- Topics & Settings
While the quest to spread Hinduism in Minnesota was her own, Mrs. Balroop very much looked to the New York Milan Mandir for a model of how to establish a temple. She explained to me that the word ‘Milan’ means ‘gathering’ in Hindi, so in establishing a branch of the Milan Mandir, her primary goal is to gather adherents and create a unified congregation. The manner in which she started a temple in her own home and moved to a larger building is also consistent with the founding of the New York branch. Scholar Steven Vertovec asserts that in “Indo-Caribbean communities, a generally unitary Hindu religion has arisen. 1 While a unified congregation might be possible in Guyana or New York, in Minnesota, the lack of a coherent Hindu population, coupled with a large diversity of beliefs and a large spatial distance between members, have made it increasingly hard to create any kind of close-knit community. To fix this, Satya has implemented a number of programs borrowed from the NY Mandir, including a weekly yoga/meditation class in the spring, weekly philosophical Gita discussion, and a week long Youth Program in the summer aimed at providing education in Indian and Guyanese culture, religion, rituals, and art. The residential location and distance from her members make it hard to do more, she says, because mothers are not willing to drop off their kids on a weekly basis, or come themselves for that matter. She said she plans to maybe run a soup kitchen once she has the facilities and resources; this would be the first true form of community outreach for the Mandir.
However, the isolated location and small congregation of the MN Mandir has its advantages. One of the most important aspects of Swami Maharaj’s style of individual worship is developing an intimate connection with a spiritual teacher. Because he stresses personal understanding, personal attention is very important for spiritual development. The small congregation size allows Satya, an already very accessible religious teacher, to devote all of her energy to a small number of students, maximizing the impact of the teachings on each person. The Gita classes are an extension of this. The suburban location also serves as a self-selecting mechanism for devotees, because non-dedicated Hindu’s will not make the effort to seek the Mandir out. It requires a high level of curiosity and religious commitment to regularly attend the Mandir, and for Satya this can be positive. While she does not have the capabilities to start a soup kitchen or a charity, religious instruction becomes her form of community service. For Satya, teaching others is her meditation (although she does that too), and it is through guiding the members that she gets a taste of the “sweet nectar” that she had in New York. In a way, running the temple is her own form of karma-yoga, and it is through teaching that Satya hopes to become closer to self-realization.
Steven Vertovec, The Hindu Diaspora: Comparative Patterns (New York: Routledge), 39 ↩