Hindu Society of Victoria - A Look Back at 40 Years of History
The Hindu Society of Victoria was founded on Vijaya Dasami day in 1982, organised by the Ceylon Tamil Association at Hedgeley Dean Court in Glen Iris. Hindu migrants from India, Malaysia and other countries enthusiastically joined the Society. The topmost priority for this new gathering was to probe ways and means of realizing a traditional Hindu temple in Victoria.
The newly elected MC immediately swung into action and organised monthly prayer meetings at the Prahran Migrant Resource Centre on the last Saturday of each month. The first prayer meeting was held on the last Saturday in November 1982 at 6.00 PM. Poojas were performed by Sri Raman Iyer on these occasions. The Society was officially incorporated with duly adopted constitution and referred to as Hindu Society of Victoria (Aust) Inc. on 21 June 1984. The principal objective of the constitution was the building of a traditional Hindu Temple in Victoria.
It was decided in March 1984 to purchase the land to build the temple in the Whittlesea or Springvale areas. A block of land at Whittlesea and another at Carrum Downs were identified according to agama shastras as they specify that Shiva temples are built on virgin lands. The society bought the land of 14.35 acres at Carrum Downs for $72,300 on 14 April 1985. The MC members, among themselves raised about $11,000. Pledges for interest free loans were obtained from other members of the Society. A ten-year loan of $45,000 was secured from the State Bank of Victoria. The balance of the required money was raised through additional interest free loans. Thanks to the generosity of the members and wellwishers, the loan was repaid within 18 months.
The first issue of the ‘Panchavati,‘ the official newsletter of the Hindu Society, aimed primarily to provide information about the temple building project and forthcoming religious events, was released in August 1985. First issue came out as ‘Panchamurti‘ and subsequently the name was changed to ‘Panchavati’.
Through a process of discussion, it was decided to have Sri Shiva and Sri Vishnu as presiding deities adjacent to each other and with two ‘moolasthanams‘. The first pooja at the temple site; the ground-breaking ceremony or ‘Bhoomi Pooja’ ceremony was performed to invoke the blessings of the Gods in early 1986. From then onwards events like Thai Pongal, Hindu New Year, Diwali etc are celebrated at the temple site.
Hindu temples must follow Agama Sastras and Shilpa Sastras, defined in the scriptures for temple construction. To mention a few examples, orientation, height above ground level for deities, placement of deities next to each other etc. Lineages of artisans well versed in these arts are available in India and moreover, the construction had to comply with Australian Building Standards. A Temple Building Committee was elected at the AGM in 1987 to manage the construction work. They drew up the plans for the temple building with advice from Sri Nagarajan Sthapaty from India. The plan included two main shrines: those of Sri Shiva and Sri Vishnu with two separate entrances or Rajagopurams. The other separate shrines were Sri Ambal, Sri Ganapathy, Sri Chandikeswar and Sri Subramaniam associated with Sri Shiva. The Shrines of Sri Mahalakshmi, Sri Andal, Sri Ram, Sri Lakshman and Sri Sita, Sri Gopalkrishna and Sri Hanuman were those associated with Sri Vishnu. In addition, the shrine of Navagrahas, Kodisthambam, Nanthi, Palipeidam and Garudan were included. Another shrine was provided for to keep the Utsawa Moorthies. The plans were approved by Kanchi Mutt and Tirupati in India for agamic validations. An application for a planning permit was submitted to the Springvale Council in 1987 and Council issued the planning permit on 5 January 1988. The foundation stones were cut in India and were blessed in venerated temples there. The foundation stones were laid on 5 June 1988 at the site of the present Dwara Ganapathy (Vazhi Pillayar). The building permit was issued on 25 January 1990. This work along with the access road was the preliminary part of the project and costed $20,000. The Society did not have any substantial funds at the time of laying the foundation. Hence the determined devotees embarked on pushing forward the building activity and fund raising at the same time. All the building professional services were provided free of charge by volunteers from the Hindu community. Raffles, fund raising dinners, musical events and door knocking campaigns were carried out. It was felt that more interest in the temple could be achieved only by building a temporary structure for worship within the site.
A decision was taken early in 1990 to construct a temporary building at the North-eastern corner of the temple grounds. On the day of the Thai Pongal festival in 1990, idols of Ganesha, Nataraj, and Bhairava were installed and regular poojas were started on 6 May 1990. This initiative added more momentum to the temple building efforts and foundation was laid for the main temple in April 1990.
For some time, the prayer meetings at Prahran continued alongside the activities at the ‘temporary sanctuary’. The last prayer meeting at Prahran took place on 30 May 1992. Poojas were performed at the ‘temporary sanctuary’ on Fridays and Sundays. Collections from poojas surprised even the cynics.
