Installation of Hindu Idols in West Richland Community Center by Hindu Society of Eastern Washington

Hindu Society of Eastern Washington held Vigraha Prathishta Mahotsavam in West Richland Community Center on June 14, 2010. Twenty-one couples from the Hindu Society were participated in the Hindu ritual of consecrating or installing idols. The rituals are held for two days to consecrate 11 Hindu sculptures at the society’s community center on Bombing Range Road in West Richland, a city in Benton County near Washington, United States of America.

SARA SCHILLING reports for The News Tribune:

The Hindu priest sat on the ground in front of a brick fire pit, called a kunda, and chanted in Sanskrit. Twenty-one couples from the Hindu Society of Eastern Washington gathered around him, chanting and tossing rice flakes into the flames. The offering was part of a ritual that symbolized purification, or the casting off of sins. It also was a gesture of welcome to the gods.

“We are telling God, ‘Forgive our pride. Please come into this place,’ ” said Aruna Arakali, an expert in Hinduism and a society member.

The ritual was part of a two-day ceremony to consecrate 11 religious sculptures at the society’s community center on Bombing Range Road in West Richland. Through consecration, the sculptures — or idols — cease being lifeless pieces of stone, according to Hindu beliefs. They represent the gods and are key parts of worship.

A priest traveled from Bothell to lead the services. More than 200 people from the Tri-Cities and beyond — many in brightly colored traditional silk clothing — showed up to participate and witness the ancient rituals. The fire ceremony Sunday lasted about three hours. The chanting was measured, rhythmic, and melodic. Along with the rice flakes, other offerings including grains were thrown into the flames.

The fire burned a few feet in front of the sculptures in the granite altar area of the community center. The altar was built especially for the idols, which were hand-carved from soapstone by artisans in India. The idols depict the Hindu gods, from Ganesh to Shiva. They’re intricately detailed, with individual strands of hair and ornate jewels carved into the stone.

The sculpture collection is unique in the Northwest because of its uniformity. Other Hindu groups have religious sculptures, but the West Richland idols all are in the Hoysala style that dates back thousands of years. For Hindus in the Tri-Cities, participating in the consecration was a rare opportunity. The Hindu community here is small, with only about 250 families.

“We never had a place to go and worship as Hindus,” said Kishore Varada, society president.

The group built the community center a few years ago as a spot to gather and hold events. The consecration of the idols means it’s now also a place of worship, Varada said. Toward the end of the ceremony, holy water was poured on the idols, along with “five nectars,” including milk, honey and sugar. The priest moved from idol to idol, chanting and pouring the nectar onto the dark stone.

The ritual represented that nature was joining in worship. By then, the idols no longer were lifeless, but were much more. “The transformation has taken place,” Arakali said. “They are no longer stone. The gods are here.”

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