Starting in the mid-1960s, the first generation of Indian immigrants came to South Carolina. In 1969, a group of 20-30 Indian families in Greenville decided to form India Association in order to preserve their cultural and religious practices.
During the early years, this group of families rented space and met in churches and community buildings, but in 1983, the group, which had grown significantly, began a process of fund-raising and organization in order to purchase a site on which to build a permanent temple and gathering place for the community. One of the factors in deciding to build the temple was comments from the children about having no place to pray and worship.
Donations were made by community members (some over $5000) and in 1987, the community purchased five acres of open land at the corner of Bethel Road and Bethel Drive. A large ceremony called bhumipuja (“Earth worship/honor”), comparable to a groundbreaking ceremony, was held for the dedication of the site. Construction then commenced, and the center was completed in 1989. It was the second Hindu religious center established in South Carolina. (The first was in Columbia.). The center is registered as charitable institution in South Carolina.
The Inauguration service in the Vedic Center was held on December 2, 1989, but at the time only pictures/paintings of the deities were in place as the murti had to be ordered and shipped from India. The Murti Sthapana, the installation of the murti, took place May 20-22, 1994.
The center’s relationship with its surrounding neighborhood has been a peaceful one—it has encountered little or no difficulties or prejudices during its history.
The initial capital to purchase the land was raised by donations from the community and for the expansion to install Murti’s was borrowed from then First Federal of SC. During the following two years the complete loan was paid off and center was debt free.
During that time and at present, the main source of income has been the donations from the community, the collections at the daily Prayer and religious celebrations as well as annual maintenance dues paid by the families. Special fund raising programs are also arranged during the year to collect additional funds for expansion of the facilities.
Currently, a group of about 400 Indians worship at the Vedic Center. The members of the community are immigrants from various parts of India, with the majority (over 80 percent) speaking Gujarati and Hindi. The worship services are conducted in three languages: Gujarati, Hindi, and Sanskrit, but there are booklets with transliterated versions of the three languages for children (most of whom were born in the United States) and visitors. The 1990s saw an increase of people of Telegu and Tamil backgrounds; these number about 45 families. They often take the lead in preparing the Venkatesvara festivals. The community is made up of all age groups, though the younger population (under 30) is the largest with around 100 people. Senior citizens number around 35-40, and there is a large number of children in the group as well. There is a Youth Committee that sponsors youth and young adult activities.
Major Festivals Celebreated
- Holi Puja
- Akhand Ramayan and RamNavmi
- Mahavir Jayanti
- Hanuman Jayanti
- Ganesh Chaturthi
- Venkatesvara Vivaha
- Tulsi Vivaha
- Ladies Appreciation Luncheon
- Graduation Dinner for graduating children
- Balvihar Camp (Overnight camp for children attending Balvihar)
A few times a year, lecturers are brought in (sponsored sometimes by the center itself and other time by members or businesses) to hold talks on Hindu life and practices, such as meditation and yoga.
Weddings, anniversaries, graduation parties, dinners and other community gatherings are often held at the Vedic Center, though it serves mostly as a religious center. Usually, it is the India Association of Greater Greenville, not the Vedic Center, which sponsors various Indian cultural events, e.g., dance and musical events, some of which are held on the Furman University campus. Art, music, and dance competitions for children are also held regionally.
The Vedic Center publishes a periodic newsletter to keep community members up to date on the center’s activities, special religious holidays, and lectures. An end-of-the-year report reviewing the center’s activities is also published.
Several times a year, members of the Vedic Center are asked to present information on the Hindu religion to schools and other local groups. The center is often visited by the students studying world religions at Furman University and Greenville Technical College.
The leadership of the Vedic Center is very organized, with an executive committee (President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Membership Coordinator, and four other members), Board of Trustees (five members), Balvihar Committee (five members) and a Maintenance Committee (four members). The center has a constitution, and decisions are made by vote of all the members (those who pay the $125 per year maintenance fee or those who have donated $1000 or more towards Life membership). Committee members are elected every one to two years and the Board of trustees changes one person every year, with each member serving for five years. General Body meeting are held from time to time to inform community about the major expenses, programs and to hold elections. The community seems to be very ambitious and has the desire to continue expanding its facilities.
Current concerns and future plans
The main concern right now is finding a permanent priest and establishing a support system for him. Currently, all the members share the responsibility of the worship services with each family being required to provide the food and lead the ceremony once a month. Since the current population of devotees has outgrown the facility, the community has begun construction for a social hall and library adjoining the current building in which classes can be taught and more cultural events can be held. It will also include recreational facilities for the children and youth (playground, basketball court) and space for language classes for the children and meditation and yoga classes for adults.
Relationship with other faith communities
The Vedic Center has established fruitful, cooperative relationships with several area churches. The Center also has an on-going relationship with Greenville Faith Communities United, a local organization that works to promote interfaith understanding and cooperation.
Religious Leader and Title
At present, there is no permanent priest for the community. The community is looking for a priest who can do baptisms and pujas and who has knowledge of all the festivals.
Membership / Community Size
About 450 devotee families.
Indian (Majority Gujarat, but also many Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, and Tamil families)
Affiliation with Other Communities/Organizations
- India Association of Greater Greenville (social and cultural group)
- Greenville Faith Communities United (a local interfaith organization)