Traditional temple

A Hindu temple in Portage is making up for lost time with big plans for its 25th anniversary

It’s a little after noon, and the service is underway at the IACC&T, housed in an old church on peaceful Ramona Avenue. A few people are seated on rugs in the long, softly lit room where members are praying. A group of women sing a hymn.

This part of the service is in open format. Families arrive at their own pace. The chanting of hymns follows the rites that priest Shashibhushana Hebbar performs at the altar. And the altar is next to the temple’s focal point, a semicircle of nine intricately painted statues of deities that fill the front of the room.

Worshipers gather at the Indo-American Cultural Center and Temple on Sunday, July 24.

“We try to meet the needs of everyone everywhere,” said Vijay Sood, the Centre’s chairwoman. She is standing downstairs in the dining room where volunteers are preparing a meal.

Sood says devotees here have roots in many different parts of India.

“Each has a different tradition, each state so, but they are basically under the umbrella of the Hindu religion. This is why you have seen so many deities. Everyone has their own chosen deities, some believe in Lord Shiva, some believe in Ganesha and some believe in Lord Krishna,” she explained.

The IACC&T, founded in 1996, planned a big party for his delay 25e anniversary, with three days of rituals and ceremonies, lunches and dinners. It will culminate on Sunday with visits from elected leaders and other guests.

IACCT priest Shashibhushana Hebbar, in a white shirt and white cloth face mask, waves a multi-wick lamp in front of a deity
IACC&T Priest Shashibhushana Hebbar respectfully waves a multi-wicked lamp before a deity during the arti ceremony.

Brij Bhargava is the president of the Center and one of its founders.

“Before this temple came, we met in the homes of different families, to meet our need for our services, or to meet and pray. So we all got together and decided that we needed a place where we want to have the services and we were also thinking about the future,” he said.

Specifically, they were thinking about their children, “and how do we teach them about our culture and where we come from,” he said.

Sood says that like any religious organization, the IACC&T faces the challenge of keeping young people involved.

“Right now, we’re just thinking of giving them lessons from an early age. So kind of getting them in there so they’re exposed to it and then hopefully they just follow,” she said.

Back upstairs, the service ends with a ceremony called arti. To date, about 40 people have gathered in the temple. Worshipers stand, singing a closing hymn, while ringing a pair of ceremonial bells suspended from the ceiling. As they chant, Hebbar respectfully waves a multi-flame lamp in front of each deity.

Finally, the faithful meet in the dining room of the center for a meal.

A man in an orange shirt pours food into cups while a man in a lighter orange shirt stands in the background.  They are in a commercial size kitchen.
Preparing a meal for after service at the IACCT

Raj Valvani, 47, grew up in Kalamazoo but now lives in the Atlanta area. He’s the son of one of the founders, and I’m curious if he manages to sweeten the services.

“We probably don’t do as much as I should because it’s further out,” he said. “The closest temple to us is probably 30 to 45 minutes away. So just location, sports and activities got in the way.

Yet her family finds ways to pass on religious and secular traditions.

“My wife is responsible for running a camp, which, they bring some of the activities, they teach them some of the rituals and activities, but they also play fun games related to Indian culture, related to cricket, and just get the kids together,” he said.

Aradhna Kumar tidies up in the kitchen. The 20-year-old aviation student at Western Michigan University doesn’t come to the temple every week, partly because she’s busy, partly because she doesn’t live nearby.

“So it’s difficult for me to come here. If it was more accessible, I would definitely be here very often,” she said.

Kumar has some ideas on how to attract people his own age.

A brick and concrete block building, red with gray accents, with freestanding sign, view from the parking lot
The IACC&T building, a renovated former church on Ramona Avenue in Portage

“If temples could deliver sermons that they could practically implement in life, I think that would attract young people more because we all face problems,” she said.

She added that skits and instructional dramas could also play a role.

Whatever challenges the temple will face in the future, in a way, it is thriving. The founders say that in the beginning it served maybe 200 families. Now the number is around 600 families in the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek metro area.