“Slow down, temple in 400 feet,” reads a sign on Old Hickory Boulevard.
Around the corner an unprecedented sight awaits the drivers.
The temple is replete with angular spires, cylindrical pillars and ornamental work. Carved onto the temple’s walls live statues of elephants and stone deities. The 48-foot, five-tiered central tower, or Vimana, tops off the temple’s opulence.
From the road the temple looks like an elaborate mansion, built out of sand. It has the elegance of a drizzle sand castle but the sturdiness of a tower. All of the minute details, from the collaged animal figures to the decorated columns and pillars, looks as if they were hand crafted by a scalpel.
The sun reflecting off the marble white walls adds the finishing touches by creating a luminescent aura around the temple.
Sri Muthiah Sthapath, one of India’s most renowned architects, designed Sri Ganesha, a Hindu temple in Bellevue, to resemble the temple structure of the Chola dynasty.
Sri Ganesha opened in 1990 to serve as a gathering place of worship for the growing Hindu population in Nashville, Tenn. The need for a bigger as more than 24,000 Hindus live in Metro Area Tenn.
The air outside the temple is filled with the smothering scent of curry as the red-framed doors open to the temple one Sunday morning.
Once inside, Narayan Bhat, one of its founders, warmly welcomes worshippers. Men and women dressed in traditional Indian apparel rush the temple like a river. Jingling sounds drift through the halls from the band of metallic, gold-colored tassels, hanging from the women’s colorful dresses.
It’s Sunday – the traditional day of Prasadam at Sri Ganesha. ‘Prasad’ means gracious gift or to give peace. Prasadam is the religious offering of food that worshippers consume.
Each Sunday a selection of three complementing meals are chosen for religious offering.
Today, there’s vegetable curry, a main dish with coriander, cumin, turmeric, curry and cinnamon; sambar, a lentil stew-like dish blended with spices like red chili pepper and turmeric; gajar halwa, a sweet dessert similar to pudding except the recipe calls for carrots, milk, sugar and cardamom.
Bhat, one of the first immigrants from India to reside in Nashville permanently, was instrumental in founding Sri Ganesha.
Bhat moved to America, from India, in 1963 and only returned to visit family. His home, he said was now Middle Tennessee.
Bhat collaborated with the other immigrants and decided it was time to invest in a temple for the Hindu community. With the purchase of 13-acres of land, cohesive efforts and time, Sri Ganesha started to emerge. Committee members named the temple after deeming Sri Ganesha the main deity of the temple.
Perhaps the greatest part of the structure is the area of worship – the temple. A pungent smoke of incense gets stronger with each step up the red staircase leading to the sacred space.
After every other stair a deep rhythmic guttural bell sounds.
Standing at the edge of the temple a giant bell hangs from the center of the temple. It rings when a worshipper walks by and tugs the rope hanging from the bell, making it sing.
“The bell brings peace,” said Anil Sawhney, a member of Sri Ganesha’s public relations committee. “It brings those who are praying to their center where they are better able to reach God.”
Eleven shrines of deities, each with their own story, outline the edges of the temple. The layout of the temple resembles a cross. The deities lie in a rectangular shape outline the temple’s worshipping area. Two alcoves, on the farthest wall from the entrance, lead to small halls where other deities rest in mini cubicles on the walls.
Sri Ganesha is a deity and appears in the form of an elephant-headed deity. The deity is the largest and sits in the largest shrine in the center of the temple. Sri Ganesha is worshipped as the remover of all obstacles and as the god of wisdom and success.
To the right of Sri Ganesha, Sri Shiva is the Supreme Being and serves as the destroyer of ego and illusion. Sri Venkateshwara represents Vishnu, who associates with the 10 incarnations to protect the good, destroy evil and to teach humanity the right path in life.
People move around the temple in a slow procession, pray and leave food as an offering to the deity on the shrine.
“Sri Ganesha serves mostly as a gathering place for Hindus,” said Bhat. “But everyone is welcome to pray here, it is a place to pray, to worship, to be with God.”