TAMPA — The green house at 5801 Lynn Road in Tampa doesn’t look like much now, but a generous donation from a successful Tampa hotelier is about to change that.
Raxit Shah and his wife, Ketki, have donated $930,000 to the Tampa branch of VYO-USA, a national Hindu organization, to demolish the green house and build a new temple in its place.
It will join a cluster of temples at the complex, the largest Indian community center in the state and a home away from home for many of the estimated 30,000 people of Indian descent who live in the Tampa area.
The Shahs, who moved to Tampa nearly 20 years ago for the good weather and business opportunities, own the real estate investment firm Liberty Group — a company that has grossed over $450 million in investments in the United States and United Kingdom. The company is now developing a $40 million, 223-room Hilton hotel in downtown Tampa.
"There’s a very large Indian community here in Tampa," said Shah, 67. "Most of them are Hindus, and Hindus are very close-knit. We get along great and support each other. It’s a fantastic community."
The new, 6,000-square-foot temple will be built to specifications set by VYO-USA’s founder, Guru Shri Vrajrajkumarji Mahodayshri, who lives in India.
"You’ll know it’s a Hindu temple when you drive by," said Bhitti Patel, 54, founding trustee of VYO-USA in Tampa, who said she found her passion for helping Hindu youth when she heard the guru speak.
Creating a home base for young Hindus is the main purpose of the temple,.
"Our focus here will be on youth enrichment through spiritual education and a meditation center open to the entire community," Patel said.
Worship there will focus on the infant version of the god Krishna, the most widely revered of the thousands of gods Indians worship. A grand altar built around a marble statue of baby Krishna will be the temple’s centerpiece. A full time priest will offer the idol food three times a day, change its clothing regularly, and oversee daily prayers.
The temple will be called Vrindavan Dham, which translates to "Krishna’s home," and will take one to two years to complete.
Shah and Patel want the temple to be a place anyone can come to find a spiritual community, Hindu or not.
"We want to teach anyone who comes here to be good citizens and do unto others, regardless of color, gender or background," said Patel.
The Shahs’ donation, the largest in the temple’s history, comes at the right time to take worship to the next level for the Hindu community in Tampa, Patel said.
Shah said the birth of his first grandchild, Sareen, three months ago inspired him and his wife to start giving away even more of their wealth to philanthropy than they had before.
"I started with nothing, and now I have enough to live comfortably," said Shah, who recently donated $1.8 million to build a Hindu temple and fire station in Liberty Township, Youngstown, Ohio, where he and his family lived before coming to Tampa.
The Shahs also have given money to Tampa charities and to a nonprofit hospital and food kitchen in India.
Shah keeps his name off any plaques or buildings. He also sets aside half his food from every meal and offers it to a homeless person on the drive home.
"Money comes and goes; it’s simply a means to an end," he said. "If you can feel good at the end of the day about the things you do in life, that’s all that really matters."
Contact Libby Baldwin at [email protected] Follow her at @LibBaldwin.