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Hindu temple expanding in Galloway Township

Hindu temple expanding in Galloway Township

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GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Construction continued Friday at the Vaikunth-Hindu Jain Temple, despite the dark sky threatening rain that would end work for the afternoon.

Workers have completed four of 10 free-standing worship structures slated for the seven-acre compound.

Temple leaders decided to build the outdoor mini-temples to accommodate the gods members want to worship beyond the 15 deities already stationed in the main, 11,850-square-foot temple, according to Cannon Ghelani, who goes to the temple and has been involved in planning the exterior buildings.

"They ran out of room. There are hundreds of different gods in the Hindu faith," Ghelani said Friday. "So ... they built gazebo structures outside, to let people worship quickly and move on."

The $2.5 million Vaikunth-Hindu Jain Temple was the region's first Hindu worship hall. It opened in 2001.

The pressing need to expand worship space speaks to the continued growth of the Indian population locally and statewide: Indian immigrants are three times as likely as new arrivals from other countries to live in New Jersey, according to 2008 statistics from the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization.

Geography often determines which gods people worship, Ghelani said.

But the expanding scope of regions represented among the succeeding waves of Indian immigrants is not connected to whether shrines to deities are placed within the main temple or an external gazebo at the compound in Galloway, according to Kishor Ghelani, Cannon Ghelani's father and one of the key players in the original project. Kishor Ghelani also is overseeing the current initiative.

The temple picks which gods to honor with their own worship centers based on requests from members and the amount of money donated toward building costs for a gazebo for a specific deity, Kishor Ghelani said.

"In India, I've seen them and I based the design on that," he said Friday. "But I have not seen a whole lot in the United States."

The 624-square-foot mini-temples cost between $10,000 and $50,000 each. Building all 10 will cost $200,000, about one-third of the estimated price to erect the planned second temple, he said.

Each gazebo centers around one of the hundreds of gods worshipped by Hindus. The design reflects the characteristics of that deity, Ghelani said.

For example, Ghantakarna Mahavir hates the cold, Ghelani said. So the worshippers of the bow-and-arrow-equipped protector of the faithful and virtuous pay their respects on green carpet, surrounded by white-sided walls, beneath a crystal chandelier sparkling in natural light flowing through windows and a sliding-glass front door.

The rest of the structures will be open-air, such as the recently completed, tiled worship center dedicated to Shiva, the god of the yogis and the self-controlled who represents death and destruction in general as well as bad habits.

The Galloway Township Planning Board granted final approval for the structures Sept. 17. Two weeks later, a ceremony celebrating the opening of the first completed worship structure drew 500 to 600 people, Ghelani said.

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