Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world, and while practitioners have migrated to the Bay Area in droves, Marin lacks a house of worship.
Now, a group of residents aims to change that.
A Marin collective has started the North Bay Hindu Center, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing a place of Hindu meditation and culture to the county. The group, formed in 2012, has raised roughly $70,000 toward its $3 million goal to purchase a site in Novato where a temple could be based.
Himabindu Satyavolu, a Novato resident and vice president of the North Bay Hindu Center, said a Hindu temple is much needed in the North Bay, since there are none nearby. There are roughly 600 families who practice Hinduism in the North Bay, according to the group, and local practitioners often hold private worship services in their own homes, or are forced to travel.
“It’s a nucleus to bring the population together,” Satyavolu said of the purpose of a county-based Hindu temple. “I think any of the nearest temples — there’s one in Vallejo, there’s other major temples you have to drive far down to the South Bay or East Bay. Having something local where you can go and do what you wanted, we thought it would be good to have something here in Marin.”
The group’s goal is to construct a centrally located community temple for North Bay residents to serve worshippers from San Francisco to Santa Rosa. The temple would operate seven days a week to provide a place of worship, study of the Bhagavad Gita, a text equivalent to the Bible for Christians, and for a form of Sunday school where Indian philosophy and history would be taught. Organizers hope to find either a vacated church, already zoned and constructed to accommodate a place of worship, or to construct a new temple.
The process of bringing a church to Novato has become easier in past months, said Bob Brown, Novato’s community development director.
“It used to be we only allowed churches in residential districts, but a few months ago, last year, we changed that to allow them in several of our commercial districts,” Brown said.
Brown said organizers have to obtain a use permit from the Planning Commission. The center’s hours of operations, land use and number of parishioners are also reviewed to ensure a site can properly accommodate it and its activities, he said.
With Hindu temples each dedicated to different deities representative of particular qualities, organizers of the North Bay Hindu Center plan to bring a unique approach to the main deities in which to dedicate their house of worship.
“There are many temples dedicated to the male gods, and there are no temples dedicated to the feminine divine,” said Radhika Sitaraman, a San Rafael resident and president of the North Bay Hindu Center. “We wanted to differentiate. That was something that would set our temple apart and it would also be a way for us to pay our respect to the feminine aspect of feminine power.”
‘We have a dream’
The intention is for the Marin-based temple to recognize elements that include wisdom, nurture, culture and the arts, Sitaraman said. The temple would be dedicated to Durga, who represents strength, courage and valor; Lakshmi, who is the image of prosperity, wealth, good health and abundance; and Saraswati, representative of learning, wisdom and knowledge.
The project is also desired to be a space made for and by the community, organizers said.
“Traditionally, a king sponsors building a temple,” said Pranathi Brahmandam, of San Rafael, and secretary of the North Bay Hindu Center. “In America, its rich members of society pull in money and start a temple. Here, we are unique cause we’re all regular Joes and don’t have that kind of money. We have a dream and want people to participate not in big numbers, but in small numbers and we want to have the power of the community rather than a few big names.”
Sitaraman said around 2002 she attempted to establish a Hindu temple in the county, but the project did not gain momentum. Over a decade later, and with a different group of organizers, the proposal is well underway. In addition to donations, some community members have pledged to contribute idols and flowers once the temple is opened.
To bring substance and more supporters to their goal, organizers earlier this month began holding Hindu services from 5-8 p.m. on Sundays at Novato’s Unity in Marin. The services include a quiet time with meditation and prayer, followed by a group singing session — all of which are open to the public. During the service, all offerings to the collection box go toward funding the permanent temple, organizers said.
The nonprofit’s next fundraising event will be a celebration of Shiva Radhri. From 5-7 p.m. March 6, the event will take place at Unity in Marin, 600 Palm Drive in Novato. The festival will be a shortened version of the popular celebration and will include a service led by a priest, food and music.
Supriya Menon, a board member of the Marin Indian American Association, was skeptical when she first learned of efforts to raise funds for a Hindu temple in the county. But after attending one of the nonprofit’s events late last year and seeing the large turnout, Menon said she became a supporter.
“I was surprised by how many showed up and they were so involved,” she said. “I said I was a skeptic, maybe I didn’t have a need, but the community definitely has the need.”