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Magazine Web Edition > July/August/September 2009 > Feature Story: Siva's Sanctuary in Tropical Hawaii
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Like Rishikesh of Old

Hindu temples in India are today mostly encrusted within crowded cities and towns, surrounded by the cacophony of automobiles and buses. Even in America, temples are often close to highways or a stone's throw from strip malls, chain stores and fast food places. Today, alas, few devotees attending their neighborhood temple can approach the ideal described in the Krishna Yajur Veda, which says, "Find a quiet retreat for the practice of yoga; sheltered from the wind, level and clean, free from rubbish, smoldering fires and ugliness, where the sound of waters and the beauty of the place help thought and contemplation."

Iraivan Temple is set in just such a perfect locale, one that seems to have been chosen by the Gods themselves--in the midst of a lush tropical forest on a Polynesian isle, with fresh water brooks and waterfalls all around, surrounded by a limitless expanse of sky and sea which changes from green to blue to indigo. It is built on the margin of the serene Wailua River, a pristine stream coming down from the nearby volcanic mountain. There are lotus-filled ponds, thousands of fruit-bearing and medicinal trees, and, with delightful frequency, inspiring rainbows arching above.

Iraivan Temple is a destination for serious pilgrims. Many have testified that they were never the same after their first visit, now understanding God, soul and world differently from ever before. "I've seen a thousand temples in India and the world. Of them all, this little temple on this little island stands out to me. It is the most beautiful. It is the most pure. It is actually divine. I can hardly believe it exists." This quote is not from a celebrity or an intellectual powerhouse, nor is it from the shastras or saints. It is the voice of an ordinary devotee, unique only in her sincerity, a mother and a grandmother, an immigrant struggler who visited Iraivan Temple.

In the ancient Tamil language, Iraivan is an ancient Tamil word for God meaning, "He who is worshiped." This temple is a pure celebration of Lord Siva. No other Deity is represented within its precincts. Everywhere one looks, in every direction, only Siva can be seen. Ganapati Sthapati pointed out that this is how all temples were built thousands of years ago.

Kumar Naganathan Gurukkal, a priest of the temple in Lanham, Maryland, who recently visited, effused, "I don't have words to describe the temple's architecture. After seeing it, my heart becomes single-minded, without desires and thoughts about the future. Generally temples are built as per the worshipers' desire, but in Hawaii, the temple is built for the sake of the Supreme Lord."

Gurukkal was delighted to see the abundance of the landscaped gardens surrounding the temple, with Indian favorites such as betel leaf, amala, bilva and areca trees, as well as rudraksha and konrai trees: "It is wonderful to see the forest of rudraksha, which grows in certain places only by God's desire. It is not possible to plant and grow those trees anywhere except where the Lord wants them. Even in India, these trees grow only in remote places like Sabari Malai."

Ravi Rahavendran from Carlsbad, Cali fornia, and his wife Sheela have been in love with Iraivan Temple from the first day they visited in 2003. Ravi shares, "The temple stretches back to the glory of ancient India." He ponders, enthusiastically, "It is written in Saivite texts that one of Siva's 108 holy abodes is Kovai. It is the only place of the 108 which cannot be located. Could Kovai be Kauai? It would not be surprising, given the sheer beauty of the island, the mystic vision and the location of the temple."

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