Although the earliest Indian Immigrants came to Memphis in the1950s, most of us came here in the 1970s and 80s. During this time, there were no religious, cultural, or social organizations to serve the needs of the 250 families. With the formation of the Telugu Association of Memphis and India Association of Memphis in 1980, the people of Mid-south were exposed to Indian culture. The Indian community used to organize religious and cultural activities in the community halls of local malls, church basements and public school auditoriums. Dr. Rajagopalan and Mrs. Savitri Tahiliani used to conduct religious functions like Satyanarayana Katha and Ganesh Chaturthi. The need for a place of worship and gathering was a popular topic in social events and was considered an unrealizable dream and it remained so for a long time.
In 1981, under the leadership of Mr. Vijay Rawtani, the first President of India Association of Memphis, an exploratory meeting was organized at theUniversity of Memphis and a consensus was reached that there was a need for a Temple and a Community Center. This idea was further explored by an informal committee of interested community members under the leadership of Dr. A.P. Mahesh Kumar. This committee felt a need for an autonomous non-profit religious and cultural organization. With the help of a prominent attorney Mr. Marvin Ratner, the by-laws were written and a religious and cultural non-profit organization was registered in the state of Tennessee. A bank account was opened with $250 donated by the committee members. The India Cultural Center and Temple, Inc. was born.
The \"Temple Committee\" as the members were called collectively, had to endure much skepticism from the community as they were perceived as unrealistic dreamers. After a diligent search for a proper site for the project, the committee was able to buy 12 acres of land on Highway 64 in Eads for a cash payment of $48,000 on October 1985. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that this land was at the highest elevation in Shelby County. Mrs. Savitri Tahiliani performed a Satyanarayana pooja to offer thanks to the God for His blessings in accomplishing this seemingly impossible feat. The news of site acquisition was received with some apprehension by the community because of the physical distance of the site from the town.
On Vijaya Dasami day in 1985, the land was consecrated with a Bhoomi pooja done by a priest from Sri Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburg. The first religious ceremony -Sri Sita-Rama Kalyanam- was organized by the members of Telugu Association in April 1986. To help familiarize the location to the community, many festivals were celebrated in Eads Headstart School across from the temple land in the following years.
To give credibility, authority and legality to the Temple Committee, a Board of Directors was elected in 1986 as per the existing by-laws. An Executive Committee was chosen from among the Board of Directors to carryout the business of ICCT. In 1987, an ad-hoc planning committee with Dr. Prasad Duggirala as its Chairman was appointed to develop plans for the Temple and Community Center. The deities in the Temple were chosen by a democratic process of polling the community. The planning committee selected Padmasri Muthaiah Sthapathi of Chennai as the temple architect and conceptual drawings for the Temple and Community Center were developed and approved by the Broad of Directors. The publication of these drawings and an informative dinner in 1990 rejuvenated the enthusiasm for the project. The Fund Raising Committee was formed in 1990 with Dr. Vijaya Duggirala as its Chairperson. Under her leadership, the committee organized many fund raising dinners raising $500,000 by 1992. With her firm personal commitment to the project and zeal, she charmed many community members into giving generously to the cause resulting in millions of dollars of donation to the ICCT in the ensuing years.
The years 1990 and 1991 were very turbulent in the history of ICCT. To provide stability and vision during this time, Dr. N.V. Raghavaiah was elected as the President of Board of Directors. Working hand in hand with the Planning Committee, Dr. Raghavaiah was instrumental in appointing Mr. Claude Braganza as the architect for the project and in obtaining a loan of $450,000, which was guaranteed by 10 members of the community. On November 2, 1992, Mr. Varadaraja Bhattar of Sri Venkateswara Temple, Pittsburg performed the ground- breaking ceremony. There was a heavy down pour of rain through out the day, as though the Gods were blessing the event from heavens. Actual construction was started on June 27, 1993 and the buildings were completed in May 1994. Mr. Jamnu Tahiliani, a founding member of ICCT and a renowned structural engineer, graciously donated his time and expertise and designed earthquake-resistant buildings of long durability.
