The Vedanta Center of Atlanta held the formal dedication of its new chapel (prayer
hall) this past weekend. After having outgrown its meeting space, the Center members
made the momentous decision to build a separate chapel adjacent to its existing building.
The architect and builder were chosen, plans prepared, and in May of this year, construction
began. Weather irregularities and illness delayed the expected completion, but in October
the builders handed over the keys of a brand new chapel. By begging and borrowing, the
devotees acquired carpet, floor tiles, new chairs and all the appurtenances of a new home
for Sri Ramakrishna. The shrine and other holy pictures were transferred to the new hall at
an auspicious time. Activities in the handsome new sanctuary could begin. A new day had
dawned for this small but earnest Vedanta congregation.
The devotees were delighted when Swami Swahanandaji, Senior Minister of the Vedanta
Society of Southern California, agreed to bless them by performing the Dedication of the
new chapel. Swami Ishtanandaji of the San Diego Monastery accompanied him. The
Dedication was held on Saturday, January 13, 2007, which coincided that weekend with the
celebration of the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekanandaji.
As the day of the Dedication arrived, the group was astonished and pleased that, by the Sri
Ramakrishna’s grace; the weather was 70 degrees in January! The new chapel was filled
to overflowing as the Dedication Ceremony began with Swami Yogeshanandaji chanting
prayers for peace in Sanskrit from the Upanishads. The crowd was hushed as Swami
Swahanandaji then performed the formal dedication of the chapel, assisted by Swami
Ishtanandaji. Flowers, incense, purified water, and light were all offered to the deities in the
customary manner. In a very moving part of the ceremony, representatives of the Jewish,
Buddhist, Christian, Sufi, and Sikh faiths offered prayers of blessing for the space and
Afterwards, Swami Yogeshananda introduced Swami Swahanandaji, who gave an inspiring
lecture to the group. He began by stating the importance of setting aside the space as a
place of worship and study of Vedanta, and he emphasized that the building of this chapel
only came about because of the persistence of Swami Yogeshanandaji. As an aside, he
encouraged us to likewise dedicate a corner of our homes for meditation and prayer. He
noted with obvious pleasure the appropriateness of having so many religious groups
represented at the ceremony with their blessing prayers for the new Vedanta chapel, in light
of Sri Ramakrishna’s practicing of all faiths. He then gave deep food for thought: Quoting
the Upanishad, he stated that the ultimate nature of being is peace – shanto abhiatman.
Likewise, he said, the core of all religion is peace. He then admonished the group in the
words of Swami Vivekanada to see God not only in ourselves but in society as well. He
observed that we see differences – dualities – when we separate ourselves from anything
else: God is within and god is everywhere, he said. He stressed that we must look for the
ultimate nature of things – the body is limited, and the mind is constantly changing, so
ultimately, we must be beyond these. He encouraged daily contemplation – not on the
body, but on the soul. The swami encouraged us not just to talk of God, but to carry out our
spiritual practice on a daily basis.
After these inspiring remarks of Swami Swahanandaji, Swami Yogeshananda noted that
several individuals in the audience had for many years worked for and envisioned a Vedanta
Center in Atlanta. He asked one of those individuals, Dr. Baghirath Majmudar, to give
remarks to the group. Dr. Majmudar began by highlighting the contribution of Swami
Yogeshananda in teaching the devotees Vedanta philosophy. He noted that Swami is a
learned and always prepared scholar, but with the warmth of a Vedantist.
He then paid tribute to Swami as guru by chanting a guru sloka in Sanskrit. He then
chanted a sloka for purification of the soul and for everyone assembled. Dr. Majmudar also
noted that prayers for healing were appropriate in this instance, because micro life had been
disturbed in the process of building the chapel. He offered a prayer in Sanskrit, asking for
forgiveness for the destroyed lives and for disturbing the ecobalance of the place.
A real treat followed, with Swami Ishtanandaji robustly playing the harmonium and singing
various bhajans in his rich baritone voice. A luncheon provided by the Center came next.
The beautiful weather allowed the group to enjoy the feast outside on the lawn under a tent.
In keeping with its emphasis on diversity, the Center chose to serve Chinese food to the
hungry guests. A large cake depicting the seal of the Vedanta Center of Atlanta served as
dessert. Following lunch, the assembly enjoyed musical offerings, first from a “pop” group
composed of Center members, who performed group member Cyndi Craven’s song which
begins, “You are not bound, you are free...” Rakhi Bannerjee then performed a poignant and
beautiful bhajan dedicated to the guru, followed by breathtaking Indian orchestral music from
Amitava Sen and his group. Finally, the group was dazzled at the virtuoso performance of
Priya Chandrasekaran on the veena.
Swami Yogeshananda then asked Swami to give closing remarks, and in response, he
observed that there are four parts to prayer meetings, such as this Dedication Ceremony:
puja (worship and prayer), pravachan (lecture), bhajan (chanting) and bhojan (food). He
said with humor that you can reorganize the first three, but not the fourth. Once the food is
served – that’s it! He did, however, commend the group on the chapel dedication, noting
how auspicious it was that it was held on the weekend of Swami
Vivekanadaji’s birthday celebration.
The Vedanta center was established in 1976 and swami Yogeshananda taken charge as
spiritual head in 1981. Since then swamiji is holding regular classes and meetings at the
center. This is a small and modest Vedanta center of worldwide movement of Sri
Ramakrishna paramahansa. There are 16 centers and five monasteries in the US. The
Vedanta Center of Atlanta is located at 2331 Brockett Road in Tucker, Georgia, 30084. For
more information, call 770-938-6673 or visit the website at http://www.vedanta-atlanta.org.
Swami Yogeshananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order, is the spiritual head of the
Vedanta Center of Atlanta and author of several books on spiritual life, including Six Lighted
Windows, The Visions of Sri Ramakrishna. Swamiji lived in several monasteries in the US,
India and England, before coming to Atlanta. Swamiji has spent 60 year in monastic life and
37 years in the ministry. Today, Yogeshananda counsels and teaches at the Vedanta
Center of Atlanta. People of various faiths, regularly attend the center’s services. On
weekdays Tuesday and Thursday scripture classes, books on Vedanta are read and
studied in-group discussions.
Center participates in three Atlanta based interfaith organizations and service projects such
as nursing home visits, and clothing donations to disabled communities.