West Michigan Hindus to Mark First Year Of Local Worship With Daylong Cleansing Ceremony

June 13, 2009

Author: Juanita Westaby

Source: The Grand Rapids Press


The call to prayer begins with the sound of "om" reverberating off the marble and granite surfaces and the tall ceilings. An auspicious sound, it soothes the soul.

For the next 30 minutes, Hindu priest Surendra Bharadwaj will gently bathe the black granite deity in front of him, Sri Ganesh, in sesame oil, milk, yogurt, orange juice, honey and sandalwood.

The priest is the only one allowed to stand in the marble stall and touch any of the 12 deities at the West Michigan Hindu Temple. Worshippers sit on the floor at his feet.

While Bharadwaj continues to chant in Sanskrit the 108 names of the deity, sometimes ringing a bell as he does, he never stops the bathing ritual. The small group of worshippers assist with provisions. Sobha Reddy makes a fresh flower garland that will eventually adorn Sri Ganesh.

"I love to do the flowers," she said. Her face glows with memories as she looks around the cavernous room with deities elaborately ornamented in silks and jewelry. "Each and every thing, I brought it from India," she said.

A year ago none of this was possible within Kent County. If a local Hindu wanted to take part in this ritual, known as Sarva Devata Abhiskekam, it meant a drive to Ganges, Kalamazoo or Lansing.

The blessing of being able to worship locally will be celebrated with a daylong ceremony next weekend. Of course, the public is invited.

The event's coordinator, Vamshidhar Ravi, said the uninitiated need not worry about not understanding the rituals, or even being a follower of another form of God.

"It's the one God. It's the same God, and we try to visualize him in different forms," Ravi said.

For about 250 Hindu families, this 10,000-square-foot temple and cultural center has become a home. It took about six years of planning and fundraising to create the temple, but it was worth it, said temple treasurer Sridhar Sundaram.