Spiritual Oasis to Arise in Nevada’s “Sin City”
On Sunday October 14th, one hundred and fifty community members attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a brand new ISKCON temple complex to be built in the last place one would expect—Las Vegas, Nevada.
Just two miles from the famous downtown strip, brahmanas performed Bhumi-puja—worship of Mother Earth—and devotees chanted kirtan and listened to speeches by donors Dr. Nanda and Radha Jivan Das, and temple president Surapala Das.
Originally from Poland, Surapala and his wife Krishna Mayi were asked by ISKCON Governing Body Commissioner Badrinarayan Das to start a temple in Las Vegas in 2001.
At first, the couple were apprehensive about living and teaching the moral, principled Krishna conscious life in a town nicknamed “Sin City” and famous for its over-indulgence of sensual pleasures.
Gradually, however, they became convinced that Krishna was giving them the opportunity to show that His name could, truly, be spread to every town and village.
So in 2002, they moved to Las Vegas and began running regular Sunday Feast programs and Wednesday meetings from their home.
The famous downtown strip of Las Vegas
Today, it’s clear that Krishna consciousness is more of a hit than one would imagine in Las Vegas. About fifty local Americans attend the weekly programs; the city’s first ever Rathayatra, held on April 1st this year was a success; and the Hindu community is beginning to show its support.
“The casinos are spitting out burnt-out people every day,” says Nimai Hemphill, a second-generation devotee and construction professional who has moved to Vegas to head up work on the new temple. “People are desperate for a spiritual alternative.”
ISKCON Las Vegas kicked into a new gear this summer, when Florida-based businessman and devotee Radha Jivan Das read an article in Back to Godhead magazine by Krishna Mayi Dasi, describing her and her husband Surapala’s pioneering efforts.
Las Vegas locals are 'desparate for Krishna consciousness'
Deeply inspired, Radha Jivan immediately flew to Las Vegas and purchased a piece of land for ISKCON less than two miles from the downtown strip, so that the community could expand and the couple would not have to run the temple out of their home anymore.
“It’s an amazing property,” says Nimai. “It’s a one-and-a-half-acre piece of countryside that the owners held onto as the city was built up all around it. So it’s like a peaceful sanctuary in the middle of Vegas.”
Nimai, who has worked in construction for the past twenty years, quit his well-paying job in Utah to work on the new temple even though doing so is a huge risk for him.
“I’ve always said that ISKCON’s second generation needs to step up,” he says. “It’s about time I put my money where my mouth is.”
Nimai has had a difficult past few years, during which both his mother Shyamapriya Dasi of ISKCON Prison Ministry and his guru passed away. He sees the Las Vegas temple complex as a special opportunity Krishna has given him to uplift and inspire him.
Digging at the groundbreaking ceremony
“This is the kind of thing I used to hear my parents talking about doing back in the day,” he says. “And recently, my wife was reading Mukunda Goswami’s book Miracle on Second Avenue where he talks about going to start a new temple in San Francisco in the 1960s. Now Krishna’s making another miracle happen in Las Vegas. And it’s very exciting to be part of it.”
Plans have been drawn up and construction on the project will begin in earnest within three weeks.
The new temple itself will cover 2,045 square feet, and combine modern architecture with Vedic arches and domes.
Three-foot-high Radha-Govinda Deities carved in Jaipur were sponsored at their full $5,000 cost by a Californian donor during this month’s groundbreaking ceremony and are already on their way. They will be worshipped on the temple’s only altar which is expected to be a beautiful marble affair.
Computer image showing the new temple design
In total, the entire ISKCON Las Vegas complex—to be named “Govinda’s Sanctuary”—will cover about 6,500 square feet of “under-roof” space. As well as the temple, it will feature a Govinda’s restaurant, a gift store, a large yoga and seminar room, residential quarters for devotees, and guest rooms.
Inspired donors have already pledged $200,000 of the $500,000 or so the project is expected to cost. Meanwhile, devotees are hoping for a grand opening in summer next year.
“Some people have a tendency to think a miracle is something that only happened thousands of years ago,” says temple president Surapala Das. “And before I joined ISKCON, I was one of those people. But now, seeing what is happening here in Las Vegas, I’m 100% sure that by Krishna’s mercy, miracles can still happen today.”