Wearing saris and carrying offerings of flowers and coconuts, women and girls processed from North Beach Street to the Hindu Cultural Association building on Madison Avenue east of Mulberry Street in Daytona Beach.
The procession was mostly female as a sign of respect and recognition of women as “auspicious” worshipers, especially as caretakers of shrines in the home, members said.
The procession on June 7 marked the beginning of a weeklong series of observances and rituals that would consecrate the Hindu Cultural Association building into a religious temple or “mandir,” the first Hindu temple for Volusia County, members said.
It is the fulfillment of a longtime dream for Hindus, who previously have held rituals or ceremonies at private homes or public auditoriums.
The Hindu Cultural Association purchased the 1.2-acre site at 150 Madison Ave. in 2006, according to the Volusia County Property Appraiser. After a fundraising campaign, the 6,110-square-foot building was completed last year with a value of $377,093.
It opened in late 2013 for cultural events and meetings but the building would not gain its religious status until this week, members said.
On Monday, in a nine-hour ceremony from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., statues were imbued with religious significance as believers “put the soul to the statues,” believing them to be living representations of deities.
Giri Bapu, a Hindu priest from the Indian state of Gujarat who came for the week, gave nightly sermons on the life of Lord Shiva and “his message for people in this world,” J.J. Patel said.
“It is not just to eat, drink and sleep,” said J.J. Patel. “The message is do good things, help other people. Do the right thing from the bottom of your heart.”
Hinduism is the world’s third-largest religion with about a billion followers, behind Christianity and Islam. Locally, members estimated there are about 250 followers in Volusia and Flagler counties. Members also said the building can accommodate about that many people as well.
All visitors are asked to take off their shoes before entering. After a reception hall, there is an auditorium with a wall of lighted Hindu icons. There are pews and benches, but many people sat on the floor last Saturday on plush, quilt-style rugs.
Believed by some scholars to be the world’s oldest religion, Hinduism encompasses many different traditions and practices but the local temple is intended to be all inclusive.
“We are covering North Indian gods. We are covering South Indian gods. So anybody can come,” Pete Patel said.
The temple is open to the public daily from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., said Bhupi Patel, the president of the Hindu Cultural Association.