myReview 2 mo

Barefooted: A Catholic White Man's Visit To A Hindu Monastery

KostasKouvalis

Anyone who truly knows me, would very much consider me a "Desiphile". So when I found out that there was a Hindu monastery on Kauai, I could not pass up the opportunity to visit. The monastery, which is located in deep in the mountains of eastern Kauai, was founded in the 1970s, and after a Hindu Guru by the name of Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, had a vision of Lord Shiva walking on the land, the first temple was built. Then in 1990, construction of a larger and more elaborate second temple began, which was actually hand carved from granite in India, then shipped to Kauai to be assembled at the monastery. The Chola style temple follows the traditional design of Saiva Agama. Today, the 20 monks inhabiting the monastery, who practice the Tamil Saivite sect of Hinduism, constitute the only Hindu population in the Hawiian islands.

Google Map showing location of Hindu monastery
Google Map showing location of Hindu monastery

My journey began with a visit to the Sacred Rudraksha Forest. Planted in 1984, the 100+ trees make up the only Rudraksha grove in the Western Hemisphere. The Rudraksha tree which is native to India, is famous for its blue fruit, who's seeds provide many health benefits and who's dried stones are used to create Hindu and Sikh prayer beads. The trees name translates to "The eye or tear of Siva", as the first tree is believed to have blossomed after Shiva shed a tear, upon seeing the sorrow of humanity.

Rudraksha Prayer Beads
Rudraksha Prayer Beads

I arrived at the Sacred Forest and was immediately greeted by a large statue of Lord Hanuman, and knew immediately this forest was going to be truly special. After spending a few minutes with the statue, I made my way into the Sacred Forest. Deep down I was hoping to see a sign requiring you to remove your shoes and socks. To my disappointment, there wasn't one. The exotic forest truly DID possess a spiritual aura about it, and it is a place I really feel should have been experienced barefoot. Nevertheless, I left my shoes on and continued through the forest, until I happened upon a small humble and somewhat disappointing shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. My Hindu adventure had only just begun and already I felt like I was no longer in Hawaii.

Sacred Rudraksha Forest
Sacred Rudraksha Forest

I got back in my rental car, and about 5 minutes later, arrived at the entrance to the Hindu monastery. There was some contradicting information online regarding the dress code, specifically whether your arms need to be covered. I happened to park next to an Indian family who was heading to the monastery, dressed in traditional attire. I decided to play it safe and just leave my rain jacket on. I followed the Indian family to the monastery entrance, and was greeted by a shoe removing station, but not everyone had their shoes off. It turned out one only needed to remove their shoes in certain areas of the complex, however I wanted to get the full Indian experience, and I felt to really get the true spiritual essence of the place, I needed to go barefoot. The ground was clean and warm enough, so I slipped my shoes and socks off and proceeded to enter the complex.

Altar Dedicated To Ganesh
Altar Dedicated To Ganesh

I followed the same Indian family to an altar of Ganesh, which had already been partially obscured by offerings from the morning prayers. I watched the Indian family in front of me, as they each rang the bell and approached the statue giving a gesture of devotion. As I followed them down the path, I came across some more statues of elephants and other Hindu deities before finally arriving at a temple dedicated to Ganesh. The basalt wall gave the temple a unique Hawaiian twist. In front of it was a large goldleaf pole, who's purpose still remains a mystery to me. This is where I would part ways with the Indian family, as non-Hindus are forbidden from entering the temple. Sadly, this practice is quite prevalent in Hindu society, and it is not one I particularly think is right, especially coming from a religion who's doors are open to all. Nevertheless, I was respectful, and aside from managing a partial peak, I respected the "No Photos" and "No Entry" rules.

Ganesh Statue and Mystery Pole
Ganesh Statue and Mystery Pole

I continued down the path and came upon a statue of a turbaned man mediating, as well as a fountain containing a statue of a nude dancing man. A few steps more, and I found myself at a large crystal clear pool located on the side of the temple. Surely, this also served some purpose, and the stairs were obviously there for a reason. But being lehman in the world of a religion and culture not my own, last thing I wanted to do is offend the monks or worshippers. So a quick dip of my toes, is all this pool would get from me.

Sacred Pool and Temple
Sacred Pool and Temple

I continued through the complex and eventually arrived at a private residence. As I headed back, a monk (surprisingly a lot of the monks I encountered were actually White dudes) passed by and happened to notice my camera and pointed me to an area where I could get some great views of the second temple. This was the main reason I came to the monastery, and I was disappointed that this is as close as I would be able to get to it. But seeing the temple with the mountains, river and rainbow in the background was a surreal experience.

Tranquil Setting
Tranquil Setting
What I would have seen, if access wasnt restricted
What I would have seen, if access wasn't restricted

I once again passed by the pond, and this time saw a group of sarong clad women stepping into the pool, and I was pleased that I hadn't done anything wrong.

I continued back towards the entrance and stopped at a large meditation tree and statue of Shiva, that I had missed before. I was almost at the end of my journey, but I wasn't ready to put my shoes on. I loved the feeling of being barefoot in such a calm and spiritual place. I felt so free and relaxed and for the first time in a long time, felt a strong connection to the earth and gods, even if the gods were from a religion not my own. Luckily for me, I discovered another path containing some more statues and a Siva Lingam, that I had missed before, and was quickly reminded of the adventures of my hero Doctor Jones.

Shiva Statues and Meditation Tree
Shiva Statues and Meditation Tree

Eventually, the time had come to conclude this beautiful experience. Nature was calling, and the bathroom was one place I WASN'T about to go barefoot, but I took no rush in putting my shoes on. As I caught the eye of a fair skinned Indian family, who started asking ME if they needed to remove their shoes. 30 minutes ago, I was a confused outsider and now here I was answering an Indian family's questions about their own cultural practices. Of course I respected their decision to leave their shoes on, but at the same time I felt they were missing out on the surreal experience of doing it barefoot.

But the surprises didn't end there, as I made my way towards the bathroom, I noticed a sign saying to remove your shoes for the gift shop. Thankfully, not for the bathroom. I was surprised however to see an open shower stall inside the bathroom. Who it was for and for what purpose, is also a mystery.

Information at Shoe Removing Station
Information at Shoe Removing Station

So, that was the end of my Kauai Indian adventure. I came to this monastery to learn about Hindu and Indian culture, but instead I feel I learned more about myself. I had seen pictures and videos of historic temple complexes in India and Myanmar, some of which even required removing your shoes just to get to them, some of which required doing so on bare earth. I always thought this was something I could never do, now I feel I could. I also came away with a deeper understand of WHY people come to these places barefoot.

In addition, I always told myself, if I ever date or marry an Indian girl, she will either have to be Christian or an atheist. I thought an Indian family would never accept me, and that I could never fit in with Indian society. Now however, although I can't see myself converting, I can totally see myself marrying an Indian girl and going to temples with her, so long as she is respectful of MY cultural and religious practices.

That being said, you won't find me moving to India anytime soon. I still strongly cherish Western concepts, and certainly, there are perks to having this kind of experience in a Western country. However, I see there are many aspects of Indian society and culture that I find beautiful, that go just beyond Bollywood and female aesthetics. The Indians I met on the island were some of the friendliest and most well-mannered people I've met. India was one of my favorite places as a child, lately however I've been having a lot of mixed feelings about it, but my visit to the monastery made me realize that India IS in fact a place I must some day visit. So perhaps the next time you read a MyTake like this, it will be about a Hindu monastery in the country where it was meant to be.

Barefooted: A Catholic White Man's Visit To A Hindu Monastery
3 Opinion