The Vision Forms in the Late 1970s
Thousands of Hindu families migrated from India to the United States from the early 1960’s seeking higher education and challenging careers. As the families grew and settled down, it became apparent that there was a necessity to actively encourage the continuation of traditional Indian religious and cultural values. Several Asian Indian organizations arose during this period, providing some cultural avenues, but there was no religious institution which Hindus could call \"home.\"
It was the year 1977, the then-president of Telugu Association of Greater Chicago, Sri Tirupatiah Tella, met with a small group of enthusiasts including Sri Galla Naidu, Sri Umapathi R.Cattamanchi, and Sri B. Chandrasekar Reddy, to discus the possibility of founding a religious organization and building a temple. Other pioneers who promoted and worked for this cause were Sri C. Natarajan, the late Sri B. Seshadri, Sri P. Krishnan, Sri M. Pattabhiraman, Sri Surendra Goel, and the late Sri Arun Mansukhani. An ad-hoc committee was formed, and they met weekly in the residence of Sri Seshadri at Oak Park. \"The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago\" was established as a not-for-profit organization to encompass the needs of all Hindus. The first General Body meeting was held in December 1977 and the first Governing Body for 1978 was officially elected.
Sri Vidyasagar Dharmapuri, the first president, and other enthusiasts such as Sri Galla Naidu, Sri P. Rajagopalan and Sri B. Chandra Reddy had a macro-vision to integrate all Hindus from various parts of India. Their panoramic vision included a place of worship, a place of cultural and fine arts activities, religious and language schools, and a library.
During Sri Dharmapuri’s two-year term as president, the organization made significant progress. In order to meet the religious needs of all the Hindus from the various parts of India, it was decided to have the Pradhana Devata (main deity) as Sri Rama along with Sita Devi, Sri Lakshmana, Hanuman, and Lord Vinayaka. The next challenge was to find an appropriate site to build a traditional temple. Sri G.C. Roy, Sri V. Donaparthi, Sri Darshan Rawal, Sri Y. Yadlapudi and others were involved in the search. Over thirty possible locations in the Greater Chicago area were surveyed. After considering all options, the final selection of the site in Lemont was made with the help of Sri U. Cattamanchi, Sri K. Ramakrishna, and Sri R. Gorrepati. The beautiful wooded bluff hill-side property, with its adjacent waterfalls, was 17.6 acres and located 1.8 miles south of I-55.
The Early 1980s: Turning the Dream into Reality
In 1980, Sri Manoharlal Rathi became the second president and during his tenure, the organization made significant attempts to increase membership and organized several fund-raising programs. \"Ramayana,” a dance drama, performed by the students of Natyakalaiayam and choreographed by Smt. Hema Rajagopalan raised closed to $35,000. Other fund-raising activities included a solo dance recital by Smt. Hema Rajagopalan on June 7, 1980. Many outstanding artists, including Parveen Sultana, also helped to raise funds. With the tireless work of Sri Prem Sharma, cultural committee chairperson, Sri Sudhir Kumar, Sri Harish Thakar, Sri Vishnu Vaidya, Sri Surendra Goel, Sri Kamalakar Naidu and Sri P. Rajagopalan enough funds were collected to allow cash purchase of land on Aug. 8, 1980.
The enthusiasm and momentum gathered; other organizations showed interest, and in 1981, Kannada Kuta helped raise $4,000 by hosting a dance recital by Smt. Malini Sampath. Architects from India and the U.S. were chosen to draw a master plan, and a l7-member building committee headed by Sri Umapathi Cattamanchi with the active support of Sri B. Goel worked tirelessy to design an architecture that would satisfy all regional Hindu groups.
It was a monumental task to have the master plan approved in December 1981, and Sri Sthapathi Ganapathi from Andhra Pradesh was appointed as the chief Indian architect.
The Mid to Late 1980s: HTGC Builds and Grows
Sri Somapalli Naidu was elected as the third president and with the help of Sri P. Rajagopalan and Sri P. Paudel an approval for a left-turn lane from Lemont Road into the proposed temple was obtained from Illinois Department of Transportation. The temple-complex model was exhibited at the Second Convention of Asian Indians in America at the Palmer House in Chicago May 29-31, 1982.
His holiness Gurudeva Sivaya Subramaniya Swami from Hawaii met with a few dedicated volunteers on Nov. 3, 1982, and, impressed with the enthusiasm he encountered, promised a statute of Lord Vinayaka, which was promptly delivered on Nov. 12, 1982. The Vinayaka was initially housed at the residence of P. Rajagopalan in Lombard, where worship ceremonies commenced on Friday, Nov. 19, 1982. In the absence of a formal priest, many members of the religious committee offered their assistance. On Jan. 12, 1983, a statue of Lord Vinayaka originally requested arrived from Andhra Pradesh. The worship services were moved to 5200 Thatcher Rd., Downers Grove, Illinois. This location drew large members of devotees, and the Ramanavami celebrations drew 400 members. Religious services such as upanayanams, annamuhurtha, Satyanarayana puja and Harikatha were made available. A nadaswaram concert by Namagiri Pettai Krishnan and an amateur theatrical program, \"Abhignana Shakuntalam,\" (a play by Kalidasa) were the cultural highlights of this year.
In January 1984, Sri Krishna P. Reddy was elected as the fourth president. In the meantime the site of worship was moved to 215 Romeo Rd., Romeoville, Illinois. The site development proceeded during this time and on June 17, 1984, Sri N. T. Rama Rao, then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, laid the foundation stone for the temple after three days of Yagna ceremony. More than 800 Hindus congregated to witness this historical event. In October 1984, a fund raising dinner raised $55,000 and loan guarantees of $680,000 were pledged. Due to outstanding work of devotees including Sri K. Chawla, Sri U. Nimmagadda and Sri A. Mahajan, the financial position improved and on January 25, 1985, a cold wintry day, the Prathishtapana of Sri Gnyana Vinayaka was performed at the Ganesh Mandir. Two priests made available all religious services and the temple had its doors open 9 am to 9 pm.
In 1985, with Sri Krishna P. Reddy as president, the temple celebrated Mahasivarathri, Holi, Janmashtami, Hanuman Jayanthi, Ganesh Chathurthi, Varalakshmi Puja, Navarathri and Diwali. Several dignitaries including Sri Morarji Desai, Swami Chinamayananda, Sivaya Subramaniya Swami, Dr. E. Vedavyas, veena artist Suma Sudhindra and vocalist Jyothi Ramachandra all contributed in various ways to enrich the diversity of the temple. Lata Mangeshkar, the nightingale of India, formally inaugurated the Ganesh Mandir on June 11, 1985. A Hindu Heritage Youth Camp was sponsored in conjunction with Chinmaya Mission of Chicago in June 1985 in Elmhurst, Illinois. In April 1985, a contract to build Ramalaya was signed and by fall the foundation had been laid and the walls of the basement were completed. Phase I, including 8000-square-foot area, Garbhagudi and Ardhamantapam and Mahamandhir, was complete. Through the generous contributions of devotees and the support of organizations like The National Republic Bank and the State Bank of India, Phase II work began. This phase included the 17-foot tall Anivottimantapam, Hanuman temple, the 95-foot tall Rajagopuram and the Lord Venkateswara, Sri Devi and Bhudevi and Radha-Krishna temples. In 1985, additional land (more than 2 acres) with a house to the north of the present site were purchased, bringing the total area to 20 acres. By this time regular prasadam distribution on weekends was started by the efforts of Smt. Avanti Gutta and Smt. Subhadra Ramachandra.
The year 1986, with Sri Krishna P. Reddy as president, saw many youth-related activities. The Sunday School was started on alternate weeks and a group for teenagers met once a month. A grand fund-raising event on Navy Pier reminded everyone of the enthusiasm and talents of the youth. On May 3, 1986, the Sivalinga Prathishtapana was performed and was made possible due to generous donation of His Holiness Sivaya Subramanya Swami. 1986 also saw the shilpis work long hours under the guidance of Sri Sthapathi. The Rama Koti in the form of Rama Shakti arrived from India and locally, the devotees personal worship in the form of \"Sri Rama Jaya Rama\" was written millions of times. 1986 was a landmark year in temple’s history: under the strong leadership of Sri Krishna P. Reddy, the Kumbhabhishekam of Sri Rama Temple was celebrated between June 27 and July 6 with full religious ceremonies.
