The Power Above

By Alex Wolff | Monday, April 5th 2021

It was a quiet Valentine’s Day for the Kulkarni family. Both Deepak and his wife Sujata were recovering from the second round of their Covid-19 vaccines, and their oldest daughter’s birthday was only three days away. They prepared a casual family dinner at their Westlake home and watched local news for updates on an incoming cold front.

“They didn't say it's going to be a historic storm,” Deepak Kulkarni says. “Once on Sunday, the power went off around 2 a.m., we really felt how severe it's going to be.”

More than 200,000 Austin residents lost power during the winter storm in February. The Kulkarnis and their two teenage girls spent 48 hours in a frigid home without electricity.

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Deepak and Sujata Kulkarni sit in front of their wood burning fireplace wearing multiple layers. The Kulkarni family spent two days in a house without heat and power.

“We really didn’t expect it to be this bad,” Deepak Kulkarni says. “We've been in Austin for close to 30 years, never seen anything like it.”

While they were fortunate to have running water and a stocked fridge, they were forced to wear multiple layers of clothing and take turns sitting in front of a wood-burning fireplace.

“The entire house was kind of freezing,” Deepak Kulkarni says. “We were cold, we ran out of all the firewood … so it was huge when the temple called us.”

Radha Madhav Dham is a Hindu temple and ashram complex in Hays County. It is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Texas, and the largest in North America. The Kulkarnis have volunteered at the temple for more than 15 years.

“Making sure our kids were connected to our roots was something that got us into volunteering at the temple,” Sujata Kulkarni says. “Once you start volunteering at the temple, there is a certain amount of energy that gets into you, and you start doing things that you never imagined.”

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Mamta Ganesan pauses for reflection at a shrine next to a man-made pond. Ganesan is one of 60 full-time residents at Radha Madhav Dham.

As Deepak used up the last of their firewood, Sujata sent a text message to check on the residents at Radha Madhav Dham. Mamta Ganesan is one of 60 full-time residents at the ashram. When residents learned of the Kulkarnis’ circumstances, they were eager to help.

“One of the major pillars of Hinduism is helping others in the community,” Ganesan says. “As a few people started coming in, we started thinking about other families.”

Radha Madhav Dham provided more than 25 people with private bedrooms and bathrooms during the storm. Dozens more stopped by for a hot shower and a warm meal.

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Fresh sheets and towels await visitors in one of the many guest rooms at Radha Madhav Dham. The temple rents rooms to visitors for larger events and provides free shelter for displaced residents during times of crisis.

“The right thing is to share and give what you have without any expectations of return,” Ganesan says. “I’m blessed in a way and happy that we have the facilities so that people could stay with their families.”

This is not the first time that Radha Madhav Dham has provided shelter for Texas residents displaced by natural disasters. In 2006 after Hurricane Katrina and in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey, the temple housed hundreds of guests from the Houston area.

“This is sort of part of the Hindu faith where we try to help anybody,” Deepak Kulkarni says. “They don't have to be Hindu ... they could be anybody. It's just a humanitarian thing.”

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Sujata, Pooja, Deepak and Sachi Kulkarni pose in front of a heart-shaped cookie cake. The family celebrated Sachi’s 19th birthday at Radha Madhav Dham during the winter storm.

Radha Madhav Dham’s humanitarian efforts extend internationally. When a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, the temple hosted a donation drive and raised $11,000 for earthquake disaster relief.

“I get a good kind of warm feeling in the heart that our temple was able to do that,” Ganesan says. “It’s such a beautiful feeling that people do remember and they come back.”

The Kulkarnis spent three nights at the temple before returning home Friday. They were happy to have this lifeline in their time of need, and experience the value of their connection to the temple.

“It's the faith and the comfort that you have, that yes, we have the power above all of these that takes care of you,” Sujata Kulkarni says. “I think that gives you the strength to fight.”

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