India Cultural Center and Temple
Citadel of Sanātana Dharma
Dr. Prasad Duggirala
Aum Srimad Gurubhyo Namaha
Although the earliest Indian immigrants came to Memphis in the 1950s, the Indian community here grew to about 250 families between the 70s and 80s. With the formation of IAM and TAM in 1980 the people of Mid South were exposed to Indian culture. Members of the Indian community organized their religious and cultural activities in the community halls of local malls, church basements, and public school auditoriums. The need for a place of worship and gathering became a popular topic in these social events, and was largely considered an unrealizable dream. It indeed remained so for a long time.
In 1981, Mr Vijay Rawtani, then president of IAM called for an exploratory meeting at the University of Memphis, and at this meeting, a consensus was reached that there was a need for a temple and community center. The idea was further explored by an informal committee of interested community members under the leadership of Dr. A. P. Mahesh Kumar. This committee, with the help of Mr. Marvin Ratner—a local attorney—drew the bylaws and incorporated India Cultural Center and Temple as a non-profit religious organization in the state of Tennessee. A bank account was opened with seed money of $250 donated by community members.
At that time, the “Temple Committee” as the members were called collectively, had to endure much skepticism from the community as they were perceived as unrealistic dreamers. After a diligent search for a site for the project, the committee was able to secure 12 acres of land on Highway 64 in Eads for a cash payment of $48,000 in October 1985. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that this land was at the highest elevation in Shelby County. A Satyanarayana pooja was performed by Mrs. Savitri Tahiliani to offer thanks for God’s blessings, and news of site acquisition was sent out to the community.
On the day of Vijaya Dasami 1985 the land was consecrated with a Bhoomi pooja done by a priest from Sri Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburg. The first religious ceremony at the temple was Sri Sita-Rama Kalyanam, organized by the members of Telugu Association of Memphis in April 1986. To help familiarize the community with the location, many festivals were celebrated in Eads Headstart School, right across from the temple land in the following years.
To give credibility, authority and legality to the Temple Committee, a Board of Directors was elected in 1986 as per the existing by-laws. An Executive Committee was chosen from among the Board of Directors to conduct the business of ICCT. In 1987, an ad-hoc planning committee with Dr. Prasad Duggirala as its Chairman was appointed to develop plans for the Temple and Community Center. The deities in the Temple were chosen by a democratic process of polling the community. The planning committee selected Padma Shri awardee and renowned traditional temple architect and sculptor, Sri Muthaiah Sthapathi of Chennai to design the temple. Conceptual drawings for the Temple and Community Center were subsequently developed and approved by the Board of Directors. The publication of these drawings and an informative dinner in 1990 rejuvenated enthusiasm for the project in the community. A Fundraising committee was formed in 1990 with Dr. Vijaya Duggirala as its Chairperson. Under her leadership, the committee successfully organized several fundraising dinners. With her firm personal commitment to the project and zeal, Dr. Vijaya charmed many community members into giving generously to the cause, garnering millions of dollars in donations towards ICCT in the following years.
In 1991 local architect, Mr. Claude Braganza was appointed to coordinate with Muthiah Sthapathi, and a loan of $450,000 was obtained, guaranteed by 10 community members. On November 2, 1992, Mr. Varadaraja Bhattar of Sri Venkateswara Temple, Pittsburg performed the ground- breaking ceremony. There was a heavy down pour of rain through out the day, as though the Gods were blessing the event from heavens. Actual construction was started on June 27, 1993 and the buildings were completed in May 1994. Mr. Jamnu Tahiliani, renowned structural engineer and a founding member and trustee of ICCT, graciously donated his time and expertise and designed earthquake-resistant buildings for long durability.
To provide continuity of leadership and stability to the organization, the Board of Trustees was created in December 1992, and the by-laws were amended to transfer the authority to conduct the business of ICCT from the Board of Directors to the Board of Trustees. This bi-cameral system of government continued till 1996.
Sri Srinivasacharya Vedala of Oklahoma city set the muhurtham for Prana Prathishta during June 17-19 of 1994. It was done with great religious fervor by six priests from Chicago and New York, under the direction of Sri Varadaraja Bhattar of Sri Venkateswara Temple, Pittsburg. The vibration of veda mantras chanted by the priests filled the air creating an atmosphere reminiscent of Naimisaranya, ancient India. The celebrations were aptly concluded with a soul stirring devotional concert by Smt. Shobha Raju. By sending his saffron robe through her, His Divine Grace Sri Bhagawan Satya Sai Baba blessed the entire event.
