Hinduism is one of the fastest growing religious communities in Georgia. Hindus in Georgia number more than 40,000, and they are concentrated in and around Atlanta. Most of Georgia’s Hindus come from western India, primarily Gujarat. Immigrants from India increased 200 percent during the 1990s, making them the largest Asian group in Georgia.
Hindu community life centers on temples, which host a variety of daily, weekly, monthly, and annual services, as well as family events. Templegoers traditionally remove their shoes before entering the primary worship space, which contains murtis, or consecrated images of various deities. Devotees pray and make offerings to these deities with the assistance of priests, who lead worship in Sanskrit, the sacred language of Hinduism. Pujas, or worship services, include offerings of food or flowers to the appropriate deities. Temples have broad cultural as well as religious significance. Hindu communities use their temples, in addition to hosting religious services, to host family celebrations, provide cultural instruction, and coordinate social services.
Many Hindu temples have been built in the state, including one in Augusta and several in the Atlanta area. The oldest and best-known temple in Georgia is the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, located in Riverdale just off Interstate 75. Devotees come from all over the Southeast to worship in this temple; its main deity is Lord Venkateswara, who represents Vishnu. Construction began in 1987, and the first services were held in 1990. The temple, with its elaborate towers, is modeled on a famous 5,000-year-old temple in Tirumala-Tirupathi, South India.
Hinduism is an ancient religion, with roots in India that can be traced back 5,000 years. The religion teaches that one’s actions generate karma, or spiritual consequences. Karma follows each individual from one life to the next through reincarnation. The spiritual aim in Hinduism is to be released from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and to be united with the supreme deity. Hindus believe that there is one supreme deity but that this deity is manifest in a variety of forms. Worship of the manifestations of different deities allows believers to focus on distinct qualities of the supreme deity.
Hinduism also involves personal and family observances. Households often contain shrines to which family members give prayers and make offerings. Most Hindus are vegetarians; at the very least they avoid beef and pork, because cows are considered sacred and pork is considered unclean. Some devotees have markings on their bodies indicating whether they worship Vishnu or Shiva. Men and women both dress modestly, and many Hindu women in Georgia continue to wear traditional Indian clothing.
In the United States, elements of Hinduism have been incorporated into a distinct, relatively new religious movement, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), more commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement. The movement was founded by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who organized ISKCON in the United States in 1965. In Georgia, Hare Krishna members are most prevalent in the metropolitan Atlanta area. New Pani Hati, the HareKrishna Temple in Druid Hills, established in 1973, is the oldest Krishna temple in the Southeast. This temple provides instruction in Krishna beliefs and practices and hosts the Sunday Feast, a basic element of Krishna devotion. Hare Krishna devotees are most frequently identified by the saffron robes of their monks and the tilaka, or forehead mark.