Manjesh and Jagdish Agrawal (foreground middle and right) pose with community members at Mandir of Madison, the Hindu Temple they founded in Burke.
Next to a 5-foot-tall marble statue of Sai Baba of Shirdi, an ascetic monk who died in India a century ago, a long-haired priest in a white robe chants in Sanskrit.
In front of him, two dozen people — kids and adults — sit cross-legged on lime green sheets spread over a carpeted floor.
It’s a Thursday night at the Mandir of Madison, a Hindu temple founded eight years ago by Jagdish and Manjesh Agrawal, an elderly couple who moved from northern India to the United States nearly four decades ago.
Located northeast of Madison in the town of Burke, the temple is adjacent to corn and soybean fields. If the Deer Park Buddhist Center in the town of Dunn is a palace, the Mandir is a ranch home. The 5,000-square-foot building, a former auto body shop, is encased in vinyl siding accented with faux-brick panels.
But the mandir has become a gathering spot for area Hindus, which number, the Agrawals guess, several hundred.
Visitors remove their shoes and coats at the temple entrance. A low stage in the main hall features statues of Durga, Vishnu, Lakshmi and other deities decked in ornate crowns and robes. At their feet are bowls of fruit and spices blessed by two priests, who came here from religious schools in India, Manjesh says.
The Agrawals home is 50 feet away. At their kitchen table, Jagdish, a former chemical engineer, says the couple spent 25 years in Troy, Mich., where they also helped start a temple. They moved to Madison to be near their son, but the closest temple was in Pewaukee.
“We think God wanted us to [start this mandir], so we did it,” says the 67-year-old Manjesh matter-of-factly.
They get a lot of curious visitors. Manjesh employs simple analogies to describe the world’s oldest existing religion to church groups, middle school classes or senior citizen bus tours. Hindus worship one God but many deities, she says, because God is like gold: You can use it to make necklaces, rings or bracelets, but it is all still gold. Hinduism is like practicing medicine: the deities are God’s “specialists,” responding to the focus of your prayer.
“Hinduism is a lifestyle,” she repeats several times. Your work, your diet, your prayers — in all of it, you seek to be worthy of blessings.
If all goes well, a 20-foot-tall “shikar,” or spire, will sit atop the temple later this year. The project could cost $30,000. Jagdish, 73, welcomes the attention it would bring.
Without it, he says, “how do people know that there is a Hindu church here? The more people come, the more people get benefited. This is the idea of the church.”
Mandir of Madison
3393 Burke Rd., town of Burke
5-9 pm most weekdays and longer on weekends, or by appointment
Number of languages in prayer books:
5 (Tamil, Teluga, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali)