For six years, members of the Krishna community have gathered in a refurbished classroom in a former Seventh-day Adventist school to chant and sing before a small altar decorated with flowers and statues of deities.
Soon, they will have white-walled, 3,000-square-foot altar room, complete with high windows, decorative columns and larger deities — all part of a sparkling new Krishna temple poised to debut Saturday near the school at 965 E. 3370 South.
The new building will be about 7,000 square feet, but what it may lack in size, it makes up for in artistic detail. Golden spires representing lotus parts sit atop its domes, and guests are greeted by a glass portrait of the Hindu god Ganesh as they enter.
“[The new temple] will attract more people,” temple caretaker Padma Dasi said. The current space “feels like an office area.”
The Hare Krishna movement is a branch of Hinduism that sprang forth in India in the 16th century. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought the religion to the United States in the 1960s. Followers are monotheistic and view Krishna as the supreme being from whom all other spirits emerge.
Utah already has a Krishna temple, located in the rural hills of Spanish Fork, that was built by Vai Warden and her husband, Caru Das. Longtime Krishna devotees, the couple moved to Utah in 1982 to purchase that property and the rights to a radio station, which they use for Krishna broadcasting.
The Spanish Fork site, which boasts llamas and a koi pond, hosts a popular annual color festival and attracts school groups, but Das said it sees more guests than disciples.
“You don’t see that many regulars in Spanish Fork because 90 percent of the people are Mormon,” he said. “We are on everyone’s bucket list, so just about every family wants to come, bring their kids, experience it, but they’re committed to their own church.”
About 50 families regularly attend Saturday services in the Salt Lake City area, said Das. Some grew up in the religion; others converted.
George Pratt made the jump after connecting to the faith’s music while on a trip to India. He was surprised that Utah had such a well-established community. He now helps lead chanting at services. The religion, he said, is anti-materialistic, pro-environment and has a lot to offer the world.
“Once you get a taste of Krishna consciousness, it’s very attractive,” Pratt said. “I never thought I would be in the position I am in now, really looking forward every week to coming to Saturday program, but I have really come to love the people here, the very spiritual, kind community.”
Lucky Chandana said his family had to pray at home until finding the Salt Lake City area congregation because Spanish Fork is too far away to attend regular services. He has been volunteering with the new temple’s construction. In July, he helped assemble chandeliers alongside a team of 10 other men, and he plans to help set up the audio system.
Das raised money to buy the school and the 3.74 acres it sits on in 2012. Although the new temple will be used for worship, the neighboring school, which has an auditorium with a stage, will continue to host dances and cultural events.
Money for the new temple, which cost about $1.8 million, was raised through festival fees, Das said, and donations from the local Krishna community.
The new temple was designed by Warden, an artist by training, who was also the architect for the Spanish Fork edifice. She previously worked on temple renovations in Australia, Europe and other places in the United States.
She hired local contractors to help with her newest work and has labored closely with them to oversee the construction.
The new temple is one story, allowing for high ceilings with 10 chandeliers and multiple windows. Sandstone arches and columns with carvings of lotus flowers, parrots and peacocks adorn the temple’s interior and exterior. Warden explained that the arches are in the style of Jaipur, a city in northern India.
When visitors first enter the temple, they will find a reception space with tables and plants. A room to their left will hold a small gift store, to the right will be the altar room — with large arched windows featured throughout.
“It is lightness, which creates the spiritual mood,” Warden explained. “People feel peaceful in Spanish Fork with the trees and animals. … We are trying to create that same atmosphere of tranquility" in the Salt Lake Valley.
Members of the Krishna community are excited for the new temple.
“It’ll be amazing. ... It will draw and attract huge numbers of people here,” said caretaker Rishab Das, Padma Dasi’s husband.
The couple came to Utah from India four years ago to run the school-turned-temple. Das sees Utah as a good place for Krishnas. Members of the predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are nice and also are taught to avoid intoxicants, said Das, adding that Krishnas swear off meat as well.
Now Das and Dasi will lead operations out of the new building.
Visitors already frequent the 7 p.m. Saturday services held in the former school, said Caru Das, but he hopes the new temple will draw more student tours.
Krishna ceremonies are open to the public, and worshippers love having guests, said Das. Those who are curious about the religion or want to experience its chanting ceremonies are welcome to come see the new temple for themselves.