The temple building project was divided into five stages, the last of which, under the first phase was the construction of the Rajagopurams. Cost estimates for the first phase was about $1.25m. In October 1990, after procuring connection of all necessary services to the site, the first stage of the project i.e., excavation work commenced. This was followed by the reinforced concrete work to the foundations, slabs, columns etc. There was a lull in the building activity while the Society was busy organizing the finance necessary to continue with the project. The Society clinched a deal with the then State Bank of Victoria for a loan of A$150,000 (originally $100,000 and subsequently increased to $150,000) and an overdraft facility of A$60,000. Families of Hindu devotees came forward with pledges of substantial donations. The Hindu community at large also contributed generously.
In April 1992, building activities re-commenced with the erection of roof steel frames, external block walls, windows, electrical and plumbing conduits etc. On 20 November 1992, the Sthapathi and his team of eight artisans arrived from India and commenced work on the Shrines. Sri Shiva Shrine was first built followed by the Shrine of Sri Vishnu. Concrete pillars changed into Shrines while sculptured vimanams, rising above aluminium members, could be seen by passing motorists on the Frankston-Dandenong Road. The Granite and Panchalokha Vigrahas and other artifacts were crafted by well-known artisans in India. The Granite Vigrahas were sanctified by a special pooja at Kanchi Mutt. A batch of six additional artisans arrived from India in January 1994 to accelerate the pace of construction in order to meet the Maha Kumbhabhishekam deadline of May 1994. By about the beginning of May a beautiful temple stood high above the tall trees on virgin soil not far from the famous Patterson Lakes of Carrum Downs. Between 1992-1996, the peak construction period, in excess of a million dollars was raised. During this period, Society successfully formalized an interest free loan of Rs 1,000,000 from the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD).
The Society consulted the famous astrologer, Dr B V Raman and 10.08am on Sunday, 22 May 1994 was chosen as the auspicious time for the Maha Kumbhabishekam of Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple. This was a red-letter day in the lives of Hindus of Victoria. More than ten priests from India including those from Kanchipuram and Sri Lanka were arranged to perform the rigorous rituals and procedures associated with the ceremony, along with priests from the other temples in Australia. A group of three Nadaswaram players from India was also brought specially for the ceremony. Representatives also came from Tirupati in India and other states in Australia. Beginning from 12 May, for the next ten days ‘Yagams’ were conducted in the temporary ‘Yaga Salais‘ erected for this purpose which was attended by hundreds of devotees. A group of well-respected Acharyas from Kanchi Mutt, Tirupati, Sri Lanka and Australia performed the rituals. Homams, Shantis and Yagnas with intensive chanting of Vedic mantras were performed for 12 days under the guidance of Prof. K. Kailasanatha Kurukkal.
On the day of the Maha Kumbhabishekam, all roads led to Lot No 52, Boundary Road in Carrum Downs. The morning saw the heavens opened up a great deal of anxiety to the organizers. The question that agitated everyone’s mind was, once in a lifetime event going to be marred by foul weather?’ Even before this, for the first nine days of the ceremony, heavy rain and very strong winds almost uprooted the tents. Fortunately, a group of strong and determined volunteers managed to almost hold on to them day and night for the duration of the ceremony to ensure that they did not fall down. The auspicious time was 10.08 am and at about 7.00 am in the morning, to the relief of thousands of devotees, the torrential downpour stopped all of a sudden as if at someone’s command, prompting the true believers to talk of the miraculous powers of deities. More than 5000 devotees participated in a breath-taking ceremony conducted by Hindu priests from India, Sri Lanka and Australia, chanting mantras to the accompaniment of deafening nadaswara music, all of which was drowned by the ‘Om Shiva, Hari Om’ chanting of a sea of devotees. The hall and the corridors of the temple were overflowing with devotees who kept surging in order to get a glimpse of this exciting ceremony, for many their first. The most important moment was the pouring of holy water from the Kalasams on the two Vimanams of Sri Shiva and Sri Vishnu Shrines using two cherry pickers, a helicopter showering flowers from the sky. Many wept at this experience and the devotees stretched their hands to get a drop of the holy water. Some devotees mentioned later that their wishes were fulfilled after they took this holy water as Prasad. At the conclusion of the morning ceremony for the deities, a Maheswara pooja was performed enabling the devotees to partake in the lunch organized for the occasion. In the evening devotees were treated to a rare music concert provided by local and Indian artists. Crews from SBS TV and Radio also attended the ceremony and covered it in their news bulletins. May 22, 1994 was a day in the life of Hindus in Victoria that saw the dream of Hindus in Victoria come true. SBS TV’s telecast of the event commented that Melbourne’s skylines had changed with the advent of a magnificent Hindu Temple.
