Monday, June 22, 2015

Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple

சிவ சுப்பிரமணியர் கோயில்

The Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple, located in Nadi, Fiji, is the largest Hindu temple in the entire Southern Hemisphere, and it is a sight to behold. With a population nearing 800 thousand, the 330 islands which make up Fiji have three major ethnicities: Fijian, Indian and Sunni Muslim. Fijians with Indian ancestry constitute approximately 46% of the population, so the need for such a substantial temple near the edge of the second largest town on Viti Levu, the principle island of the tiny nation is understandable. 

The original temple was constructed in 1914-1916, a hundred years ago, along the banks of the Nadi River. Repeated floods necessitated a move. Construction on the new temple began in 1984. The design is an ancient one, stemming from a time preceding the birth of Christ, utilizing elements of Dravidian architecture, including pillars, porches and pyramids and includes a number of elements of sacred Vedic design. The entire place is painted in incredibly bright colors, and some of the wooden carvings of Hindu deities were brought from India by the artists who decorated this temple. The numbered ceiling frescoes tell the story of Lord Shiva's manifestations and reincarnations.

The temple was consecrated July 15, 1994 and will be celebrating its 21st birthday this year, as we were informed by this gentleman, who is clearly knowledgeable on the subject. As a Hindu priest, or pujari, he is charged with performing puja or worship services including blessings, etc. We were able to witness, from a discrete distance, out of respect, a few of these manifestations of worship by devotees. They offer an Aarti plate with bananas, coconut, and flowers. Or burn incense (the air was rich with camphor). It was, although I know this will sound cliche, enlightening.

Visitors to the temple are made to feel very welcome, but just as visiting any place of worship, you are asked to abide by a few rules. Women are asked to dress modestly, covering shoulders and wearing a long skirt. No pants, shorts or tank tops. This is not a tourist resort after all. Men as well should be neatly and modestly dressed in long pants. If you wish, men may borrow and don a dhoti in lieu of trousers, and there are scarves and other coverings available for women as well. You will also be asked to remove your shoes. This all adds a feeling of peace, wonder, and respect within the temple. Non-Hindus obviously shouldn't enter or photograph the inner sanctum of the temple.
Nice view, of the temple

Indians were originally brought to the islands as indentured servants. After serving out the terms of their servitude, usually five years, they were free to return (although the price of passage would no doubt have necessitated additional service). Most stayed, finding something in their new land which spoke to their hearts and souls. From just the brief time we had in Fiji, I believe we caught a glimpse into what that was.

The weather is perfect. We were there in June, winter in Fiji, the dry season. It was never cold, and never too warm. Just beautiful sunrises and sunsets and all the moments in between. But what struck us most, was not the weather or the beauty of the natural landscape, although that is tremendous, but the people. J and L wished to explore the far end of Nadi Town, and so we took a taxi to the temple. Our driver was a Fijian Muslim, and he was happy to drive and explain a great deal about his experience of Fiji, politics, family and about the temple. He remarked that the Christians (primarily Methodists), Hindus and Muslims live together as brothers. If you go into a village, you will see them living side by side as Fijians. Proud of their history and background, respectful of tradition, but identifying culturally as Fijian, first. In a time when much of the rest of the world struggles with terrorism and disunity, it gives us such wondrous hope to see the citizens of this tiny nation living in harmony. 

Fiji has been referred to as being like a three-legged stool: requiring all the support of all its people: Fijian, Indian, European and others, to stand. A lesson those of us living in more industrialized nations should observe more closely.


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