MONCURE — Moncure may soon be home to a Hindu temple with a very tall monument.
According to its website, the Carolina Murugan Temple will be located, along with “the tallest statue of Lord Murugan in the world” and multiple other buildings, on the bank of the Deep River on the Chatham side of the Chatham County-Lee County line. The listed address is 272 First Road, Moncure, which is near U.S. 1.
The temple’s organizers have purchased more than 130 acres for the facility, which would include a 155-foot statue of Murugan, the Hindu god of war whose purpose is to protect people from destructive forces.
“The Carolina Murugan Temple will provide an experience of Tamil spiritual heritage and language to the international community in North Carolina,” the website states. “It also promotes economic growth and will bring social and charitable programs for residents of North Carolina...Our objective is to retain the traditional culture and rituals performed by Tamils for thousands of years and will follow ‘Lord Muruga’s Tamizh Vazhipaattu Murai’ in all ceremonies and celebrations.”
Amy Allocco, an associate professor of religious studies at Elon University, studied abroad in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the home of the Tamils, as an undergrad and regularly visits the state for research as a professor. She said Murugan is a “warrior god” with “real significance” for Tamils.
“And so wherever Tamil people live outside of India, Murugan is popular,” she said.
The website lists 27 donors, most of them from the Research Triangle Park area. One of those donors, Radha Ravi Varma, told the News + Record that the group chose Chatham County because of its proximity to RTP and availability of land.
“Research Triangle Park is a melting pot for people from various countries and diverse cultures,” Varma said. “Tamils are among them. The Tamil people not only in the RTP area but also in other parts of the world are well-educated professionals who contribute significantly toward their (home) economically and socially.”
Allocco said temples like the proposed facility are significant for Hindus who don’t live in India.
“In places where Hindus are the minority, like North Carolina, temples take on important community functions,” she said. “They become community centers in important ways. If you’re a young Hindu kid in North Carolina, you might go there to learn about the deities and the language and the history of your religion.”
Varma said the site will feature the temple and statue, as well as soccer fields, an “open wedding area” and yoga and meditation centers that “will also be used by the local community.”
The initial site plan was submitted to the Chatham County Appearance Commission at its Dec. 19, 2018, meeting. According to minutes from the meeting, the commission voted unanimously for the project to proceed as stated.
The site drawings showed 60-foot buffers, “which are more than required,” according to the minutes. Additionally, the minutes state, regarding the statute, “As the site is quite large, it did not present an appearance concern. The Owners reported that the statue has been officially cleared for interference with aircraft.”
The land is zoned R-1 Residential. So the temple, like other places of worship like Christian churches or Jewish synagogues, does not require site plan approval from the county’s Planning Board or Board of Commissioners under county ordinances.
Jason Sullivan, the county’s planning director, told the News + Record that the planning staff initially expressed concerns about the statue. County zoning regulations state buildings can be no higher than 60 feet in residential areas. However, according to section 8.8 of Chatham zoning ordinances, height limitations do not apply to monuments. Other exceptions include public buildings “not intended for residential purposes” and communications towers.
The statue’s total height would reach 190 feet, since it would rest on a 35-foot pedestal.
Sullivan said there were multiple structures in the county that would be taller than the statue, including cell towers that reach 300 feet in height.
He added that its owners would still have to apply for building permits, which would trigger an official planning staff review of the site.
“There are a number of other permitting-related activities that would have to occur,” Sullivan said. “From a planning department perspective, as the ordinances stand right now ... at this point it looks like everything would be approved.”
He also said the statue could not be built first.
“You have to have the principal use established before accessory items are allowed,” Sullivan said.
Varma told the News + Record that there is no set date for constructing the temple, that it might take “five to ten years to start the construction.” In the meantime, he said his organization believes the statue and the facility “would not disturb anyone who lives nearby” due to the large size of the plot of land and mass of trees surrounding it.
“This temple will be a very quiet and unique place,” he said. “This place will reflect ancient South Indian architecture and sculptures. We hope everyone (will) experience and enjoy the art, sculpture and the environment of the temple.”
Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.
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