SALT LAKE CITY — The hole in the ground has been therefor a month now, but Caru Das can’t stop admiring it.
Who’d have thought? A Krishna temple in the heart of theSalt Lake Valley?
Caru (pronounced Cha-roo) and his wife, Vai Bhavi, arelocal leaders of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. It’s morecommonly known as Hare Krishna, a branch of Hinduism that was started in NewYork City in 1966 by a devotee of Krishna — “God,” in the Hindu vernacular —named A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
An early Hare Krishna enthusiast was George Harrison ofThe Beatles, whose support helped the new religion gain its popular footing.
As for Caru, it wasn’t Beatles music that attracted himto the Hare Krishnas, rather it was a search for a spiritual foundation thatwould carry him through this life and the lives to come.
Born in 1946 in Pennsylvania as Chris Warden, Carutraveled the world in the ‘60s, making his way to the Canary Islands, France,Israel, India and finally Australia, where he ran into Hare Krishnamissionaries on George Street in Sydney. He was 24 years old and workingconstruction at the time.
“I’d seen it all: beaches, palm trees, beautiful lands,”Caru says 45 years later. “But that horizon wasn’t as attractive to me as theinner landscape” those devotees helped him see.
He went all in, as did his wife, Christine (she’s fromEngland; they met in Australia). In 1970, they were baptized as Krishnadevotees and given their new spiritual names — preparing them both for furtherenlightenment and, as Caru likes to quip, rid them of the problem of “Peoplecalling on the phone and asking for ‘Chris’ and us having to ask, ‘Which one?’”
Whatever your mental image of a Krishna consciousnessleader, add in humor, friendliness, kindness and charisma and you have CaruDas, a man whose ability to transcend borders, ideologies and religiousdifferences has enabled him, and his religion, to survive and thrive in themiddle of Mormondom.
He and Vai first came to Utah in 1982 to purchase a smallAM radio station in Spanish Fork, along with the five acres the station sat on.
Ten years later, they had expanded to 15 acres andannounced plans to build a temple. The ornate structure, believed to be theonly legitimate example of Rajasthani architecture in the United States, wasdesigned by Vai, opened in 2001 and has become not only a gathering place forHare Krishna followers, but also a tourist site that attracts some 50,000people a year. The annual Color Festival held on the temple grounds has evolvedinto a Utah County rite of spring, attended by thousands, many of them collegestudents from Utah Valley University or LDS Church-owned BYU.
“We did it the hard way,” says Caru. “We opened our firsttemple in a place that’s 90 percent LDS. If we’d done our R&D, that wouldhave never happened.”
But if converts weren’t exactly beating down their door,the neighbors, Caru adds, nonetheless welcomed them with open arms.
“Great neighbors, great friends,” he says. “The LDSFoundation gave us $20,000 just to get started.”
The only part that confused the locals, Caru recalls witha grin, was the accessibility of the temple. Mormon temples aren’t open to thegeneral public, while Krishna temples, in addition to being houses ofpreaching, ritual and worship, are also community centers with places to eat,play music, study, socialize and even stay overnight — with no restrictions.
“People kept asking, ‘Will the public be invited?’” saysCaru. “I was like, ‘Well, yeah.’”
Suffice it to say that the success in Spanish Fork pavedthe way for plans to build a similar, if smaller, temple in Salt Lake County onproperty the Hare Krishnas own just east of 900 East and south of 3300 South.
Also designed by Vai, the completed temple “will beexquisite,” promises her husband.
Caru envisions the Salt Lake temple as a beacon ofspirituality for not only the 100 families active in the faith in the valley,but for others looking for positivity and enlightenment as well.
“Salt Lake City is a different story than Spanish Fork,”he says. “There are more here who need ministration. We can make a differencein more lives here.”
It took three years to get enough funds pledged andsecure the proper building permits to get started, but last month, on July 10,after a ceremony apologizing to Krishna for disturbing Mother Earth (but forall good purposes), track hoes moved in and dug the hole Caru has been admiringever since.
Soon enough, the foundation will be poured and the templewill take shape. The domes and cones that will grace the exterior, Taj Mahalstyle, have already been built and are in storage, awaiting the walls to getframed.
“We’ve got the batter and we’ve got the icing,” musesCaru, putting Krishna consciousness on a level all can understand, “now we’vejust got to bake the cake.”
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