written by Marjorie Turner Hollman, Contributing Writer
Every faith community has activities that may be well known to its parishioners but which are under the radar of the general public. As part of our research to compile the upcoming Bellingham, Then and Now, a 300th Anniversary commemorative book, we are reaching out to local faith communities in town to learn more of their history and better understand what is unique to their congregations.
For the past two years, the Boston Sri Kalikambal Shiva Temple has been offering prayer services and other gatherings for special holiday celebrations for its Hindu worshipers at the Bellingham Plaza, across from the Town Common. Members of the congregation come mainly from Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts as well as other New England regions. This group of worshipers has the opportunity to pray at the temple on weekdays, 5—8:30 PM, and weekends, 11 AM—2 PM and 5—8:30PM, with priests available if people are looking to have special rituals performed for them. Additional gatherings occur according to the Hindu calendar. Services are conducted in Sanskrit, and the priest is also able to explain things in English.
“Expect to remove your shoes if visiting the temple. Our temple is holy ground,” explained Sivachariar Bhairavasundaram Muthubattar, the temple’s chief priest. “Removing shoes, that is, having bare feet, is respecting the gods. We don’t know who the holiest creature is, a baby or someone else.” Muthubattar explained that “parents are the first teachers in our faith. Parents teach their children to pray, and if they want more, they ask the priest. What rules do we have? No rules. We encourage people to wear good clothes when attending services as a matter of respect.”
In the time the temple has been here in Bellingham, the members have endeavored to give back to the community in various ways. One of the most concrete has been in offering two yearly scholarships of $1,000 each to high school graduating seniors in acknowledgement of their community service. The president of the temple, Mrs. Mangalam Sambamoorthy, initiated the community service awards.
In recent conversation with Muthu Meyyappan, a member of the congregation, and Muthubattar, we learned that the temple has taken steps to establish a permanent home for their congregation. After purchasing 17 acres of land on So. Main Street, in an area near Charlie’s Tire and Service Center, but across the street, the temple worked with Andrews Engineering in Uxbridge to create a plan for their new building and has obtained all needed permits from both the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission. They plan to begin land clearing in the spring of 2019.
“The project will take place in two phases,” Meyyappan explained. “The first phase will be construction of the main temple, and the second phase will build residences for the priest and temple officials, as well as a hall for community gatherings.”
Meyyappan continued, “We are grateful to the town officials and the people of Bellingham who have supported us in the permitting process. This is a huge project for the temple, and we are grateful to the town. We worked with the town and the state to preserve the wetlands and the habitat, to preserve the ecosystem and the ambiance and positive energy surrounding the future temple, and to offer as little disturbance as possible. Six-plus acres of the site are wetlands, with a stream that runs through the property, and those six acres will be undisturbed. For any tree that must be removed during construction close to the wetlands, we will plant two more trees.”
Muthubattar explained, “We are looking to expand our community outreach as we move into our new location. Right now our space is limited, but we look toward being able to expand our educational activities. We offer Sanskrit lessons at our present location, but in India every state speaks a different language, so our members who attend here speak many different languages, and in the new space we will be able to have room to offer multiple language classes in the years to come.
He concluded, “We will also have a meeting space and will be able to have multiple classes, religious classes, singing and dancing.”
Good luck, members of Boston Sri Kalikambal Shiva Temple, with all of your future plans.