SOUTH JORDAN — March 4 was one of the more holy days on the Hindu calendar.
That night, hundreds of worshippers, dressed in colorful, traditional and ceremonial Indian clothing, came fasting to the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah in South Jordan to chant religious prayers and partake of Indian food sacredly prepared in honor of Lord Shiva.
The Maha Shivaratri celebration went all night, said Venkatesh Subramanyan, a trustee with the temple and India Cultural Center.
"It's a pretty big festival," Subramanyan said. "In Christianity we have Easter and Christmas and other holy days. Hinduism has a lot of holy days. Through the year we'll be celebrating many events."
And the public is always warmly invited to come and learn more.
As part of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable's season of activities, designed for people to learn more about different faiths in the community, the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah and India Cultural Center is hosting an open house on Monday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Its website is at utahganeshatemple.org.)
Narayanan Jayaraman, vice president of the temple board and chair of the religious committee, is one of the busiest people when the temple hosts such events.
"The best part is basically that we can explain about our Hindu mythology and all about our culture," he said. "Everything."
The Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah, located just east of 1300 West and north of South Jordan Parkway, offers an informative glance into the world of Hinduism and Indian culture.
Here are nine interesting things you should know before you attend the temple open house.
Why an open house?
The Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah plans open houses every year, according to Satish Nachaegari, president of Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah.
"The main thing is to have people come and experience what the temple is. There are so many things that people do not understand," Nachaegari said. "So it's a good opportunity for them to come actually visit, see it, experience it, ask questions, so that we could we could help them understand better."
Washing hands and feet
The top question Nachaegari gets from visitors is why it's necessary to leave shoes outside and wash hands and feet before entering the temple sanctum hall?
The answer: Shoes are left outside to help keep the temple clean, but the washing is symbolic, Nachaegari said.
"The saying goes that you wash your feet so that you leave your ego, wash it off completely," Nachaegari said. "The significance of the temple, in the temple especially, is once you walk in, you touch the ground here, you sit down here for a couple of minutes in peace and just pray in your heart. That's the most important part of being in the temple. The ceremonies come later. But coming physically into the temple and sitting here is considered one of the key things."
Why does each Hindu temple have a bell?
Sri Satish Nenmali, one of the priests at the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah, said the bell's purpose is to help a devotee focus their mind on spiritual matters.
"When you are coming from the outside world, your mind may have a lot of thoughts, so many thoughts, unwanted thoughts," Nenmali said as he rang the bell. "It's a divine sound, the sound of the universe that has the power to purify our mind."
There's another purpose for the bell. During rituals, when offering something to the God, bad spirits may be present. Priests ring the bell continuously for 10-15 minutes to keep the bad spirits away, Nenmali said.
A third purpose is to maintain good vibrations, Nenmali said.
The reason it's called the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah is for the main deity — Lord Ganesha — you see in the center of the room when you walk in, Nachaegari said.
Depicted as an elephant, Lord Ganesha is regarded as a god of wisdom and knowledge. Hindus also believe he helps to remove all obstacles from one's path, Nachaegari said.
A short history
The main Ganesha idol was commissioned by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami of the Kauai Hindu Monastery. It was sculpted in India and shipped to Utah and installed in the basement of the Nealameggham family, and regular worship services were initially held there, Subramanyan said.
The temple property was acquired in 1997. Construction on the temple commenced in 2002 and the first consecration happened in 2003. Many other faith groups, including members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, volunteered to help in the temple's construction, Subramanyan said.
"When we first constructed this building, we did not have enough funds and a lot of volunteers would spend their weekends and evening hours helping within the construction. The LDS Church had a lot of volunteers come here. They helped us with the landscaping. They help with some of the interior work."
After adding more idols in later years, the temple was significantly expanded and rededicated in 2015.
"Every 12 years we have a Kumbhabhishekam, a rededication of the temple," Subramanyan said. "It's a ritualistic purification and bringing religious strength back into the temple. That is also a time when we would do additional construction, expansions or any kind of repairs that are needed, either to the shrine or temple."
Nenmali went to school for 13 years to become a priest.
A priest's main responsibility is to conduct "the puja," or daily prayers, at the temple. When the devotees come, priests act as a kind of mediator between the worshipper and the deity.
"Basically we do rituals every day to the God on behalf of the people," Nenmali said.
Unlike other faiths or religions that meet on certain days of the week, Hinduism does not have set dates for service, Subramanyan said.
"We have worship that's almost continuous. People will come in every day," Subramanyan said. "For some people, Monday might be an auspicious day. Friday might be an auspicious day, Saturday, Sunday. So you will find people coming here at all times of the day to pray."
Tejaswini Kanakadandinaga, wife of Sri Sathish Shastri Nivarti, a priest at the temple, worships at the temple each morning.
"When you have trouble, anything good or happy, whatever it is, you can express it to Ganesha," said the wife and mother of two children. "He listens to our words. That's why I really like to come here daily."
Everyone is welcome at the temple, Nachaegari said.
"There are people who don't do anything, just come in and sit," he said. "You don't have to recite anything. Basically everyone is welcome to come experience it. That's one of the things that everyone likes."
One unique aspect of the Sri Ganesha Temple of Utah is that it's an "amalgamation of different subsets of Hinduism," Subramanyan said.
For example, Catholics, Protestants and Lutherans are denominations within Christianity. Within Hinduism, people worship different deities, such as Sri Vishnu and Sri Shiva.
"They represent two of India's biggest denominations. So if you think about it, it's like Protestants and Catholics praying in the same church," Subramanyan said. "The reason why we do it is because the number of Hindus in North America is so little that we choose to worship in the same building. Some of the tradition might be different but our priests will perform both traditions."
India Cultural Center
Adjoining the temple is the India Cultural Center, a place where community members can come together for cultural programs and activities, including birthdays and weddings.2 comments on this story
During such special events, vegetarian food is prepared by temple cook or "pachaka" Balgji Krishnaswamy in the kitchen. Preparing the food involves a number of volunteers.
The food is first offered to the Gods, then it's blessed and shared with the guests, Nachaegari said.
For more information about the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah, visit utahganeshatemple.org.
If you go ...
What: Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple open house
When: Monday March 11, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Where: 1142 W. South Jordan Parkway, South Jordan