A Brief History of the Temple (Gita Bhawan)
Since the 1950s, students from India have been coming to the University of Saskatchewan for higher studies. In the following years, the university began seeking academicians from India to serve as faculty members. By 1960s, a small Indian community was starting to take root in Saskatoon and began to gather for worship and celebrate Hindu festivals at each others homes. Out of this humble beginning, Swami Bhashyananda, a Senior Monk from the Vedanta Society, Chicago, visited Saskatoon in 1972, who inspired community members to build a temple for worship.
Working toward this goal, the community members incorporated the Vedanta Society of Saskatchewan on June 28th , 1977, and established a formal administrative body. In 1981, the society purchased an old church building on 5th Street East, renovated the building to meet the temple requirements and started hosting regular weekly prayer services. After moving to this building, the services became more structured. A book of prayers and hymns was compiled to accommodate different worship methods being practised in different parts of India.
Within couple of years, the budding Hindu community in Saskatoon began to exceed what the old church could accommodate and demanded the need for a larger facility to continue with the weekly services. The society then decided to build a new temple and purchased a suitable lot on La Ronge Road in Saskatoon. Donations contributed by the community members and proceeds from sale of the existing building made up the down payment for mortgage of the new Temple. The Temple was designed in the architectural style of traditional Hindu temples in India. The community has contributed immensely for careful planning of every minor detail of the temple. The construction was completed in early 1984 turning a dream of the community to reality.
After moving to its new home, the temple continued with weekly services and celebration of Hindu festivals, in addition to serving as a platform for connecting Hindus from all across the world. The professional kitchen in the basement catered the requirements to serve food during all celebrations. The new premises also meet the need of the community to celebrate their family functions and a place for private gatherings and celebrations. For the next 30 years, the temple facility remained as a dynamic centre of Hinduism in Saskatchewan and western Canada, a place for religion and spiritual practices for the growing community, before it has undergone another major expansion.
A Timeline of Significant Events on this Journey
- In 1986, the name of Vedanta Society of Saskatchewan was changed to Hindu Society of Saskatchewan (HSS).
- In April 1987, a Board of Trustees was established to manage the financial matters of the Society, approve the annual budget, organize fundraising efforts, and oversee temple management.
- Since 1987, temple started hosting annual vegetarian banquet to connect with diverse communities of the province.
- In March 1989, with the help of a special committee by-laws of HSS were drafted and approved by the general body. In January 1990, HSS purchased the lot next to the Temple premises in anticipation of a future need to expand the Temple.
- In 1992, the Bhajan books were revised and were printed in Jaipur, India. The first temple calendars were printed this year and since then has continued every year
- In 2008 the membership was asked to review the administrative structure of Hindu Society of Saskatchewan. There were two elected bodies i.e., Executive Board and Board of Trustees. The executive board had operational responsibilities and board of trustees had responsibilities of organizing fundraising activities and long-term planning.
- All the important decision were taken by the joint board i.e., Executive Board plus Board of trustees. The joint board was chaired by the chair of the board of trustees. Over the years a number of difficulties were encountered by the Executive board which adversely affected their functions. Therefore, a proposal to have a single unified administrative structure was put forward to the membership at the AGM of 2008
- After extensive debate and consideration of the experiences of over 20 years, the membership approved the following motion with no opposition: “The Hindu Society of Saskatchewan should develop a single administrative body to replace the present Board of Executive and Trustees. A bylaw committee should be formed to revise the present bylaws accordingly.”
- In 2009, the by-laws were amended to form a unified Executive Board which is empowered by the addition of designated co-ordinators for fundraising activities, programs, facility maintenance and community outreach.
- By 2020, there was an enormous increase the value of temple assets, number of activities while it still continued to run as an association purely managed by volunteers. To facilitate certain level of consistency in HSS operations over the years and to mentor the new board members when needed, in September 2020, the membership had approved to form a three-member advisory committee.
The advisory committee is a standing committee whose members are elected for a five-year term. This committee does not have any executive role or approval authority for any of the board decisions or its budget. It recognizes the executive board as a single administrative body and only advises the executive board on matters of long-term planning and other matter of significance when needed.
