Hindus from all over the Southeast are congregating in Morrisville this weekend for a once-in-a-lifetime event.
The Hindu Society of North Carolina, just off Aviation Parkway, is installing the gods Lord Jagganath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra into its temple. Once complete, the new additions will make the temple a destination for religious travelers.
Visitors from several nearby states are expected to attend the ceremonies – some of which are open to the public – and the temple will now be notable for its wide array of deities. Most Hindu temples do not have so many gods devotees can pray to.
“Hindus, before you die, they say you should visit the most holy places,” said Trilok Pillai, a manager of the temple facility. “And now this is one.”
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Pillai was speaking in terms a non-Hindu would understand. The temple’s official statement provided more detail.
“Hindu followers believe that one should visit four Dhams (religious centers of worship) to achieve moksha in life,” the statement said. Moksha connotes a sense of freedom or self-realization.
With the installation of the deities, the Hindu Society temple will have all four Dhams in one place, enabling pilgrims to complete their visits all at once.
The temple was founded in 1976 by husband and wife duo Gangadhar and Saroj Sharma. Morrisville’s population boom since then has been driven in part by the Indian community that followed the temple.
On Saturday morning, Saroj Sharma sat near where Jagganath was to be installed, beaming with pride as she watched the ceremonies unfold.
More than a hundred of the faithful congregated in the temple, awash in a sea of red and yellow robes and scarves. They were preparing for the entry of Jagganath, one of the most powerful Hindu gods.
His name means “Lord of the Universe,” and he is understood to be a form of the god Vishnu. Jagganath is also the inspiration for the English word “Juggernaut,” which means an unstoppable force. Hindus depict him with wide, intense eyes.
“The thinking is if he blinks, the world will end,” said Cary resident Sakti Singh, who helped lead the ceremony.
Lighting incense to begin the ritual, the worshipers offered up consecrated water and fruit – apples, bananas and many coconuts.
Gathering the water and coconuts, the women began circling the temple three times. Despite the 40-degree weather, none wore shoes. A band of men with drums and a gong loudly joined in. Others waved their arms and sang.
When it was nearly over they gathered in a circle and began ululating and shouting their welcome to Jagganath.
“A lot of these people may be devotees of other gods, but they all come together for this,” Singh said.
Singh said Hinduism teaches every creature is divine, but some are more divine than others. If a person’s divinity is like a teaspoon of saltwater, he said, then a god’s divinity is an ocean.
That belief means Hindus pray, or do puja, to many figures.
“In the room in our house where we do puja, there’s a picture of Jesus,” Singh said. “There was when I was little, too. I didn’t know the difference. I figured he was one of our gods.”
Even without incorporating other religions’ deities, the Hindu pantheon is large. Some branches worship a few dozen gods, and other branches worship hundreds.
Yet most Hindu temples have only one god installed at the shrine. Morrisville’s temple, on the other hand, will have 18 different gods after this weekend.
The spot where Jagganath was to be installed was marked by a picture of the god, anticipating the arrival of his statue and the completion of the temple’s status as a pilgrimage destination.
“This is like a feather in our crown,” Pillai said.
The ceremonies continue Sunday, starting at 9 a.m. and lasting into the evening. The final and main event is at 4 p.m. People can also watch live online at www.goo.gl/sid4V7.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran