The Hindu Association of Delaware's temple in Hockessin meets the needs of thousands of members
The white spires are barely visible from the road, rising above the tree line and into the sky like wisps of mystic smoke circling skyward. In the distance, exotic music can be heard, and the faint odor of incense floats on the wind.
It’s not the beginning of a classic 1950’s Otto Preminger epic – it’s one of Hockessin’s hidden cultural touchstones.
Since 2002, the Hindu Temple Mahalakshmi Devasthanam, located off Yorklyn Road, has served the Hindu community from throughout the region, with families as far away as Virginia traveling to Delaware to worship and maintain ties within their diffuse population.
Now, with some new renovations and expansions finally completed, the temple’s administrators hope to see it become a place the community at large considers home.
Hockessin resident and president of the Temple Association Patibanda Sarma is one of the temple’s founding families and an active daily member.
After having relocated to Delaware from Indiana in the late 70s, Sarma said he found the small but growing Hindu community in need of a permanent home.
“In fact, for many years we used the Oddfellows Hall on 41 for that,” Sarma said. “But back then, there were only 400 or so Hindu families in all of Delaware.”
As that community grew, plans for the temple that had been discussed from day one started to foment; money was slow to come in, but with time, they had collected enough to buy 4.6 acres just off downtown Hockessin.
The location was an optimal one, Sarma said, due to both its price and its proximity to Pennsylvania, where a large Hindu population was also forming.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held in 1996, and six years later the temple held its “Kumbhabhishekam,” a ritual meant to synergize and unite the mystic powers of its patron deity – in this case, Mahalakshmi, or simply Lakshmi.
Considered the goddess of wealth and prosperity, to Hockessin resident and temple member Mala Mathur, Lakshmi is the Mother figure in her spiritual life.
“For me, she personifies health, wealth and happiness,” Mathur said. “I pray to her every day, but where my family comes from, we also worship Durga. But Durga and Lakshmi are one and the same; it goes back to what you grew up with.”
While the temple is home to Lakshmi and dedicated to her praise, other deities in the Hindu pantheon are also worshiped at the temple, including Lakshmi’s husband Vishnu, the “destroyer” Shiva, and the elephant-headed god Ganesh, the remover of obstacles.
Each of these gods and goddesses – and several others – have their dedicated altars set up in the main portion of the temple, where six priests are available to help guide worshipers through any number of rituals and prayers.
Sarma said that, with so many different sects and with families from many different regions of the world, the temple observes a wide variety of festivals and observances to satisfy their over 10,000 members.
“We have people from Sri Lanka, from Burma, people who’ve come from Kenya and Nepal,” he said. “And for all of them, this is the place; that’s why we make sure we have priests that speak different languages and that we celebrate all the festivals.”
Mathur said that, no matter what region or country their visitors come from, they will find something meaningful to them at Mahalakshmi Devasthanam.
“And that’s what we want,” she said.
Since opening its doors, Sarma said that the temple community has had great relations with its neighbors and the community at large, including the county and state administration.
“Many of them have come here for blessings and festivals and are good friends of ours,” Sarma said, adding that county executive Tom Gordon is scheduled to make an appearance at the Indian Independence Day parade on Aug. 16.
Vice President Joe Biden has even been a guest, back when he was still a state senator, according to Sarma.
“He even mentioned us in a White House speech, saying this was the first temple he’d ever visited,” he said.
Numerous area churches have also had their members tour the temple, and there are plans to have residents from the Windsor Place assisted living facility pay a visit in the coming months.
“The temple is open to anyone, and anytime they want to come they are welcome,” Sarma said. “The whole idea is to make sure the community is involved.”
There are very few “rules” for visiting the temple – there is no alcohol or meat allowed, and shoes must be removed when in the temple proper. Other than that, there are no restrictions that should prevent a casual visitor from stopping in.
“Some people almost seem doubtful when they come in, but it’s perfectly okay to be here,” Sarma said with a grin. “We want them here, we embrace them. It may look a little different, but that’s all it is – a little different.”
“Just take your shoes off and walk in,” Mathur said. “Our priests are very friendly, they see someone and they smile. Ask them questions, they would be happy to help you out.”