After the Pranaprathista, Sri Srinivas (Vasudeva) Nanduri and Sri Ramachandra Bhatt were appointed as priests. After Mr. Bhatt left, Mr. Vasudeva Nanduri shouldered the responsibility of performing daily pooja until 1995. in February 1995 Sri Satyanarayana Charulu Narayanam, and Sri Satyanarayana Malladi were brought to Memphis on deputation from Tirumala Devasthanam to establish the pooja traditions. Their first day of duty here was Maha Siva Ratri 1995, whereon they established Vaikhanasa Agamam based pooja and utsavams for Lord Venkateswara, and Karana Agamam based worship and rituals for Lord Shiva and Shiva parivār. Sri Rama Parivar, Garuda and Nandi Prathista were done on the first anniversary in June 1995. Brahmotsavam for Lord Venkateswara and Navaratri celebrations for Sri Durga were conducted by the priests in October 1995 strictly according to the agama sastras. By the grace of God, nine different vāhanas for nine days of procession mysteriously materialized. The volunteers who built these had no prior experience and their only qualifications were faith and devotion. Even today ours is the only temple in North America that conducts these festivals as prescribed in the Agamas. On the second anniversary in 1996, Poolangi Seva to Lord Venkateswara and Annabhishekam to Lord Siva were added, and have since become annual events attracting devotees from all around the country. Onwards of 1996, a picturesque annual calendar has also been published.
To streamline the administration of the Temple, the by-laws were again amended in 1996 to abolish the Board of Directors and to make the Board of Trustees the sole authority to conduct the business of ICCT. The community at large is represented by annually electing two trustees from the voting members. All the decisions are made by the active Trustees at their monthly meetings and are implemented by the Executive Committee with the help of several auxiliary committees.
In August 1997, inspired by and with the blessings and guidance of Sri Vidyananda Giri and Sri Swami Paripoornananda of Vyasasram, Tirupathi, Sri Venkateswara Adbhuta Santi Maha Yagnam was conducted. This Maha Yagnam was spiritually uplifting to all the participants and enhanced the aura of the Temple. This was the first Yagnam on North American soil. Since then we have been conducting yagnas annually.
To promote broad based participation of the community in the completion of Temple construction, Sahasranama Mala project was conceived in November 1999, which has been a great success in generating donations from all the segments of Hindu community from all over the North America.
Dr. N.V. Ragahavaiah was instrumental in guaranteeing and collecting close to $300,000 for Indianization of the temple. Nine Shilpis from Chennai arrived in May 2001, to Indianize the Temple under the leadership of Sri Loganathan Chinaswamy, and did a marvelous job by creating a beautiful gopuram, nine vimanas, and exquisitely carved sculptures throughout the temple premises. They poured their heart and soul into their work and created an architectural master piece of unparalleled beauty. Their services were sincerely appreciated by the Hindu community with pride and gratitude.
The foundational stone for the Multipurpose Ceremonial Pavilion was laid during the Sri Sudarsana Maha Yagnam by Sri Somanatha Maharishi in 2012. The building was completed and occupied in February 2005. During the ceremony, Sri Maharishi made a sankalpam that many yagnas will be conducted on this land. We’ve come to realize this sankalpam over the last 20 years.
The much-awaited priest quarters were built and occupied in December 2002. The same year, the by-laws were once again reviewed, rewritten, and approved with a two-thirds majority of trustees. A constitution was written adopting Vaikhanasa Agamam and Karana Agamam-based worship at the temple for eternity.
The Annadanam project was started in January 2003 at the suggestion of Dr. Subbu Lakshmi and Sreedhar Rayudu. The program has been tremendously successful, providing meals to upwards of 500 people every Saturday and on special occasions.
Many young community members have volunteered their time and services to create a warm welcoming atmosphere to the temple visitors and to spread the message of the temple through various media. Mr. Durga Prasad Koka designed a beautiful website which was further refined into a dynamic website by Mr. Prabhakar Thippana.
These 25 years have been a trying but rewarding years in turning a dream into reality. The Temple has become a focal point to the Hindus of mid-south region of USA. Many people have struggled to bring the project to this level with their generous contributions of hard earned money, precious time and emotions. It’s really gratifying to see little children experiencing the timeless traditions of Vedic culture and this makes the entire struggle worthwhile.Our temple has an unparalleled history of accomplishments in a short period of the last 24 years. It is the first temple to follow strictly Agamic based worship; first temple to perform Brahmotsavams to lord Shiva, lord Venkateswara, and Navarathri celebration to Durga; first temple to perform a yagna in North America, and the only temple still doing yagnas every year, not only in Memphis but also in India. The highlight of the yagnas was in 2007 — inspired by Sri Karunamayi Mata Vijayeswari Devi, we performed Ashtamukha Gandabherunda Lakshmi Narsimha Maha Yagnam with 108 priests for the first time in the history of mankind anywhere in the world with great success. This yagnam was later performed in India at Thipparthi, Nalgonda dist. in 2010 and Swayambhu Narsimha Kshetram in 2014, and in the city of Hyderabad in 2016. We have also been invited to perform this Ashtamukha Gandabherunda Lakshmi Narsimha Maha Yagnam in the Jyotirmath — the northern math of Adi Shankaracharya. This yagnam will be dedicated to Sri Narsimha personally worshipped by Adi Shankara.
