Chicago's first Hindu Temple
Plans were unveiled for what could be Chicago's first Hindu temple.
Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) held a community meeting in West Ridge alongside Mita Shewakramani of Shree Ganesh Hindu Temple, as well as the group's attorney and architect, to take questions and show about two dozen community members renderings and examples of similar existing temples.
The meeting was part of the process of obtaining a license from the city's Zoning Board of Appeals in order to become a religious institution, a step that would require the OK from Silverstein.
Plans for the storefront at 2545 W. Devon Ave. include a palace-style facade decorated with colorful and ornate details, in particular a nearly 40-foot stone pyramid-like structure that would stand atop the one-story building.
The inside has a capacity for 150 people and would include a sanctuary, classroom, meditation room and hospitality room, and would offer lessons in Hindi, meditation, yoga, astrological readings and more to patrons and community members alike, Shewakramani said.
There is "something missing in this community that really needs to bring people together, and we really think a temple would help with that," Shewakramani said. "Creating something beautiful like this, people would come all over to see it."
Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) held a community meeting to discuss the plans with temple sponsor Mita Shewakramani and architect Tom Buckley. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
The building would be open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. with 45-minute prayer sessions from 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and 6:30-7:15 p.m.
Behind the building are 12 parking spaces, with another 30 slated to be set aside for those using the temple in a private parking garage across the street at Rockwell and Devon, said Elizabeth Santis, the temple's attorney.
Shewakramani said she expects about one-third of the temple's patrons will travel by foot rather than car.
The added traffic would be an "integral facet" in improving a vibrant, but struggling, commercial Devon Avenue, Shewakramani said.
Shewakramani's family owns four other businesses on Devon Avenue: Regal Jewels, Regal Traders and Sari Sapne.
Her father, who runs Shree Ganesh and the stores, has lived in West Ridge since the 1970s, but said the Indian community's Hindu residents never had a proper place to worship like other major religions in the neighborhood did.
For the last three years he would close down one of his other storefronts for major Hindu holidays so people could celebrate together until the building at 2545 W. Devon Ave. became available earlier this year.
"There's been nothing really despite the influx of Indians and Hindu," Shewakramani said. "We have lots of synagogues and churches and mosques, but not temples."
Now, West Ridge's "Little India" portion of Devon could finally get its due, Santis said.
"This is a really, really exciting project to bring a new temple to Devon Avenue, which of course is the heart of the Indian community here in Chicago," Santis said. "This is one of the great neighborhoods in Chicago in that it is probably one of the most multi-cultural neighborhoods that we have in the city, and we want to make sure everyone in the community is represented."
The building was formerly occupied by Bank of America until earlier this year when Shree Ganesh Temple of Chicago began using it.
The palace-style Hindu temple would be the first in Chicago, though two other Hindu organizations exist: the International Society for Krishna Consciousness temple in Rogers Park and Shivalya Hindu Cultural Center in River North.
Other major Hindu temples are at least 35 miles away in Chicago suburbs like Aurora, Grayslake and Lemont.
Community members who turned out for the meeting offered positive anecdotes of spending time with members of the temple, as well as offering encouragement and support — an aspect of the neighborhood Silverstein said she prides herself on.
"I pride myself on the diversity of Devon Avenue," Silverstein said. "I'm hoping that since you all approve of this that we should expect some good things to come from the Hindu temple."
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