ORANGE >> The Hindu goddess of learning was surely smiling down upon the town Sunday.
After a weekend of activities that drew hundreds of Hindus and community members, the Chinmaya Saraswati Ashram was officially opened at 393 Derby Ave.
The Chinmaya movement is about spirituality and helping others, the Ashram is the building and Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of learning. She always holds a musical instrument and has a peacock in the background.
“There is such a demand in this area for your beliefs and your religion,” First Selectman Jim Zeoli told those who gathered. “This is something that not every community is going to have and something that brings the community together.”
Zeoli, who along with the Board of Selectmen worked closely with organizers to make the project happen, said he loves having the Ashram in Orange and described the movement as “peaceful, open, inviting, welcoming, respectful.”
The mission is also about harmony and helping others and “producing more than what we consume and giving more than what we take,” according to the group’s literature.
It is Connecticut’s only Chinmaya Mission, with 60 member families from Stamford to Wallingford. The group originally met in family homes and more recently has rented space.
Now they have a home.
An elaborately decorated and colorful icon in the image of the goddess is the focal point of a large room in the Ashram, where all who enter remove their shoes.
During various ceremonies over the weekend involving fire and water — as the elements of nature play a strong role — there were offerings of food to Saraswati. Oranges, bananas, mangos, coconuts and more were placed around the icon and at a special outdoor location where three framed incarnations of her image were set up front and center.
Navin Trivedi, a Hindu priest, said the “sacred fire” in the center of an outdoor spiritual area is to get rid of negative energy and bring the positive. At the outdoor area, strings of red, white and green, the colors of wires at power plants, were wound around and connected to the idol in the main building to symbolize the connectivity.
The Ashram — formerly a longtime home to a seminary — is set back from the main road, in a quiet, wooded, hilly setting with a sparkling stream that members said reminds them of the Himalayas.
Founding member Vani Anand has said everyone is welcome at the Ashram and that the classes to be held there — meditation, yoga, language classes — are open to the public as well.
Anand said having a center is an important means of instilling Hindu culture and values in the younger generation who didn’t have the benefit of growing up in India.
No one agrees more than Neeraj Madivala, 18, of Seymour, who has been taking classes as part of the Chinmaya since age 5.
“I think it was crucial for me to have this. If not this, I would have lost my heritage,” he said. “I feel very passionate that we have this place… The teachings are useful.”
The Orange site is one of about 300 centers internationally and 49 in the United States.
Venkat Gade, a teacher at the mission, and, according to others there, a pivotal force in acquiring the new home, said the kids who are his students have been the best teachers to him.