In 1987, President Sri K. Chawla focused on increasing the attendance of devotees and organized the inauguration of The Radha Krishna Temple. The Ram Sevak Samaj was initiated by the finance committee, and along with Sanjeevani, the Tree of Life project, helped to bring in additional donations. This year marked the celebration of Diwali with illumination, which attracted thousands of devotees. The Indianization of the Ramalaya Rajagopuram was completed and the Sunday School was growing in popularity.
The temple made further progress in 1988, under the presidency of Sri Upendranath Nimmagadda. The marble deity of Durga Devi was delivered and the Devi Jagran attracted considerable devotees. This activity helped in raising funds towards the expansion of the Ganesha-Shiva-Durga (GSD) temple.
Ushering in the 1990s
Youth participation was actively sought by the president Sri Amrish Mahajan in 1989 and 1990 and public relations had improved tremendously. Dignitaries such as Indian Ambassodor Abid Hussain visited the temple. The number of devotees increased, and the architectural plan was drawn for a community center and for the expansion of GSD temple. Additional adjoining land with a house was purchased, bringing the total land area to 22 acres.
In 1991, Sri U. Nimmagadda, president, encouraged cultural programs like \"Kumarasambhavam\" by Natyakalalayam, and concerts by Padmabhushan Sri Balamurali Krishna and Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia to raise funds. A new outdoor event, Greeshma Mela, was held for the first time. Live music, mouth-watering delicacies from all parts of India and games for youngsters marked this social event. \"In The Wings,\" a new youth branch was founded and they regularly celebrated Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Youth Nite. Plans for GSD temple expansion were finalized.
In 1992, Sri M. Hanumadass, president, convinced the General Body to proceed with the expansion of the GSD temple and the expansion of parking lot to include additional 200 cars. An American construction contract was awarded and the Indianization of GSD temple was commenced in the Kalinga Dynasty style. The Ratnagarbhanyasa of GSD was performed in 1993, and the shilpis from India arrived. In 1994, Sri B.L. Sharma, as president, focused on the GSD Indianization. In the summer of 1994, the Kumbhabhishekam of the Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva, Lord Subrahmanya and Devi Parvathi were performed. In December 1994, the General Body approved to proceed with the new water/ sewer system and the expansion of the existing parking lot. A dance drama by Vempati Chinnasatyam Troupe was one of the highlights of this year.
In 1995, president Sri Ashutosh Gupta, along with a several devotees, was instrumental in seeking funds for the Main Entrance Gate project. A grand Kathak dance program by Pandit Birju Maharaj was an outstanding cultural event. The Annual Fund Raising dinner, with Congressman Henry Hyde as the chief guest, was a grand success. The Greeshma Mela was now a very well attended annual event and an open house luncheon was organized for the residents of Lemont. Two ad-hoc committees were named - one to form Akshaya, a group of young professionals, and one to develop the archives of the temple records. Ekantha Seva, a music program, was started on second Sundays; Hanuman Puja was started on every Saturday.
In 1996, Smt. Sudha Rao, president, along with several devotees, celebrated the Kalashastapana for the Durga shrine and Kumbhabhishekam of Ganesha-Shiva-Durga temple. The American phase of the Main Gate project was completed. Other activities included a vocal ugalbandhi concert by Sri T. N. Seshagopalan and Sri Rashid Khan, \"Jaya Jaya Shandara,\" a dance presentation by Rajarajeswari School of Dance, \"Divya Chetna,\" a dance program by Natyakalalayam, and a vocal concert by Smt. Sudha Raghunathan. A new Deepalakshmi Puja was introduced for Diwali. Two additional ad hoc committees were formed - Cost Containment and Landscaping. The Humanitarian efforts included a bone marrow donor drive and a walkathon to benefit disabled children; a \"Grandparents’ Day\" was also started.
In 1997, President Sri G.L.N. Reddy focused on the Indianization of Ramalaya, priest quarters, the Bluff Road culvert and Main Gate entrances, parking lot improvements, and the water/sewer project of immediate importance. Several new programs were initiated: Adhyatmika Samvaad, mediation and yoga classes, Aashirvad Puja and the annual family sponsorship of religious functions for $501. Five new ad-hoc committees – mailing lists, premises reservations, Community Center, priest quarters and sewer/ water/ parking – were created to realize some of the goals set forth earlier and serve the needs of more than 13,000 Hindu families in the Greater Chicago area and beyond.
The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago continues to stand as an important symbol of Hindu heritage in North America.
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