A glimpse of Religious History
Historically, Hindu Temples have been the custodians of Indian Culture. They have played a major role in promoting, preserving and celebrating the various Indian art forms. Since music and dance are so interwoven with Hindu worship and rituals, the temples became the chosen centers for the presentation and nurturing of these arts and the artists. Sri Balaji Temple of Aurora, IL , a premier Hindu Temple in the United States, has played that significant role in the promotion of Indian culture.
Since its inception in the mid eighties, the temple has placed significant emphasis on cultural aspects. The trustees, realizing the importance of culture, defined the cultural committee as a major special committee in the temple constitution. Robust cultural programs were presented in all fund raising events prior to the Kumbhabishekam and in all major functions including the first Mahakumbhabishekam in June 1986. It is significant to note that the cultural programs in the temple are always planned to complement the extensive and authentic religious activities, both day-to-day events and major "utsavams".
The temple celebrates Indian culture in numerous ways with an objective to fulfill the traditional aspects and also meet the present needs of the temple and the community. These include:
- Sponsor and present top artists from India
- Organize dance, music, Bhajans and discourses during major religious events
- Celebrate anniversaries of major music composers such as Tyagaraja Aradhana, Bahula Panchami), support Purandaradasa Day, Annamacharya Jayanthi etc
- Partner with key non-profit organizations to present programs
- Celebrate and support the devotee talents by presenting annual dance and music festivals of the local music and dance schools
In the planning and presenting of the programs, the temple has always chosen to provide a balance between the various art forms of music, dance, and drama. The temple takes pride in stating that they have presented India’s top artists in all of the above fields as well as galas featuring veteran stars of stage and film. The temple also pays special attention to present local artists from the Chicago area as well as other areas of the United States.
Classical music has been a major facet of Balaji Temple’s cultural scene over the years. The temple was privileged to present legends such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, the late K. V. Narayanaswamy, S. V. Srikantan, M. Balamuralikrishna, Nedenuri Krishnamurthy, and Dr. N. Ramani Veteran artists of today have also performed admirably on multiple occasions such as T. N. Seshagopalan and T. V. Shankaranarayanan Of course, the temple has also experienced the music of the young sensations of the present day such as Sudha Raghunathan, Aruna Sairam, P.Unnikrishnan, S. Sowmya, Sanjay Subramaniam, T. M. Krishna, and S. Shanshank and Malladi Brothers
Many grand dance programs have also been part of the temple’s cultural activities. Who can forget the masterly dance dramas of the Kuchipudi King Sri Vempati ChinnaSatyamand M.V Narasimhachari and Vasanthalakshmi, or the inspiring Bharatanatyam performances of Kamala Lakshman or Narayanan Kalanidhi Narayan or Chitra Visweswaran. Another great programs "Lakshmi Prabhavam", a dance drama which was the creation of the versatile genius N. Ravikiran, was staged at the Skokie Centre for the Performing Arts to an appreciative audience. The one and only Sri Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna composed the ‘Annamayya’ ballet that was presented by Saraswathi Sundaresan and her students. In recent times, the famous actress/dancer Shobana and Urmila Satyanarayan delighted our devotees with splendid dance dramas. The temple has taken pride to present some great productions of a premier dance institution, Natya Dance Theatre of Oakbrook, Il. The temple enjoys the affiliation of many local dance schools such as Nrithyalaya and Nrithyanjali.
Religious, spiritual and literary discourses have been regular features in the temple’s religious/cultural scene. The bhajan programs of Udayalur Kalyanaraman & party,Sri Tukaram Ganapathy Maharaj, and Papanasam Ramani Bhagavathar etc. enhanced the great religious atmosphere of our special events and thrilled the devotees.
Performances of stage and film superstars have proven to be rousing successes.In early 1991, T. M. Sounderarajan and P. Susheela delighted a packed house at Taft High School as they sang their hits of yesteryear. The talented drama troupes of Y. G. Mahendra, S.V.E. Shekar, and Visu have also been featured.A super musical show was presented by the great S.B. Balasubramanyam and troupe in September 2004.
This is just a glimpse of the copious amounts of cultural activities over the years, accompanied by its fair share of stars. However, it would be an injustice if a special tribute was not paid to the most important stars of the cultural activities, and this of course is the devotee population. Their enthusiastic support over the years is what has made it all possible. Furthermore, it is the temple’s desire that the expansion of the temple and the expansion of our cultural activities are in concert. Thus, the continued support of the devotees will serve as a lifeline for all future programs and will enable this vision to become reality.
Everyone needs to take pride and reflect on all the memorable cultural activities that have been presented over the past years. The cultural programs presented during the 2003 Mahakumbhabishekam showcased a model that any temple organization will take pride to follow. It is no surprise that the temple has become a recognized cultural center and all performers seek to perform at this venue. The temple has demonstrated generosity and support for all deserving artists.Needless to say, the variety, the frequency, and above all, the quality of the programs presented have contributed to making Sri Venkateswara Swami Templeone of the great cultural centers of the United States.