More than a dozen statues of deities, adorned with bright flowers or brass jewels, are stationed around the area, and observers offer them prayers and gifts while walking clockwise. Temple priests can be seen bringing offerings directly to the gods and goddesses, a job reserved solely for the seven of them.
The temple along McLean Road has served as a Hindu place of worship since 1978; it is the only temple outside of India dedicated to Meenakshi, the goddess of marriage, and the third Hindu temple built in the United States in the last 50 years, according to temple administrator Vatsa Kumar. Other smaller temples were added to the complex through the early 2000s.
Kumar, who has served as administrator for the last decade, encourages visitors to come more than once as the full impact of the 41-acre property cannot be felt in one trip.
“Meeting people, greeting people and making them feel welcome, I enjoy doing that,” said Kumar, who has been connected with the temple since it was built. “That’s the best part of my work.”
All are welcome at Sri Meenakshi Devasthanam, whether they are practicing religion or looking to learn something new about another culture. Organized services occur on Sundays, and admission is always free.
The temple society is in the process of a $1 million upgrade to expand parking; add recreational athletic fields; build a playground; and connect the the temple in the back of the 41-acre property, dedicated to the god Ganesh, to the main complex. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
A sign on the property encourages patrons to “please donate generously”—and Kumar said they have. A community of 8,000 to 10,000 people supports the temple, he said.
The main temple features four shrines dedicated to specific deities, and four smaller temples in the corners of the complex are dedicated to other deities. The Ganesh temple was the original temple constructed on the property in the late 1970s and is the first Hindu landmark in the southwestern U.S., Kumar said.
Temples are styled in South Indian fashion, which differs from the North Indian temple in Stafford in southwest Houston, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Kumar said.
Visiting a temple can teach lessons to anyone, regardless of religious affiliation: The worship of the nine planets, for example, can help people understand how the world around them works, he said. Slow chanting and other forms of worship can teach discipline, respect, maintaining order, practicing silence, and caring for the young and old, Kumar said.
“The Hindus believe in the planetary activities, so these planets will have an effect on us—on our health, on our marriage, on our education, everything,” he said.