Hamm – a city blessed by the Goddess with the “eyes of love”

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Lana Orlova

Exotic oriental folklore, bare-chested men wearing sarong, women dressed in bright saris and all this is not  in far away India, but  in the heart of the Ruhr valley, around  the  Sri Kamadchi Ampal temple.

On the 07.07.2014 approximately 50,000 Tamil Hindus from all over Europe celebrated the annual temple festival in Hamm-Uentrop, region North Rhine Westphalia (NRW). Named after Hindu Goddess Sri Kamadchi Ampal, “the Goddess with the eyes of love” in the translation from Sanskrit, the temple is constructed in the style of southern India and is the largest of its kind in Europe. Although there are larger temples in England, they are built in the northern Indian style.  The Hamm temple has two towers, eleven and seventeen meters high, a white stripped facade and richly decorated shrines with bizarre images of Indian gods and animals.

Only once a year, the statue of the Sri Kamadchi leaves the holy shrine: seated in a blazoned chariot decorated with fruits and flowers and accompanied by sounds of chande and chenda (Indian drums), the Goddess circulates the temple in the adjoining streets.  Thus she cannot only be seen by many people but can also bless the town and its citizens according to Hindu belief.

A second home in Germany

Within the fold of non-Christian religions in Germany, Hindus comprise a comparatively large grouping. It is an internally heterogenic minority. The numerically strongest Hindu group currently is constituted by Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. The number of Tamils comes up to some 60.000 people. Tamil from Sri Lanka came as asylum seekers to Germany in the early 1980s. Their number rose significantly in the wake of the escalating civil war in Sri Lanka during the mid-1980s.  Many of the Tamil Hindu, who received a refugee status, lived and were officially registered in Germany, settled in the Ruhr valley, due to job opportunities in the industrial area.

Among those who came to Germany, fleeing the civil war in Sri Lanka was a Tamil priest Siva Sri Paskarakurukkal. He kept doing his priesthood duties, first settling in France and then moved to Germany, where he at the beginning performed pujas in the basement of his flat and in the course of time he was able to carry out Hindu rituals in the present temple. Within that time the temple grew from a place of spiritual practices, to a place of social integration. “Temple became our second home. It’s a place where we can discuss the latest news from India and Sri Lanka, where we can meet old friends and make new acquaintances. Here we can continue to practice our faith and deliver our cultural and religious traditions to our offspring,” explained a 60-year-old housewife from Wuppertal Amma Kaneshamoorthy about the role of the temple in her life.

Hindu neighbors

The news about the building of a Hindu temple in Hamm, raised different reactions amongst local people. Some of them were actively protesting against the construction works, writing complaining letters to the city officials and occupying the building of Sri Kamadchi Ampal with racist shouts. Other Hamm’s residents either did not express their opinion, concerning this disputable issue or supported the idea of the temple, which they considered as a step to the successful integration of Hindu followers in the host culture.

The number of German guests visiting the temple festival is growing every year, says the press officer of the temple Sri Shankarar. In the changing situation, he sees evidence that the perception of Germans about new cultures in their society is changing too. “There is a slow but steady change of the perception of foreigners in German’s heads. They no longer divide society into natives and foreigners, but rather identify themselves as cosmopolitans, not the citizens of a particular country but of the whole world, regardless of the skin color or religious beliefs”.

In one of his interviews Siva Sri Paskarakurukkal said that every year guests from different countries and with different faith come to Hamm to see the Goddess Sri Kamadchi Ampal. He is confident that the Goddess does not care who stands in front of her, a blonde or a brunette, a brown-eyed or a blue-eyed. He believes the Goddess is the embodiment of unconditional love that can find an echo in every heart, whatever the religion.

Photos by Lana Orlova and Julia Cherenkova 

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