With 16 tiers of Hindu script inscribed into its concrete ceiling, the ornate, cream-colored temple is an incongruous structure at the end of a winding road near Brandon, a growing bedroom community just outside Mississippi’s capital city.
Members of the Hindu Temple Society of Mississippi hope the new 3,500-square-foot structure, built according to ancient rules of temple design called “agama sastra,” will draw throngs of worshippers and tourists to the site in the heart of the Bible Belt.
Dr. Sampat Shivangi, a local physician, said more than 1,000 visitors were expected this week during a dedication ceremony.
“They are being made aware of what our culture and heritage and what we bring to the U.S.,” he said.
Erected in a community mostly populated by Protestant churches, the temple offers a vivid contrast to the culture and heritage of the American South.
Brandon Mayor Tim Coulter said he doesn’t believe it would be much of a tourist attraction “unless you have an interest in the Hindu religion.”
“It’s out of the way. I just don’t see it as a tourist attraction. It’s not been marketed that way. I just don’t have an opinion about it,” Coulter said.
Rusty Pyron, whose house is separated from the Hindu temple by the worship house’s tall, wooden fence, acknowledged it’s a different culture from what he’s used to as a lifelong Mississippi resident, but said, “That’s part of America.”
On Tuesday, 16 Hindu priests chanted prayers during the process of transferring the “life” of the temple’s deities before the idols are permanently placed.
The sweet perfume of burning sandalwood wafted in the air as the priests — some of whom traveled from India — presented fruit and flowers to altars and chanted outside in sweltering heat.
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