CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- For months now, many drivers on Highway 54 in Cary have been puzzled by the gleaming white structure that towers above the highway near Northwest Maynard Road.
Just what is that?
What "that" is, is a "Rajagopuram," a sacred entryway to the Sri Venkateswara Temple, which is home to thousands of local Hindu worshippers. The 87-foot tall structure took more than two years to build, with craftsmen coming from India to put in the final touches.
"They pass by, they want to see what this tower is, what does it represent, how long it took to build," says Suneel Kolluru, President of the Temple. "So we always encourage the people to come in."
"Think of that as a threshold or a portal between the mundane world and divinity," says Lak Srinivasa, the temple's general secretary. "When you come through the gateway you are leaving all your worries, all other things related to the ordinary life, and transcending yourself to the divine world."
SEE ALSO: Pope Francis returns with Palm Sunday mass following hospital stay due to bronchitis
When the intricately-designed tower was inaugurated last fall, it was the crowning achievement for the temple leaders. The SV Temple opened in 1998 at just a fraction of its current size.
But in a sense, its new seven-story gateway tower, the largest "Rajagopuram" of its kind in North America, points to the rapid growth of the Hindu population in the Triangle.
Last October, Governor Roy Cooper signed an historic proclamation recognizing October as "Hindu Heritage Month" in North Carolina, a sign of the influence and impact of this growing community.
A survey taken in 2019 found some 40 to 50,000 Indian Americans call Cary, Apex, and Morrisville home. And many of them come to the SV Temple to worship.
"We welcome everybody with a warm heart," says Kolluru. "Because we all came from India long years back so we want to make sure we have that culture and all these things carried in the same temple."
But it's not just followers of Hinduism who visit the temple.
"Typically we get visitors from St. Augustine's University, schoolkids, and interfaith communities," says Srinivasa Dandepally, who handles public relations for the temple. "We offer guided tours based on our schedule, we accommodate them. We take them around the temple and we show and explain the important aspects of the temple."
The SV Temple leaders anticipate future growth and even more expansion as the Hindu population grows. They say the community has welcomed them, and the community is welcome to come visit.
MORE NEWS: 'Salat in Secret': As Ramadan begins, author's work shines light on Muslim children
Says General Secretry Srinivasa of the new tower: "It's called the tower of unity. Why? Because it's not merely the symbol of Hindus. It's the symbol of the community coming together, to say the community is accommodating different faiths."