A local Hindu organization purchased a 38,000-square-foot former theater in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover and plans to convert it into a sanctuary and educational space to serve the area’s growing Hindu community.
Hindus make up less than 1 percent of Alabama’s population, and while an accurate count of adherents in the state is hard to come by, the number of Hindus in the U.S. has more than doubled over the last decade.
Rajan Zed, a prominent Hindu cleric based in Reno, Nevada, issued a statement claiming that there is an increasing population of Hindus in Alabama that will require new temples, or mandirs, to “help the community to pass on Hindu spirituality, concepts and traditions to coming generations amidst so many distractions in the consumerist society.”
Zed urged Hoover’s mayor and city council to unanimously approve the temple plans, “thus expressing warm welcome to the caring Hindu community” that he said is known for its charity and community development.
BAPS Birmingham is the group that owns the theater property. It operates a temple in North Birmingham that is currently closed due the pandemic. It proposed the plans for its second temple, which include a large worship space and 14 classrooms, to the Hoover Planning and Zoning Commission, which voted on Monday to recommend them for approval by the city council.
Mayor Frank Brocato said that he doesn’t anticipate anything preventing that approval.
Before it closed, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan temple hosted weekly assemblies and offered classes to teach children Gujarati, an Indian language distinct from Hindi but similar.
There is another Hindu temple near Hoover not affiliated with BAPS, in neighboring Pelham.
BAPS, which stands for Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, is a Hindu denomination established in 1907 with more than 1 million followers. It operates charities and learning centers worldwide and requires five lifetime vows from its followers: no alcohol, no addictions, no adultery, no meat and no impurity of body or mind.
The population of Hindus in the U.S. increased from 1.2 million in 2007 to 2.23 million in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. Zed estimated that the number is around 3 million now. It is projected to reach 4.78 million in 2050, or 1.2 percent of the U.S. population.