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Hindus celebrate new temple in Salem - VIRGINIA - Roanoke valley-U.S.A

Religious leaders say the new mandir in Salem will be a hub for  the Roanoke Valley’s Hindu community. Children danced through the str...

Religious leaders say the new mandir in Salem will be a hub for
 the Roanoke Valley’s Hindu community.

Children danced through the streets of Salem on Sunday morning as the Hindu community celebrated the installation of a new mandir, or Hindu temple.

It will be the second such temple in the Roanoke Valley, but the first of the BAPS denomination, in which devotees follow the teachings of Bhagwan Swaminarayan .

Religious leaders say the new temple on Sheraton Drive won’t just give them a place to worship, it will serve as a hub for the Roanoke Valley’s Hindu community, which is made up of about 400 families.

Dharmendra Patel is an active member of the BAPS denomination and a Salem business owner. He said there aren’t many Indian immigrants in Southwest Virginia, so it can be a challenge for them to maintain their cultural identity.

“It will help people who immigrated from India — first-, second-generation kids — it will help them understand the culture, the religion, what we do,” he said. “Also it will give us a place to network with each other and make sure we maintain our customs.”

Roanoke’s and Salem’s mayors, Virginia lawmakers, national Hindu leaders and about 800 religious followers traveled from as far away as New Jersey to take part in the centuries-old tradition of installing a new temple.

The event began with an early-morning parade through downtown Salem. Floats carried several white marble statues of Hindu deities carved by hand in India. Participants, some dressed in traditional Indian clothes, danced a short loop that started by the court house. A few people came out of shops and houses along the way to watch.

Sadhus, or Hindu priests, said the 4-foot-tall marble figurines were made in the image of God. They were carried through the streets so they can be introduced to the city and bless local residents.

After the parade, they were taken into the temple and placed in their permanent home at an altar.
Hindu followers then filled the room as they prayed and made offerings to God.

Most of the ceremony was in Sanskrit, the primary language of Hinduism, but interpreters explained they were inviting deities to enter the idols. By the time they were finished, almost an hour later, God was said to be alive inside the statues.

Coming from an Irish Catholic background, Roanoke Mayor David Bowers said he didn’t understand everything he saw on Sunday, but he enjoyed the opportunity to learn about a different religion.

“It’s important, and it’s a good thing for us to have this sense of diversity and multiculturalism,” he said. “So I would say to the Christian community and the Jewish community, you ought to come and see and understand each other. It’s been a very interesting experience for me.”

Patel said Hindus believe in one god who has been reincarnated in several forms, which were represented by the statues in the parade Sunday morning.

Sadhu Yaynavallabh Das, who leads the BAPS sect of Hinduism in North America, said the service may seem awkward to strangers, but its purpose is similar to ones with which non-Hindus are more familiar .

“The rituals are different in different religions,” Yaynavallabh said. “But the objectives behind those traditions are to love God and express your love and dedication toward God.”


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