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Celebrating spiritual growth

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Nice gesture of Sri Chinmaya to install Radha Krishna Deities, could be that finally he also introduces bhakti-yoga.


Celebrating spiritual growth



Near Grayslake, a Hindu mission will consecrate shrines to two gods. The event has more than religious significance: it marks the expansion of the area's Hindu population, members say.


<dl class="byline">By Denise Linke |Special to the Chicago Tribune<dd> August 29, 2008</dd></dl> Hindus from around the nation are welcoming the gods Krishna and Shri Radha into a shrine near Grayslake this Labor Day weekend.


The three-day ceremony, which began Thursday and will conclude Saturday, will sanctify the 9-year-old Chinmaya Yamunotri mission's new building by placing two statues of the gods in the shrine. The ceremony will enable members to worship and study there.


"This is something most Hindus get to participate in once, maybe twice in their lives," said Shubi Mansukhani, a trustee of the Chinmaya mission's Chicago branch, which oversees Chinmaya facilities in Grayslake, Willowbrook and Merrillville, Ind. "It's especially important for those of us in the Chicago area because we are celebrating the growth of our community here in the U.S."


Shanker Pillai, president of the Chicago branch, said the ceremony is a sign of the Chicago-area Hindu community's growth.


"There are not too many shrines in a community, so to have a new shrine in our community is a blessing," Pillai said. "When I came to the U.S. in 1967, there were fewer than 2,000 Hindus in the Chicago area. Now there are more than 100,000 Hindus here. So we are happy to have a new place to worship."


The ceremony opened on the mission's lawn Thursday morning with a welcome for His Holiness Swami Tejomayananda, who will oversee the consecration rituals. Tejomayananda, the spiritual leader of Chinmaya Hinduism worldwide, traveled from his home in India to preside over the event and to visit other Chinmaya missions in the Midwest, said event coordinator Rajul Bhalala of Lake Forest.


On Thursday evening, Tejomayananda placed two statues representing Krishna and Shri Radha, his favored consort, on an altar within the shrine. The painted and costumed statues will be covered with a cloth until the unveiling Saturday morning.

The Yamunotri mission focuses on the teachings of Krishna; it is named for the Yamuna River in India, where the god lived while on Earth, Bhalala said.


"This is the physical representation of the Lord Krishna that will be filled with his spiritual presence during the ceremony," she said. "Shri Radha represents the concept of devotion to Krishna, though she also is worshiped. The Prana Pratishta ["establishing breath"] ceremony Saturday invokes the lord's presence, so it is a very big occasion."


Lectures and chanting Friday morning and evening will end with a ceremony in which food formally presented to the gods will be shared by members of the congregation after receiving the gods' blessing. The mission also held the same ceremony on Thursday evening.


Saturday's festivities will begin at 7 a.m. with a sacrifice of burnt offerings to the god Agni in honor of Krishna and Shri Radha.


After chanting mantras sacred to Krishna and Shri Radha, the congregation will watch as Tejomayananda unveils the statues and instills the gods' spiritual presence in them.


Mission officials expect more than 600 Hindus to attend the ceremony, along with Chicago-area Christian and Jewish officials who participate with Chinmaya mission in interfaith services. Songs, dances and skits performed by Hindu children from 2-4 p.m. Saturday will close the event.


"We're hoping non-Hindu people come this weekend just to learn more about us and our religion," Bhalala said. "It will be a learning experience for them and also for us, to get a different perspective on what we study here."


Members of the public are welcome to all parts of the three-day ceremonies, she added. While the rituals will be performed in Sanskrit, lectures will be given in English.


The ceremony to welcome Krishna and Shri Radha marks a new step in the growth of the Chinmaya Yamunotri mission, Bhalala said.


The mission operated out of rented school buildings in Libertyville, then in Mundelein, on evenings and weekends from 1999 until December, when it opened its own custom-built facility at 30877 N. Fairfield Rd. near Grayslake.


Now that they have their own permanent space, mission officials are expanding classes and other activities. They are teaching theology, Hindu history, meditation and yoga as well as language classes in Hindi and Sanskrit. Classes in the south Indian dialect of Telugu will begin in a few months, Bhalala said. Religion classes will continue to stress the Vedantic Hindu tradition, which teaches that everything, every person and even every god is a direct extension of the ultimate truths that support the universe, Pillai said.


"Hinduism includes several different schools of thought," he explained. "Some believe there is a creator and his creations, but the Vedantic school is more unitarian. We are all expressions of God."

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