The two-story wooden “haveli,” or chamber, resplendent with intricately carved elephants, peacocks and filigree patterns, fills an entire end of the Vallabhdham Temple’s main room.
Brought to the United States from India in more than 90 pieces, the Hindu-Vaishnav haveli is the only hand-carved example in North America, Vallabhdham President Rajeev Desai said proudly. The expensive one-of-a-kind structure took workers in India a year to make, Desai said.
“It is a dream come true,” Desai said Monday morning, as workers laid marble tile, ran electrical wire and put the finishing touches on the chamber. “I have a dream to do something unique that brings our tradition back from India to here.”
This weekend, about 1,500 people from as far away as the United Kingdom and New Zealand are expected at the temple at 26 Church St. to celebrate the inauguration of the haveli. The three-day event will kick off with traditional Indian dancing and music Friday evening, followed by a parade and other events Saturday.
On Sunday, the dedication will culminate with the consecration of the temple by a priest who traveled from India for the ceremony.
It was 2004 and a friend of Desai’s son talked constantly of attending events at his church. Desai’s son began asking his father, a native of Gujarat, a state in western India, about a similar Hindu community. He realized he had to act.
“Religion gives you your culture,” Desai observed. “It gives you your heritage. It gives you a place where you can socialize with people.”
A pious Hindu thanks to his parents and his wife, he said, Desai started hosting religious services for about 25 to 30 local adherents of Pushtimarg, a Hindu-Vaishnav sect, in the basement of his Rocky Hill home. The congregation grew quickly to about 300, and in 2010, it purchased the former B’nai Sholom synagogue in Newington.
But Desai, who runs an international telecommunications business, and his fellow parishioners weren’t satisfied. To bring their heritage and culture to America, they wanted to make their new place of worship something truly special. Modern interior havelis are typically made of stone, marble or stucco, Desai said. Wood havelis are usually machine-made, he said.
So what would be extraordinary? An entirely hand-carved interior temple, the congregation decided, Desai said. It took five years to raise the money to commission the rare hand-carved haveli now in the final stages of assembly, he said.
“We wanted to do something unique in North America,” Desai said.
At the center of the chamber are sliding doors that will open to reveal an approximately 700-pound statue of ShriGovardhan Nathji, the primary deity of the Pushtimarg sect. During the inauguration ceremony, a mixture of yogurt, water, sugar, honey and clarified butter will be poured over the statue to consecrate it, Desai and fellow parishioner Mala Patel said.
“Now it’s just the stone,” Patel said. “It doesn’t have the soul in it. This is going to put the soul in it.”
Because daily food offerings are made to the god, there is a special room next to where the deity rests for food preparation. The food is left out for a period and then eaten by adherents, Patel said.
All are welcome to attend this weekend’s events, Desai said.