Sri Meenakshi Temple, Pearland – The 40-year History.

Sree Meenakshi Temple, Pearland, Texas

     A Temple to a Hindu, is the abode of God, a symbolic assembly where the secular can congregate with the sacred, a spiritual destination for the mortal to experience the Divine. Temples are constructed as per the guidelines laid out in our sacred texts, incorporating the perception of the cosmic elements and their extension into human existence. The sacredness of the Almighty is invoked and consecrated into the installed deities, who are objects to allow the devotee to concentrate on the enormous concept through our mundane comprehension. The construction of the edifice, the installation of the deities, the maintenance of the premises, the observation of the rituals, the periodic conservation and every elaborate detail about the temples are meticulously and austerely guided by tenets laid out in our scriptural manuscripts.
     If to be offered a human life was the ultimate endowment by the Creator, to be involved in creating a temple would be the eventual blessing for a human soul.
     This is the exhilarating chronicle of a group of Houstonian Indian Hindus 187 who had a dream of creating a humble place of worship that has blossomed into a magnificent monument of enviable accomplishment, a marvelous, elaborate, beautiful complex of reverence, love, and pride.
     This is our Sri Meenakshi Temple in Pearland, Texas.
     And this is the story of a few of us who were ultimately privileged to be part of that inspiring initiative.
     Our temple is the first such Shakti temple outside of India and the third Hindu temple created in the United States. And we were permitted and privileged to borrow the prestige of the name by the legendary Sri Madurai Meenakshi Temple, who generously offered all the required assistance and guidance in building our facility in a chosen location in Pearland a suburb of Houston metropolis, Texas.
     When one is writing history, it would be customary to visit and elucidate some of the circumstances that lead to conceive a concept and arrive at a resolution before proceeding with its implementation. And it would be our desire to create a synopsis that would be interesting, informative and enjoyable reading as the life story of an Indian, Hindu religious institution gets established in the heart of a cowboy country. That story would not only convey the achievements of our visionary, early settlers, but it should also bestow our compliments and gratitude to the magnanimity of our gracious hosts, who whole-heartedly welcomed us and our faith into their passionate bible belt.
     As we embark on telling the story of our temple, the narration should elicit curiosity in the readers as they are guided through the premises leading to its birth, the shaky steps and the falls endured through its growth before it matured into a splendid institution, and ultimately creating s sense of sublime satisfaction with gratitude and humility in the accomplishment.
     We may begin the fairy-tale from 1969 when Sri Diwan, a contractor at NASA initiated The India Family Circle, and a few like-minded Hindus gathered in various homes and did poojas and bhajans, the process continuing into 1973. The set up evolved into the formation of the Hindu Worship Society that was inaugurated at the University of Houston auditorium on April 14, 1973. Devotees used to meet at the Rothko Chapel on Sundays for prayers and potluck lunch in the adjacent building. A small fraction broke away under the name of Hindu Temple Society
     ‘Jyothi’, a newsletter was started to reach out and attract community members, the editorial committee comprising of Sri G. Subramaniam, Aravind Ghosh, Sam Kannappan and Pramila Vyas. A piece of land was purchased in 1975 at Hwy 59 N and Little York, with plans to build a temple, where the Bhoomi Pooja, the ground-breaking ceremony was performed by Sri Panrimalai Swamigal, who came with Dr. Alagappan from New York. The land had to be sold at a loss due to a faulty title. Another acre was purchased by the HWS in 1976 on Wilcrest road, where the present Hindu Worship Society continues.
     Even though Hindu Worship Society functioned with members from all over India, at some point it was obvious that the prayer habits and the practice of worship were distinctly different between the devotees of Northern and Southern India. If in the North, the custom was for individual devotees themselves to do the poojas for the deities made of marble with aarthis and havans and bhajans, South Indian system was accustomed to follow Agama Sastra where the granite Murthis were offered Abhishekam, Alankaram, Naivedyam and Archanas by the priests adhering to strictly enforced elaborate steps dictated by the Sastras.
