Up On a Hill, the Stupas Soar Over the Tall Red Temple

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The red temple is reminiscent of the red limestone used in northern India

By Jawahar Malhotra

MONROEVILLE, PA:  It is quite a sight to stumble upon, tucked away in a residential tract, up on a hill overlooking the busy Route 22 a few blocks below, with a plain, white small sign indicating its purpose outside the black, double-wide wrought-iron gates: Hindu Jain Temple. If you ride up the hill on Illini Drive, you could pass the entrance by on the curve.

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Twenty steps lead up to the vestibule to  remove your shoes

At first glance, the red building with the three red stupas over each of the deities abode makes an imposing impression against the blue skies of Pennsylvania, some 17 miles due east of Pittsburgh. Set into the rolling hill, twenty steps lead up to the covered vestibule where you take off your shoes and three heavy brass-inlaid wooden doors usher you into the main hall. To the right, steps lead you downstairs to the dining hall, classrooms and other support services; further to the right is a glass counter offering books and other religious items and behind it sits the priest who was there that Wednesday afternoon in September, Suresh Chandra Joshi, offering a pranam (greeting).

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The Hindu Jain Temple of Pittsburgh lies on a hill, 17 miles east of the city in Monroeville

“The temple was built in 1984,” he told me as he came to offer me benediction and some prasad (blessed food), “and I came here as the priest in 1986.” Joshi is one of three priests – the others being Vinod Kumar Pandey and Jagdish Chandra Joshi – who cater to the needs of the 600 family congregation that comes to this temple. It is unusual in having both a vestibule for the Jain deity of Mahavir and the other two vestibules for deities of Ram and Krishna, as well as other important Hindu deities in the same worship hall. But, as Joshi explained, back when it was first contemplated, this was what the community could accommodate. Down the hill is a long grey building with a two-story connector for classrooms and other activity areas.

A few miles away to the west in Penn Hills lies the Sri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple, built in white brick with a South Indian style stupa and to the other direction is the Sri Shirdi Sai Baba Temple and far to the west of Pittsburgh is the BAPS temple in Coraopolis. A few miles to the northwest in Monroeville lies the Tri-State Sikh Cultural Society and its white gurudwara with the gold dome and minarets and also an Asian Indian Christian Church nearby too. According to some estimates, around 18,000 Indians from the Old Country call the Pittsburgh area home.

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A long grey building down the hill houses classrooms and other activity areas

The worship hall was still laid out with a stage to one side and a swing for the baby Krishna from the Janamashtami celebration the weekend before and Joshi said the building had been packed with worshippers all day long. This particular afternoon, an elderly couple with their young adult son came to offer prayers and another Gujarati couple discussed terms for an upcoming puja with Joshi. The red-brick temple, reminiscent of the red limestone used in India, with its soaring stupas stood gracefully waiting for the congregation to bustle in through the landscaped entrance and up the hill over the coming weekend.