Hindu temple rises from a Minnesota cornfield

Vishnu temple detail
A close look at the Vishnu temple, one of several inside The Hindu Mandir in Maple Grove.
MPR Photo/Tom Crann

The temple made news last spring when it was vandalized by two young men. Those men pleaded guilty this week, and could spend two months in jail and pay restitution of more than $90,000 each.

Dr. Shashikant Sane, who is on the temple's executive committee, recalls the incident.

Drawing of the mandir
An architect's rendering of the completed temple, done by the Leo Daly firm.
MPR Photo/Tom Crann

"One unfortunate night on April 5 of this year, two young individuals, who did not know what they were doing perhaps, came in, saw the light, broke through these windows with a baseball bat and basically destroyed many of the statues in this particular location," Sane says.

The vandalism both horrified and unified Twin Cities Hindus in the midst of an otherwise exciting time for the community -- which was getting ready to celebrate the opening of the huge new $9 million temple building.

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The Hindu community celebrated an official grand opening earlier this month, but the temple is far from complete.

The building houses an auditorium, classrooms, meeting rooms, a kitchen, and plenty of room for dancing and feasting.

Unlikely location
The temple is an unlikely location, amidst fields outside the built-up areas of Maple Grove.
MPR Photo/Tom Crann

But the centerpiece of the new facility is a huge, sunlit room with bright orange pillars, polished stone floors and -- eventually -- 19 ornate shrines. They are temples within a temple.

Dr. Sane has helped lead the construction project. He emphasizes that the 19 temples each honor different representations of a single God.

"God is only one, but the names and forms and shapes and actions into relationship is different," he explains. "If you look at me I'm a physician. I'm Dr. Sane. You can meet me as Dr. Sane at Children's Hospital. You may see me on the tennis courts as a tennis player. You may see me in the swimming pool as a swimmer. I'm a husband; I'm a father. So my relationship varies."

"So, whatever form an individual feels most comfortable to interact with me, that is the form that individual uses to establish the communion between the inner divinity that each one of us has and the cosmic divinity that pervades the entire cosmos," Sane says.

Vishnu temple
One of the completed temples, this one dedicated to the deity Vishnu has a central place in the new structure.
MPR Photo/Tom Crann

Only five of the 19 temples are complete, but eventually each will house an elaborate statue, handmade back in India.

The room's largest shrine is dedicated to Vishnu, one of the most revered figures in the Hindu faith. Intricate designs and handmade figures of musicians and lions speckle the temple's crown. Brightly colored string and strands of fresh flowers liven up the grey facade.

Inside is a standing depiction of Vishnu, flanked by two female figures representing mother earth and the goddess of prosperity.

As a sign of respect, Vishnu himself is just slightly smaller than the statue on which he is modeled. That original stands in a 1,500-year-old temple in southern India. Sane says the local Hindu community chose that temple as the inspiration for this one.

Dr. Sane
Dr. Shashikant M. Sane is on the executive committee of the Minnesota Hindu Temple.
MPR Photo/Tom Crann

"There are only two beautiful temples like this in the entire Indian continent, and there's the first one of this kind on the American continent, so there are very few special temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu," says Sane. "We thought since we did not have a standing, blessing, divine form of Vishnu anywhere in this part of the continent, the community wanted that to be the main diety, so that's the one that is there."

The Vishnu temple faces due east, and two sets of massive, copper-covered doors can open to allow the light of a summer sunrise to shine on the face of the central diety.

While careful attention was paid to the thousands of years of religious tradition, this building also represents modern design.

Fire was used in a recent celebration at the temple.
Photo courtesy of the Hindu Mandir of Minnesota

A pond, for example, is also the source of water for the site's lawn sprinkling system. The outside walls are designed to look like stone, but they're actually a never-before-used kind of pre-cast concrete made right in Maple Grove. Those panels were a practical response to a problem temple designers in India never have to worry about -- cold weather.

"Minnesota being a place where the weather is so harsh, it is very hard to take these delicate decorations and put it outside. That's what's typically the temple architecture. They're exposed to weather," says Sane. "We took the American architecture -- if you look at outside, we have a simple and elegant architecture. When you look outside, it doesn't feel very big and you open the door and you come here, you can see the beauty."

Temple organizers want more than the region's Hindus to come see that beauty. They hope to attract the community at large to see and use the new space.

Temple signs
The makeshift signs point the way to the Minnesota Hindu Temple.
MPR Photo/Tom Crann

With the the temple's location amidst fields of corn, more than 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis, it's easy to think of the line from the baseball movie "Field of Dreams:" "If you build it, they will come." But Dr. Sane says, temple or no, this is where the population is headed.

"We recognize that the western suburbs of the Twin Cities are growing the fastest. We also recongize that it is more than likely that a corridor from Minneapolis-St. Paul downtown to St. Cloud is going to be built, and more than likely the Twin Cities are going to go to the northwest to St. Cloud, and St. Cloud will gradually be part of the Twin Cities," says Sane. "We thought this would become a center, and it was important to build a temple for future generations where the growth was going to be the maximum."

Services and ceremonies are taking place at the Maple Grove temple, even as construction continues. It will take another two to five years to completely finish the complex.

Work to be done
Construction continues on parts of the structure. The temple to the right is completed, and others to the left are still being worked on.
MPR Photo/Tom Crann

An addition to the building process will be a monument to the statues that were desecrated back in April. Hindu scriptures require an honorable burial of the statues, and Dr. Sane says it's an opportunity to learn from the past.

"We would like to have a monument which reminds us, reminds all the generations to come, what kind of challenges we face, what kind of inappropriate actions can occur because of ignorance, and how an appropriate reaction to these unfortunate accidents can result in ultimate success," says Sane.

Sane says his community has spared no expense in building the Maple Grove temple. He's counting on community members to come through with necessary funding. To that end, the temple is holding a fundraising concert this Sunday.