     When Sri S.M. Ganapathi Stapathy and Sri Purushotham Naidu from Andhra Pradesh visited Houston, they advised us that the land purchased was not suitable to build South Indian style temples and since our needs were different, the two factions decided to split our ways. But as much as we had interest, we were concerned about the ability and affordability of a small group of us to undertake an enormous project of creating an elaborate south Indian style temple. There were genuine concerns about our ability in raising funds and possible opposition from the Texan neighbors, as we encountered practical, physical, financial and emotional struggles every step of the way. But our youthful determination and sincere conviction along with the Divine sanction made it an inspiring challenge that transformed into a reality.
     On a clear, pleasant, sunny, Sunday morning of October 1977, about thirty of us met at the Fondren Southwest clubhouse of Venugopal and Sreedevi Menon and decided to proceed and explore our dream, a humble ambition of creating a temple to meet the needs of the Hindus in the area. The decision was to create a Shakthi Temple, a first of its kind outside India and the third Hindu temple in the USA after New York and Pittsburgh.
     Thanks to the encouragement from New York, to Sri Venkateswara Temple and Sree Madurai Meenakshi Temple, we ventured into the envious task. Instrumental in converting our dream to a feasibility stage were the efforts of Sam Kannappan who approached Sri. C. V. Narasimhan, ICS who was the undersecretary of the UN at the time, and Dr. Alagappa Alagappan of New York, who helped to connect us with the right contacts, using their standing influence in getting us the needed assistance and offering salient advice as needed. Establishing the connection with Sree Madurai Temple and ensuring their support in building our sanctuary, it was natural that our Shakthi Temple would be dedicated to the Goddess, and thus the choice was made and Sri Meenakshi Temple, Houston was born. Kodali Subba Rao and Bhaskar Rao Mutyala were instrumental in bringing in the Andhra community and considering the addition of Sri Venkateswara and Padmavathi as other main deities. There was also offer to help from Kanchi Sankara Matt, as the devotee base began to expand. During a meeting at TSU, as arranged by Prof. K. V. Ramaswamy, the committee initiated the creation of a constitution.
     As we were assembling our thoughts and expanding our support base, another group in Florida was attempting to build a Shakthi temple. C. V. Narasimhan informed us that their assistance could be offered only one of us, to the group purchasing the land first and is ready to build and obviously the other one would lose it. In a hurry, we identified five pieces, in Brookshire, Friendswood, on Synott Road, Murphy Road and on McLean road in Pearland. Our group decided on the five acres of Pearland for its affordability, openness and being situated away from the crowds of the city in a less established community. And the spacious acreage was facing east, the ideal choice for the temple.
     Kannappan with his family located the property and found it suitable, contacted a few others in the committee who concurred with the choice and proceeded to meet with the owner and settled the deal with a down payment check of $1000. There was an interesting anecdote that would be worth mentioning here. The identified piece of property was with overgrown grass and was unkempt, but when the owner assured that it had been mowed and cleaned, Kannappan realized what he had mistaken the adjacent property to be the one we bought. And it happened to be the six acres of land across McLean Road that the temple eventually purchased in the next few years.
     Concurrently, a Board was formed with nine members of Trustees. A loan of $29,000 was taken from Almeda Genoa Bank, sixteen of the steering committee members signing the contract and Dr. Rama Chavali setting up the automatic payment of $20 a month. The temple was registered as a Non-profit Association, Sri Meenakshi Temple, but was soon converted into a corporation that would remove the individual liability, but at the same time making the loaners less interested in offering a mortgage. MTS remained as an association from 1977 till 1993. It was registered as a 501C3entity in December 1978 with US Treasury Department Sale tax exemption from the State of Texas and creating a constitution. During the second chairmanship of Mr. Thiagarajan in 1994, it was converted as a Corporation with new By-laws and chartered with Texas Secretary of State.