To provide continuity of leadership and stability to the organization, in December 1992, the Board of Trustees was created and the by-laws were amended to transfer the authority to conduct business of ICCT from the Board of Directors to the Board of Trustees. This bi-cameral system of government lasted until 1996.
Sri Srinivasacharya Vedala of Oklahoma city set the muhurtham for Prana Prathishta during June 17-19 of 1994. It was done with great religious fervor by six priests from Chicago and New York, under the direction of Sri Varadaraja Bhattar of Sri Venkateswara Temple, Pittsburg. The vibration of Veda mantras chanted by the Priests filled the air creating an atmosphere reminiscent of Nymisaranya - an abode of Rishis in ancient India. The celebrations were aptly concluded with a soul stirring devotional concert by Smt. Shobha Raju. By sending his saffron robe through her, His Divine Grace Sri Bhagawan Satya Sai Baba blessed the entire event.
Sri Srinivasa Nanduri (Vasudeva) and Sri Ramachandra Bhatt were appointed as priests. Soon after the 40 days of Mandalabhishekams were completed, Sri Ramachandra Bhatt left leaving the burden of maintaining the temple on the shoulders of Vasudeva. He fulfilled this responsibility admirably against all odds until February 1995. Two senior Priests from Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam - Sri Venkata Satyanarayana Charyulu Narayanam (Vaikhanasa Agama) and Sri Satyanarayana Malladi (Karana Agama) arrived in time for Maha Siva Ratri and started establishing the Agama-based worship. Sri Rama Parivar, Garuda and Nandi Prathista were done on the first anniversary in June 1995. Brahmotsavam for Lord Venkateswara and Navaratri celebrations for Sri Durga were conducted by them in October 1995 strictly according to the agama sastras. By the grace of God, nine different vahanas for nine days of procession mysteriously materialized. The volunteers who built these had no prior experience and their only qualifications were faith and devotion. Even today ours is the only temple in North America that conducts these festivals as prescribed in the Agamas. The second anniversary was celebrated with Poolangi Seva to Lord Venkateswara and Annabhishekam to Lord Siva in 1996. Since then these have become annual events attracting devotees from all around the country. Since 1996, a pictorial annual calendar has been published-thanks to the yeoman service of Mr. Vidyadhar Wundavalli.
To streamline the administration of the Temple, the by-laws were amended in 1996 to abolish the Board of Directors and to make the Board of Trustees the sole authority to conduct the business of ICCT. The community at large was represented by annually electing two trustees from the voting members. All the decisions are made by the active Trustees at their monthly meetings and are implemented by the Executive Committee with the help of seven auxiliary committees.
In August 1997, inspired by and with the blessings and guidance of Sri Vidyananda Giri and Sri Swami Paripoornananda of Vyasasram, Tirupathi, Sri Venkateswara Adbhuta Santi Maha Yagnam was conducted. This Maha Yagnam was spiritually uplifting to all the participants and enhanced the aura of the Temple. Thus ours was the first Temple in North America to conduct a Yagna. Since then we have conducted eight yagnas:
1998 - Sri Maha Rudra Yagam Sri Kumara Swamy of Saiva Siddhanta Church, Kauai - Presiding
1999 - Sri Maha Lakshmi Yagam Sri Swamy Vidyananda Giri of Vyasasram, Tirupathi - Presiding
2000 - Sri Chandi Maha Yagnam Sri Chandrakali Matha of Kali Gardens, Nambur - Presiding
2001 - Maha Ganapathy Yagam Sri Somanatha Maharshi, Vanasthalipuram - Presiding
2002 - Sri Sudarsana Maha Yagnam Sri Somanatha Maharshi, Vanasthalipuram - Presiding
2003 - Sri Skanda Maha Yagam Sri Ganapathy Sacchidananda Swamiji of Dattapeetam, Mysore - Presiding
2004 - Sri Rama Taraka Mantra Sri Paripoornananda Swamiji of Vyasasram, Maha YagnamTirupathi - Presiding
In addition, Sri Sivaya Subramuniya Swami of Kauai presided Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in the year 2000. Acharya Khemchand of Nepal conducted several Bhagavat Pravachans. Sri Dhood Dhari Baba of Nepal and Anantha Acharya of Brindhavan conducted Ramayan Pravachans. All these great saints added sanctity and aura to the Temple with their visits.
