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Hindus Pray for Peace at New Year

Religion: Believers gather at Valley temple for celebration and offerings to deity.

November 17, 2001|KARIMA A. HAYNES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To mark the Hindu New Year of 2058, more than 2,000 of the faithful gathered on Friday at Valley Hindu Temple to light ritual fires, recite prayers for peace and offer food to Lord Krishna.

Followers of the religion worldwide celebrate the New Year on the fourth day of the five-day festival of Diwali, also known as the festival of lights.

Three services were held at the temple on Roscoe Boulevard on Friday. At the noon service, believers placed nearly 200 Indian delicacies representing all regions of India on a six-tier tower--the annkut or "heap of grains"--at the base of a statue of the deity Krishna.

The foods were prepared by temple members and placed in colorful bowls surrounded by fresh flowers. In the days leading up to the New Year, each dish was prepared in one member's home to ensure purity.

"Before any food is eaten in the New Year, it is first blessed by the gods," said Kadam Shodhan, a temple trustee. "It is believed that by offering the annkut to the gods on the Hindu New Year, one's food supply is never exhausted."

As worshipers arrived for the hourlong ceremony, men dressed in tunics and women draped in brightly colored silk saris greeted one another with the phrase "Sal Mubarak" or "Happy New Year."

Younger men and women bowed deeply before their elders in a show of respect. Women sat barefoot and strung flower blossoms into long chains. Men made last-minute adjustments to several decorated statues of gods and goddesses.

At the ring of a bell, worshipers gathered on the temple floor, chanted a mantra and offered a prayer for world peace.

"O Lord, we have assembled to pray for world peace on the commencement of this New Year," said Shivani Shodhan, 16, Kadam Shodhan's daughter, as she led the prayer.

"Please give us the physical, mental and spiritual strength to resolve our worldly differences and enjoy peace, harmony and unison on this earth."

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the temple hosted a candlelight vigil and peace rally, temple officials said.

"Even though our origin is in India, we have adopted this country as our home," Kadam Shodhan said before the ceremony. "We pray that the New Year will bring peace and prosperity to this country."

For temple member Viren Patel, 40, of West Hills, Friday's ceremony was a chance to escape world events and to focus on the deeply held Hindu beliefs and cultural heritage that he and his wife, Sangita, 36, want to pass on to their children.

"We are bringing our culture here and giving it to our children," he said. "So they know who they are."

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