     Sri Meenakshi Temple initially owned an elongated, rectangle of five acres, a corn-cultivated barren land with perhaps a solitary tree standing lonely waiting for some activity. There were snakes on the ground and wasps flying around. All the members lived remote from the temple land and we could not afford outside help to develop the property. Nat Bhaskaran, Kris Raghavan, Raj Syal, S. Radhakrishnan, K. Balachandran, and many others undertook the responsibility and volunteered the physical labor to convert the piece to a usable area. Every 190 weekend the volunteers would mix concrete and pour on a stretch of twenty feet that would serve as the driveway to approach and reach the spot where the Ganesh Temple would be erected. As it is our custom, every Hindu initiative begins with the prayer to Ganesha, the God who would watch over us, keep the going smooth and protect our noble endeavor without blemishes forever. Looking back, for fortyone years He has stood by us and enabled the temple to blossom beyond our wildest dreams.
     Architect Ranjit Banerjee, professor at the University of Houston helped us with the sketching and planning of the facility. Even though it was desired to have the building set back farthest from the street, since it would then place the parking in the front and create an inappropriate office ambiance, it was decided that the temple would be built closer to the street. Dr. Rajagopal of Dallas and Mr. Palaniappan from San Antonio helped with the structural designs.
     With the assistance of the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh (later the Governor of Tamil Nadu), the idol of Sri Ganesha arrived, the Ganesh temple was completed and inaugurated on Ganesh Chaturthi day in 1979 by the priest who came from New York. But since there was no priest appointed or was available in the community on a daily basis, one family volunteered to do a simple Archana for the Murthi on the weekdays and Dr. Ramaswamy came on the weekends to perform the more elaborate pooja. Initially, there was nothing except that cubical structure.
     Mr. G. Subramaniam and Mr. Krishnamurthy were our senior mentors whose inspiration and motivation imparted the needed guidance for many of us to get involved in such endeavors. Uncle Subramaniam along with his family members arranged volunteers and guided them to do the daily poojas at Ganesh temple, as well as organizing the various requirements like bringing water and homemade prasadam. There were no roads, no running water, no restrooms, nor any shelter over our heads, but we persevered; and it was a sheer blessing for the families who had the precious opportunity to be involved.
     A host family program was started, each family sponsoring a pooja bringing their circle of friends, and potluck lunch with the hope of increasing the devotee base. Sri Manickam Parthasarathy was appointed as the priest for Ganesh Temple who was housed in the trailer home that the temple received as a courtesy of Joy Manufacturing company for $1, due to the efforts from Anantha Aiyer who along with his wife Padma, also acquired pledges for $34,000. Fundraising events by local talents as well as visiting professionals like Parveen Sultana, Balamurali Krishna, Seerkazhi Govindarajan, M. S. Subbulakshmi, and Pandit Ravi Shankar, most of them offering their talents free, are noteworthy to be remembered.
     As the available steering committee members gathered and tried to recapitulate interesting anecdotes from their rusted memories, several of the 191 encounters came back as nostalgic reminders; volunteers with no skill or training having to do the poojas, Ganesha idol getting His arm ‘fractured’ during transportation, standing in inclement weather to find delight in the prayers, driving and getting stuck on the muddy roads, backing off in the dark and slipping into the ditches, hosing and splashing water on the hot roof to keep it cool, feeling disturbed with minor instances of vandalism, getting free help from Mr. Patel to control the extensive pests, and most of all earning enjoyable camaraderie between the many like-minded volunteers passionately rooting for the same cause. From mowing and clearing the grounds, pouring concrete, laying the cables, putting up road signs, bringing food, applying for the several permits, establishing accountable financial transactions, communicating with India and handling the related dealings, the list goes on; the challenges were numerous, but the resolve remained resolute.
     Looking back, there is immense pride, pleasure, and privilege to have been involved in a marvelous accomplishment, to watch our humble dream evolve into a grand reality, and a sublime realization of the Divine allowance to have such a blessing bestowed on us.
(Steering Committee members of MTS, compiled by Venugopal Menon)

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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