Germany is not necessarily a country one associates with Indian traditions. Yet the Ruhr, a region traditionally known for its coal mining and steel tempering, is now also home to one of Europe’s largest Hindu temples.
Hindu women worship in their own temple in Germany
It began as the dream of a single Hindu priest. Now, it has become a reality. Siva Paskaran’s years of hard work and unflagging dedication to fulfill this dream have paid off, much to the delight of Europe’s Hindu community.
On July 7th, Europe’s largest Hindu temple will be officially opened in Uentrop, the industrial zone outside of the small town of Hamm. Here, nestled between a meat-packing factory and a component manufacturer, the temple’s two towers jut out above the flat roofs of the adjoining buildings.
The fact that the temple - devoted to the goddess Sri Kamadchi Ampal – has been built here is somewhat of a coincidence. Or it could be an act of providence, says Paskaran.
17 years ago, Paskarakurukkal, as the priest’s spiritual name reads, arrived in Germany as a refugee from war-torn Sri Lanka. He was on his way from Berlin to Paris. But when the train pulled into Hamm, a very simple reason made him get out: hunger. For him, this was a sign from above that he should stay here and build a temple.
A special significance for European Hindus
Over 15,000 people come from all over Europe for the annual festival honoring Sri Kamadchi Ampal. The streets, which are usually filled with delivery trucks, are then full of women in colorful saris, laughing children and holy men.
Many of the men go into a trance and have spears pierced through their cheeks. Others have hooks in their naked backs and are attached to ropes, which pull tautly at their pierced skin. Another group – clad only in loincloths – waits for the procession to begin. These men have the honor of rolling the two kilometers behind the wagon carrying the goddess, their hands above their heads, clasped to a coconut.
It’s an unusual sight, here in the middle of Germany’s industrial heartland.
This year’s celebrations, which took place shortly before the official temple opening, had a special meaning for the participants. Finally, the Hindu community has their own place of worship just like back home in Sri Lanka.
"In our home country, there’s a temple on every street corner," says one man. "I’m really glad that our culture now has a temple in Germany." Another worshipper says it’s important for Hindus to be able to maintain and practice their religion. "There aren’t a lot of possibilities for us otherwise, so it has a special significance."
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
Paskaran was lucky to find inexpensive - and suitable - land in Uentrop. It offers a good connection to the highway, there are no immediate neighbors who could feel disturbed by the festivities, and it’s close to flowing water, which is necessary for the Hindu’s ritual baths.
But the priest needed a German architect to realize his dreams. So Paskaran opened the yellow pages and, allowing himself to be guided by fate, randomly pointed to a name: Heinz-Rainer Eichhorst.
The architect had no experience in designing temples and had never even been to India. But that didn’t stop him. Eichhorst was thrilled by the challenge of the project. He packed his bags and accompanied the priest for three weeks through South India to view large temple complexes.
"You only get the chance to do a project like this once in a lifetime," he says. "It’s so unusual and so interesting."
A difficult task, but not impossible
Paskaran is financing the 1.4 million euro ($1.3 million) structure solely through donations, which means that a large part of the bill is still unpaid – including Eichhorst’s fee. But money is not the architect’s primary motivation, he says.
"Of course, it’s work, but it’s also become a hobby in the meantime. It’s so wonderful to realize this project with the priest. It really means a lot to me to be a part of it."
When asked if he gets frustrated that the whole project is taking so long, Paskaran get says it’s all about taking one day at a time.
"No, I don’t have any problems," he says. "I don’t try to finish everything in a day, but rather gradually. Then, it isn’t hard."
And when this small man with the colorful clothing and the gleaming eyes officially opens the temple on July 7th after 17 years of dreaming, he’ll know that his efforts were certainly worthwhile.