BY VEENA RAO
Heavy rains and cold weather notwithstanding, several thousand devotees thronged the newly opened North America Shirdi Sai Temple of Atlanta (NASSTA) in Suwanee, GA during the weeklong celebrations in March.
On March 15, Sunday, the celebrations culminated in the installation of the larger than life sized, pristine marble statue of Sai Baba. Over 5000 people waited patiently in line, in spite of the wet weather for a darshan of the Baba. Volunteer teams worked tirelessly, especially with the queue and the shuttle services from various off-site parking areas to the temple, to ensure that everything moved smoothly.
Built at a cost of $ 4 million, the 15,000 sq ft NASSTA temple is situated in a picturesque 13.2-acre plot, which currently houses the main temple, a library and a cultural hall. Phases two and three will see the construction of associated facilities including a yoga center and quarters for the temple priests. The temple architecture has been inspired by the original temple at Shirdi.
Nine Hindu priests conducted the ceremonies over the week. Priests from the Hindu temple of Atlanta, Riverdale, Florida, Huntsville, Nashville and Columbus, Ohio, joined the two resident priests Suresh and Ravi.
State Senator Curt Thompson (D District 5) was the chief guest on the final day’s ceremony. Talking to this reporter, Thompson said the sights and sounds of the celebrations, the music and firecrackers, the organized chaos, were all an interesting experience. He said he was appreciative of fact that the temple stood for integration of different faiths and tolerance of diversity.
Thompson said he respected the Hindu way of bringing in the calf to bless the structure and (people waiting for the) first darshan of the statue. He said he had seen this in pictures, but to be actually present during a consecration ceremony, was a once in a lifetime experience for him.
He said, the message of tolerance and diversity is a message that really resonates now, as our state and country becomes more diverse.
“Historically in Suwanee, until the early 1900s, non-whites were not allowed to live here,” he said. “In my lifetime, I have seen large civil rights demonstration here in the 80s. To go from all of that to having an Indian temple, is an amazing testament to the power of diversity and change and hope.”
Thompson added that there were three temples in his district (District 5), including the BAPS temple in Lilburn.
Temple executive committee vice-president Ramesh Gude said the NASSTA is a non-denominational temple where people of any religion, color or race can come.
“Baba lived an exemplary life and did not discriminate between people,” he said. “He did not even discriminate against animals.”
Executive committee member Srinivasa Nimmagadda apprised this reporter of the arrangements for the ceremonies. “We have four big tents. Homams were conducted in one of them. There is a food tent where several restaurants donated food for the public. There is a also tent with stalls set up by local vendors.”
Elaborate arrangements were also made for parking, said Nimmagadda. Apart from the 100 capacity parking facility at the temple, the nearby Publix and Kroger complexes were utilized, as also were the nearby subdivisions. Devotees were asked to car pool. Continuous shuttle services to and from the temple to the parking areas made things easier for the thronging devotees.
Gude requested the community to avail of the temple’s facilities and support it in moving on to the next phases of completion. “We have a close to $2 million loan that needs to be paid off before we move on to phase 2 & 3,” he said. The community’s support towards this goal is requested, he added.
The North America Shirdi Sai temple of Atlanta is located at 700 James Burgess Rd, Suwannee, GA 30024-1133. For more information, please visit www.AtlantaSaiTemple.org or call 678-455-7200.