The Hawaiian Tourism Authority touts incredible natural beauty to entice visitors to the island of Kauai.
But some visitors venture to Kauai into a forest to find a place they say is an extraordinary source of spirituality.
"People often describe it as a peace or kind of a joy or a sort of a divine essence," said Hindu monk Sannyasin Tillainathaswami. "And it seems to be generated not only by the nature here, the land, the location, the peaceful, beautiful island, but also by the temples and the monastic community here."
Kauai's Hindu Monastery attracts Hindus from around the world. Consecrated earlier this year, the monastery's Iraivan Temple and grounds took 33 years to complete, using 3.2 million pounds of granite from India — all constructed without modern tools or electricity.
The temple was the brainchild of a former San Francisco ballet dancer now known as Guru Deva. He came here in the late 1960s, and was moved to create what has been described as a "bridge between the East and West."
"One of the demands of our guru was that this temple should not be built with modern tools, but should be built with the skillset of sculptors a thousand years ago. And that's how it was, in fact, put together," said Paramacharya Sadasivanatha Palaniswami, construction supervisor of Kauai's Hindu Monastery.
Today, two dozen monks live on the site — each taking vows of celibacy, nonviolence and vegetarianism. They spend their days meditating, producing Hindu literature and woodworking.
"Only the monks live on the property — that's very important. And to become a monk takes a few years of training and study," said Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, the order's current leader. "So, those living on the property are of a certain caliber of discipline."
Open to the public, the Iraivan Temple is also a pilgrimage site.
"Only here I can feel it. I think because of the monks, they created this last 50 years, 70, I think it started," said Devajyothi Kondapi, who traveled to the temple from Portland, Oregon. "And I think that is the main thing, the rishis, the saints and sages, the way we had in olden times in India, in the Himalayas, I see them here."
The order's current leader told The Associated Press that the beauty of the island helps provide what he calls "the catalytic power to find sacredness within."
The monks of the temple have worked to build strong connections with other faith traditions on the island. In the aftermath of August's deadly Maui wildfires, Palaniswami says the temple helped connect Hindu donors to local groups leading recovery efforts.
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