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Historic Jain Inauguration in Norcross

January 2009
Historic Jain Inauguration in Norcross

A festive eleven-day inauguration ceremony was marked by religious ceremonies and discourses, a grand shobha yatra (a procession of floats), cultural shows, dignitaries, and visitors from all across the U.S. and overseas.

The inner sanctum and architecture of the newly inaugurated temple (2 photos). Photo: ByteGraph Creations

Scenes from the shobha yatra (parade) through Norcross, GA.(2 photos) Photo: ByteGraph Creations

Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson joining in the festivities Photo: ByteGraph Creations

Hundreds of Jain devotees braved a biting November cold to participate in the eleven-day inauguration of metro Atlanta’s first-ever Jain Temple situated in Norcross, Georgia. The inauguration ceremony, which began Friday, November 14, ended Monday November 24, 2008.

The celebrations were graced by the presence of erudite Jain scholars, monks and nuns from India, leading community activists, and visitors from other U.S. states and overseas. The project, whose completion had been long awaited by the Jain community, finally became a reality with the Murti-Pratishtha ceremony performed Sunday, November 23. The ceremony included a ritual that symbolically infused divinity in the statues and their installation in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The statues, all 35 of them, were handcrafted by artisans in Jaipur, from the exquisite white marble found in Rajasthan, India.

Shirish Gandhi, one of the community leader responsible for temple’s construction, along with architect Tony Patel, said: “More than 60 percent of the total cost of the project was spent right here in the U.S.A. For example, the interior dome over the Rangmandap was built in America by American artists and artisans, and the four beautiful exterior domes were made from fiberglass, not far from Cleveland, Ohio. More than 97 percent of the flooring material was bought right here in Atlanta and the exterior and interior marble was installed by local workers, some of whom were working with marble for the first time.”

The spectacular marble Derasar (temple) is built following a traditional Jain temple structure, with ornate designs of the shikhar (dome), artistic ceiling panels, a bold medallion design under the Rangmandap in the marble floor on the main level; doors with carved Jain motifs, a garbhagrah, bhomti; a semi circle inlaid with marble idols of all 24 Tirthankaras, temples for Jains who worship Lord Mahavir in different forms, like Swetambars, Digambars and a separate meditation room built on the lower level for the Sthanakvasis, who meditate with God’s spirit in mind, void of statue worship.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions that originated in India. Its followers practice the tenets of non-violence, compassion, vegetarianism, sustenance of ecology and emphasize equality of all life. Atlanta’s growing Jain community is a close-knit, progressive, vibrant and well-respected community whose members have excelled in many fields and have contributed significantly to Georgia’s economy as well as to its social and cultural diversity.

The construction of the temple marks the third phase of a project that began in 1996 when the Jain Society of Greater Atlanta (JSGA) acquired 3.7 acres of land for a Jain Center and Temple. A two-level building was opened in 2001, and subsequently, a seating hall with a capacity of 250 and rooms for a Pathashala, Swadhyaya, library and storage were added on as part of the second phase.

The ritual-studded ceremonies were conducted by various swamijis including Pujya Jinchandraji Maharaj, Pujya Acharya Shree Chandanaji, Pujya Shree Devendrakirtiji, Swami Shri Shrutpragnaji, Sadhviji Shree Subhamji, Swamiji Shree Ankleshji, Swamiji Ashwinipragnaji, and Shramanijis from Florida, Vidhikar Naredrabhai Nandu and Pratishthacharya Pandit Mahipalji Shah.

Apart from spiritual discourses, there was a rich blend of entertainment in the form of thought provoking dramas, dandiya raas, bhangra, garba classical dances, shobha yatra and a spectacular procession of floats.

Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson and Councilman Craig Newton participated in the cultural show on Friday, November 21, which was attended by well-known members of Atlanta’s Indian-American community. Among those present were Narender Reddy, who has been appointed by head of a Northern ARC (Atlanta Regional Commission) committee, Ritesh Desai, President-Elect, Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (GIACC), former GIACC president Dr. Narsi Narasimhan, State Representative Hugh Floyd, Gwinnett school board member Louise Radloff, and Varinee Sangmalee, president, Asian-Pacific American Council of Georgia. JSGA’s Viren Mayani, who welcomed the dignitaries, read a congratulatory letter from Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Viren Mayani thanked Mayor Johnson on behalf of the JSGA, describing him as “our true partner in making our dream come alive today.” Responding, the mayor said, “I am so proud to have you in the community. The tenets that you espouse are so important in the world that we now live in, that people around the globe are basically our next-door neighbors and we need to learn to live together. The tenets that our very own Martin Luther King espoused are the ones that inspired Gandhi from your religion. I welcome you, congratulate you and honor you for all your accomplishments for your community to come together and produce such a beautiful place in our city. We will help you with whatever we can do”

JSGA President Deepak Shah, Vice President Anil Shah, Treasurer Rajan Joshi, Secretary Paresh Shah, Youth Secretary Meeta Parikh, Executive Members Kiran Shah and Madhu Sheth were also recognized and thanked for their dedication, drive and determination. Also recognized was Champalal Narayan, a skilled craftsman from Jaipur.

Cultural Show

The vibrant cultural show, compered by the bubbly trio of Karishma Kamdar, Neetu Trivedi and Mona Patel, had a rich mix of bhangra, garba, tribal and classical dances performed by talented dancers of various ages. Among the captivating performances were those by Hansinee Mayani (Bharatnatyam) and Minal Shah (a song on the theme of unity).

Procession

On the morning of Saturday, November 22, the idols were carried in an exotic procession of floats decorated with flower garlands, and brought to the temple after a two-mile ride through the streets of Norcross downtown. While some devotees marched in the parade waving flags and carrying banners, others sang and danced in jubilation through historic Norcross. Shouts of joy from the throng of devotees and visitors assembled in the forecourt of the temple greeted the floats as they arrived and were carried inside the temple for the next day’s Pratishtha ceremony.

Installation

The Pratishtha ceremony included the Ghee Boli, conducted by Nandubhai and Kavyan, and the installation of all the Tirthankar idols amidst the chanting of mantras, followed by the Aarti.

Following the installation ceremony, the JSGA executive committee thanked all the volunteers involved in the project, notable among whom were Manish Shah and Meeta Parikh. A Pratishtha souvenir publication was released on the occasion.

- Mahadev Desai


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