GROTON — Banana bunches and other fruits welcome worshippers at the entrance as they ascend a tall flight of steps to the main hall — representing the people’s rite of passage from the earthly to the divine world.
They kick off their shoes, adding them to the hundreds of pairs scattered about the entrance.
Inside the new 40,000-square-foot, two-floor temple, they see a familiar sight in the lobby: Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, the remover of obstacles, draped in flowers.
Scores of worshippers sit on the carpet inside the main hall, next to dozens of coconuts for the offering. Other worshippers stand on the outside of the bustling hall.
The crowd chants prayers. Bells ring. The deities are coming into life.
The new Hindu temple becomes a holy place as worshippers perform the inauguration rituals at the largest Shirdi Sai temple in North America, highlighted by its three golden-ceramic spires.
“We’ve been really looking forward to this day,” said Kumar Potula, a temple volunteer from Acton.
Thousands of worshippers on Sunday descended upon New England Shirdi Sai Parivaar Temple in Groton for the opening celebration, including consecration and worship of all the temple deities. It’s dedicated to the late 19th-century Indian spiritual saint Sai Baba of Shirdi.
Cars from across New England circled the parking lot with more than 250 spaces, unsuccessfully searching for a spot during the busy inauguration ceremonies.
“We don’t get this amount of people every day,” said Sandeep Kaushik, a founding member from Westford. “Today’s the grandest day with special rituals to bless the deities and consecrate the building.
“We’re thanking the gods,” he added.
When the temple first formed in 2006, there were 40 families. Now, there are 5,000. The new temple can accommodate as many as 7,800 worshippers across the two-story central area.
It’s located at 99 Shirdi Way — off Route 119 at the Littleton town line. The polished concrete edifice is on a 28-acre parcel.
“We wanted a place that was close to the highway, on pristine land in nature, with privacy,” said Mahender Singh, a founding member and current president of the temple.
It’s the perfect location near Interstate 495 and centrally located in New England, temple officials said.
In 2006, the temple was established in a 1,000-square-foot rented hall in Dracut. Officials moved the temple to Chelmsford in 2010 to a 7,200-square-foot space with three halls for prayer, dining and services.
Then in 2014, they acquired the 28 acres in Groton for the 40,000-square-foot temple.
The groundbreaking took place in August 2015. After three years of extensive design, planning and construction, the temple is officially open with this 12-day celebration.
“It’s all about the community,” Singh said. “This facility will be open for the community around us.”
The main rules are no selling meat and no alcohol, Singh said.
“If you follow those two rules, you are welcome in this facility,” he added.
The ground floor will be used for diverse community activities and functions.
Officials thanked the town of Groton for their support and cooperation throughout the planning and construction process.
“We are thankful,” Kaushik said. “We want to thank them from our hearts.”
The opening celebrations at the temple will continue through Oct. 21.