When the Jain community in New York was planning to move from Queens to Lake Success on Long Island to build a bigger temple to accommodate an increasing number of worshippers, a devotee came forward with a donation of $2million. His only condition was that the temple remain on Ithaca Street in Elmhurst, Queens, where it was established in 1981.
The wish of the anonymous donor as well as the more than 800 families who are members of the only Jain temple in New York was fulfilled with the construction of a 16,600 sq. feet temple complex in the same spot at a cost of $6 million. The pratishta mahotsav (installation of the idols) is scheduled for June 10, followed by a nine days of celebrations..
The idols of the 24 tirthankaras (spiritual leaders) and other deities were taken to the temple in a procession May 15. The idols, carved in marble and gemstones, were brought from India.
"There are about 65 Jain temples in the US, but this temple is unique," Dr. Mamta Shaha, a spokesperson for the temple said. "It is unique because it will be the only Jain temple in the world that will serve to unite all the Jain sects, under one roof."
The sects such as digamabaras and shwetambaras, believe in the same core principles, but with certain differences in practice. In the Elmhurst temple, each sect will have facilities to conduct worship the way its members wants. The Adinath temple is in Digambar tradition. The Dhyan Mandir (meditation hall) is in Shrimad Rajchandra tradition. And the Mahavirswami temple is in swetambar tradition.
A grand procession with floats and hundreds of Jain community members will mark the beginning of the pratishtha mahotsav. At the time of installation of idols, hymns will be sung and religious observances will be held. The four-floor, 66-foot high high temple is breathtakingly beautiful as it is constructed in white marble.
It was under the guidance of spiritual leaders Gurudev Shri Chitrabanuji and Gurudev Shri Sushilkumarji that the Jain community in New York began to unite and come together for peace and prayer, in late 1970's. In 1981, a two-family home was purchased and converted into a temple at the lower level and upper apartment housed the caretaker and priests. With a handful of families as its members in the early years, the 'Jain Center of New York' has grown tremendously over the years.
Today it has about 800 families as life members and over 1200 families as annual members.
A place of prayer that was once operated as a 'house temple' out of Ithaca Street, and held religious school, lectures, and puja in a 30 foot by 40 foot living room has now been morphed with the help of a dream, and the overwhelming support of the Jain community in New York.
The one room shrine has been transformed into an architectural marvel. Apart from the temple, the complex has a Jain Art Gallery, a children's religious school with a full computer lab located in the basement, apartments for the temple caretaker and visiting scholars, with expansion plans for the future.
Several religious leaders including Gurudev Chitrabhanu will attend the ceremonies. Political leaders including congressmen are also expected be present. "We expect more than 4000 people at the event," Dr Shaha said.
There are about 4.4 million Jain followers across the globe and 75,000 to 80,000 in the United States of America. The number in the US is growing rather rapidly over the past few years as more Jains have been emigrating from India with the technology trend.
The ceremonies and grandeur of the festivities will set an example for the younger generation into being more involved and aware of their religion, as well keep the Jain religion alive in generations to come, Dr Saha noted. "The younger generation is more spiritual than the first generation," she said.