After consecrating the temple, the Society took steps to fulfil the years of yearning of the Hindus of Victoria to practice their religion as they practised back home. Arrangements were made to do all the special poojas to all the deities in addition to the six times a day daily poojas. Brahmothsavams for Lords Shiva and Vishnu, Vinayaka Chathurthi, Navarathri, Skantha Sashti and various New Years were celebrated with special ceremonial additions to enhance the Bhakti atmosphere. Realising the need for Hindus of all sects to meet at least once a year, the Society chose January 1st, to perform Sahasra (1008) Kalasabhishekam to Lord Vishnu. Later Sahasra (1008) Sangabhishekam to Lord Shiva was introduced. This was well received by the Hindu community and almost 10,000 devotees attend every New Year Day. Highly qualified priests from India, Sri Lanka and Australia perform these rituals with strict adherence to scriptures. Three years to the month, another milestone was reached with the Kumbhabhishekam of the Raja Gopurams on 25th May 1997. This was in many ways a repeat of the ceremonies which were performed at the time of the Maha Kumbhabhishekam, but on a smaller scale.
Many devotees who missed out the ceremony of 1994 were able to appreciate the importance of the rituals and the amount of work involved in organizing a ceremony such as this. During these three years, the Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple had come to take centre stage in the life of the Hindu community in Victoria. The temple itself functions in complying with agama sastras and adhered to Hindu traditions. Days of major religious significance were observed. Annual Brahmotsavams for the two principal deities are conducted. Resident priests are now available for devotees to perform Archanas, Abhishekams etc. Hindus in Victoria now had not only a temple, as good as any in their land of birth as a place of worship, but also a temple which enables the spirit and practice of Hinduism to be kept alive in the hearts and minds of this generation and the generations to come. The Society had invested in excess of $1.5 million up to this stage.
The building activity at the temple has never stopped. After 1997, the car park area around the temple was levelled and asphalted at a cost of $80,000 and two priest quarters, one with a guest suite were constructed at a cost of $150,000. Work for a Ther (Ratham) shelter and connecting gas to the temple and priest quarters were completed. Construction of the temple kitchen and paving the area in front of the temple and the outer courtyard have also been completed. The proposal to establish an elderly citizen’s home in conjunction with grants provided by the ministry of housing had to be abandoned after completion of all the preliminary steps by the unequivocal objection of the water board which was essential for the granting of the building permit.
The Holi was celebrated at temple ground for the first time in 1994 followed by celebration of the other festivals such as Deepawali, Ram Navami, Ganesh Chaturthi and Krishna Janmashtami. Since 1998, a monthly Havan pooja is held on the last Sunday of the month, which has proved to be very popular with the devotees. Bhajans are sung every Friday evening in which many devotees participate.
The temple canteen was started in Oct 1996 by converting the temporary shed in the proximity to the temple to a kitchen with the help of volunteers and the legendary cook Rengiah turned out delicious food. This canteen was patronised not only by devotees but also by outsiders and supplied food for outside functions. This once wayside canteen has evolved into the present Café Annapoorani, operating in the Cultural and Heritage Centre. As a matter of policy, the prices here are cheaper than that of similar restaurants.
With the kids in mind, the HSV also provided a children’s park with swings and ladders and an enclosure with peafowls and chicks. The gardens with its verdant foliage and varieties of attractive flowers around the temple, the playground, and the café embrace the visitors to serene relaxation.
Traditional Hindu temples are not just places of worship. They have also functioned as place of learning, fostering arts and social interaction. Keeping this in mind the pioneers, who drafted the master plan for the temple campus, have also included a Cultural and Heritage Centre. The Society started to consider fulfilling this aspiration in 2002. Even though the foundation was laid in Oct 2003, construction work could not be started till August 2007 due to snags in getting Planning Permit and organising funds. At the AGM in 2008 the Society established a trust to manage the funding of the project. Members of the Trustee Board, Management Committee and other members of the Society worked hard to raise funds from the members of the community. The Society was successful in clinching a grant of $1 million from the State Government of Victoria and also negotiated with the banks to obtain loans. The project was finally completed at a cost of approximately $13 million and the Cultural and Heritage Centre was declared open on 5 May 2012. This majestic building standing at the entrance of the campus includes a Wedding Hall, Restaurant with Industrial Scale Kitchen, Library, Hinduism Classrooms, Museum and a Conference Hall to accommodate 200 people. Hinduism classes for children and Bhajan, Yoga and Meditation classes for all ages are very popular with devotees and conducted on different days. Library is expanding slowly, and the Wedding Hall is busy on auspicious days with Hindu weddings and other events. Café operates 6 days a week and is trendy not only with the devotees but with many Australians.
