June 25th, 2011
04:00 AM ET
Editor's note: Sacred Spaces is an occasional series on the Belief Blog. In this installment, CNN Senior Photojournalist Anthony Umrani takes us inside Sri Siva Vishnu Temple, a Hindu worship space near Washington, DC.
By Anthony Umrani, CNN
Lanham, Maryland (CNN) - On a cool spring evening just outside Washington, a steady stream of worshipers arrive at Sri Siva Vishnu Temple for prayers. People are dressed in a mixture of colorful Indian attire and customary Western clothing.
In this residential Maryland neighborhood about 12 miles from downtown, the temple stands out with a striking white exterior adorned with statues depicting Hindu gods.
In India, a temple is typically dedicated to one particular god, but the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple has many gods to accommodate the diversity of Indian people in the area.
"We have a wide variety of congregation and each one of them says, 'I want this god' or 'I want that god,' " said S. Krishnamurthy, one of the founder/trustees of the temple.
The idea to build a temple to bring together the burgeoning Hindu population near the nation's capitol began with a few friends in 1976. Fourteen years later, the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple was born.
The consecration and installation of the first shrines were viewed by 1,400 people. The growth has continued over the years, evidenced by the current construction of a new adjacent parking lot to handle the crowds.
There are a number of special days in the Hindu calendar, but worshipers may come at any time during temple hours to offer prayers.
Krishnamurthy said there are three things devotees think about while offering prayers. First, one may ask God to help solve or overcome a problem. Second, is to give thanks to God and third, to ask God to touch one's heart and become a better person.
Unlike other religions, there are no sermons, lectures or homilies. The role of the Hindu priest is to help the people pray to any of the 17 deities in the temple. Priests go through extensive training, from 10 to 15 years, on the methods of prayer.
Even with all that training, priests are not to direct worshipers on what to do, Krishnamurthy said.
"Each person has a responsibility to find out his own unique way of connecting with God ... and I want to show here is that there's no one here telling people what to do, you are completely free."
Krishnamurthy has been tapped by the congregation to explain the faith to non-Hindu visitors, some of them middle school students. He has found a way to simplify why Hindus come to the temple.
"Each of us has a little nastiness in us. ... so when we come to the temple, what do we pray for? 'Remove my nastiness.' "
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