This past weekend, I passed through Lilburn, Georgia on the way back from visiting a blogger friend who’s out, in turn, visiting family – the boys were otherwise occupied.
I had a hitchhiker for part of the journey.
This is the reason I went through Lilburn (which is really a northeastern suburb of Atlanta):
It’s across the street from a Publix grocery store. And behind a Walgreen’s.
As you enter, you give your name to a person in the gatehouse. There’s a big plaza in front of the mandir, with a large pool of water.
You aren’t allowed to take photos inside. This is as close as you can get.
But you can enter, however. You must have your knees and shoulders covered – I thought I was okay on the knees, but apparently not, for I was given a wrap – a large sheet of thin black fabric – to cover up.
Shoes are removed and placed in a cubby. I confess that the experience of walking around on the cool temple floors barefoot was intriguing. I experienced it as a leveler of sorts, a sign of the universal human position in relationship to the transcendent.
What I presume was the primary interior space wasn’t huge. As I said, no photos allowed, but I will try to describe it – it was a large space, ornately decorated with stone carvings, lined with niches in which were positioned statues of various deities. You can see photos here. I find them fairly creepy, especially those of the more modern figures.
With recorded music faintly heard in the background, worshippers made their way around the niches and prayed. Men, women and children – sometimes the children being pushed along by their parents (a universal occurrence). Hands joined in front, some stood, some knelt and prostrated. It was all silent praying, but for occasional light clapping. As I said the prayer was silent, but there was also continual quiet conversation happening and children flopping on the ground. It was a purposeful, yet informal mood. I guess what I was watching was Darshan.
The only other room I saw open was one in which worshippers were (for a donation, it looked to me) pouring water over a gold statue – they closed up before I could go in and read about what was going on, though.
A quick stop in the gift shop before I headed home.
I was one of a few visitors during that thirty minutes, include a Japanese mother and daughter and a couple of young African-American women with four young children between them.
People say…this is in ATLANTA? Well, yes. There are many Indians in Atlanta. It’s a big city, folks! I was telling my friend that a few years ago when we went to the north Georgia mountain resort town of Helen, it was a bizarre evening of walking around this Georgia town built in a faux-Alpine style, in the midst of a crowd that seemed to be about a third either south Asian or Middle Eastern.
In visiting this place, you can’t help but reflect on the unapologetic celebration of the visible, highly decorated sacred space of the mandir. There was a clear-headed explanation of its value that was posted in a small exhibit in the basement (obeying the rules, I didn’t take photos, but I wish I could have, just for my own reference – I can’t find those quotes anywhere on the website). It was simply taken for granted that this type of exterior space is important, that it nurtures interior life and that this structure and interior reality reflect back on one another.
It was intriguing, partly because the existence of Hinduism in the modern world, affirmed by very modern people intrigues me, period. It also offers me food for thought regarding evangelization, as well. I watch and I listen and I ponder, “What would be difficult for these people to leave behind if they were to embrace Christ?”
A good question.
For any of us.