AHA Seniors in a Comparative Religions class study Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in order to compare and contrast other world religions with what they've learned in their previous 10 trimesters of Christian Theology classes. See what other Theology classes AHA students take.
The goal is for students to better understand the Christian tradition, to gain further respect and understanding for people from different religious traditions and practices, and to analyze and discuss the activities of each of these religions in contemporary events.
On February 2, 2017, a group of AHA seniors visited a Hindu temple in Maple Grove. The students were encouraged to appreciate the artwork and sculptures in the upper room of the temple building, but did not take any photos inside the temple itself out of respect for worshippers.
Below are a sampling of some of the photos they took and the reflections they wrote upon their return.
The snake: A Symbol of Witness
We went to this temple to learn more about a faith different from Christianity, and to immerse ourselves in another religion. We learned that there are many different deities representing different ideas such as culture, protection, creation, or destruction. These deities are all seen as a conduit to a unified higher power. Some of these deities have their own shrines in the temple, which are located around the edges of the hall, and take the shape of small huts stylized after temples from various regions of India. These deities are cared for, and offerings of food and goods are regularly made to them, as well as cleaning and purifying that is done by the priests of the temple.
They have a snake statue in the hall in front of the shrines of the deities. This five-headed snake is known as Shesha or Sheesha Naga. There is similar figure in Buddhism. The snake is a symbol of witness. In an epic, this snake is the tamasic energy of Lord Narayana, and therefore, Hindus worship it as their real holy.
Peter and Anh
We went to talk directly to spiritual leader of an Eastern religion and observe the culture and art. The temple was located in Maple Grove and is the largest Hindu temple in the Midwest area. We had previously prepped on the basic foundations of Hinduism, such as its cyclical nature. Particularly, the incarnation cycle was something we deeply discussed. One thing that we learned was that prodigies, may be a simple explanation or proof that people can live again. Children may learn certain qualities faster due to past lives, even if they do not remember who they were. Their essence lives on until they join the divine in salvation.
Next to us in the picture is this really interesting snakelike statue. We thought it was really cool, which is why we decided to have it in the background. You can’t see the whole statue in the picture, but it had a lot of snake heads which we thought were really intriguing. Emily was drawn in by its bright yellow color. We were not able, however, to learn more about it. This is unfortunate because the snake may have had an interesting myth behind it. Through further research online, we found out it was Sheshnag, the five-headed snake who plays a key role with Vishnu, a popular Hindu God.
Emily and Anna
The Shrine to Shiva
We had the opportunity to visit the Hindu temple in Maple Grove after having studied much about the religion. The articles written by Dr. Sane and the chapter in the textbook seemed one dimensional after meeting Dr. Sane face-to-face, listening to his first-hand experiences, and witnessing Hindu worship and prayer. Visiting the temple brought our knowledge of Hinduism full circle; it provided a great visual and an insight into Hindus’ reality. One thing we learned from the visit that was not clear in the textbook is that Hindus actually do not believe in salvation for souls, because in order to have the possibility of salvation, there must also be a possibility for damnation, something that does not fit into the Hindu belief of reincarnation. One thing that is unique to the temple in Maple Grove is that it’s home to one of the largest shrines of Shiva, second to one in India. Another interesting difference that Dr. Sane talked about between Christianity and HInduism is their timelines. The Christian timeline is linear, implying a start of time and an impending end of time, whereas the timeline in Hinduism is cyclical and never ending.
In the picture above, you can see Maddie and me. Our favorite part of the field trip was not the carved piece of art you see behind us (although it’s very beautiful), our favorite part was the shrine to Shiva. We did not take a picture of it or in front of it out of respect and we thought it would be in poor taste to take a photo in front of something so sacred to a religion. Shiva is the third god in the Hindu triumvirate. The triumvirate consists of three gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. Shiva creates and protects our world. Their shrine in particular is the second tallest shrine other than one in India.
Madison and Debbie
Songs and the Shrine
We looked at the multiple shrines set up in the temple, which was very interesting. Each shrine represented something different. One of the bigger shrines was for beauty. This shrine had many different types of jewels and fruits and nuts inside the shrine. One of the priests sang a song about salvation to the god that was in that specific shrine. The priest then moved into the shrine and brought a candle with him. Once he was in the temple he continued to sing the song and moved the candle in a circular motion. After the song ended he handed out nuts to everyone. This taught us how priests honor these different shrines. Having all these different shrines is unique to Hinduism and makes this Hindu temple the largest in Minnesota.
Above me in the picture you can see the different shrines which was one of my favorite parts of the field trip because each shrine was unique. The shrine directly behind us is the shrine of beauty. This shrine is the of biggest shrine in the entire Hindu temple. Around this specific shrine there was different kinds of food such as, raisins, mixed nuts, and fruits. The statue in each shrine was eight feet and six inches tall which is two inches shorter than the ones in India.
Megan and Katy
Tour of the upper room
This January, our Comparative Religions class has been reading about the religion of Hinduism while also studying general information on Eastern religions. We were lucky enough to be invited to visit the Hindu Temple of Minnesota, in Maple Grove. Dr. Sane, a friend of the temple and Hindu adherent, wrote us a series of informational articles to read before the trip and held an informative question and answer session at the temple. Dr. Sane has a very interesting background; he and his wife immigrated to the United States in the 1960s so that they could work and teach at John Hopkins University. And given his background in science, he did a wonderful job of explaining Hinduism in terms of the laws of nature. The best part of the entire trip, though, was when he allowed us to tour the twenty unique Hindu shrines that were built in the upper room. Each shrine was adorned with food and material offerings for twenty of Hinduism’s most important deities (Hinduism believes that there are over 300 million gods in existence). Dr. Sane also described the detailed construction process, where they had artisans from India carve the intricate designs for each shrine. The shrines represent specific temples from all across India. It looked to be very expensive!
Patrick, Will and Colin
Taking our shoes off in reverence
When we arrived, we noticed that the temple was enormous. We heard Dr. Sane speak about how he immigrated to the United States and explained some history about the temple. We were required to to take our shoes off before walking upstairs where all of the shrines were to the Hindu religion's gods and goddesses.
When we walked upstairs, there were people of the Hindu culture doing ceremonies and offering to different gods and goddesses inside the different shrines. Women, men, and children were draped and clothed in original clothing from India. There were many different shrines of the gods and goddesses and inside they made offerings of coins, fruit, and other different things important to their religion. We were only allowed to go to a certain point into the shrines and then only priests were allowed beyond that point.
The shrines were elaborate and beautiful. The shrines of the gods and goddesses were draped in jewels and other elaborate things related to their culture. The shrines were much larger than I was expecting them to be and the architecture was elaborate. Dr. Sane explained that they had architects that came from India just to design the shrines that were in the temple. At the end of the trip, we watched a ceremony to the god Vishnu, where the priests made offerings and spoke in the original language of Sanskrit. This was one of the coolest and most unique field trips that I have been on and I learned a lot about the Hindu religion and culture.
Hannah and Alyse