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Hindu community is growing in Farmington

Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir treasurer Satya Balroop, left, and president Sakhi Chand Sharma have been working to transform the former Farmington Lutheran Church on Walnut Street into a gathering place for Minnesota Hindus. There is a new altar in the building's sanctuary and several rows of pews have been removed because many prefer to sit on the floor during services.

If things work out the way Satya Balroop would like them to, Farmington may soon be a center of Hindu culture in Minnesota.

Balroop is the treasurer of a group called Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir, which has been in the city for nearly a year now, housed in a building that for many years was home to Farmington Lutheran Church. The group has been slow to make its presence known. There was too much other work to do, fixing the building's roof and getting it ready for the public.

There is still work left to do, but as the weather gets warmer Balroop hopes to make the building more welcoming. She wants people to come in, to celebrate and to discover what Hindusim is all about.

"It's just a matter of time," Balroop said. "Maybe within another month or two or three there should be a lot of activity in that building."

Balroop helped found Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir, a local branch of an international organization founded in India in 1917, when she moved to the state in 2002. She had grown up in the organization in Guayana and continued to be involved when she moved to New York. When she moved to Eagan, her guru gave her the charge to bring the organization with her.

"Although there are other organizations here with a Hindu background, the goals and objectives are really different than ours," Balroop said.

She started in her home, then moved to a garage. Last year a favorable real estate market allowed Minnesota Milan Mandir to buy the building at 501 Walnut St. The local organization had about 50 families when it was located in Eagan, but Balroop said it has lost some since the move because not everyone wanted to make the longer drive on a regular basis.

The building Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir now occupies has housed several churches over the years, but never one quite like this.

Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir hosts regular services on Sundays. But it is also a kind of cultural center, hosting both religious services and community events. On May 4, there will be a concert featuring local and national Indian musicians, food and information. It will be a fundraiser to support charitable outreach efforts. The public is invited to attend.

At the end of May There will be a fundraising event for the building featuring a Hindu high priest from New York as well as entertainment.

"We're hoping to get the word out to Hindus to come forward," Balroop said. "You'd be amazed to see how many caucasians are really embracing this type of lifestyle and wanting to know more about it and even practice it in their daily lives. Especially yoga and meditation."

The building at 501 Walnut St. still looks very much like the Lutheran church it was built to house. There are still signs on the wall from the old church, and a former Sunday school classroom turned storage space holds the characters for a Nativity scene. There is a new altar in the church's sanctuary, but above it light streams in through a cross-shaped window.

Several rows of pews have been removed because many who attend services prefer to sit on the floor.

Balroop hopes to start making changes soon.She would like to bring in two monks to serve the community from the building, and she would like to make Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir much more a part of Farmington. As the weather turns warmer there will be yoga and dance classes in the building.

Changes will come, Balroop said, as time and money allow.

"We want to make it lively and look welcoming," she said. "We want to bring life back into the building and make it attractive so people won't be fearful coming there."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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