Hindu temples gather goodness

Volunteers organize drives for money and clothes that will go to India

Staff WriterJanuary 2, 2005 

As Triangle Hindus gathered in temples for New Year's ceremonies Saturday, they offered prayers as well as aid for the victims of last week's tsunami.

A clothing drive begun by three college students had brought in 50 cardboard boxes of jeans, saris and other items at Sri Venkateswara Temple in Cary. The students used Internet chat rooms, e-mail messages, temple newsletters and word-of-mouth to solicit donations and hoped to fill 50 more boxes today.

Meanwhile, members of Hindu Bhavan temple in Morrisville dropped checks and coins into a wooden box marked for tsunami relief. Someone left a plastic piggy bank full of change, and G. Nagi Reddy, part-owner of the new Galaxy Cinema in Cary, brought a check for $2,542, all the money taken in during Thursday's opening night showing of "Swadesh," an Indian movie.

Triangle residents of all faiths and backgrounds have responded to the horrific images and accounts of the tsunami spawned by an earthquake Sunday in the Indian Ocean. But for Indian-Americans in the Triangle, geographic and cultural ties, combined with a Hindu faith that stresses charity, have strengthened the impulse to give.

"We are so fortunate to be under a roof, to have a home," said Bhupender Gupta, a textiles professor at N.C. State University. "We need to share with those who don't."

Gupta wrote a $200 check to the Hindu Society of North Carolina's relief effort after leading a New Year's ceremony at the society's Hindu Bhavan temple. Hindus use the ceremony to look back on the past year, to remember those who have died and to resolve to do greater things in the new year.

About 50 people, from toddlers to senior citizens, sat or kneeled around a small wood fire in a steel vessel while Gupta recited in English and Sanskrit. He used a long spoon to drop butter oil onto the flames, while others tossed in powder made from leaves and bark from holy trees in India. He repeatedly urged worshippers to remember the dead, the injured and the grieving in Southeast Asia.

"There's a special reason to pray at this moment," he said.

At least 8,900 people along the southeast coast of India were killed by the tsunami, and thousands more are missing. Lack of food, medicine and clean water could result in additional deaths from starvation and disease. The total death toll from the disaster exceeds 123,000 in 11 countries in southern Asia and East Africa.

The 29-year-old Hindu Society of North Carolina, with nearly 1,000 members, expects to raise tens of thousands of dollars, president Saroj Sharma said. The society will send the money to local agencies in India to avoid the bureaucracy of the country's central government, she said.

The Sri Venkateswara Temple, with close to 250 members, expects to raise $25,000 in addition to the boxes of clothes. Remya Srinivas, a freshman at NCSU, said she and two old friends from Wake Tech Community College thought the clothing drive was a good way to spend their break from classes.

"We felt guilty sitting in our rooms on our break not doing anything," she said.

The students and other Sri Venkateswara Temple members will collect clothes today at the temple off Chapel Hill Road from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For information, call 468-0040.

Staff writer Richard Stradling can be reached at 829-4739 or rstradli@newsobserver.com.

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