India’s visa temples attract devotees aspiring to go abroad

CHENNAI, India (AP) — Arjun Viswanathan stood in the street, hands folded, eyes fixed on the idol of the Hindu deity Ganesh.

On a humid morning, the IT professional was waiting outside the temple, the size of a small closet: barely enough space for the lone priest to stand and perform puja or rituals for the beloved skull-headed deity. elephant, believed to be the one that removes obstacles

Viswanathan was among a dozen visitors, most of them there for the same purpose: to offer prayers that their US visa interviews go smoothly and successfully. Viswanathan arrived the day before his interview for a work visa.

“I came here to pray for my brother’s UK visa 10 years ago and my wife’s US visa two years ago,” he said. “Both were successful. So I have faith.”

The Sri Lakshmi Visa Ganapathy Temple is a few miles north of the Chennai (formerly Madras) airport, a bustling metropolis on the Coromandel Coast of southeast India known for its iconic cuisine, ancient temples and churches, silk saris , classical music, dance and sculptures.

This “visa temple” has grown in popularity among US visa applicants over the last decade; they can be found in almost any Indian city with an American consulate. They usually gain a following through word of mouth or social media.

A mile away from the Ganesh temple is the Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Navaneetha Krishnan temple, where an idol of Hanuman, a deity with a human body and monkey face, is believed to possess the power to obtain visas. Also known as “Anjaneya”, this god represents strength, wisdom and devotion. At this temple, he has earned the nicknames “America Anjaneya” and “Visa Anjaneya”.

The former secretary of the temple, GC Srinivasan, said that it was not until 2016 that this temple became a “visa temple”.

“It was at that time that some people who prayed for a visa spread the word that they had been successful, and this continues,” he said.

A month ago, Srinivasan said he met someone who received the news of his visa approval while circumambulating the Anjaneya idol, a common Hindu practice of walking around a sacred object or site.

On a recent Saturday night, devotees decorated the idol with garlands made of betel leaves. S. Pradeep, who placed a garland on the deity, said that he was not there to pray for a visa, but rather he believes in the unique power of the god.

“He is my favorite god,” he said. “If you genuinely pray, not just for the visa, it will come true.”

At the Ganesh temple, some devotees had success stories to share. Jyothi Bontha said her visa interview at the US Consulate in Chennai went smoothly and he had come back to say thank you.

“They just asked me a couple of questions,” he said. “She was pleasantly surprised.”

Bontha’s friend, Phani Veeranki, was nearby, nervously clutching an envelope containing her visa application and supporting documents. Bontha and Veeranki, both computer science students from the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh and childhood friends, head to Ohio.

They both found out about the visa temple on the social media platform Telegram.

Veeranki said she was anxious because she had a lot at stake in her upcoming visa interview.

“I am the first person in my family to go to the United States,” he said. “My mother is afraid to send me. But I’m excited about the opportunities I’ll have in the United States.”

Veeranki then handed the envelope to the temple priest to be placed at the foot of the idol for a blessing.

“We heard that the applications have been turned down,” he said, hands still folded in prayer. “I really hope mine gets approved.”

If she and Bontha make it to Ohio, they want to take a trip to Niagara Falls.

“I’ve always wanted to see it,” Bontha said.

Mohanbabu Jagannathan and his wife, Sangeetha, manage the temple, which Jagannathan’s grandfather built in 1987. Their house is on a cul-de-sac, which is considered unlucky in many Asian cultures. In Chennai, it is common to find a Ganesh temple outside cul-de-sac houses due to the belief that the deity has the power to ward off evil. At first, only the locals came to the temple, Jagannathan said.

“But over the years it started to build a peculiar reputation,” he said. “Many visa applicants who came to the temple spread the word that they found success after praying here.”

In 2009, his father, Jagannathan Radhakrishnan, rebuilt the temple and added the word “visa” to the temple’s name. Jagannathan said the success stories are heartwarming; visitors sometimes stop by his house to thank his family for keeping the temple open.

“It has never bothered me,” Jagannathan said. “We offer this as a service to the public. It’s a joy to see how happy people are when they come back and tell us they got their visa.”

His wife said she was moved by the story of a man who came from New Delhi to pray for a visa to see his grandson after eight years apart. She remembers another time when a woman called her crying and told her that her visa application had been rejected.

“Sure, some don’t get it,” he said. “Only God knows why”.

Padma Kannan brought her daughter, Monisha, who is preparing to earn a master’s degree in marketing analytics at Clark University. Kannan believes that her daughter got her visa from this powerful deity.

“I found this temple on Google,” he said. “I was so nervous for her, so I prayed here.”

Monisha Kannan said that she is not so sure that she got her visa because of this temple, but she said that she came to support her mother.

“I’m skeptical,” she said. “I’m just someone who goes with the flow.”

His mother takes a more philosophical stance.

“We pray for our children and things happen easily for them,” he said. “I think that when they go through the rigors of life themselves, they will begin to believe in the power of prayer.”

Viswanathan said he is not someone “who usually believes in such things.” When his sister got her British visa a decade ago after offering prayers here, Viswanathan chalked it up to coincidence. He became a believer when his wife got her US visa two years ago, he said.

The day after he visited the temple this time, Viswanathan’s work visa was approved. He’s going to New Hampshire in a few months.

“It’s all about faith,” he said. “If you believe it will happen, it will happen.”


Associated Press religious coverage is supported through the AP partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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