Gita Bhawan – A Major Expansion of Temple Facility
On January 7 th , 1990, the Hindu Society of Saskatchewan decided to purchase land adjacent to the Temple, which had just been put up for sale. A unanimous decision was made to buy the lot for the Temple’s future requirements. Donations for the down payment were raised within the hour. Since early 2000’s, the number of devotees attending temple services has consistently increased and demanded for temple expansion. On several of the occasions, the attendance exceeded the allowed capacity of the temple hall. Various options were considered to increase the capacity of the temple hall by the committees designated for this purpose.
Design of Gita Bhawan
In November 2013, the Temple Expansion Committee (TEC) was formed, with Mrs. Leela Sharma and Mrs. Mythili Venkatraman as co-chairs. Twenty-two other committee members worked within several different subcommittees. With capable leadership and dedicated members, the TEC formalized a plan, greatly aided by the valuable work done by previous committees. The two major options evaluated were either to extend the existing temple hall by extending to backwards or build a new building and attach the same to the existing building. The later option was approved by the general body on June 29th, 2014 Under this plan, the new building was to be constructed on the parking lot space and the vacant lot (purchased in 1990) was to be developed as new parking lot. The approved cost of the project was 1.2 million dollars with a target to raise $500,000 before start of the project. It was agreed to transfer $340,000 from Lakshmi Narayan Fund, $100,000 from operational account. To make up the remaining funds, the TEC raised another $60,000 in few weeks.
In July 2015, with Shri Lakshmi Narayan’s blessings, the Temple expansion project finally got off the ground. The building contract was awarded to North Ridge Developments, with an estimated construction time of one year. The final cost of the project upon completion was increased to $1.5 million. This increase was needed to address a number of additions to the initial plan as approved by the membership. The additions included (a) development of the basement, (b) completion of the second-floor residential suite, (c) paving the parking lot, (d) development of a large commercial kitchen in the basement and connect to the existing kitchen, (e) Install a high-quality audio-visual and sound system to relay events in the main temple hall and direct the overflow audience to Gita Bhawan, (f) Install a movable divider in Gita Bhawan to hold two simultaneous functions, (g) installation of new air-conditioning units in the existing building, and (h) Significant repairs of the existing temple’s roof, pillars and leaks in the outside walls.
During the construction, the TEC organized many fundraising events including a Shilanyas ceremony, multiple food-fairs, Walkathons, New Year celebrations, Ganesh Pooja, Suhasani Devi Pooja, Pt Sanjeev Abhyankar concert, Bollywood concert in Prince Albert, Dances of India event in North Battleford, monthly lunches, Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty concerts, and Gita Sloka Marble Plaque presentations. Through large donations and pre-authorized monthly payments from many of our generous, dedicated devotees, including the Saskatoon Community Foundation, North Ridge development, Decora Homes and the Chandra Dattani Foundation, an additional $500,000 was raised to support the project.
The Grand Opening
By September 2016, with the blessings from Lord Lakshmi Narayan, generosity, support, and help from many devotees, and we were able to complete the project.
On October 22nd, 2016, opening ceremony of Gita Bhawan was conducted by Pandit Hari Shankar Debral from Calgary.
The Gita Bhawan is a multipurpose community hall, which is over 3000 square feet. The spacious facility includes a main hall with a 16″ x 24″ stage, a two-bedroom suite, and a state-of-the-art professional kitchen.
The new hall was decorated with a beautiful picture of Lord Ganesh and marble plaques containing slokas from the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ and ‘Gita Saar’ in Sanskrit and English, with large pictures of Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Twenty-four beautiful custom-made carpets were purchased from Calgary. A professional stage was furnished with tables and chairs.
Under the leadership of Mrs. Leela Sharma and Mrs. Mythili Venkatraman, the Temple Expansion Committee achieved the goal to expand the temple facility. In its current state, It can meet the needs of the community for the next several decades.
The present – Pandemic 2020
During the past year, fundraising activities have declined significantly because of the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to public health advisories, Temple activities have moved online and continue to take place virtually. Weekly worship and major festival celebrations have been done on Zoom. There has been active participation from community members in all virtual temple activities.
In June 2020, we raised enough funds to provide groceries for approximately one hundred international students from the University of Saskatchewan who were facing significant financial difficulties.
