Hindus want place to worship; neighbors worry about land loss
CHAMPAIGN – The highly educated diaspora of Hinduism is looking for a permanent home in Champaign County.
Hindus have met for years at the Urbana Civic Center, but they can't put up art works or other cultural signposts from the world's oldest religion in the temporary space.
Right now, they're looking at farmland on Dewey-Fisher Road (Mattis Avenue), just north of the Thor-O-Bred Acres subdivision in Hensley Township.
The proposed 6,500-square-foot temple would have a 63-car parking lot, a septic system and leach field just south of the building and a 4,400-square-foot lawn with ornamental plants.
But the temple has raised some concerns about drainage and high traffic from neighbors, who will have the chance to speak out at a February meeting of the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals, director John Hall said.
Two leaders of the new temple, University of Illinois professors Shiv Kapoor and Pallassana R. Balgopal, promise to be good neighbors wherever the Hindu Temple is built.
Kapoor notes that Hinduism is different from other faiths in that there is no fixed weekly day of worship. Members of the faith visit temple when it is convenient for them, especially during a handful of festivals sprinkled throughout the year.
There are no pews in a Hindu temple; practitioners sit on the floor.
"The basic tenet is simply that you have to follow a way of life," said Balgopal, which involves treating others decently.
Kapoor said much is open-ended about Hinduism. There's nothing comparable to such structures as popes, cardinals and bishops, or the stake system of the Latter-Day Saint.
"That's a bit of a problem for us in this instance," he added, "because there's no national or international organization that can give us or lend us the money to build the temple."
Balgopal estimates as many as 200 families in the area practice Hinduism to some degree. The numbers are hard to estimate, he said, because of the lack of formal ceremonies.
Kapoor describes Hindus as essentially monotheistic, like Christians, Jews and Muslims. But God can be worshipped in many forms, male and female, such as the elephant-headed Ganesh reflecting the aspect that is particularly important to the individual.
Because of these many forms, Hindus have a rich oeuvre of art that is an important part of the culture, Balgopal said. That's part of why his community needs a permanent home: to display religious art and to provide a place for study of the many languages holy to Hinduism.
To construct a space consistent with serenity, Balgopal said, the community would prefer a site outside the urban area. Hensley Township, full of farms but minutes from the UI and shopping, would be an ideal spot.
Kapoor said neighbors needn't be concerned about a garish temple. It will be set back from the road, with landscaping, he said.
But the organizers are aware that some neighbors object to prime farmland being turned into a permanent structure. That will be the issue before the zoning board in February.
The county's Natural Resource Report lists the land as best prime farmland, which has raised some concerns.
Hensley Township Supervisor Lowell Osterbur said the land is rated over 90, and "85 is the magic number" for prime farmland.
"I personally am concerned about the drainage. Almost four sections of ground drain into the system that travels underneath Market Street. Heavy rains congregate in one place," Osterbur said. "This is just going to add to the problem."