Temple of Tranquility

Clients can slow down in Kauai’s Hindu temple

By: Marty Wentzel

I was late for my appointment at Kauai’s Hindu Monastery, and I practically flew through its trellised entry. Barreling along at a 21st-century pace, I suddenly felt like a bull in a china shop. Around me, a few men in flowing robes were sweeping and cleaning the grounds, moving gracefully in their jobs. Birds were singing in the breeze, and a rainbow hung in the light mist. A passer-by smiled and bowed to me, hands together, and I decided it was time to slow down.

Set in a tranquil upland Kauai forest, the 458-acre monastery casts a similar spell on most outsiders who pay a visit. While it maintains a low profile on the island, the transcendental destination is attracting growing numbers of people who visit out of respect, faith or simple curiosity. Almost everyone, however, comes to see its San Marga Iraivan Temple, a one-of-a-kind edifice under construction at the Wailua Valley retreat.

My guide was Saravananathaswami, one of the 20 monks who live, work, meditate and pray together at the monastery. He led me to a covered pavilion near the entrance and gave me some background as I perused informational displays.

The monastery was founded in 1970 by Hindu minister and teacher Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, affectionately called Gurudeva.

“In 1975, Gurudeva had a vision of a new temple that would last 1,000 years and serve as a wonderful example of India’s beauty in the Western world,” he said.

Since 1990, millions of pounds of granite have been quarried by hand in Bangalore, India. Massive blocks have been cut and shaped by master craftsmen, then shipped to Kauai, with the first pieces arriving in 2000.

“It will take about seven years to assemble the temple, which will measure 100 feet long by 45 feet tall,” said Saravananathaswami. “However, depending on the rate of fund raising, it will likely open a few years after that.”

Throughout construction, clients can see the growing white sanctuary firsthand during guided tours.

As we strolled through lush tropical gardens and enjoyed views of the Wailua River from on high, Saravananathaswami said that an average of 70 guests show up for each guided tour of the new temple.

“Since we launched our Web site in the mid-1990s, more and more people have realized that there’s something special going on here,” he said.

While a Web site at a rural monastery sounded like a contradiction in terms, it made sense when I peeked into a room full of high-tech computers where the monks publish a quarterly publication called Hinduism Today.

On the way to the new temple, we passed the monastery’s existing house of worship, a small wooden temple with a colorful interior honoring the god Shiva. Clients need not be Hindu to enter the temple and take part in a daily meditative ritual ceremony, which lasts about one hour.

Saravananathaswami led me along a footpath to the site of the new Hindu temple, and I heard a gentle tap-tap-tapping playing through the air like a musical prayer. Soon I saw the source of the sound. A small group of Indian craftsmen were rhythmically pounding enormous pieces of granite by hand, preparing them for placement in the temple. I touched the smooth white blocks, each carefully numbered, and held a few of the soft iron tools in my hands, marveling at the patience required for such a task.
Saravananathaswami showed me around the temple-in-construction, pointing out different design touches and describing what the building will eventually look like. Remarkably, the pieces of granite are being assembled without use of modern machinery or materials. Instead, they’re held together by gravity.

“There’s nothing like this anywhere else in the United States,” said Saravananathaswami.

The temple will be surrounded by groves of exotic sacred, medicinal, fragrant and decorative plants from around the world, he added.

As we said goodbye, I asked my new friend why Gurudeva chose Kauai for the realization of his vision.

“He wanted a pure spot halfway between the East and West,” he explained. “Our monastery is a place imbued with Asian overtones, in a remote U.S. location. India’s pilgrimage sites are beautiful destinations far from big cities, places that take some effort to get to. This is the same sort of destination.”

Indeed, Kauai’s Hindu Monastery is a lovely place to slow down and appreciate life’s riches.

107 Kaholalele Rd., Kapaa, HI 96746

The monastery’s small existing temple is open every day of the year 9 a.m.-noon to all visitors, not only those who follow the Hindu religion. Clients should dress appropriately, which means no shorts, short dresses, tank tops or T-shirts.
The surrounding grounds, including the new temple under construction, can be seen during the monastery’s official tour, offered approximately once a week. Admission is free. Check the Web site for the list of tour dates.