CARY — Radhakrishnamurthy Bhandaru has been the beaming and supportive parent for the many milestones in the lives of his children – from their first steps and words to their many educational achievements, weddings and births of their own children.
On Sunday, it was Bhandaru’s grown children marking the milestone, watching proudly as their father, an octogenarian who came to this country 52 years ago from his native India, was honored in an elaborate Hindu ceremony.
Family, friends and members of the Sri Venkateswara Temple of North Carolina, a Hindu temple in Cary, gathered in the home of Bhandaru’s daughter, Uma Kalagnanam, for a religious celebration of his 84 years.
Women in ornate and brightly colored saris and men in traditional kurtas and tunics watched as Bhandaru moved through the many phases of a ceremony that began Saturday night and continued through Sunday.
On July 1, Bhandaru celebrated his 84th birthday. The Hindu calendar is luni-solar with a precise lunar month and an approximate luni-solar year. In 84 years, according to the Hindu calendar, Bhandaru has witnessed 1,000 full moons, a symbolic accomplishment that signals a new phase in life.
“Just like kids have milestones, adults in our culture have milestones, too,” Kalagnanam said.
And many preparations were made for that milestone, from the 108 clay pots containing coconuts and topped with brightly colored napkins on a stage several inches off the floor to the pit inside the home, where purified butter was dripped from banana leaves into an open fire.
A swami chanted prayers in Hindu as guests recorded the colorful ceremony with iPads, cameras and cellphones.
For many inside the Cary home, it was the first such ceremony they attended.
“It is something that no one in our family has ever experienced,” said Sinu Bhandaru, a son of the honored guest.
“Not many people reach the age of 84,” said Rao Bhandaru, another son.
From Musi banks to LSU
Radhakrishnamurthy Bhandaru was born in Hyderabad, capital of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and located on the banks of the Musi River in the Deccan Plateau in southern India.
He came to the United States in 1960 on a prestigious Fulbright scholarship. He landed in New Orleans at the Louisiana State University medical center and raised five children there and built a career.
As one of the earlier Indian families in New Orleans, his children said, he was often the man many visited as they came to study in the Crescent City. “They kind of called him ‘the Godfather’ because they all had to get his blessing to move on,” one of the sons recalled.
While in New Orleans, one of his three daughters died as a high school junior from stomach cancer and his first wife succumbed several years later to ovarian cancer.
Bhandaru married his current wife in 1983, and she was by his side Sunday in a beautiful burgundy sari. The couple moved to Cary after flooding from Hurricane Katrina demolished their New Orleans house, pushing the man who cherished family above all to a new home close to his daughters.
Rebuilding after Katrina
In Cary, he is a stalwart volunteer at the Hindu temple, spending many mornings and afternoons there.
“As much importance as he places on his religion and science, he places on family,” his son Rao said. “He lost everything in Katrina, but to him, family is more important than anything.”
Typically Bhandaru wants the emphasis on someone other than himself, usually settling for low-key affairs. But in marking his witnessing of 1,000 moons, Bhandaru was enthusiastic about bringing in others for an elaborate ceremony and ornate feast.
All gathered were happy to honor the honored guest, not only breathing in the fumes from the fire that symbolized a rebirth, but drinking in a rare occasion when their humble father would allow them to shower him with praise. “It’s good for the house, it’s good for the people in the house, it’s good for the community,” Kalagnanam said.