Agama Sastras stipulate that Hindu Temples have to be renovated and reconsecrated every twelve years. This is also an opportunity for the devotees to reinvigorate their faith in the deities. This reconsecration is called Punaravarthana Kumbhabishekam. The first reconsecration took place on 29 April 2007, after eight days of Vedic rituals. For this occasion, the temple was expanded by extending the shrines for Navagrahas and Shri Hanuman and the Vasantha Mandabham. A new extension to house Azhvars (saints of Vaishnavites) and Ramakoti Stupi was also built. Hinduism classes were started in the Shri Shiva Vishnu temple in 2009, by dedicated teachers with experience in religious education in a caravan behind the Temple. The Cultural and Heritage Centre included 3 classrooms and the school was moved to the new building in 2012 and was named as Sanathana Dharma Samsthan (SDS).
In 2012, the car parking was extended to the northern side of the temple and security lighting was provided for the entire parking area to improve the access to the Temple and to the amenities in the Cultural Centre for the visitors to reap the full benefits of the complex. The car park around the temple was first built in 2001 and later renovated in 2016. The main access road, Raja Veethy was upgraded in 2017. In March 2018, the State Government of Victoria provided a grant of $165,000 to develop the car parks. State Government of Victoria also announced another grant of $100,000 in March 2019.
In 2018, the Management Committee established a task force to plan the second Punaravarthana Kumbhabishekam in 2019. Archaryas and the Sthapathy were consulted, and plans were drawn. At the request of devotees, it was decided to expand the Hariharaputhran (Ayappa) shrine and build a new shrine for Chakarathazhvar- Narasimhar and Yagasala. AGM 2019 approved a budget of $1.2 million for the renovations, building shrines, and ritual expenses of the Kumbhabhishekam. The second Punarawarthana Kumbhabhishekam was performed on 12 April 2019. This occasion was celebrated in a grand scale with nine days of rituals.
The temple was partially closed for devotees due to COVID -19 Pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Victorian and Australian Governments have implemented restrictions on the movement of people and gatherings thorough out Australia.
Because of its grandeur, the temple site attracted thieves and there were many security breaches. The Australian Government came to the rescue and provided a grant of $408,000 to strengthen the fencing, install CCTV and solar lights. These works were completed in Oct 2021. The construction works on west car park and landscaping works were also completed in 2021. Thanks to a Victorian Government grant of $390,000, the construction work on the long-awaited East car park was completed in March 2022 and the car park was opened by the Victorian Premier Hon Daniel Andrews on 19 March 2022. Victorian Government provided grant of $500,000 for the construction of Multi-Purpose Akshaya Patra Hall. After delays in obtaining the Planning Permit, the Bhoomi Pooja for this Hall was performed in July 2021 at the old canteen site. Construction of the new Akshaya Patra Hall was completed in June 2022.
This Hall was opened by the Victorian Premier Hon Daniel Andrews with Hon Minister Sonya Kilkenny on 26 June 2022. This Hall has dining capacity for 200 devotees and the building includes a fully equipped kitchen and storeroom. This Hall is used primarily for serving Annadanams and used for other small functions on other days. The Victorian Government grant of $111,135 was awarded in June 2022 through the state government multicultural community infrastructure fund to install a generator and other miscellaneous repair works to Cultural and Heritage Centre.
The management committee is constantly improving the facilities at the temple for its devotees. Celebration of marriages at the temple has become a common feature among the community. The Management committees of the past 4 decades and the unsung volunteers have every right to be proud of their achievement.
Every year 17 members from the HSV membership are elected to serve in the Management Committee to work on a voluntary basis. The Hindu business community supports in a big way by sponsoring events and developments. Hindu professionals extend their services readily. Devotees donate funds and materials generously. The City of Frankston treats the temple campus as a proud addition to their city and help in many ways. The State Government of Victoria acknowledged Hindu Society of Victoria’s contribution to Multi Cultural Victoria and awarded the Victoria’s Multi Cultural Award for Meritorious Service to the Community.
Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple has become one of the iconic Hindu Temples outside the Indian subcontinents. It is the spiritual and cultural legacy that we can pass on to the future generations with pride. We trust it will inspire them to adhere to the Hindu Dharma. May Our Lords Shiva and Vishnu bless us and give the strength to fulfil this noble mission.
Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu.