When Madhu Reddy moved to the Twin Cities in the early 1980s, there weren’t many other Indian people around and few places to practice their Hindu faith.

He and his wife, Dr. Jyothsna Reddy, settled in Golden Valley, where Madhu Reddy ran a business. They would worship at a Hindu temple that met in an old, small church.

Eventually, the Reddys wanted to create a place for the Indian community to worship. He began hosting services in his office building in Golden Valley in 2009, but learned they were not in proper zoning to host religious services. So they decided to buy their own space.

They found an old spa building at the intersection of state Highway 100 and Industrial Boulevard in Edina in 2011, north of the Bloomington Doubletree Hotel, and the Sri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple was born.

“We always knew in our hearts we needed a place,” Reddy said.

Now the temple draws Hindus from Golden Valley and Plymouth and Eden Prairie, down to Chaska and Shakopee.

Hindus are a growing part of the community in the southwest metro. Large numbers of Indians have moved to the area in the last 20 years, raised families and set down roots. Many other Indians, including a large number of IT workers, come to the Twin Cities for contract jobs, Reddy said.

Like other groups of immigrants throughout American history, Hindus have carved out their own spaces to worship and celebrate their culture. They are among many spiritual movements, ancient and new, that have put down roots in the area in recent decades.

A place of their own

Having that place established was a relief for many south metro Hindus, like Murty Batchu, who came to Eden Prairie in 1978.

“Some religious celebrations we used to do at home,” Batchu said.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there were only a few Indian families in Eden Prairie. It was so hard to find traditional Indian ingredients, the Batchu family used to drive to Chicago a couple of times a year to load up on groceries.

Over the years, more families came and brought businesses, including grocery markets and restaurants with them. Now with a nearby Hindu temple, it’s easier to feel a sense of community.

“I think it helps keep the traditions for the new generation coming up,” said Suma Kolla, Batchu’s daughter, who now lives in Wisconsin.

The S.V. Temple’s main deity is Lord Venkateswara, also called Balaji, who is a form of the Hindu God Vishnu. Other deities are worshiped at the temple, which follows the teachings of Bhagvad Ramanjua, a Hindu theologian.

The body-soul relationship is critical in Hinduism, Reddy said.

“We Hindus believe God is everywhere. God is in nature. God is in everyone,” he said.

The S.V. Temple is staffed with priests from India, who are trained in traditional Hindu rituals and chants, which they lead visitors through as the come to the temple to worship.

“It’s really nice to have trained priests in our community,” Murthy said.

In August 2016, the S.V. Temple brought in statues of stone God idols from India and blessed them in a five-day ceremony known as Pranaprathistapana, in which believers breathe life into the idols. The ceremony is the only time people may directly touch the stone idols.

Rao Kolla, Suma’s husband, said the Pranaprathistapana ceremony is so special and rare that his mother who was visiting that month from India saw the process for the first time in her life.

Since the ceremony, Reddy said the number of people coming to worship at the temple has rapidly increased. Now, he doesn’t recognize everyone like he used to.

The temple is more than a place of worship, it’s a cultural home for Indian and Indian-American people in the south metro. The building has a school where children can learn Indian languages, such as Hindi and Telugu, and traditions on weekends. It’s a way to maintain cultural traditions and heritage for kids growing up in America, Reddy said.

The temple also hosts weddings, naming ceremonies, yoga classes and car pujas, a Hindu blessing of new cars, among other celebrations and ceremonies.

Reddy’s son, Deepak, 31, volunteers at the temple. He said younger Indian-Americans, like other young people, are not as religious as older generations, but some seek out the spiritual and community comfort of the temple.

“I think a lot of people leave and when they get older, they come back a little bit,” Deepak Reddy said.

Establishing roots

While several religions are practiced in the southwest metro, only one officially calls the region home. Eckankar, a New Age religion that began in 1965 but draws from ancient roots, built its main temple in Chanhassen in 1990. The temple sits on 174 acres of rolling prairie off Powers Boulevard. Two miles of contemplation paths wind through the prairie and are open to the public.

Eckankar means “co-worker with God” and is known as “The Path of Spiritual Freedom.” Followers, known as ECKists, take individual paths toward awakening their souls toward spiritual freedom.

“We’re each on a journey of self-realization and God realization,” said Eckankar spokesman Benny Callaghan.

Eckankar has a spiritual leader known as the Living ECK Master. Since 1981, that person has been Sri Harold Klemp, who moved Eckankar’s headquarters to Minnesota. Klemp is respected, but not worshipped. A photo of Klemp, a slender, aging white man with glasses, is in every room inside the temple. Klemp has written more than 100 books on spirituality and the path of Eckankar.

ECKists believe in reincarnation and Karma, and that past spiritual experiences guide people’s lives. Many followers of Eckankar keep dream journals, and ECKists believe dreams are an important part of the spiritual realm. They believe dreams are real experiences with real lessons or service opportunities.

Each year, ECKists make a donation of varying amounts to receive new teachings from the religion to grow in their faith, Callaghan said.

“We have basic truths, but it’s really about finding truth for yourself,” Callaghan said.

For ECKists, those basic truths or spiritual laws are: one, the law of love, an understanding that everything stems from God’s love for soul; two, do all you have agreed to do; and three do not encroach on other persons or their property.

These truths make Eckankar a non-evangelizing religion. They also don’t require people who become ECKists to renounce former religions. They say following Eckankar teachings can be compatible with other religions. So how do they grow?

Callaghan said Eckankar draws in a lot of young people who are either spiritually curious or studying religions. Many new members are in the 20s, others are families with young children “church shopping” and others are recent retirees.

Eckankar is experiencing a lot of growth in western Africa and India, according to Callaghan. The religion doesn’t track membership numbers but says it has “tens of thousands” of members across 120 countries. Each state in the U.S. has an Eckankar chapter.

The primary Temple of ECK in Chanhassen has brought several followers from all over the world to the southwest metro, including Callaghan, who came from Australia five years ago.

Arlene Forbes came to Eden Prairie with her from Toronto in 1998 to be closer to the temple. Now a member of the Eckankar clergy, Forbes, who was raised Methodist in southern Maryland, says she was drawn to Eckankar by the love it taught.

Each month the temple hosts two services. On the first Sunday of the month they have what is called the “Light and Soul” service. On the third Sunday of the month they host the “Sound of Soul” service, which focuses on a common Eckankar ritual, chanting the “HU,” (pronounced like hew) called a “love song to God” on the outward breath.

“It helps to restore my consciousness to provide the highest state of love,” Forbes said.

Finding fellowship

While many in the metro are not religious, that doesn’t mean they don’t want a sense of community. For the non-religiously inclined in the metro, the Humanists of Minnesota is available to help fill that void.

“If there are people who are not associated with a religion or have left their religion of origin or are not sure of where they come down on the question of God or the doctrines they grew up with, but they want to find an ethical community of fellowship and support and are not on some spiritual search, we want to be that community for them,” said Audrey Kingstrom, president of Humanists of Minnesota.

Humanist groups arose in 20th Century America, mainly offshoots of the First Unitarian Society. The Humanists of Minnesota was founded about 30 years ago, Kingstrom said.

They are a volunteer-run organization, with no buildings or full-time staff. The group gathers for monthly chapter meetings September through May on the third Saturday of each month at the First Unitarian Society. Each meeting includes a speaker on topics such as social justice or political issues.

“We consider ourselves strong advocates of being civically engaged in the democratic process,” Kingstrom said. “We feel it is our responsibility to create the world that we want to live in. So we engage in civic life and in political life, not in a partisan way but in a way that is going to promote our values.”

According to Pew Research Center, 35 percent of Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, say they have no religious association. Kingstrom said even non-religious organizations are feeling the affects of younger people being less affiliated with faith. Humanists trend older, too, it tuns out. She said they have to do a better job of finding what non-religious, engaged young adults want out of an organization like theirs.

Kingstrom also believes that for younger people today, there are more social communities not based on religion.

“Unlike my generation, where to not be a church-goer or a religious person was very shunned, in the younger generation it isn’t so much,” she said. “Where people of my generation might like to gather with other like-minded people and feel like they are not alone and feel supported, that was something people in my generation sought out, where as young people today, if you are not religious, who cares?”

Enterprise reporter

Meghan Davy Sandvold is a regional reporter covering the eight Southwest News Media communities. Born and raised in the Lake Minnetonka area, she now calls Eden Prairie home.

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