'We never expected this to happen in Australia': Vandals torch Hindu temple

Vandals have torched a Sydney Hindu Temple, leaving its holy statues in ruins and a close-knit community shattered.

A Hindu community group is appealing to the public for funds to rebuild its temple after vandals set fire to and destroyed its interior.

More than 30 statues of Hindu gods at the Barathiye Mandir Temple in Sydney's Regents Park were destroyed on Sunday.

Head priest Pundit Paras Maharaj has been meeting with worshipers at home to continue conducting prayers. 

"We never expected anything like this to happen in Australia," he said. 

"We are still in a state of shock and it's very hard to describe what's happened."

The vandalised temple.
Source: Bhartiye Mandir Sydney

Worshipers arrived at the temple on Sunday night to find smoke escaping from inside.

Shivani Kumar told SBS News one worshiper "saw flames through the windows and she was a bit confused as to what was going on and she thought maybe the prayers had already started or something like that".

"But then she saw a young girl running out of the temple and grabbing a hose and bringing it inside, and she got really scared, and being an elderly lady she was confused and she didn't really know what to do, so she waited for another couple to come and they alerted the police."

Vandals torch Hindu temple in Sydney

Holy statues were strewn across the floor and smeared with ghee, a substance used to light lamps during prayer.

Vandals broke instruments, covered the room with paint, smashed items and even scribbled the word "Jesus" on a wall.

The vandals caused $50,000 worth of damage.
Source: The Hindu Council of Australia

Temple president Indrajit Rai said he is still in a state of shock, and is struggling to understand why someone would do this.

"We walked in first and thought maybe they came in to rob for money, and then we saw that the statues were broken, there's no money in the statues," he said.

"We realised ... they came in just to destroy the place."

The tight-knit community suspects it could be a hate crime but has never experienced a vandal attack before.

"They do not know who has done it but it has caused a lot of pain and anguish to devotees," Hindu Council of Australia's Surinder Jain said.

How religious is Australia?

The council estimates it will cost more than $50,000 to replace the statues. 

"We will rebuild the temple. We are not going to go away, this is our home too," Mr Jain said. 

"Australia is a very fair society. 

"It is time for leaders of all faiths to come in their support and condemn this criminal act by a few vandals who do not represent fair dinkum Australia."

Chairman of civil rights organisation the Anti-Defamation Commission Dr Dvir Abramovich told SBS News his group was "outraged and saddened by this despicable display of intolerance directed at a house of worship by individuals who have hate in their heart".

"This disturbing crime is an attack on the heart of religious freedom and on the decency of all Australians, and is a sad reminder to us that the cancer of racism still remains a serious problem in our community."

"We stand in solidarity with the Hindu community and hope that the police brings the perpetrators to justice.”

Police are investigating the incident.

Published 18 October 2018 at 11:06am, updated 18 October 2018 at 11:11pm
By Natarsha Kallios, Charlotte Lam