Papia Sengupta said she and her fellow members of the Lord of the Universe Society (LOTUS) are not going to dwell on matters beyond their control, but the tears on her cheeks yesterday seemed clear-enough indication that the loss of the group’s central object of worship was still fresh.
Members of the Hindu group had spent 22 years as adopted caretakers of the so-called Healing Stone of Wahiawa, in which they discerned the presence of the god Shiva. In recent years, the group had worked in loose partnership with a group of Hawaiian nationalists who valued the stone’s historical significance as a kapu marker for the sacred area of Kaukonahua. Last week, the Hawaiian group removed the stone from the marble temple on California Avenue that LOTUS had built for its protection.
Tom Lenchenko, kahu of Kukaniloko, said the stone would eventually be repatriated to Kukaniloko, the venerated birthing site of Hawaiian alii where it had spent the early part of the last century.
Yesterday, LOTUS observed its regularly scheduled monthly service at the California Avenue site, its first since the stone was removed.
"We are very sad, very depressed," Sengupta said afterward. "Our religion tells us to be tolerant and reasonable. We are nonviolent people and we do not want to create conflict, so we must now decide what we do from here and not look to the past. It is very important for us to keep this community together."
The ceremony proceeded as it always does with the bathing of sacred icons in milk, honey and yogurt, the honoring of gods Ganesh and Shiva, and the recitation of 108 variations of Shiva’s name. The audience sat tightly packed together on the small marble platform, many dressed in brightly colored traditional garb, their eyes occasionally drawn to the empty concrete cradle on which the largest portion of the three-piece stone had rested.
Robert Cain, who attended to the day-to-day cleaning of the temple and its surrounding areas, was there the morning that the stone was removed.
"I arrived here around 5 a.m. to do my normal cleanup and I was surprised to see (kahu Elithe Kahn) with a group of people," Cain said. "They had watered down the stone and were preparing a ceremony. I asked her what the occasion was and she said, ‘It’s time to move the stone.’"
Kahn, who holds the lease on the small plot on which the temple stands, worked with Lenchenko to get authorization from the property owner to move the stone, although LOTUS was never informed of the plan.
Cain said he left but returned a couple of hours later to watch a group of people use jackhammers to loosen the stone from its anchoring. Cain said he was invited to stay for a ceremonial blessing. There was a moment of tension when a couple of LOTUS members arrived at the scene, but Cain said the entire process of moving the stone was handled efficiently and was "very respectful."
Sengupta said LOTUS erected the temple around the stone to protect it (it had previously been housed in a dilapidated shack) and to give people in the community an opportunity to worship it as they saw fit.
"We never said it was our stone," she said. "It was always available to anybody who has faith. We worshipped it in our way and for us it was a peaceful and disciplined way for our children to see how we get together. But it has always been about the entire community. Now we need the support of the community if we are going to go on."
LOTUS board members have begun discussions of what to do with the temple now that the stone is gone. They are considering taking over the soon-to-expire lease so they can continue to make the temple available to visitors.
"I was amazed that (the stone’s removal) happened so suddenly," said longtime LOTUS member Mira Savara, 56, of Aina Haina. "We’re definitely going to miss its presence and its blessings, but this place has become such a powerful place for prayer. We believe in praying together and I will still come."