ROCKBANK, Victoria / evening of April 29, 2018
by Catherine Schieve (with Warren Burt)
We visited Sri Durga Temple (Australia's largest Durga Mata Hindu temple) on an impulse while exiting the Western Freeway heading northwest from Melbourne, in search of the divine masala dosas— crisp pancakes stuffed with curry— that we have tasted before at the nearby Murugan temple canteen. Both temples are located in the suburbs of Rockbank/Sunshine, rapidly growing Western districts forecasted as the site of greatest growth for Melbourne in the near future. Temples built on rough farmland properties will soon be surrounded by suburbs, serving Melbourne's vibrant multicultural communities. We love going to these temples, are warmly welcomed there, and always visit their interior shrines to offer Darshan (sighting of the gods) before tucking into fragrant community-prepared foods in the temple canteen. As Murugan Temple appeared to be closed on this particular evening, we headed for Sri Durga to see its new construction, that has been springing up as a golden spire visible from the freeway.
To enter Sri Durga Temple is to be bathed in a white, open space covered with plush carpet (unusual for Hindu temples which tend to be echoey and stone-floored) with an interesting internal symmetry . There is a highly devotional atmosphere inside. It is an atmosphere of peace. People are prostrating deeply... so deeply that there is a silence around each individual, and between the praying individuals and the gods in their sculptural shrines lining the walls. It is a family atmosphere too; children playfully interacting in the space. The gods in Sri Durga Temple tend to be of white, translucent, pale coloured materials, even transcendent in look and feel. It is a radiant space. All footwear is deposited (as customary) outside the temple in a special shed. There are guideposts to encourage visitors to walk clockwise around the temple interior. There is a stage setup and sound system for live music— I would love to return when musicians are playing their offerings. I made the rounds and among my visits were Ganesha; a Shiva Lingam private space in which the devotee is invited to hand-pour water over the black lingam stone adorned with red apples; and Durga Herself who stands central in the temple. There is a discomfort with photography so the reader will have to imagine Durga— or better yet, visit the temple in person.
We were graciously offered Prasādam - a religious offering of food (apples and sweets), upon exit from the temple interior. We walked around the (still rough) temple exterior to the back shed, and there found a small kitchen in which volunteers were preparing a range of delicate and sustaining foods, offered self-serve out of large stainless steel containers. These too were Prasādam, not for sale but offered freely to visitors and devotees. While enjoying the food, we met a lovely man, a leader of the community who introduced himself as the design engineer of the temple, also doubling as cook/server for the evening.
Our host gave us a short discourse on the essence of the temple:
Durga is goddess of energy, "Goddess of the Gods"
When you eat the prasadam you get health and wholeness.
There are some very melodious prayers at noon on Sunday
We anticipate returning soon to Sri Durga Temple, to hear those melodious prayers.
- photos by Catherine Schieve