Earlier this week, walls inside the Swaminarayan Temple were spray-painted with messages of hate.
On Saturday, the hate was erased thanks to 500 or so community members who packed inside the Hindu temple in Louisville to help paint over the “repugnant” messages and repair windows damaged in the vandalism.
Young children painted next to elderly volunteers. Hindus worked side by side with Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and others.
Members said it was perhaps the largest gathering of people ever inside the temple, which has been at its Bardstown Road location in the Buechel neighborhood for about five years.
An interfaith gathering in the temple’s main sanctuary also brought together political leaders, including Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin.
The gathering was described as “bahut sundar,” the Hindi phrase for “very beautiful” or “lovely.”
And the phrase was uttered not by a Hindu, but by Jason Crosby, pastor of Crescent Hill Baptist Church.
Raj Patel, a spokesman for the temple, explained how the Swaminarayan Temple is part of Maninagar Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan, a Hindu sect and “worldwide organization for spiritual, cultural, and social welfare” based in Ahmedabad, India.
“Our fellow disciples come to our temple to pray, find inner peace, interact and learn from one another, provide good teachings to their children, and practice the highest form of morals and ethics — just as followers of all faiths,” Patel said. “Service to society before self, expressing kindness to all, and doing things for the betterment of humanity are some of our key teachings.”
Temple members said they are praying for the 17-year-old boy whom Louisville Metro Police arrested and charged with third-degree burglary and first-degree criminal mischief Thursday in connection with the vandalism.
State Rep. Nima Kulkarni, the Louisville Democrat who in November became the first Indian-American elected to the Kentucky General Assembly, said “our hearts go out to him and his family.”
Patel said temple members consider the suspect “a bad apple” and not representative of Christianity.
Patel said the spiritual leader (similar to the pope in Catholicism) of the temple’s Hindu sect, His Divine Holiness Acharya Shree Purushottampriyadasji Swamishree Maharaj, has conveyed “a message of peace and wellness” to the suspect.
“No matter what these people have done, we pray to God that they come onto the right path and wish well for their lives,” Patel said, echoing the leader’s message.
The vandalism, which was discovered Tuesday, included profane messages, black crosses and phrases such as “Jesus Is All Mighty,” “Jesus Is The Only Lord” and “God” sprayed in black paint on walls.
An image of Lord Shree Swaminarayan, the Hindu god worshiped by temple members, was also defaced by black paint.
“As a Christian, I am doubly disheartened that this particular act was carried out in the name of Jesus,” Crosby said. “The Jesus that we find in the gospels interacted with, befriended and I believe learned from those of different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds … and never sought to persuade others to conform to his message by the way of intimidation or fear mongering.”
Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad has called the act a hate crime and said police would be at the temple Sunday to ensure the community is safe during worship.
“Rather than focusing on the hate that this young man brought into the temple, we need to focus on the fellowship that we have here together,” Conrad said. “Louisville really knows how to turn out to help one another.”
Beshear said the vandalism was “an act of hate” but the cleanup effort on Saturday “was an act of love.”
Bevin thanked all who have supported the temple and made an effort to learn more about the Hindu and Indian-American community. He said “one of the greatest freedoms that we have is the freedom of religious liberty.”
“And we should take full advantage of that and celebrate not only the differences but the ability just to commune with one another,” Bevin said.
Temple officials said they collected $3,500 in donations Saturday that will be given to the Coalition for the Homeless in Louisville.
As the work finished up ahead of schedule, younger members of the temple enthusiastically walked around handing out food as well as books that explain their Hindu faith.
“We don’t judge anyone based on their color or religion or anything like that,” said Manav Patel, 17, who attends BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir temple in Goshen, Kentucky, and was helping out Saturday. “To see (the vandalism) happen was devastating, but as you can see, we’re coming here together as a community. We’re really peaceful people.”
Reach Billy Kobin at email@example.com or 502-582-7030.
Louisville Courier Journal