Prayers for Visas

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    This popular visa temple is located close to the airport in Chennai, India. (AP/Deepa Bharath)
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    Arjun Viswanathan places his hands on a basket of flowers to be offered to the Hindu god Ganesh at the Sri Lakshmi Visa Ganapathy Temple in Chennai, India. (AP/Deepa Bharath)
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    Some U.S. visa seekers offer prayers to the idol Hanuman (or Anjaneya) because they believe he can make their application process successful. (AP/Deepa Bharath)
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    Visa seekers gather to pray at the Sri Lakshmi Visa Ganapathy Temple. (AP/Deepa Bharath)
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    Ramanatha Gurukkal is head priest at the Sri Lakshmi Visa Ganapathy Temple. (AP/Deepa Bharath)
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Temples abound in India. But a certain type, referred to as a visa temple, exists in almost any Indian city that has a U.S. consulate.

Consulates are branch offices of the U.S. embassy. They provide paperwork like passports, birth registrations, and travel visas. A visa is required for a foreign citizen to visit, study, or work in the United States.

Phani Veeranki is an Indian computer science student eager to travel to Ohio. Like many, she learned about the Sri Lakshmi Visa Ganapathy Temple on social media. The temple is the size of a small closet and is located in Chennai in southeast India.

Veeranki handed an envelope with her visa application and other supporting documents to the temple priest. Seeking a blessing, he placed them at the foot of an elephant-headed idol named Ganesh. Ganesh is one of the myriad gods in Hinduism. He is thought to remove obstacles and bring good luck.

Mohanbabu Jagannathan and his wife, Sangeetha, run the temple. It didn’t always get much traffic. “But over the years it started earning a quirky reputation,” Jagannathan says. “A lot of visa applicants who came to the temple spread the word that they found success after praying here.” Jagannathan’s father added the word “visa” to the temple name in 2009 to encourage visitors.

Not all worshipers get the coveted visa. “Sure, some don’t get it,” Sangeetha admits. “God only knows why.”

Faithful Hindus offer puja, ceremonial worship, at temples. They brings gifts of fruit or flowers to idols. They often pray while walking around sacred sites in a clockwise direction.

A mile from the Ganesh temple is a visa temple with the idol Hanuman (also called Anjaneya). He has a human body and the face of a monkey. He is often called “America Anjaneya” or “Visa Anjaneya.”

S. Pradeep is a devoted worshiper. “He is my favorite god. If you genuinely pray—not just for visa—it will come true.”

The Bible teaches idols are merely the work of human hands. The psalmist proclaims, “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, He does.” (Psalm 135:5-6)

The events of our lives don’t happen by chance, luck, or as a result of rituals that obligate God to bless us. Jesus modeled how to pray by saying, “Thy will be done.” God is sovereign, loving, and good. We can rest in His wisdom and perfect plan.

Why? In a world of many wants, lost people will seek help from any manner of inadequate sources. And all are in danger of thinking that following rules or rituals will result in blessing.

Pray God will raise up Christians to proclaim gospel truth to India’s people.