- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

BOTHELL, Wash. (AP) - When yellow-robed priests pulled back the burgundy curtain of a shrine inside the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in Bothell, more than a thousand people who had squeezed into the smoke-filled building let out tears and gasps of joy.

It was the crowd’s first glimpse of not just the temple’s first formally consecrated idol, but the nation’s first formally consecrated Hindu temple shrine in the Pacific Northwest.

Indian craftsmen called shilpis, descended from generations of other temple craftsmen, had spent six months molding the idol’s shrine. The deity itself was hand-sculpted in India out of black granite.

Finally, after three days of rituals last weekend called Kumbabhishekam, the deity Prasanna Venkateshwara was brought to life. Related to Vishnu, preserver of life in the universe, the deity will play a key role in formal rituals performed at the shrine.

Witnessing the three-day event is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many Hindus, said Mani Vadari, chairman of the HTCC’s board. He said the closest U.S. temple shrine built in the same tradition is in San Francisco.

“This is a 27-year-old dream come true,” said Vadari, who first worshipped with other Hindus in church basements, rented spaces and homes when he came to the Seattle area in the 1980s. The group he worshipped with then consisted of fewer than 100 families.

Today, that number has ballooned, largely due to an influx of Indian software engineers who have immigrated to the area. From 2000 to 2012, U.S. Census data show the Indian population in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties nearly tripled from about 20,000 to 59,000.

Vadari expects worship on an average day to draw about 100 to 200 people. He said hundreds more will be drawn to the temple on rare occasions such as the fall festival of Diwali.

Hindus never need go to a temple, said Nitya Niranjan, vice chairman of the HTCC. They are drawn there for the opportunity to spread love and goodwill, he said.

“When we worship at home, our prayers go to us and our families first,” Niranjan said. “When we worship here, our prayer goes to the universe first. This temple is about loving the universe.”

Thousands of Hindus from all over Washington and Oregon - many in their most colorful, gold-accented Indian clothes - poured into the temple on 212th Street Southeast over the weekend to witness various stages of the shrine’s consecration. Burnt offerings, and sugary desserts were offered to the deity.

The granite idol was showered in milk, honey, juice, coconut and water, while priests chanted in Sanskrit. (Four full-time priests will perform duties such as awakening and feeding the deity every day so that visitors may connect with it.)

The idol was then cleaned and dressed in garlands of red, orange, yellow and purple flowers before being presented in the temple Sunday.

Narmadha Perumal, 35, came from Tacoma with her 1-year-old daughter, who wore a bright green dress and gold bracelets around her wrists. Perumal said that for years she’s been coming to the cultural center, which opened at the site in 2002, and was excited to see the bustling opening of the temple next door.

“This is where we as a community go to find peace,” said Perumal, originally from Chennai, India.

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