by Liza Simon
photo by Jim Shea
There is something that makes you tread lightly and whisper as you meander through the Kaua‘i Hindu Monastery, home to an international aggregation of monks who have withdrawn here to lead the contemplative life. But guide Paramacharya Palaniswami laughingly dispels the notion that the non-initiate should feel out of place amidst all this ethereality. “In Hindu tradition, the concept of membership does not really exist,” he says. “Temples are open to everyone.” And so, informed that giddy delight is sanctioned, I marvel at the sight of the authentic Iraivan temple now under construction on the grounds. The temple is made of almost 4,000 massive granite blocks that are hand-hewn using iron chisels and mallets—part of the Hindu ethos that ties the fortitude of a temple to the consciousness of the construction workers who’ve created it. Palaniswami introduces me to a crew of silpis, or master carvers, who have arrived from Bangalore. “Want to be initiated?” he asks with a twinkle in his eye, placing a bamboo-handled hammer in my hands and challenging me to “go for it” on the corner of a giant block. Tap tap tap... “OUCH!” is my answer—hardly a spiritual one, though I am guessing that the point here is that with tranquility, there is also toil. Such duality is central to the daily regime Palaniswami describes: “We call it internal and external worship,” he says.
Palaniswami won’t tell me much about himself; he will reveal that he first came to Kaua‘i thirty-seven years ago with a contingent of monks who found their way to this lushly forested locale, then just a bunch of faltering bungalows up for sale. The rest, as they say, is cosmic history: The monks made the purchase and set out to chant and garden. The monastery welcomes the public on regularly scheduled tours, though Palaniswami does ask guests who visit to dress modestly. “Sharing the beauty of the gardens and the Hindu architecture is a way of bringing joy and balance into life,” he says. For tour times and directions to the monastery, visit www.himalayanacademy.com.
Kaua‘i Hindu Monastery
(808) 822-3012, ext. 1