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Sri Ramakrishna temple moves to Chicago suburb

Last updated on: October 21, 2008 00:47 IST

The Sri Ramakrishna Universal Temple has relocated to the Chicago suburb of Homer Glen, honouring the memory of the historic speech made by Swami Vivekananda in the city, 115 years ago.

More than 500 people attended the special pujas and the festivities to inaugurate the new temple, said Swami Chidanand, head of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society.

The temple had been in the busy Hyde Park area for almost 40 years.

"But we could not accommodate all people who came to attend services. Parking was also difficult. So moving to another location was a necessity," said the Swami, who was sent to Chicago in 1991 from the Ramakrishna order's Belur Math in West Bengal.

Another reason for the relocation was that more people wanted to come to a less busy suburb so that they could concentrate and meditate peacefully, he said. But the final reason was to honor the wishes of Swami Vivekanada, who had said he wanted to return to a universal temple in Chicago.

"Chicago holds a very special place in the heart of devotees. It is a pilgrimage centre for them. The footprints of the Swamiji were on the soil of Chicago," Swami Chidanand said.

He also described the story of Swami Vivekananda babysitting a child in Chicago. The child, named Agnes, later became a lifelong devotee of Vivekanananda.

Many devotees in India always dream of coming to Chicago. If they come now, they will not be disappointed. The 15-acre new temple plot is in the middle of a mini forest. The land was bought for $1 million and the construction began in 2004. The estimated cost is $5million and the society still owes much to the bank, the swami said. He expects donations from devotees far and wide.

Chidanand is the only Indian in the new 32,000 square-foot temple, which has four resident sanayasins, a meditation area and a bookstore. The society eventually plans a 20,000-square-foot expansion of the shrine and meditation area and to create space for the temple to host visitors on meditative retreats. The old temple at Hyde Park will be sold.

The deities from the old temple, including of Lord Ganesha, Sri Ramakrishna, Sharada Devi, Lord Buddha and Jesus Christ, were moved ceremoniously to the new temple.

Few mainstream Americans are interested in Vedanta, Chidanand said. "But once they come and know about Vedanta, they stick to it," he added.

The Ramakrishna Order Of India has 13 centers in North America and several satellite monasteries and retreat campuses. The Vedanta Society of Chicago was founded in 1930, moved to 506 Deming Place and then to 44 East Elm in 1954. With the assistance of a staunch devotee, Chester Carlson, the founder of Xerox, the Society moved to Hyde Park in 1967. Ganges, an expansive monastery and retreat for meditation, was established in nearby Michigan in 1971.

The Vedanta Society of Chicago was inaugurated by Swami Gnaneswarananda, a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, January 19, 1930.

In 1965, Swami Bhashyananda was appointed the Swami-in-Charge of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society by the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Under him the Society steadily grew. He passed away in 1996. Chidananda  -- who is also a musician -- continued the work, particularly stressing the daily worship of Sri Ramakrishna and continuing the tradition of the annual children's camp.

Due to Chidananda's efforts, a bronze plaque was installed in 1995 at the Art Institute of Chicago, which was the site of the Parliament of Religions in 1893, commemorating Swami Vivekananda's historic address.

The same year, the portion of Michigan Avenue directly in front of the Art Institute was renamed Swami Vivekananda Way. In 1998, a bronze statue of Swamiji, 10-foot-2-inches high, the largest public statue of Vivekananda in America, was installed at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago.

George Joseph