The University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon has attracted students from India since 1950s. In early sixties, many people from India joined the faculty of the University of Saskatchewan. These were later followed by medical and other professionals. In 1966, a need was felt by a few people of the Hindu community in Saskatoon to start some activities in order to satisfy their religious aspirations. They started meeting regularly at the residence of Nirmal and Narendra Bakhshi. The activities included bhajan-kirtan, readings from Bhagvad Gita, Deewali Pooja etc.
By a fortunate circumstance, Swami Ranganathananda Ji, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order of India, visited Saskatoon in February 1969. He stayed with Dr. M. L. Dasgupta and Dr. N.N. Bakhshi and gave a highly thought-provoking talk on “Man’s Spiritual Life in the Light of the 20th Century Scientific Thought”. The Swami was told of the “Satsang” and was asked for guidance. His suggestion was that these “satsangs” should be regularized and books such as “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna”, Message of the “Upanishads” and “Bhagvad Gita’ should be read regularly. The Swami visited the Hindu community in Saskatoon again in February 1972.
In September 1972, the Hindu group had the privilege of having Swami Bhashyananda Ji, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order of India and the Swami-in-charge of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society, Chicago. He gave talks before the group and met a few interested persons individually. Swami Ji’s visits became yearly. These visits were organized by Dr. Bakhshi and Hindu group to formalize the ‘Satsang’ activities. Thus, the Vedanta Society of Saskatchewan was formed and incorporated on June 20, 1977. The first executive included: Dr. and Mrs. N. N. Bakhshi, Mr. M. Bhutani, and Dr. and Mrs. H. L. Dhingra. Dr. Dhingra was asked to assume the chair and became the first president of the society. At the time, it was also decided to celebrate “The Krishna Janmashtami” function annually with great éclat. The first Janmashtami celebrations were held at the Adam Ballroom of the Hotel Bessborough in September 1977 and Swami Swahananda Ji of the Vedanta Society of South California was invited as the speaker for this function.
As the number of devotees grew, the religious gatherings could no longer be accommodated in private homes. The meetings were, therefore, moved to the Unitarian Church at the corner of 10th Street and Eastlake Avenue. The Society also started celebrating the other major Hindu festivals.
In 1980-82 Dr. N. N. Bakhshi was installed as the second president of the society. At this time, it was felt that we should have a place of worship of our own. Towards the end of 1981, an old church on the 5th Street East, which was being used as a pottery, was acquired. To allow the Society time to raise funds, the Padmanabh family initially purchased the building privately, the title was later transferred to the Society when sufficient funds had accumulated – a significant donation made by the Padmanabhs.
The “Satsang” began to be held weekly instead of once in a month. During the term of the next president, Dr. U. P. Rege (1981-83), certain renovations to the old building were undertaken and largely due to his efforts, sufficient funds were raised to pay off the full cost of the Temple, the Society thus gaining clear title to the property. Dr. Rege also formalized the Pooja procedures and he and his wife, Mrs. K. Rege, compiled the book of prayers and hymns that is being used at the temple even now. The opening ceremony of this Temple was performed by Swami Vishwatma Bawra Ji of Brahmarishi Ashram, Virat Nagar, Pinjore, Haryana, India.
In 1983, Dr. Rege was succeeded as President by Dr. M.M. Gupta. It became soon apparent that larger premises were required to accommodate the growing number of devotees, especially during the major celebrations. Accordingly, a committee was set up to consider the matter and it recommended the sale of the property on 5th Street East and the building of a new Temple, as far as possible in the Hindu architectural style. One of the first acts of the new Board of Directors was to acquire a plot of land on La Range Road with the proceeds of the sale of the 5th Street East Temple. Mrs. Pari. Padmanabh was entrusted with the task of studying the feasibility of the project and fund raising. She later on served as the coordinator of the actual construction of the new Temple. The Bhoomi Pooja (dedication of the land) was performed on the auspicious occasion of Ramanavami on Aprils, 1984 by Swami Bhashyananda of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago.
It was attended not only by the large number of people from the East Indian community, but also by many city officials, including the Mayor of Saskatoon, His Worship Mr. C. Wright. The Mayor and Swami Bhashyananda Ji performed the ground-breaking rites. The ceremony was also witnessed by the representatives and well-wishers from the other faiths. Pending the construction of the new Temple, prayer meetings began to be held at the Saskatoon Field House.
The initial designs were drawn by Mr. B. Mathur and Dr. K. Sareen. The multi sided concept of their original design was adopted for the final lay-out. Mr. Bergerman was appointed as the architect and drew up the architectural drawings based on the design and model submitted by Mr. D. Panko. The Temple construction was started on Aug. 7, 1984 by Protask Construction Limited with interim financing by the Bank of Montreal. The Temple was formally opened on March 31, 1985 on the Ramanavami Day, a little less than a year from the dedication ceremony.
At that time, of the total cost of approximately three hundred forty thousand dollars, about two hundred and fifteen thousand dollars were collected through donations and the balance of the funds were obtained by a Royal Trust Mortgage and a bank loan secured through the Bank of Montreal and doctors A. Thakur, K. Thakur, K. Rao, U. Bhalerao, and S. Padmanabh and Mrs. P. Padmanabh.
Following a visit to Jaipur specifically for selecting the moortis (idols) by Mrs. P. Padmanabh, the beautiful hand-carved marble moortis from India arrived in Saskatoon on Jan. 29, 1985. The First Pooja in the new Temple was performed by Swami Bawra Ji on March 31, 1984.
