Whether or not it moves mountains, faith is about to move a temple from Chennai to New Zealand.
It is a temple built in the traditional south Indian style with yazhis, lotuses, and elephants on the walls, and dwarapalakas at the entrances. The towers too abound in carvings. There will even be a flagstaff. Knock on it, though, and your knuckles will feel fibreglass, not stone. In Chennai, finishing touches are being given to the temple that, once done,will be shipped across the oceans to form the core of the Kurunchi Kumaran temple in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington.
To have a traditional kovil was the one dream that the community shared, from the moment the Kurunchi Kumaran Temple first started in rented premises in the 1990s. Land was purchased, and a permanent structure was built in 2000.
“What is being made in Chennai are traditional sannidhis, as well as gopurams and doors. Once the pieces are put together here, we will have a typical temple such as those seen in south India,” says S. Gnanalingam, vice-president of the New Zealand Hindu Association (NZHA).
Building the fibreglass temple is Chennai-based Balakumar, of Srilogos International. Balakumar has been in this business for nearly a quarter of a century. “Earlier, I built small pieces, like vahanams (chariots and mythological mounts) for temples in various countries using this variant of fibreglass. This material is extremely suitable for intricate carving. I even built a small temporary Amman temple to send overseas. But nothing on such a scale,” he says enthusiastically. “I have used all my learning from my previous experiences to make the Wellington temple even better.”
For purists who might object to a temple being built with a material like fibreglass, there is still plenty to be pleased about. “Although the material may be new, all aspects of the temple have been built according to the relevant sastras,” says Balakumar, who comes from a family of temple priests and sculptors.
New Zealand sits on a fault line that triggers 20,000 earthquakes a year. This meant that heavy building materials were not an option. The other factor was ultraviolet radiation in this country — among the highest in the world — which bleached all colours into nothingness more quickly than anywhere else. A third problem exclusive to Wellington was its infamous wind, which reaches gale speeds frequently.
The issues of UV radiation and gale force winds were easy to overcome because the new temple, including the gopurams, would be located indoors, and thus protected from the elements. But quake-proofing the temple was a weightier issue.
“We had to determine what sort of work we could safely do here by consulting local architects,” says Gnanalingam. “It was then we found Balakumar,” he added.
Fibreglass proved to be a God-send. It was extremely hardy and weighed roughly around one-tenth of what stone did. Balakumar came to Wellington in 2012 to do an initial assessment. Work then began in Chennai and up to 15 people have been working for about a year now to get it into shape.
Once the structure is complete in Chennai, it will be dismantled, packaged and shipped to New Zealand. Balakumar and a few of his staff will then go and set it up. Locals and volunteers, who have been the mainstay of the temple, will be at hand to help out. “It is the volunteers who make all things at the temple possible. Our expenses are kept to a minimum because all the work on the temple is voluntary — maintenance, priests, cleaning, anything really,” says Gnanalingam.
And among the Wellington locals, excitement is already mounting, thanks to the sneak peeks they have had of the temple.
“From the outside, it will look like an ordinary building. But when you step inside, you will see a south Indian temple in Wellington, New Zealand. One that was made possible by and for our community,” says Gnanalingam.