring with them varying traditions. For that reason, the
new temple's motifs and deities are designed to reflect a delicate
geographic and theological balance.
The Casselberry temple is a 12,000-square-foot brick structure, which
will be coated with concrete and topped with 27 copper domes. Inside are
five shrines to different Hindu deities. These shrines will house large
replicas of the deities created in India. The craftsmen in Casselberry,
who also do major construction work, are carving smaller versions of the
gods, 18 to 24 inches high, for the outside of the shrines.
Although the expense of importing a crew of 18 workers for two years
is considerable, it is worth it, members of the Casselberry society say.
"These are the people who make the building an authentic Indian
temple, a real Hindu temple," says Dev Sharma, a member of the board of
trustees. "This is the way they build them back home."
The men are in their 30s and 40s, and all but one are married. Midway
through their two-year stay, they're living in several trailers at the
site, rotating cooking chores. Sometimes, members of the congregation
invite them to their homes for meals.
At night, the men watch Indian television via satellite and call
their families back home.
Few of the men are fluent in English. Some have been working together
for 20 years.
There are compensations for the long periods of separation from
friends and family, says Nagaratinam, 41. "Most people are appreciative
of our work," he says through a translator.
Members of the temple agree.
"They are building God's places," says Dr. Aravind Pillai, chairman
of the Hindu Society's board of trustees. "That is the satisfaction. How
many people in the world get that chance?"