Boise’s Hare Krishna Temple just south of Boise State University began welcoming Hindu worshipers in 1986.
“The temple started out in my parents’ home as a small place of gathering,” said Ravi Gupta, son of Arun and Aruddha Gupta. “People started coming. It grew. It took over our living room, then the kitchen, then the bedrooms.”
The Guptas realized an expansion was in order. They bought the lot next to their house and built a gold-domed temple in 1999. On Saturday, the congregation will celebrate an even larger expansion into the former Drake Plumbing yard off Boise Avenue.
The once in-home worship site has grown into a 10,000 square foot temple complex. The Krishna Cultural Center includes a new performance hall, library, meditation garden and greenhouse, said Ravi Gupta, now a professor at Utah State University who heads the university’s Religious Studies Program.
The temple draws between 70 and 80 devotees to services on a regular basis, and hundreds for special events. But the public will get its first look at the temple complex expansion on Saturday at a special ceremony. Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little and members of Boise’s Indian community will attend.
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter has proclaimed May 14, 2016 as Krishna Cultural Center Day. The celebration will include Indian dance and music, activities for children and a free vegetarian meal.
“The distribution of food is an essential part of the ceremony,” said Gupta. “Feeding others and sharing food together is such a big part, not just of community, but of our spiritual practice and traditions.”
Welcoming the public into the complex on Saturday and beyond, regardless of visitors’ religious affiliations, is also in keeping with Krishna beliefs.
“This is a very spiritual place,” Temple President Arun Gupta said about the complex, “but it’s spiritually neutral.”
The Hare Krishna movement is a branch of Hinduism, which is a blanket term over various denominations, not unlike Christianity, said Ravi Gupta. Hare Krishna’s leader, Swami Prabhupada, brought the movement to New York City in the mid-1960s. The Bhagavad Gita is the Krishna movement’s main religious text.
The movement embraces nonviolence and the divinity of the natural world — hence the inclusion in the expansion of a garden and greenhouse. The garden, which has been planted with new trees and hardy plants, will offer public green space in a built-up neighborhood that’s adjacent to the university and urbanizing as the university expands, Gupta said. The greenhouse has a special purpose — growing tulasi, or holy basil (Ocimum sanctum). The medicinal herb is grown in temples throughout India, and Krishna devotees use the herb in ceremonies.
The performance hall will offer space for dance performances, coming-of-age ceremonies and weddings. But like the rest of the complex, it will be available to the general public for yoga, dance or other purposes. The complex expansion includes two small apartments for visiting guests, a kitchen, a seminar room and a library that holds 1,000 volumes of literature from ancient India.
“Again, this is a resource for students and professors. We’re so close to Boise State,” said Gupta, who studied at Boise State before going to England to get his masters and doctorate degrees at Oxford.
Classes from nearby institutions, including College of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene University, already visit the temple complex on a regular basis, he said. Gupta also notes an art gallery inside the new performance hall where the congregation is featuring landscape photographs by Vishwanath Bhat of Boise.
Boise architect Bruce Poe designed the first temple in 1999 and the new expansion. Poe is not a Krishna devotee, but he has become a good friend to the congregation, said Gupta. Poe said that designing the temple and complex has been a journey for him, learning about the religion and how devotees regard the world, then coming up with a design that responded to those beliefs and particular rules about temple siting and orientation while fitting into a mostly residential neighborhood.
That challenge involved creating space that was restful and secluded, but simultaneously welcoming, and designing buildings characterized by warm, natural light — again, a nod to the beauty of the natural world.
“They really are an inclusive religion,” said Poe, “Anyone who gets to know the Hindu culture and people who practice it knows they’re a gentle group of people who embrace non-violence, vegetarianism. They live their religion every day.”
Katherine Jones contributed to this story.