Devi Mandir central to the lives of Durham Hindus

Night and Day 2013
Ryan Pfeiffer / Metroland
PICKERING — Pandit Damodar Sharma, head priest at Devi Mandir, conducted the Aarti prayer at the Hindu temple. October 18, 2013.

PICKERING — For more than 20 years, Hindus have been heading to Devi Mandir to worship and socialize.

On this day, there are few people at the temple, on Brock Road north of Rossland Road in Pickering.

The Hindu temple has about 200 worshippers any given Sunday, but the numbers swell to 500 to 600 on special occasions, said Pandit Damodar Sharma, the head priest at Devi Mandir for about 15 years.

Nov. 2 is Diwali, which is as important to Hindus as Christmas is for Christians. “Christianity has Christmas. It’s the same, we have Diwali,” Mr. Sharma noted. “On that day, we are hoping to have 600 to 700 people.”

About 1,000 might visit the temple over the course of the day.

Diwali is known as the Light of Festival, when Hindus pray for prosperity, he added. They’ll be praying to the Goddess Laxami, the goddess of wealth and prosperity (both materially and spiritually).

“That’s our big day. We have many, but this is coming now,” he said of Diwali.

Devi Mandir is as large as some major churches. In the main worship area, there’s seating along the walls, but there’s none in the centre area, where worshippers kneel or sit. The walls around the main room are illustrated with images of gods. At the head of the room are several statues; Mr. Sharma said some are gods and others devotees.

The main statue is of Krishna, a God who came to earth 10 times in human form. The final time, the God came as Krishna.

Many of the statues and images are of animals or have animal features.

“God exists within each and everything,” Mr. Sharma noted. “We pay our respects to keep away from violence. We follow non-violence.”

The goddess Durga is the goddess of strength, he said, adding, “The strength is our physical body and how we pray to her.” While there is only one God, God can come in many forms for Hindus, he said.

The goddess Sarswati is the goddess of knowledge and is joined by seven horses, representing the seven days of the week.

“God is showing his grace upon us.” While we talk, people come in to worship and pray.

Sunday is the main worship day, with the service between 10 a.m. and noon. The service involves songs and prayers, followed by lunch.

Mr. Sharma does a short two- to three-minute prayer, during which he rung a gold bell, lit incense and blew into a shell to make the sound of an elephant.