A Brief History of the Hindu Temple of Hampton Roads

Dr. Ram C. Dahiya
Chairman, Board of Trustees
Hindu Temple of Hampton Roads
June 14, 1997

The Hindu community of Hampton Roads can be really proud of completing 24,000 square feet of Temple Complex on 10 acres of waterfront land. It is indeed rare for a small community consisting of some 500 families to accomplish such a feat. The Hindu religion is not simply a religion of rituals, since it integrates culture and religion into our daily lives and our Temple Complex will provide a focal point for the religious as well as the cultural activities of our community.

I would like to give a brief history of this incredible project and would like to thank all the people who have helped its success. First and foremost, we need to thank all the contributors who have donated generously to the Temple. These people have made this project possible.

Right at the outset, I want to emphasize that it was a team effort. We were lucky to have people on the Board of Trustees* who had foresight, vision, and maturity. This effort for building a Hindu Temple started on June 15, 1985, when some fifteen members of our community had a meeting, presided over by Swami Chinamayananda, and committed donations of more than $60,000.00 in their first meeting. Soon after, more people joined this first group of people and they together formed the VIP Associates and bought 30 acres of land for the Temple site. VIP Associates donated the entire 30 acres of land to the Hindu Temple of Hampton Roads once its bylaws were incorporated. Many of the current board members have been involved since the inception of this project. Fund raising effort continued for several years. It was decided to build a Temple Complex that can accommodate a large gathering during cultural events since the board felt that these events are an integral part of our religion. In order to accomplish this task, it was decided to sell 20 acres of land and keep 10 acres for the Temple. Sale of this land was offered to the highest bidder from our community and we were lucky and are thankful that Dominion Chesapeake Associates consisting of 20 members of our community agreed to buy the land for $400,000. Our community should be very thankful to the people who bought the land, an event that sparked the construction of the Temple in 1990.

Once the Temple was completed in 1991, it took no time for it to be a busy hub of the cultural and religious activities of our community. It brought our community together and our children started taking very active roles in our cultural and religious events. We had a temporary setback when a tragic accidental fire destroyed the Temple on September 30, 1994. We were in shock as we watched our Temple, where our families celebrated our festivals and worshiped, succumb to flames. However, instead of dampening our spirits, it brought our community together. Our community rose to the challenge and decided to build a more beautiful and glorious Temple. It has taken a long time to design and build a new Temple Complex but our community members have acclaimed the final result. The steel and brick construction of the new Temple Complex makes it practically fire proof, allowing us to sleep in peace.

Many of you have let me know of your appreciation for my contributions to this project. This has helped me to work even harder and has given me great satisfaction. However, I want to emphasize again that this was a team effort and we were blessed with a great team of trustees. The trustees have been meeting regularly for the last twelve years to plan and execute this project. Even though we have had our differences at times, everything was accomplished by consensus. The team was balanced to best represent the Hindu community of Hampton Roads and the co-operation among its members was unprecedented. We had to make some tough decisions at times but never had to resort to voting even once. The different sides convinced each other to reach a compromised but unanimous decision.

During the new construction phase, Dilip Desai, Ashok Patel. and I looked after the supervision of the construction. Several consultants were hired for special inspections. We had weekly meetings at the temple site and the task of coordinating the construction overwhelmed us. I can hardly think of a day during the last eighteen months when I did not start my morning by being on the phone to resolve the problems and issues between the contractor, architect, consultants, and city inspectors. However, the main task of supervising the actual construction work fell on Ashok and we all owe a tremendous debt to him for sparing so much of his valuable time for the Temple construction. I do not think that our community can thank him enough for his tremendous efforts for this project. He has been on the job site almost on a daily basis. I am sure that he has made many personal sacrifices during the course of helping the Temple project. Community workers like him are born but rarely and we are lucky that our community has one. In fact Ashok has been active in the Temple project from day one and I would personally like to thank him for his tremendous contributions.

Dr. Vinod Agarwal and Dr. Vishnu Lakdawala have been in the forefront in serving our community for more than fifteen years. The Temple project could not have been successful without their devotion and commitment. I had the privilege of getting their help upon asking and am indebted for the same. Both Vishnu and Vinod have held positions of Secretary as well as Treasurer and both of these positions have been crucial for the success of this project. Their help in bringing together a Hindu community originating from different geographical parts of India has been essential. It is hard for me to imagine the smooth functioning of our community activities without the help from Vinod and Vishnu and, as usual, they have taken the leading role in the planning of Grand Opening ceremonies. By accepting the chairmanship of the Inauguration committee, Vinod had the most challenging task in planning and executing the Grand Opening activities. As chairman of the Souvenir Committee, Vishnu had the most daunting task of bringing out the historical souvenir.

