TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn had just come off a 20-plus-hour flight from Mumbai, India. Yet there he was last Saturday morning, joining other community leaders for the groundbreaking of the $1.5 million Sanatan Mandir Hindu temple in Tampa Heights.
"I don't know what time zone I am in right now, I don't know what day this is, but I'm very happy to be here for a lot of reasons," Buckhorn said.
He pointed out that he was assistant to the mayor when Dr. Pawan Rattan bought the property in Tampa Heights, which was, in Buckhorn's words, "nothing but a drug-infested and a crack-infested neighborhood."
"And look at it now," the mayor said.
Pooja Sharma, who has attended the temple for 10 years, said she is excited about having more open space for the children and for festivals.
"It means a lot because we really feel blessed coming here and listening to religious music," she said. Also, it helps to pass on the "dharma," the natural universal laws whose observance allows people to be happy, Hindus believe.
Temple president Pankaj Patel said the groundbreaking was all about "planting seeds for generations to come, and our children, they need to be aware of how we as a people came to the current country and still practice our faith."
Sanatan Mandir opened in 1991. It currently exists in the community center of what used to be Congregation Rodeph Sholom, which moved to Bayshore Boulevard. The actual Rodeph Sholom synagogue was demolished.
The current temple, which has about 4,000 square feet, is next to the new site and will once again become a community center as soon as the new temple starts functioning. All existing deities will be moved to the new temple, along with new marble statues of deities from India, according to organizers.
Its sikharas, or rising towers, will be visible from Interstate 275, Rattan said.
Ram Jakhotia said that more than 30 years ago, they would have group prayers at one house or another, but they wanted one gathering spot for prayer daily. "The whole idea of this temple started from that, and it's become a reality," he said.
The Sanatan Mandir is a culmination of a dream of Rattan's late father, S.R. Rattan (Pitaji), who reminded his son that making money was not the only reason he moved to the United States.
The city of Tampa granted a permit to build the new temple building on Jan. 23. Patel said they're on track with their goal to finish the first phase of fundraising in three months. From there, they will move on to the second and third phases in hopes of finishing the whole project in a year.
Progress is being made because of donors like the Agarwal family, who gave $50,000.
"For like 12 years, I'm coming to this temple, and we have a faith, we believe in how this contribution is going to contribute to the values," Ranjana Agarwal said.
Her husband, Vimal Agarwal, added: "She said it was dear to her heart and obviously it's dear to my heart as well."