How he’s keeping the faith.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
Growing up in a family for whom spirituality and religion was an integral part of our everyday life, going to church was my happy place, one where I understood my purpose and where the community could fellowship together. Even now, I’ve realised that there are still few things as comforting as the familiar traditions and tenets of a shared faith when it comes to dealing with life’s ups and downs – from weddings, to births, to funerals. The Hindu Dharma Sabha – Vishnu Temple Bangkok is one such consecrated place that has borne witness to this ever-turning circle of life in Bangkok, for over a century. It’s hosted countless celebrations of festivals that have brought the community together; welcomed the birth of new members; as well as seen many go through their last rites, as currently the only crematorium in the city that serves all the Thai-Indian communities.
“This temple has been the fulcrum of the Hindu community living in Bangkok and its vicinities,” Vinod Kumar Singh, the President of Hindu Dharma Sabha – Vishnu Mandir Bangkok tells us as he walks us through the historical background of the property and its longstanding significancewithin the community. “Registered in 1920, it’s over 108 years old, and is the only Hindu temple to come under the patronage of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Since then, it’s not only served the community, but it’s also been successful in spreading the importance of Hinduism to the local Thai people. All major Hindu festivals are celebrated on the temple premises, with artists from India, along with Thai people.”
A second-generation Thai-Indian entrepreneur, from a family who’s lived in Thailand for over 70 years, Vinod is no stranger to seeing the community expand and progress, but one thing has remained the same – the need for a place of worship where people can perform the last rites for loved ones, and see them off to their final resting place. But with that heavy privilege of serving the community in this way, comes great responsibility. Masala asked him pressing questions about the future of the Hindu Dharma Sabha – Vishnu Temple Bangkok, how it’s evolving with people’s changing needs, and how it hopes to continue to be a stalwart of the community for decades to come.
How has the crematorium evolved over the years to meet the changing needs and preferences of the community?
We have undergone a major renovation at the crematorium in the last couple of years, where we have changed the old funeral chambers with modernised machinery from Germany. As the temple is situated in downtown Bangkok, we’ve made sure to follow all requirements to have no pollution emanating from the machines. The washrooms along with the prayer room have been renovated. We would also like to mention that we have received immense support from the community along with the Embassy of India in Thailand.
How do you manage and coordinate cremation ceremonies, considering the diverse culture of the communities in Bangkok?
The crematorium is used by all Thai-Indian communities for their last rites ceremonies. Most Hindu and Sikh communities have similar ceremonies; however, we have a dedicated person along with the Temple Manager who looks after each and every cremation ceremony.
When will the crematorium be completed?
The renovation project for the crematorium has already been completed with the successful installation of the modern machinery and they have been fully operational for over six months.
Has anything been done to improve the convenience for the bereaved families and their relatives, in particular with facilities such as toilets, parking, and air-conditioning?
We have a very strong line of communication with the Embassy of India in Thailand as we try to make all the documentation necessary for cremation seamless and with less hassle for the bereaved families. We have renovated the toilets for both men and women, along with a special chamber for washing the bodies before their last rites. We are in the process of extending the parking area in the temple which has construction work going on. Air conditioning in the prayer room will be installed shortly.
How many visitors do you get in the temple daily and on special festivals?
We are currently getting over 500 devotees daily, mostly Thai locals which proves that all our efforts in spreading Hindu culture and beliefs have been successful. For the upcoming Janmashtami festivities, we are expecting over 2,000 devotees to visit the temple. Last year during Navratri we had a record of over 3,500 devotees attending on a single day.
What ceremonies and events will you be hosting in the foreseeable future?
Our next festival is Krishna Janmashtami on 6th September, during which singers from India will be performing during the festivities. The Ganesh Chaturthi festival will start on 19th September and end with an immersion ceremony on 28th September. We are getting the idol made by the prominent artist from Mumbai famous for Lalbaug cha Raja. Navratri is one of the major festivals we celebrate every year and this being the 20th year, we have major plans with prominent Indian artists from India starting from 15th October till 24th October.
How can individuals from the Thai-Indian community support or get involved with the temple’s upkeep and growth?
We humbly welcome everyone to come visit us, and pay their obeisance to Lord Vishnu. Major renovation projects are going on with a new Shiva temple complex being built inside the temple premises, and we now have the holy Shivling from India which is adorned with 70kg silver and 8kg gold. We would really appreciate everyone to come forward to donate to this noble cause.