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Garden of the Gods: Visiting Kauai’s hidden Hindu monastery

The Kauai Aadheenam Hindu Monastery’s Iraivan Temple sits on a bend above the Wailua River. Photo: Kicka Witte

There I stood, hugging a rudraksha tree. Hugging it like it was one of my parents. And I wasn’t the only one. Several visitors from the mainland U.S. and a local horticulturalist were doing the same—all of us, for the moment, literal tree-huggers.

A few hours at Kauai Aadheenam, tucked amid the breathtaking verdure straddling the winding, greenish-blue waters of the Wailua River near Kapaa, had inspired the arboreal affection and a oneness with Mother Nature.

“Hug the tree and it will take away your stress,” instructed Vel Alahan, a practicing Hindu who volunteers at the tropical sanctuary better known as Kauai’s Hindu Monastery. “You can have a real Hawaii vacation!”

The 45-year-old monastery, seminary and temple complex, identified as one of the world’s most important Hindu holy sites, is home to 24 monks. All are men, and all are sworn to lifetime vows of celibacy, piety and poverty. The complex occupies 382 acres composed of multiple gardens, ponds, waterways, tree groves and meandering paths. Rooted in the Hindu tradition of Sri Lanka and South India, the monastery was founded in 1970 by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a contemporary Hindu leader recognized for advocating Hinduism outside of India.

Resident monks and devotees of Hinduism are the only individuals allowed to participate in puja—morning worship held in the monastery complex’s Sri Lankan-inspired Kadavul Temple. Other areas of the complex’s lush acreage, however, are open to the public each morning for touring from 9 a.m. to noon. The free guided tour I took is offered once weekly.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Kayaking and hiking Kauai’s Wailua River
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