In the News:
Utah's Spanish Fork Has Krishna Temple

by James Roh, Utah Valley Daily Herald

Posted December 1, 2009

Caru Das conducts the First Grain Ceremony, or Anna-prasana, for Anuradha and Tyrel Memmott's daughter, Abby, at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork on Friday, Nov. 20, 2009. The ceremony occurs when a child is weaned from its mother's milk and eats its first solid food.   (Photo by James Roh for the Daily Herald)

Ask any Spanish Fork resident, and they will be able to point you in the direction of one of the most unique buildings in town and possibly in the whole state. Perched on a hill just south of downtown Spanish Fork stands the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple. Completed in 2001, the Krishna Indian Temple certainly stands out among the surrounding rural fields.

Hare Krishna is an eastern religion that worships Krishna, a god who appeared in India about 5,000 years ago. To followers, Krishna exhibited divinity unlike anyone before, during, or since his time on earth. Krishna devotees, or Vaishnavas, spend their life studying and serving Krishna. Vaishnavas study a sacred scripture called the Bhagavad Gita.

Despite the predominant LDS faith of Utah County residents, the temple has yet to receive a negative reaction to its presence. "Most of the people that we do hear from, and see from and interact with are just incredibly neighborly, friendly, and positive about it," said Caru Das, the temple priest. "It offers diversity. It offers alternate things to do, and some alternate festivals."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has supported the temple since its inception. In fact, the church gave $25,000 to help build it. The temple was designed by Caru Das's wife, Vaibhavi Devi, and is in the Rajasthani style of architecture. Situated on a 15-acre plot, the temple features black teakwood and gold-leafed altars from India as well as marble deities carved from the quarries in Jaipur.

The temple has seen around 5,000 volunteers in the last ten years to help construct and maintain the building. Many of these volunteer opportunities have LDS ties, whether it be through a ward, Boy Scouts, Brigham Young University or another LDS-affiliated group. "We feel very fortunate to have landed in such a wonderfully congenial area," Caru Das said.

Caru Das, which means "servant of the most beautiful," was born in Pennsylvania and went to school in New Jersey. After graduation, he attended college in Virginia but left to join the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Afterward, he traveled extensively, where he met Krishna missionaries in Australia and became heavily involved with the temple there.

In 1975, Caru Das moved to California where he worked and hosted a Krishna radio station for one hour a week. However, by the early '90s, Caru Das began looking for places to relocate so that he could spend more time on air with his radio show. One of the options was a relatively inexpensive AM station based out of Utah Valley that also came with a few acres of real estate in Spanish Fork.

The dense Mormon population did not deter Caru Das -- instead, it was a selling point. Previous encounters with LDS people had left a positive impression. "I knew BYU was a pious institute and emphasized not just academics, but also piety and righteousness," Caru Das said. "I'd met Mormon missionaries in Australia and Los Angeles and always had nice discussions with them."

By 1990, Caru Das and his wife moved to Spanish Fork where, along with several other devotees, they have been promoting Hare Krishna and events to engage the public, such as yoga, scripture reading, a gift store, animals, tours and worship ceremonies.

Perhaps the most famous event is the annual Festival of Colors held in the spring, where thousands of people come to celebrate the traditional Indian festival. Admission fees to the Festival of Colors and similar events are kept low for students. "Even a college student can come to one of our festivals for under 20 bucks," Caru Das said. "Where can you have a day for 20 dollars, and you're virtually going to a foreign country that's showcasing the best it has to offer?"

Many local schools and groups arrange to have organized tours through the temple, where Caru Das and other Krishna devotees teach about Indian culture, Hare Krishna, and its philosophy. These tours can last anywhere up to three hours and involve music, yoga, animal handling, a presentation, and a meal. Last year, around 3,000 students visited the temple on school trips. "They're here to learn as much as they can about Indian culture," Caru Das said. "They really enjoy it. They get back to school and they say it was a highlight of their whole semester coming here, in many cases."

In addition to organized tours, the temple is also open for drop-in tours daily. "People come from Utah and they've been curious, they've driven by it a number of times," Caru Das said. "Or maybe they haven't come themselves but they have some visitors from out of town and they'll bring them because it's a familiar landmark."

Although donations are accepted and festivals raise money for the temple, none of the devotees earn a wage. "I'm working for God so I don't need another job," Caru Das said. "I don't need luxuries either. If there's extra money, I'll use it for Krishna. That's why I'm here. That's why I was created. Not to be God, but to serve God."

Sri Hanuman Das chants kirtan yoga during the seventh annual Hunger Banquest at UVU in Orem on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009. Kirtan yoga is the practice of repeatedly chanting God's name. Sri Hanuman Das grew up in Springville but traveled for most of his adult life until settling at the temple in Spanish Fork where he has been for two years now. "I really like being able to meet all the people that come here," Sri Hanuman Das said. "I like to bridge religious principles so that we all have common goals. If it weren't for helping other people, my life would be meaningless."   (Photo by James Roh for the Daily Herald)

Situated on a hill on a 15 acre plot, The Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple is the only temple in the United States to be designed in the Rajasthani style of architecture. The temple features black teakwood and gold leafed altars from India and marble deities carved from the quarries in Jaipur.   (Photo by James Roh for the Daily Herald)

Reposted from James Roh, Utah Valley Daily Herald