During the year 2000, few friends toyed with the idea of building a Balaji Temple so that the community can have a dedicated place of worship with the traditional Indian Architecture. Immediately they formed a trust by name "Botswana Hindu Charities Trust" (BHCT) and applied for allocation of land. The Government of Botswana was kind enough to allocate a piece of land measuring 7018 Square metres in Block 8 Gaborone. With some small donations, the plot was secured with a wire fence around. A formal Action Committee was formed to plan and implement the Project. Mr. Muthiah Sthapathi, a renowned Temple Architect was contacted to provide Temple drawings. A basic drawing was obtained and the Project was formally launched on 27th May 2001.
Scope of the Project
Even before the formal launch of the project, some senior members of the Hindu community in Botswana suggested that, considering the small size of the community, it would be better to install the other deities also in the Temple, in addition to Balaji and his consorts. Accordingly, the scope of the Project was later enhanced to install other deities also. Thus dawn the concept of a new Hindu Temple! The original drawings of the Balaji Temple were altered to suit the new Hindu Temple. It was decided to have along with Balaji and his consorts, the other deities Viz., Ayyappa, Muruga, Siva, and Vaishnodevi. A Maha mandap which was originally planned to be an open mandap was accordingly altered to suit the new design. Later, sanctum sanctorum for Lord Ganesha and Hanuman were also added to the project along with Navagrahas. With these additions, it was felt that the project would cater for the needs of various groups in the Hindu community. Provision of a hall, community kitchen and construction of Raja Gopuram were initially deferred to a later date. Construction of Priest quarters and ablution block were considered essential and hence, included in the first stage of the project.
Ambition (Vs) Reality
The action committee's ambition and vision were equally matched with enthusiasm and the faith that the task would be achieved. But the reality, that a project of this magnitude required enormous resources in terms of money, materials and manpower, posed a challenge especially considering the small size of the community. The challenge was even bigger considering that other organizations too competed for resources from the same community. These challenges never deterred the committee members from the task ahead of them. Some even felt that the task should be carried only when adequate resources are secured and in place. Others felt the task should be initiated and efforts should go on to secure funds. For almost a period of two years, BHCT initiated fund collections drive from individuals as donations. Further, BHCT also used the "Kalyanotsav" as one of the source of fund raising. A Vegetarian Food Festival by name "Bhojan" was organized every year to generate some funds. Another cultural event by name "Sruthilaya" was added to generate more funds. All these efforts were just sufficient to give courage to do "Bhoomipuja" for the project on 23rd November 2002, and the work started in mid 2003 to construct the Sanctum Sanctorum for Balaji, Sridevi and Bhoodevi and the construction of Maha mandap. Meanwhile, for the period up to 31 December 2003, since the launch of the project only P 450,000 was collected against the total requirement of over P2 million for the first stage of the project. However, the construction work continued
The construction work was awarded on contract, and the work progressed well. After the completion of the basic civil works on the 3 Sanctum sanctorum and Maha mandap, the Temple Architect was invited to review the progress and advise further course of action. Few anomalies in the construction work were pointed out by him and rectifications were suggested. Along with the rectification work, construction of Sanctum sanctorum for Lord Ayyappa, Muruga, Siva and Vaishnodevi were taken up and completed by mid 2005, and the building was ready for embellishment.
Embellishing the Temple, in the traditional architectural style found in the Temples in the southern parts of India, was of paramount importance since the building was designed to reflect the beauty of this tradition which is prevalent for well over a millennium in the Temples in India. Efforts were made to identify the Artisans (Sthapathis) who are renowned for such tasks. After enormous efforts, a group of eleven artisans headed by Mr. Valasingham was identified, and the task was entrusted to the group. However, the committee was fully aware of the financial commitment it was entering into since the monthly requirements for these artisans were around P 40,000. BHCT never had sizeable balance to take such a commitment. After considerable deliberation, the Committee unanimously decided to plunge in to embellishment task with the faith that the community will support such a wonderful task.
If wishes were horses, the Committee would have flown very high. But the reality was different. To meet the first month's commitment itself the Trust found it difficult to manage. However, to the credit of the community, amounts were trickling in some small amounts and some bigger amounts. Further, the efforts of the Committee to raise funds by regular annual events were also assisting the financial position. With all difficulties, the artisans were paid though belatedly at times.
The Artisans from India, with the help of the local workers to assist in the construction task, were busy at work; and within a very short period what originally appeared as a concrete structure began to dazzle with life, with the beautiful sculptures. The building attracted the passersby and even the professionals in the country. Admiration was even higher when people noticed that the tasks were carried at site with basic tools, cement, steel and copper wire, and that no moulded structures were affixed. Almost after a year's work, the artisans finished the embellishment of the Sanctum Sanctorum, Maha Mandap and other ancillary work. The Temple Building was standing tall exhibiting its beauty and the skills of the Artisans.
The embellished structure was so beautiful that any ancillary works like electrical fittings, flooring, doors, windows, other fittings and painting had to be planned with enormous thought and care befitting the marvelous structure. But then, the resource constraints sometimes triggered the conservative thoughts in the minds of the Committee members to settle for the realistic alternatives. However, the community at large whenever confronted with the paradigm between the higher expenditure and the quality products had always guided and supported BHCT to go for the later, to match the dazzling structure. Accordingly, BHCT had to find ways and means to find quality products and services. To cite a few, BHCT went for good electrical fittings and Chandeliers, Granite flooring, and good doors including Carved Indian Teak wood doors for the Rajagoupuram and the Maha mandap, thanks to magnanimous contributions from some community members.
Raja Gopuram (Main Tower)
Some of the works including Raja Gopuram were originally planned for a later stage mainly due to the financial constraint. But, it was thought prudent and cost effective to construct Raja Gopuram in the current stage itself as it would be too expensive to bring the Artisans at a later stage by spending additional cost in airfare and to provide them with accommodation. This was brought to the attention of community at large and response from them was phenomenal. Many contributions came in cash and in kind, and within 4 months of the start of the construction, the Raja Gopuram was completed. This structure has enhanced the beauty of the already imposing Temple building.
Import of Vigrahas
While the construction was going ahead, the Vigrahas made of Panchaloga (Metal) and Granite were imported and after following necessary religious procedures, these Vigrahas were installed in the respective Sanctum Sanctorum and regular pujas started.
As a next step, Moolavars (Main Vigrahas) were imported from India and Laghu samprochanam was held. The Laghu samprochanam consisted of various sevas such as "Jalathivasam", "Thanyathivasam" for a mandalam (48 days) starting from 16th Jul 2007.
Almost 7 years after the project is launched, the project was successfully completed and Maha Kumbhabhishekam was conducted on 16th Sep 2007. The Kumbhabhishekam ceremonies stared on 9th Sep 2007 and concluded on 16th Sep 2007. Then Indian High Commissionor and the Then President of Botswana graced the occacion by visiting the temple during the Kumbhabhishekam ceremony.
Construction of this huge temple, especially outside India, was a mammoth task but BHCT was able to complete it with the support of the community. Until the Kumbhabhishekam an amount of P3 million (approximately Rs. 2 crores) has been spent in cash and in kind.
A seed that was sown sometime back has grown now into a big tree. On 16th Sep 2007, with the performance of the Kumbhabhishekam (Sanctification of the deities) the Dream came to a Reality. A dazzling Temple with its entire splendor is there for everybody's use in this country and beyond.
It is said that "Once one is accustomed to such splendor, it no longer dazzles". But, when some work is done in the name of the God, with his blessings, his directions and command, and when he himself is abode in it; it will remain with its everlasting splendor and dazzling in Botswana. One day, it may become a National Heritage, reflecting Botswana's multicultural, tolerant and shining democratic values!