The altar on C.K. Hiranya Gowda’s kitchen counter is small but elegant. There’s a small sandalwood sculpture of Sri Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity, along with other small sculptures of Hanuman and Devi, two other deities.
A small oil lamp burns near the altar. Fresh flowers and fruit are set out as offerings. Every day Gowda, a retired ear, nose and throat doctor, starts his day with prayer and meditation in front of the altar. It’s a practice he learned from his parents while growing up in rural India. Every day his prayer is the same.
“I pray that God gives me the strength to do the best I can do,” Gowda said. The Vishnu exhibit at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville is bringing attention to home shrines or altars. Gowda’s altar is one of five Hindu home shrines featured, and it’s on display till the end of May. But Hindus aren’t alone in their practice: Buddhists, Catholics and even a Nashville Lutheran use them for worship.
The exhibit gives Hindus a chance to give their neighbors a glimpse into the day-to-day practice of their religion, Gowda said. “It’s a gift to everyone,” he said. Ann Taylor, curator of interpretation at the Frist, helped organize the home shrine display. She has been impressed by how local Hindus make space for their faith despite the hectic pace of modern life.
“They don’t make worship a big deal,” she said. “It is part of their day-to-day life.”Personal shrines aren’t limited to the home, said Bill Harman, professor of religion and philosophy at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.