Spanish Fork • The Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple stands atop a hill in rural southern Utah County, its domes more fitting for India than the predominantly Mormon communities that surround it.
"We have a world-class Krishna temple in the least likely place in America," says Caru Das, the American-born priest who bought a radio station and this property in 1982. He has seen the impressive building, largely designed by his wife, Vai Warden, become a place where thousands come to learn about his ancient religion.
"Krishna consciousness offers more specific, authorized, scripturally based information about God than any other source I know," Das said. "Therefore, if any truth seeker from any part of the world or from any other tradition wants to know about the Supreme Being, whom we are told to love with all our heart, soul and might, this is the mother lode."
Though the temple and grounds play host to thousands of people for major festivals, most days they are peaceful and quiet. Temple workers such as Collin Sine welcome curious visitors about 40,000 a year who take tours, partake of daily vegetarian meals and buy Indian clothing or books at a gift shop.
Soft recorded chants fill the main floor, which includes the restaurant and gift shop. Incense and Indian food create a pleasant aroma. Visitors remove their shoes at the door as a sign of respect.
Sine's study of Krishna began while visiting a relative's home. As he examined shelves stuffed with several hundred books, he passed his hand over volume after volume and pulled out a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita, the ancient text in which Krishna speaks.
"I started reading it," he said. "That's how I found out about Krishna. It was the only book on the shelf about Krishna."
Events such as the Holi Festival of Colors, Krishna's birthday celebration, the Llama Festival and the Diwali Festival of Lights can bring as many as 75,000 people to the temple and its surrounding farm. Still, most visitors know little if anything about this majestic domed edifice, which seems so out of place, and the ancient religion practiced inside.
"You devote your whole life to God," Sine explained when asked how the building is used for worship. "You show your love for God, or Krishna, in a form of worship by devoting all of your thoughts and everything you do to God."
Vai Warden explained that in an Indian temple, worship occurs from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and can be led by many priests. There are separate buildings for food service and sales.
"In Utah, we have limited funding and limited everything," she said. "We combined it. The temple is the cultural center, where people come to get all the things they need. There are performances of dances and music, and lots of festivals. Food is part of the culture, so the buffet is open. There are some nice things in the gift store to buy from India. That is part of the culture. … But we keep the temple in the center. … It is always open to tourists as long as they treat the place with respect."
Warden, an artist, visited India, and her husband credits her with the Spanish Fork temple's design and much of its artwork. The building is modeled after a famous devotional palace in India called Kusum Sarovar.
The temple's second floor features chandeliers, an altar with a flute-playing Krishna surrounded by other deities and an area where musical instruments can be used for chants. Krishna is always depicted as young and handsome. One wall gives Caru Das a place to offer instruction on topics such as overcoming loneliness, dealing with depression, breaking bad habits and forming loving relationships. These are often PowerPoint presentations. Another corner displays a life-size statue of the late Srila Prabhupada, the guru credited with bringing the religion to the United States.
Priests offer vegetarian food to the deities at the altar. Believers say Krishna is a single god who can be incarnated in many forms, called deities.
"A lot of people mix up deities with idol worship," Sine said. "Deities are not idols. They are God's incarnation of himself. God came down and he put what is good and what is bad in place."
The main weekly service, called the Love Feast, is held Sundays at 5 p.m. It begins with a kirtan, which means "to share, to celebrate, to glorify." According to temple literature, this part of the ceremony immerses believers in "the ancient sound vibrations of sacred mantras, a tradition which has been handed down for millennia from master to student, unlocking the doors to inner awareness and satisfaction."
About a half-hour later, Caru Das delivers a brief talk. That is followed by an Aarti ceremony, which celebrates the five elements of God's creation: earth, air, fire, water and ether. These elements appear in the form of a flower, a flame, a peacock fan and the blowing of a conch shell followed by a closing song and a vegetarian feast.
Das said about 50 or 60 people regularly attend services in Spanish Fork. The Salt Lake Krishna Temple at 965 E. 3370 South offers a Saturday service led by Das and attracts a growing flock of 100 to 200 worshippers.
When a visitor commented that the Spanish Fork temple seemed like a peaceful place, Sine said, "There is a lot of that here. Virtue or a good quality is tolerance. We have very high tolerance. We try to aspire to that. If people say something offensive to me, I am supposed to tolerate that. But if someone says something to my friend, I can say something. I don't have to tolerate my friends being offended."
Such Krishna teachings and transcendence can be found at this hilltop sanctuary deep in the heart of Mormon Utah.
About the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple
Location • 311 W. 8500 South, Spanish Fork
Built • 2001
Size • 12,500 square feet
Cost • $1.5 million; $25,000 donated from the LDS Church Foundation
Architect • Connelly and Associates, with designs provided by Vai Warden
Features • Domes, altar of the deities, chandeliers, gift shop, daily vegetarian buffet, surrounding farm and animals. Tours available 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For information, call 801-798-3559 or click on www.utahkrishnas.com.
'Where We Worship' series
O The Salt Lake Tribune is featuring Utah's sacred spaces this year. To read previous stories in this monthly series, go to www.sltrib.com
Today • Spanish Fork's Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple