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The world's oldest religion

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS The Anoopam Mission and Hindu Temple is built on a hilltop where it is "close to nature." Members of the society wait outside for a volunteer guide.
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS The Anoopam Mission and Hindu Temple is built on a hilltop where it is "close to nature." Members of the society wait outside for a volunteer guide.
Published May 21. 2010 05:00PM

@Quote.Feature:QUOTE: "As a Hindu I believe that God is One but He is worshipped in different ways by different religions of the world. I adore all religions because God is the same for Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims and for all humanity." Shree Patel.

For the May meeting of the Palmerton Area Historical Society, members traveled to visit the Anoopam Mission and Hindu Temple built seven years ago on a hilltop at Clearview Road, Coplay. It is a strikingly beautiful building and comes into sight suddenly. People get a "Wow" effect from first sight.

A volunteer, Shree Patel, met the group and took them into the temple. Before entering, shoes had to be removed - a tradition designed to keep it as clean as possible, said Patel. He works a full-time job but helps with youth activities and public relations at the temple.

Women and men are seated separately. "We find it is less distracting to separate the sexes," he said.

Patel said he would provide a brief introduction to Hinduism - a challenging job because there is so much information. A worship ritual, a five to ten-minute service held twice a day, would be held at 7:30 p.m. with the visitors participating.

One of the concepts of Hinduism is that they do not believe in many gods but One that all of humanity worships. There are many paths to the same goal and each has equal validity. There are many forms of worship including the abstract which is no form at all.

The Hindu religion is the oldest that still has adherents and is still being practiced today. It was passed on by word of mouth for millennia. It reaches for a state of being that forms a union with God.

An Indian word is preferred to "Hinduism." It translates as "Eternal and universal truth," said Patel. There is a belief that God himself walked on earth.

On the altar are three deities about 30-inches tall. They were considered statues until they were dedicated and the spirit of God was invoked.

"We do not worship the deities but what they represent. We as humans need something to focus on so the deities channelize our thoughts on God," Patel said.

When the temple was built the three deities were carved of marble in India. The founder of the temple was Guruvarya Param Pujya Saheb whose picture has a place of honor on the wall.

The center deity, Lord Swaminarayan, walked on earth 230 years ago. "Whenever religion gets off course God comes to bring religion back to its roots," he said.

The deity to the left is Gunatitanand Swami and represents the saints. On the right is Gopalanand Swami who represents the people.

A core concept of Hinduism is nonviolence as followed by Mahatma Ghandi. Most Hindus are vegetarians.

A second concept is reincarnation. The body is temporary but the soul is eternal. The body dies and comes back to learn more lessons until a reunion with God is achieved.

Karma is what happens today, which is a function of the past, and what happens today is a function of the future but the future can be changed.

"We believe in living a righteous life. You have to bear the ramifications of your actions. Everything you do affects your eternal soul. Joy and happiness are followed by pain and misery. Life is a roller coaster ride. You want to hit a baseline with all bugs smoothed out," said Patel.

Lord Swaminarayan told his followers not to despair because he will always be here.

The deities are bathed every morning by the priests. Their clothing is changed and they are adorned with garlands to honor them. They are fed and have a rest period when curtains are closed before the altar. At night they are put to bed.

There are five priests at the temple who have renounced their ties to the world as the monks do. Though the bright orange of Hindu monks is familiar, the priests wear sky-blue shirts and cream-colored pants.

For the celebration of the Indian New Year, people are invited to bring a favorite food. Last year there were 1,000 choices.

Devotional hymns are an important part of worship. Lighted wicks are offered to the deities and the saints - priests who have gained sainthood. Then they are offered to the congregation. People put both hands over the wicks and pass their hands over their heads thereby gaining some of the knowledge of the deities and saints into themselves.

There is no formal membership. On a Saturday evening there may be 150-200 people at the worship service. Celebrations attract 500-600 people.

There are spires above the deities and a column below leading into the earth.

Bells are traditionally used as a call to worship. Worship is held in one of the Indian languages but more English is being added. Worshippers sit cross-legged on the floor, with the help of backrests, but there are chairs for those who want them.

Patel said there are one billion Hindus in the world. In India, 85 percent of the population is Hindu. The remaining 12 percent is Muslim, the second largest Muslim community after Indonesia.

He was asked about the caste system in India and said it is dying out. Education is leading to the change.

"It was a real privilege to be here," said society secretary Betsy Burnhauser.

Patel replied that they love having guests. He invited everyone for refreshments because "Hindus feed their guests."

People are invited to visit the temple between 7:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. but Patel suggests going before noon or after 4 p.m. because the deities are resting during that time and the altar curtains will be closed.

To find it, turn right off Route 145. There is a sign for the temple and Strawberry Acres. It is about two miles away and is located atop a hill to the left.

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