In 1970 when 24-year-old Siva Subramanian emigrated from India to attend medical school in Washington, he missed having a Hindu temple in the area where he could worship, he said.

Services were "simply done at home," he said.

Although about 1,200 Hindu families banded together in 1984 to buy a Lanham home to serve as the makeshift Sri Siva Vishnu temple, they still longed for a full-scale place that would serve as a center for the Hindu community where they could practice their traditional individual meditations. This summer they announced plans and began raising funds for a temple that can accommodate 500 people for cultural and religious festivals.

They plan to build the temple on Cipriano Road in Lanham, the site of the makeshift temple, said Subramanian, now a pediatrician with the Georgetown Medical Center and the chairman of the temple's executive committee. The community has raised about $250,000 toward the $2 million project.

This year, Hindu officials were granted a building permit by Prince George's County, but it has expired and would have to be renewed before construction can begin, county officials said.

The Hindu leaders say they will tear the current house down in April to build a shrine mirroring the Hindus' style of the past 2,000 years. The temple, Subramanian said, will allow Hindus to practice their traditional one-on-one meditation at any time.

The nearest temples are in Flushing, N.Y., and Pittsburgh.

The Hindus hope to bring in carvers from India to create ornamental designs in white stone and red brick that local contractors will set for the exterior, according to Subramanian. Thirty-five-foot-high spires, which are Hindu symbols of respect, will mark interior enclosures housing four- to eight-foot-high icons. Construction is expected to be completed in 1990, he said.

The 10,000-square-foot sanctuary will hold an auditorium for about 500 people for cultural and religious festivals, and a library.

Hindu faith, one of the oldest religions in the world, dates back 5,000 years. There are about 300 million Hindus in India, 15 million elsewhere. Church members say there are roughly 30,000 Hindus in the Washington area who may use the temple.

On any evening between 6 and 9 when many of the local Hindus are finished with their daily jobs, they gather at the plain, white house in Lanham to worship. As a sign of purity, shoes are removed at the entrance and rest neatly in rows in a foyer.

Last Friday night, 20 Hindus gathered around a platform bearing Swami Sambodananda, a visiting priest wearing bright orange fabric and adorned with face paint and beads.

As incense floated in the air, Sambodananda sat with one leg crossed under him in a chair, lecturing and periodically chanting.

Arvind Krishnamurthy, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Economics, was the only youth in the group. After the service, he explained that the temple is vital to keeping a rich tradition alive for himself and other children of immigrants.

"We spend eight hours in school, eight hours at home. In order to integrate those two in a meaningful manner, you need a temple. You can't just be told by your parents that this is our belief and that's it," Krishnamurthy said.

The neighbors appear to be accepting of the proposed changes, although they have raised concerns about traffic.

"I don't care one way or the other" if they build a temple, said Krumpe Gunther, who lives across the street. "The only problem would be traffic."

He said Cipriano Road has a traffic problem and would need widening regardless of the new temple.

"I've heard music from there but {it} was not very loud," said Walter Gates, who lives behind the temple. "They have parked along our streets, but have posed no problems. I just hope {in the future} it won't affect our neighborhood."

Church members explained that because their worship involves individuals and generally takes place throughout the week at various times, it was unlikely that area Hindus would congregate in large enough numbers to disturb the surrounding homes.

Rita Cipriano, another neighbor, who is the daughter-in-law of the original owner of land in the area, said she had no objection to people freely practicing their religion, but said she feared the temple might cause traffic congestion and change the residential character of the neighborhood.

The temple "would affect traffic {and} . . . cause problems because people come {from} as far as Pennsylvania {to attend}. People park on the sides of the road."

CAPTION: Priest Kalyyur Manavala Iyengar shows a model of the proposed Hindu temple.