Hinduism Blooms in Triangle

Yonat Shimron, News & Observer (Raleigh), May 29, 2009

The rose petals were the final flourish.

A helicopter flying above the Sri Venkateswara Temple on Thursday rained the red flowers atop the elaborate edifice honoring the Hindu god of wealth and well being. The temple is the newest addition to the Triangle religious community.

Thousands of Hindus from across the Triangle and beyond flocked to the temple off Chapel Hill Road during five days of ceremonies that concluded Thursday. Dressed in colorful saris and long tunics they sat or stood through hours of long ceremonies, snapping pictures and craning their necks for the best view of the proceedings.

Temple openings are rare events, and Hindus believe they bestow on participants health, longevity and prosperity.

“We have never seen this kind of thing in India,” said Jyothi Gade of Cary. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

There are 21,000 native-born Indians living in the Triangle, but not all are of the Hindu religion.

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House of nine deities

The $3.5 million building is made of cement with elaborately carved images of swans, lions and other mythic creatures. It houses statues of nine deities. The purpose of the consecration–really, an installation–was to bring these statues to life. At Thursday’s ceremony, the stone statutes were carried into the building on a platform under a colorful umbrella. First though, they were bathed in holy water and dressed in specially made garments.

On Sunday, the largest of the statues, the 9-foot, 2-ton statue of Sri Venkateswara, began its journey from a shed on the property into its own special niche in the temple’s holiest spot, the sanctorum. Sri Venkateswara is a powerful form of Vishnu, the supreme god, preserver and protector of the world. He wears a gem-studded crown, leaf-shaped earrings, snake-like armlets and is clothed in yellow fabric. In his hands, he holds the divine shanka, a shell, and chakra, a discus. His lotus-shaped feet are covered in precious metal. Drawn on his forehead is a sacred white marking called Namam that screens his eyes.

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Southern-style Hinduism

Orchestrating the festivities were six of the temple’s resident priests along with 30 others from India, including a swami, or Hindu religious master, who came especially for the occasion. They chanted prayers in Sanskrit, which were broadcast to all the participants over several loudspeakers.

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The SV Temple, as it is called, is not the only Hindu temple in the Triangle. The Hindu Bhavan in Morrisville was founded in 1986 and represents a larger swath of Hinduism’s eclectic heritage. But the SV Temple is the first in the region representing the particular South Indian tradition. There are Sri Venkateswara temples in Bridgewater, N.J., Pittsburgh and Chicago, too.

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Devotion starts early

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The five-day ceremony cost $1million, but for many Hindus in the Triangle who began the project 13 years ago, it was worth it. Ram Nagulpally, who chaired the consecration committee, said the temple is a milestone for North Carolina Hindus. It announces to the world, he wrote, that the “Carolina community of Hindus has arrived.”

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