Local Hindus celebrate Diwali, future of temple in north Rochester

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Sandhya Kumar, left, and Anna McGeeney pick out bracelets on Saturday during Diwali Festival of Light celebrations at Century High School in Rochester. “It’s fun to get together and see what people have been practicing,” Kumar said about the night’s entertainment.

Rochester’s Hindu community celebrated its heritage with the annual Diwali cultural program and dinner Saturday night, but it was the future — in the form of a new and larger temple — that also grabbed a good deal of attention.

Faced with a lack of space at its current home, the Hindu Samaj Temple, 911 11th Ave. N.W., the community is preparing to break ground in 2014 on a new building off Hadley Valley Road Northeast.

Without the new temple, the rapid growth in cultural programs and other offerings within the Hindu community could stagnate, said Suresh Chari, coordinator of the temple project.

“We have stopped growing the past couple of years because we don’t have the space,” Chari said. “People understand that, and that is the reason the pressure to build another temple is coming from the people.”

Spaces in the current building have to serve more than one or two purposes and often are completely booked, he said. About 300 families belong to the temple.

Those attending the Diwali program at Century High School were able to view floor plans of the new temple, which likely will be built in three phases. Tom Barbeau, of Eagan, the architect for the project, said the first phase will be a multipurpose facility that can double as worship and community space. The second and third phases will add designated worship and cultural spaces.

“We’ve talked with Tom about staggering the costs so it doesn’t become a millstone around the community’s neck,” Chari said in explaining the multiphase approach. The land for the new temple already has been purchased, with bids for the building itself expected to be let in the spring.

Meanwhile, the Diwali celebration was a showcase of local talent. Thirty-four acts took the stage Saturday, ranging from Bollywood dance to classical song and dance to a fashion show of the latest styles from India. Ages of participants ranged from toddler to adult.

“This is basically a talent show,” Chari said. “The children are learning things throughout the year. It gives them an opportunity to perform in front of an audience.”

The key to preserving the community’s heritage, he said, is to involve entire families. “For us older folks, it’s important to get our children on stage,” Chari said.

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most important events on the Hindu calendar.

Chari, who has lived in Rochester since 1997, said the growth of the Diwali festival has mirrored the growth of the local Hindu community. “The numbers have increased dramatically,” he said. “When we started this, we would barely break even. We struggled to get 50 people here. Now, you have 400 to 500 people here.”

Source: www.postbulletin.com