Many great souls have visited our temple and blessed and sanctified its grounds, starting with swamijis from Vyasasramam — Sri Vidyananda Swami, Sri Paripoornananda Swami, followed by Sri Somanatha Maharishi from Vanasthalipuram, Hyderabad, Sri Ganapathi Sachidananda Swamiji from Mysuru, Sri Karunamayi Mata Vijayeswari Devi from Andhra Pradesh, Mahamandaleshwar Sri Abhishek Chaitanya Swami from Jagatguru Sanyasasramam, Rishikesh, and Sri Nirmalanandanatha Swamiji from Adichunchanagiri Mahasamsthana Math in Karnataka. In addition Gurudeva Sri Shivay Subramanyasami of Saiva Siddhanta from Hawaii has visited our temple several times and blessed us. His successor, Sri Veylan Bodhinatha Swami presided over Satarudreeya Mahayagnam with 120 priests in 2015. All these saints have sanctified the land, and added sanctity, purity, and energy to the temple.
Our priests have been doing a wonderful job over the last 24 years, adhering to strict agamic principles. Their poojas have been well appreciated and they’ve been in great demand to perform kumbhabhishekams and yagnams throughout North America and Europe. Our chief priest, Sri Venkata Satyanarayana Charulu Narayanam has performed more than 250 Vaishnava Prathistas in India, Mauritius, United Kingdom, Canada, and USA. Our chief Saivite priest Sri Venkata Krishna Sai Swarna has performed over 108 Saiva Prathistas and they both are the heart and soul of our temple and have contributed tremendously to its growth.
In 2001 a children’s school was launched successfully in the earlier years, but due to various reasons it’s no longer active. Carnatic Music School run by Mrs. Sobhana Krupasagar. In addition we also have Sanskrit school run by Sri Sabhyasachee Mishra.
Over the years we’ve performed more than 22 Yagnas, not only in Memphis but in India as well. We performed the Kumbhabhishekam of Sri Saligrama Srinivasa Temple in Ramohalli, Bengaluru under the guidance of Sri Karunamayi Mata Vijayeswari Devi. With all these accomplishments in the last 24 years, the temple has established an unparalleled history that no other temple in North America can boast of. ICCT is becoming a place of pilgrimage for visitors from various states in the USA. During the current Kumbhabhishekam, we are going to enhance the experience of the visiting devotee by beautifying the landscape by installing larger than life Dashavatara granite statues along the driveway, and Sapta Tandava statues of Lord Shiva around the lake, and a statue of Gayatri Mata in the meditation garden. There is a beautiful mahadwaram which will welcome the visitors, to be completed by the end of May 2017. We are also very proud of constructing the first pushkarini in North America, and establishing a shrine to Sri Vikhansa Maharishi, Atri, Kashyapa, Bhrigu, and Marichi maharishis on the north side of the pushkarini. On the south side, we constructed the world’s only temple to Ashtamukha Gandabherunda Lakshmi Narsimha Swami in 2014.
Since 2011 we’ve been celebrating Ganesh Nimajjan festival, following Ganesha Navaratris when the entire community comes together with floats of various forms of Ganesha, after which immersion is performed in the lake. The event has met with great success, attended by thousands of people. In 2016 we commenced celebration of Krishnashtami for children. Starting 2016 we’ve been celebrating Holi — the festival of color welcoming spring. We also built a meditation hall.
While we are very proud of our accomplishments, we’ll not be resting on our laurels and will continue to strive to make this temple a destination point for Hindus all over the world — as the Tirumala of North America, by God’s grace.
These 37 years have been have been a trying but rewarding time in turning a dream into reality. The Temple has become a focal point to the Hindus of mid-south region of USA. Many people have struggled to bring the project to this level with their generous contributions of hard earned money, precious time and emotions. It’s really gratifying to see little children experiencing the timeless traditions of Vedic culture and this makes the entire struggle worthwhile.
Now it is up to the new generation of community leaders to take this organization to new heights and I am sure they will rise to the occasion.
Endaro Mahanu Bhavulu. Andariki Vandanamulu
(So many great souls. My salutations to all.)
Sarve Jana Sukhino Bhavantu Om Santi: Santi: Santi: