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Shirdi Sai idol installed amid week-long festivities

Ravi R. Ponangi
April 2009
Shirdi Sai idol installed amid week-long festivities

Despite a persistent rain, hundreds of devotees thronged the North America Shirdi Sai Temple of Atlanta at Suwanee, Georgia, on Sunday, March 15, to watch the installation of the Sai Baba idol amid the chanting of the Vedas.

For Atlanta-area devotees, the Maha Kumbhabhishekam ceremony and the Vigraha Pratishtapana ritual, which symbolically infuses divinity in the Sai Baba idol, fulfilled a long-standing dream. Sunday’s ceremonies brought to an end a week-long event, which saw 15 priests performing ceremonial abhishekams and homams.

The Sai Baba idol was carved out of a special kind of marble and sculpted by Rajiv Talim, who belongs to the same family that made the idol installed in the Shirdi temple in India. Several key architectural elements of the Suwanee temple, such as the shikhara and kalasam, were inspired by the temple in Shirdi. The shikhara, or the pinnacle of the temple, soars to a height of 70 feet above the ground. About $4 million was spent on the 15,000-sq. ft. facility, built on 13.5 acres of land. The temple has a prayer hall on the second level, and a dining hall, kitchen, a multi-purpose hall, library and rest rooms on the first level. The prayer hall has a clear span of 50 feet to give visitors a clear and unobstructed view of the idol. The back wall is decorated with scalloped arches. The temple was built in a record time of one year from the date its foundation stone was laid on February 17, 2008.

Sri Gopala Bhattar, head priest of the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Riverdale, led Sai temple priests Suresh Balakrishnan and Ravi Kumar Medicherla in performing the Kumbhabhishekam and idol installation. Six other priests from other temples across the United States also performed rituals.

Priests performed “Netronmilanam” (Meeting of Eyes), a ceremony where a cow, bathed and garlanded, was led gently inside the temple to face a large mirror, so the sanctified deity could “view” the mirror and the holy cow for the first time. A special tent was erected for performing different rituals and homams. Prior to the installation of the idol, priests brought vessels/kumbhas out of the Yagashala, where the homams were conducted. Later, Pradhana Acharya Gopala Bhattar and priests Suresh, Ravi Kumar and Pavana Kumar took these kalasas to the top of the temple with the help of a crane and performed the Shikhara Kumbhabhishekam. Simultaneously, a helicopter showered flowers on the Raja Gopuram, or the pinnacle. The priests then poured sanctified water over the deity while reciting hymns as nadaswarams played and devotees chanted “Jai!” Finally, the priests performed Sitarama and Uma Maheswara Kalyanam, followed by arati to Shirdi Sai Baba.

Besides the religious rituals, the event saw many spiritual discourses on the Bhagavad Gita and Sai teachings, and performances of bhajans and classical dances. Devotees staged a play depicting the life and teachings of Shri Shirdi Sai. The events were broadcast over the Web live so Baba devotees from all over the world could partake in the festivities. The temple served lunch and dinner to the thousands of visitors who attended the week-long event. Madhavi Duggasani, temple president, thanked State Senator Curt Thomson and temple builder Scott Worley of Tiernan & Petrillo, who were present. She also expressed her gratitude to the priests, the executive committee, coordinators, the temple board and most importantly all the volunteers and devotees who made celebrations such a huge success.

The North America Shirdi Sai Temple of Atlanta is located at 700 James Burgess Rd, Suwanee, GA 30024-1133. For more information, visit http://www.AtlantaSaiTemple.org or call 678-455-7200.

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