A Modern Woman's Spiritual Quest


Portrait of Satya Balroop next to her personal ashram

The first of many metaphors offered to me as an attempt to explain the Hindu conception of the Supreme Being was not a proverb from traditional theology, but rather that of a pillow. When I asked Mrs. Satya Balroop of the Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir how she conceives of her guru, Swami Maharaj, she replied,

God is the softness in your pillow…however, if you are not aware what the pillow gives, if you do not understand your own responses and consciousness, then it is only a pillow." 1

While this seemed a clever metaphor for describing such an intangible concept as God, over time I realized that like many multilayered Hindu metaphors, this one has special significance because it reflects in many ways Mrs. Balroop’s own spiritual journey. Happiness and satisfaction for her is through giving back to her congregational community, and indeed the temples’ entire existence stems from her personal quest to spread her Guru’s brand of discursive worship and Guyanese Hindu culture. It is this satisfaction from helping others understand that gives her devotion meaning, and imbues the Mandir with an intimacy that stands in stark contrast to larger temples in the area. So, in a way, to trace the temple’s history and beliefs through time, one must understand Mrs. Balroop’s personal journey; the temple’s history is her history, and her story is one of intense faith and desire to discover spirituality within herself.

Satya Balroop’s religious education began in her hometown in Guyana, where she was regularly involved in temple activities since her youth. Her home was a mere block from the nearest Mandir, a branch of Guru Maharaj’s Hindu school, the Bharat Sevashram Sangha. Satya considers it fate that she was born so close to a guru temple so that she could easily continue the quest for understanding from her past life (the details of which she did not reveal). In her childhood Satya performed basic rituals and assisted in temple chores, and this training serves as the foundation for her ritual teachings today. This temple was defined by its practice of Guru worship that was introduced by divine guru Swami Amarnathanandaji Maharaj in the early twentieth century as part of his missionary activities.

  1. All quotes from Satya Balroop were taken from a personal interview on the night of January 25th and February 26th, 2011. Other information was taken from these audio recordings, or from field notes from previous conversations. ↩