WEST PEORIA — The gatherings began in homes of the faithful, but by the end of the 20th century, the number of those households had more than quadrupled from just a decade earlier.
Drawn to central Illinois and the Peoria area in particular by technology and health care jobs, migrant families from India quickly outgrew the grassroots form of worship that sprung up in the absence of a Hindu temple.
But the roots those worshipers laid down in each other's houses and, ultimately, in the community they came to call home proved to be the foundation of what is now a thriving center of Hindu faith and heritage atop a wooded bluff over Kickapoo Creek.
"We really got the idea going in 1994 to have a temple, a place of worship for Hindus," said Prakash Babu, chairman of the board that oversees the Hindu Temple of Central Illinois. "People were gathering in each other's homes and praying, but it made sense to build this facility."
The undertaking has been decades in the making, with multiple milestones along the way that each offered a different degree of finality for a place of prayer. The building itself only recently reached what could be termed structural completeness, nearly two decades after construction began.
A grand entryway to the temple, which faces the rising sun, opened its doors for the first time earlier this year, while some finishing touches and landscaping to the plaza leading to those doors are still under construction.
"That is the most important requirement — that the temple faces east," Babu said. "The whole temple was incomplete without it, so we have finally completed the temple."
That opening coincided with a different Hindu tradition that marks the age of a temple: Kumbhabhiphekam, a ritual consecration of the temple that occurs every 12 years to renew the energy believed to live within its sanctum. The interval coincides with the orbit of Saturn around the sun.
"We do have lots of symbolism," Babu said. "Every 12 years the temple goes through this celebration, a rejuvenation."
Another ceremony rich in symbolism that defines the authenticity of a Hindu temple as a spiritual place took place at the West Peoria temple in 2005, five years after it officially opened.
The four-day Pranaprathista commenced toward the end of May and ritually "installed" — which is the basic definition of the term — energy into the idols representing Hindu deities in the temple's sanctum.
The ornately decorated statues of deities such as Shiva, Vishnu and Ganesh are believed to be alive, and the building is granted full temple status, once the ceremony is complete.
As a non-denominational facility, the Hindu Temple of Central Illinois arranges the array of major deities with no discernible hierarchy, allowing for different sects within the faith to worship within the tenets of their particular beliefs.
"Here we have provided equal status in an aesthetically pleasing way," Babu said.
The temple has drawn thousands of devotees from all over the state after first gaining prominence as the only Hindu temple between Chicago and St. Louis, and the number of local faithful in attendance has continued to grow at quick pace, more than tripling in size since the temple first opened.
Though it has embraced all denominations to provide a place of worship for a population made up mostly of immigrants who have few choices for official houses of prayer, the Hindu Temple of Central Illinois also has hewed to age-old traditions that predate current languages.
"Even today, everything is done in Sanskrit," Babu said. "The scriptures have been preserved through the ages from family to family to family."
Even in this newest of temples, Babu said, "This is the way it has been done for centuries."
Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.