Dr. R. Venkatesan, a true religious leader of our community, has provided active support right from the beginning. In spite of carrying the busy load of a physician, he has undertaken many special tasks for the Temple project and has contributed significantly to its success. He was a pioneer in starting the Bhajan Group that is now the religious core of our Temple. I have very high regards for his contributions and we all should be thankful for his active help and involvement. The complete devotion of Mr. Dilip Desai to the project and his help in chairing the fund raising effort is to be highly appreciated. His active involvement in supervising the construction gave us the needed advantage of his experience from his own business construction projects.

Dr. Bhaskar Rao has been in and out of the board but this never affected his active and wholehearted support for the Temple. His devotion to religion and the Temple project is complete in the real sense of the word. Dr. Dilip Sarkar was always in smiles even when we were arguing vigorously over some complex points. His optimism and knowledge of the Hindu culture was a tremendous boost to the project. Active involvement of Dr. Sanjay Amin came in the nick of time when the project needed a financial boost. His presence was enough to get a good donation from many of our Gujarati friends. Mr. Vijay Patel has been a community leader for a long time and has always helped the Temple project. His active role in fund raising and arrangements for community functions deserves appreciation from all of us. We are all pleased that he is adopting healthy habits after his recent surgery and wish him a long life.

The roles of Dr. Sudhir Mehrotra and Mr. Rambhai Patel in bringing together the Peninsula and Tidewater communities were essential. Sudhir has been active in the community affairs of the Peninsula for two decades. Rambhai was always a willing worker for any task that needed his attention. The board benefited from his wise advice in religious matters on many occasions. Dr. Gundadhar Panigrahi joined the board only recently but is already going full speed in the inauguration activities. He has always been a strong supporter of the Temple..

Among the past trustees, contributions of Dr. P.S. Murthy, Mr. Prakash Talreja and Dr. Amit Barot were very important. Dr. Murthy was very active right from the beginning of the project and he contributed significantly to its success. Help from Prakash for incorporating the bylaws and getting IRS approval was crucial. Amit came on board for a couple of years and provided the needed boost at the time.

Our special thanks go to the wives of the trustees as they have made many personal sacrifices due to the active involvement of their husbands in the Temple project. Most of them also took active and leading roles in the religious and cultural activities of the Temple during the last twelve years and deserve our appreciation.

Duties of the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the last twelve years were a heavy responsibility on my shoulders. I tried to relieve myself of these duties on several occasions but was persuaded to stay until my colleagues, for whom I have high regards, had completed the project. I was expecting this completion in 1994 but the tragic fire extended my stay for another 3 years. Now that the project is complete, I must say good bye and thank all the people who gave their generous support to me in carrying out my duties. I will like to specially thank my wife, Chandra, who helped me tremendously in carrying out my duties for the Temple. She has always taken a very active role in community and Temple affairs. I would also like to thank my children, Anila, Anjali, and Neal for their support and help especially in the writing of letters and communications to the community. I have no regrets and am a wiser and milder person due to my long association with the Temple project.

Now that the Temple project has been completed, the question is where do we go from here? We are, indeed, very fortunate to have found a priest of high caliber who knows five languages. Dr. Ravindra Nagar, our new priest, was the unanimous choice of the board and he will find strong support in our community. Having a well-educated and learned priest is the single most important factor in the success of the Temple. We need a lot more people to volunteer for carrying out the religious and cultural activities of the Temple. We had several elections for the board in the past and I remember persuading several members, who wanted to be relieved of their duties, to stay on the board until other dedicated and proven workers who know the importance of working as a team can be found. Most of the current board members would like to be replaced if other proven leaders, who are willing to devote their time and are willing to work as a team, can be found. There is not a single member of the current board who is there for ego satisfaction. We have a daunting task for the next board to run the Temple with an estimated monthly expense of $7500.00 and to reduce the current loan of $450,000.00. This is too high a loan for our comfort and we should pay it off as soon as possible.

If there is one thing that I would request from the community, it would be to urge you to get involved actively in community affairs. This temple belongs to you as much as to any trustee. There are many of you who can do a superb job in community affairs. Please, get involved and you will get the full support from the board of trustees.

At the time of the groundbreaking ceremony, Swami Dayanand Saraswati had commented that there are disputes going on in most of the Hindu Temples around the U.S. We must stay vigilant and avoid similar troubles here. We should refrain from criticizing the people who are giving their time and effort selflessly. The best way to effect the running of the temple is to get involved and work for improving the management. What has helped the board of trustees to stay together in a friendly manner was that they put their egos aside in order to serve the community. These were simply hard working and dedicated people. They deserve our appreciation, understanding, and support.

I wish to thank all the members of our community and hope that we will flourish in our religious and cultural endeavors at the Temple for generations to come. We should all make use of our beloved Temple to unite our community.