We have continued to make our mortgage payments, although it has been with some difficulty during the COVID-19 pandemic. The total mortgage has been lowered from $684,000 to $385,000.
The Temple hall is now called “Gita Bhawan.” The Gita Bhawan is used for major Temple functions and festival celebrations. The hall is also rented at a nominal cost for private functions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, dance recitals, music concerts, art displays, and baby shower celebrations. We hope the Gita Bhawan will host many significant events, such as festival celebrations, prominent scholars of Hinduism, performers of classical music and dance, family functions and celebrations, and more. We dream that it will stand out as an essential part of our community, promoting Hinduism’s value and teachings for countless generations to come.
We take great pride in being part of such a dynamic, vibrant, and generous community that values compassion, kindness, and caring for each other. We receive our strength and inspiration from Lord Lakshmi Narayan, who guides us on the righteous path.
Over the years, the Hindu Society of Saskatchewan has grown into a strong community organization that participates in many community activities and works with different volunteer organizations. Some of these include multi-faith events, the Saskatoon Food Bank. In addition, the HSS has a faith leader available to students at the University of Saskatchewan. Many student groups from various high schools and university religious studies students visit the Temple from time to time to learn about Hinduism. Our hope and aspiration is that the Hindu Society of Saskatchewan will continue to play a significant role in religious and social affairs in the great province of Saskatchewan for many years to come.
Four Decades of HSS impact – in the Community-at-Large
The Hindu temple holds an important presence in Saskatoon’s religious mosaic. It provides a special place for worship, for the celebration of popular Indian festivals and offers a variety of other services. It is a place that enriches the lives of the citizens of Saskatoon. For the diverse Hindu community, it is a commonplace of worship that brings the entire community together, helping to maintain religious values and pass them on to our children. The Temple has become an important monument and has become a tourist attraction, in particular the Hindu Visitors. The temple also serves the Northern Saskatchewan communities such as North Battleford and Prince Albert. Many classical musical and dance concerts with well-known artists had been presented over the years, will continue in Saskatoon.
Annual Vegetarian Banquet has become a prestigious event, and is extremely popular in the community at large. A day for Hindu community to celebrate our contribution to our city and our province. It is a day when the people of Saskatchewan acknowledging the achievements of members of our community, recognizing individuals’ achievements of the youth in arts, culture, academics, sport and community services. The event also serves as an important time to showcase our rich Indian heritage, tradition and culture. Events such as this contribute a great deal toward building bridges of understanding in this diverse and multi-ethnic society. The event is attended by Premier, Governor General of Saskatchewan, Mayor, counselors, Ambassador of Indian Embassy, President of University of Saskatchewan, various faculty members and departments of U & S, Swamiji, business owners, pharmaceutical company representatives, doctors, engineers, teacher and many more.
In addition, the Hindu Society has become a strong community organization. Hindu Society promotes understanding and friendship among the faith community in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan. The HSS has been members of Saskatoon and Saskatchewan multifaith; continue to raise funds for Saskatoon Food Bank, disasters such as tsunami, earthquakes, Calgary flood and Terry Fox run and more. The youth wing is quite active in raising funds for the victims of disasters. Continue to help the newcomers. The HSS outreach coordinator keeps the connection with Open door society and Global gathering. It also gives space for English classes. As well, resource persons routinely give lectures on Hinduism to Saskatoon school students and other interested groups upon requests. Once a month HSS holds ‘reflection of Hinduism’ discussion on various topics.
HSS enjoys a fruitful partnership with the University of Saskatchewan. The Society established “Vedanta Endowment Trust” at the University. With this partnership many internationally known scholars delivered enlightening lectures at the temple and the at the University.
We can certainly very proud of all that we have accomplished in last 40 years. For community of our size, we have come a long way. With help from many enthusiastic volunteers, their dedication, commitment, financial support and collective effort have helped this temple to continue to prosper and grow more. Hindu Society of Saskatchewan has been a matter of pride to the whole community.
Hindu Society continue to enrich the lives of next generation and provide a place of worship and learning of the rich heritage of Hindu religion for many years to come. We hope to help crate peace and harmony in the Society at large.
Leela Sharma & Mythily Venkatraman