Kauai's Hindu Monastery and Himalayan Academy
Saiva Siddhanta Church Headquarters
I am not the first to visit Kauai in search of something uniquely special. Face it, we travel to Kauai because we love the idea of an untouched Garden Island.
While 1.2 million visitors come each year for the stunning sunsets, 50 miles of white sand beaches, and an abundance of sea turtles, there remain the curious inner-explorers who are still yearning to see the 90% of the island which cannot even be reached by road.
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Very quietly nestled away on the banks of Kauai’s Wailua River is an oasis in the truest sense of the word—Kauai Aadheenam—also known as Kauai's Hindu Monastery. Years ago, when I first attempted to navigate my way to the monastery, I found myself driving by local ranches and residences and then suddenly along a short muddy road. There was no signage but I did eventually find the monastery's small parking lot; it looked as though it was being swallowed by the massive trees that surrounded it. Many years later that road now bears a sign, but not much else has changed. A GPS will easily direct you there, despite all.
At the entrance I learned that I needed to cover my legs before continuing—I was wearing shorts—and a sign suggested I use one of their sarongs to cover up. The dress code encourages traditional Hindu clothing, though modest clothing is permitted. No shorts or tank tops are allowed. Sarong in place, I ventured onto the property with no idea what was ahead. After all, many of my favorite travel moments are the ones least expected. I came upon a giant banyan tree with a granite sculpture of Lord Shanmuga, the six-faced deity, in the center. What a sight!
A sign welcomed me to meditate under the green canopy. Further wandering brought me to the Kadavul Temple where monks and visitors were sitting inside on floor pillows, saying prayers. This daily worship ceremony is called puja and I was told that visitors are welcome to join. While Hinduism is not my religion, I felt compelled to go inside and say a prayer for my family's health and happiness. It was surreal.
Feeling totally nestled among the tropical landscape, I took a peek out beyond the gardens and was floored at the breathtaking vista of the Wailua River with its pond and the Wailua waterfall. Signage indicated that Hawaiians named this natural pond and waterfall Nani Kaua, which means "beautiful rain," in tribute to the stunning falls that follow heavy rains. The lookout offers a distant view of the still-under-construction Iraivan Temple and beyond that, you can see the extinct volcano, Mount Waialeale. After a heavy downpour, it is said that this exact spot offers views of over 54 waterfalls, some over 1,000 feet tall!
A morning here has now become one of the many reasons I look forward to returning to Kauai. Public visitors are invited to enjoy the peaceful settings for appreciation, meditation, or reflection. Lush gardens cover most of the monastery's 382 acres and they include 250 cultivars of ti plants, 500-600 kinds of palms and many plants from India that are important to the Hindu tradition. These, along with sculptures and buildings surrounded by tropical foliage, are a great example of harmony between humans and nature.
Recently I was admiring beautiful orchid plants at the monastery, some of which had small flowers the size of a thumbtack. It was then that I had a brief discussion with one of the monks, Paramacharya Sadasivanatha Palaniswami. He is not only the senior counselor to the monastic community here but also the man who designs and propagates the cactus and flower gardens on his days off. He said, “Once you’ve embraced with both arms the life we have on this island, and the life we have in serving our faith and exploring the depths of our own humanity and our own consciousness, you realize it’s a pretty good trade-off. You couldn’t invent a life that is more perfect."
The monastery was established in 1970 as a spiritual headquarters for the Hindu religion in Hawaii and today it serves as a base for the 19 monks from 5 nations who reside here entirely self-sufficiently. They even grow their own food, including exotic fruits. The mountain retreat is also the headquarters of the Himalayan Academy and their global religious outreach programs, including the publication of the "Hinduism Today" magazine, books, websites, and videos.
If I could offer one practical tip for optimizing your visit, consider visiting in the morning hours. Enjoy a self-guided tour anytime from 9 AM to noon, or better yet, join a guided 2-hour tour which begins at 9 AM once a week. You can call them to find out what their tour schedule is and make your reservation. That is by far the most comprehensive way to see the glorious property and all the work being done to preserve Hindu traditions on Kauai.
Kauai’s Hindu monks aspire to live with compassion, understanding, and love, and to transform the world with goodness. I have immense respect for them. I would hope that compassion, understanding, and goodness are traits that we all share, and perhaps can reaffirm them after a morning at Kauai's Hindu Monastery. For more information please visit himalayanacademy.com.
About the Author
Suzette Barnett is a travel writer and lover of nature and the outdoors whose goal is to inspire you and encourage you to try something new. Check out her personal travel recommendations at TrySomethingFun.com and connect with her on Instagram.