In 1986, under the chairmanship of Dr. Padmanabh, a small committee whose other members were Mr. Om Saini and Dr. R.L. Kushwaha, looked into an amendment of the Constitution. On the 20th of July’ 1986, a special General Body Meeting was called to establish a change in the name of the Society from ‘Vedanta Society of Saskatchewan’ to HINDU SOCIETY OF SASKATCHEWAN. It was also decided at this meeting to elect a Board of Trustees. This change was officially effective from August 8, 1986.
In April of 1987 a Board of Trustees consisting of 4 members plus the President and the Treasurer of the Society, was set up to deal with the financial aspects and concerns of the Temple management. The first four trustees were Dr. Dhingra, Dr. Avinashi, Dr. Khandelwal, and Mr. K. Krishan. Trustees have been involved in organizing several fund-raising functions including Annual Garage Sale & Vegetarian Banquet.
In March of 1989, a special committee was set up to make some changes in the Constitution of the Society in keeping with the growing needs and demands of the Society, this committee was comprised of the following members: Dr. S. Padmanabh, Dr. R. Avinashi, Dr. B. Sinha, Dr. J. Datta, and Mr. R. Manek. The appropriate changes were formulated and presented by this committee to the General Body in April 1989, when the changes were approved and ultimately included in the revised constitution.
On January 7, 1990 during the term of Mrs. V. Avinashi as President, we crossed yet another milestone in the history of the Temple. At a General Body Meeting called specifically for the purpose of discussing the purchase of the lot adjacent to the Temple- it was unanimously agreed that for future expansion and development of the Temple we should go ahead and purchase this lot. Later this lot was purchased and amalgamated with the first lot.
The Temple has become a place not only of worship but also of forging ever stronger bonds within itself and with other communities. Marriages have been solemnized and special prayer meetings have been held at the time of sorrow, providing a place of joy as well as solace. A Temple choir have been formed. Hindi, Gujarati, and Yoga classes have been held and devotional concerts have been presented at the Temple. The varied cultural activities have included the Bal Bharati Sunday School, Thyagraja festival, and Gita study group. Many special religious functions such as Navaratri, Durga Pooja, Ramanavami, Krishna Janmashtami, Raksha Bandhan, Saraswati Pooja, Pongal, Holi, Satyanarayana Katha etc. are being celebrated regularly. Many distinguished visitors and holy men have imparted their wisdom within the precincts of the Temple. Periodically, on Children’s Day children are encouraged to conduct the entire service in order that they get first hand experience of Temple activities.
In 1992, new Bhajan books were printed in Jaipur and brought to the temple. In the same year Hindu Society printed-out its 1st yearly calendar which had the picture of the Lakshmi-Narayan of the temple. Also, Mrs. Leela Sharma, President of that year bought Ramayan books from India.
As is known, the first World Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago in 1893 where Swami Vivekananda for the first time presented Hinduism to the world religious organizations. In order to commemorate the 100th year celebrations of Parliament of Religion, celebrations were organized in conjunction with the Department of Religious Studies (courtesy Dr. Sinha). Very prominent speakers gave lectures both at the University as well as at the Temple. Amongst them were the renowned Dr. Cantwell Smith, Dr. Ninian Smart, and Swami Chidananda. The mortgage of the Temple was completely and fully retired in 1995 during the term of Mr. H. Avinashi as President. Society bylaws committee was formed with Dr. R. Avinashi, Mr. Chandran, J. Kalra, R. Manek, Dr. K. Rai and Dr. Nawal Sharma, as Chair. Bylaws were approved by the General Body on December 15th, 1996.
In 1996-97, a Community Support Group was formed with Dr. J. Kalra as the Chair and a satellite of Resource People. This group organized a symposium on Cardiac Awareness. It proved to be a great success and was well attended. The competent discussion leaders were Dr. N. Sharma, Dr. S. Dhingra, Dr. K. Gowda, Dr. Orchard, Dr. K. Prasad, and Miss. M. Lal.
On occasion of Janmashtami (August 1999), Swami Bawara Ji (from India) and Didi Chaitanya Jyoti (from Ontario) visited the temple and presented various talks on self-development. On January 23 and February 13, 1999, two Youth Seminars on various aspects of Hinduism were organized. It provided great food for thought and stimulation for our young people. Those who attended were full of praise for the wonderful speakers: Dr. N. N. Bakhshi, Dr. Lakshman, Dr. Gopal, Dr. Gowda, Dr. Kanchana, Mr. Choubal, Dr. Balachandar and Dr. Sinha. Also in January 1999, a famous Gazal artist, Raj Kumar Rizvi gave a very impressive concert at the Temple, which again was enjoyed by many devotees. Recently we had two seminars entitled, “Symbols and Icons in Hinduism” and “Scientific Basis of Hinduism”, which was well attended. Our Youth Representatives Shweta Gowda and Shobhan Vachhrajani collected food for Saskatoon Food Bank. Approximately $3500 was collected for Orissa Hurricane Relief in India with the help of Dr. Nawal Sharma and Dr. Ajay Dalai.
It is well to remember that the building of a Temple is never complete. It grows and continues to change with the community that it nurtures. Attendance also continues to increase. It is heartening to see that Hindus from other countries are also attending services at the Temple.
Narendra N. Bakhshi
Ramji L. Khandelwal