Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

How and where do members of local Hindu communities come together?

Local and regional temples are the major gathering places Hindus use religiously and socially and support financially. Individual temples in India are generally dedicated predominantly to a particular deity. Most center around some aspect or manifestation of Shiva or Vishnu, or one of their major female consorts or counterparts. A temple will typically also have subordinate shrines dedicated to other names and forms of the central deity. Some smaller local temples may also belong exclusively to sects worshipping deities largely unknown outside the area. Most temples draw sectarian clienteles.

In many regions outside India, however, greater diversity in the makeup of local communities often requires greater flexibility in the religious orientation of temples. For example, Indian immigrants around American cities such as Pittsburgh and St. Louis come from various places in India and represent a variety of sectarian backgrounds. As a result, the temples that serve the regions are sensitive to a wider spectrum of devotional needs than might be the case at a local temple in an area where Hindus are in the majority and where one sect predominates. Large temples in both Pittsburgh and St. Louis have been funded by Indian populations largely of immigrants from south India. Both temples are therefore dedicated to a popular south Indian manifestation of Vishnu called Shri Venkateshvara (Lord of the Sin-Forgiving Hill). But in order to serve the diverse local population, both temples include prominent devotional symbolism familiar both to Shaivites and to Vaishnavites.


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