To promote broad based participation of the community in the completion of Temple construction, Sahasranama Mala project was conceived in November 1999, which has been a great success in generating donations from all the segments of Hindu community from all over the North America.
In 2001 a Children School was launched successfully-thanks to the efforts of Drs. Bina and Ashok Rao and Mrs. Priya Rao. The children are taught basics of Hinduism, prayers, and slokas as per the syllabus of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam.
Nine Shilpis from Chennai arrived in May 2001, to Indianize the Temple. The community is great full to Dr. N.V. Ragahavaiah for guarantying $300,000 and fulfilling the commitment through personal donations and collection of funds from the community. Our Shilpis Sri Loganathan Chinaswamy, Sri Perumal Shanmugam, Sri Gandhi Ramasamyvelar, Sri Aranganathan Kannan, Sri Ananthan Chidambaram, Sri Manikandan Haridoss, Sri Sanjeevi Raj Gurusamy, Sri Senthil Kannan Thiruneelakantan, Sri Viswanathan Muthuvairuasari, under the guidance of Sri Muthaiah Sthapathi have done a marvelous job Indianizing the temple. They poured their heart and soul into their work and created an architectural master piece of unparalleled beauty. Their services were sincerely appreciated by the Hindu community with pride and gratitude.
Sri Somanatha Maharishi laid the foundation stone for the Multipurpose Ceremonial Pavilion during Sri Sudarsana Maha Yagnam and the building was completed and occupied in February 2005. The much-awaited priest quarters were built and occupied in December 2002. Mr. Phanendra Devineni’s services in expediting the construction of the priest quarters and the Multipurpose Ceremonial Pavilion are invaluable. Using his engineering and business management background, he helped complete these two projects in a timely manner and within the planned budget. It is anticipated that he will play a major role in planning & construction of future projects.
In 2002, once again the by-laws were rewritten by an ad-hoc committee and were approved by the Board of Trustees with a two-third majority. A constitution was written adopting Vaikhanasa Agama and Karana Agama-based temple worship for eternity.
At the suggestion of Dr. Sreedhar Rao Rayudu, voluntary Annadanam on Saturdays was implemented since January 2003 and it was enthusiastically embraced by the community.
Even though our temple is 11 years-old, it is recognized nationally for its traditional worship. The credit goes to our priests - Sri Satyanarayana Charyulu Narayanam, Sri Venkata Krishna Sai Swarna, Sri Kiran Narayanam, Sri Vijaya Prasad Murikipudi for their devotion to their duties and loyalty to the organization. Especially, Sri Satyanarayana Charyulu and Sri Venkata Krishna Sai deserve a special mention for their commitment to the growth of our temple and to their excellent rapport with the community. They were instrumental in raising large donations. We are fortunate to have these two extra ordinary priests and it is a matter of pride for our temple, as these two individuals are in constant demand to perform Kumbhabhishekams of other temples throughout North America.
Many young community members have volunteered their time and services to create a warm welcoming atmosphere to the temple visitors and to spread the message of the temple through various media. Mr. Durga Prasad Koka designed a beautiful website which was further refined into a dynamic website by the efforts of Mr. Prabhakar Thippana. Mr. Murali Chandrashekaran donates his precious time to help priests carry out the rituals in the temple and to teach Yoga to the children. Mr. Sudhir Agrawal, with his knowledge of accounting & financial planning, provided invaluable service in obtaining tax exempt status for the ICCT and establishing policies & procedures for proper accounting.
These 25 years have been a trying but rewarding years in turning a dream into reality. The Temple has become a focal point to the Hindus of mid-south region of USA. Many people have struggled to bring the project to this level with their generous contributions of hard earned money, precious time and emotions. It’s really gratifying to see little children experiencing the timeless traditions of Vedic culture and this makes the entire struggle worthwhile.
The master plan for the project envisions a meditation garden, an Arch, a Pushkarini, a Community Center and a Performing Arts Center in the 3rd phase of development. Two additional acres of land were acquired to accommodate these ambitious plans. Now it is up to the new generation of community leaders to take this organization to new heights and I am sure they will rise to the occasion.