BERLIN — A Hindu temple in rural Colquitt County opened its doors last weekend for a festival on one of its holy nights.

“We are non-restrictive,” said Rajuv Raolji, the director of the Mahadev Temple near Berlin. “You are welcome to come into the temple and see what the people are doing.”

Maha Shivratri is a night of worship that falls on a moonless February night, when Hindus offer a special prayer to their most important deity, Lord Shiva. This year it occurred on Sunday, Feb. 26, and about 200 people attended the festival at the Mahadev Temple. Families came from as far as Atlanta and Orlando to celebrate this deity’s special day.

Some festival-goers were dressed in western attire, while others wore traditional, colorful Indian saris; they removed their shoes in respect outside the door of the temple.

Families and individuals brought gifts of fruit and vegetables to place in front of the statue that represents Lord Shiva. They also brought libations of milk to bathe the statue with and strings of flowers to be offered. Bells hanging from the ceiling were rung by the worshipers before they prayed. Donations of money were also brought to the temple and these gifts will be sent to charities that support poor children in India.

“Today is Lord Shiva’s day. We bring food and milk, and parents bring their babies to be blessed,” said Arun Patel, a member of the congregation who came from Lake City, Fla., to participate in the ceremony.

The ceremony was loosely organized so that individuals could take turns making their offerings to the statue of Lord Shiva while the priest chanted prayers. Many of the women sat on the floor together and sang hymns. Patel said that the Colquitt County temple was the nearest one to him, but there is also one in Macon. The congregation meets five or six times a year for religious ceremonies but does not have weekly or monthly services. Patel said that all Hindu families have miniature temples in their own homes and pray every morning before their day starts so they do not need to hold services once a week.

Raolji and Patel both stressed the Hindus’ belief in non-violence, and this was the reason they gave for abstaining from meat. They worship animals as a way of respecting their right to live in the world. Most of their gods take the form of animals like the elephant, the monkey and the cow, they said. In particular cows are deemed sacred because infants are given milk to help sustain them and therefore are seen in a motherly aspect by the Hindu religion.

“We believe if you don’t have the power to give life, you don’t have the right to take life,” Raolji said.

Raolji lives next door to the temple and owns and farms about 300 acres around the temple and his home. He said he built the temple so that the people would have a place to come and pray.

In addition to having the temple built on his land, Raolji also grows traditional Indian vegetables on his farm and sells them to the congregation members who come to the festivals. Sharad Patel, a member of the congregation, said that Raolji was the first person to grow Indian vegetables in Georgia. Raolji said, however, that it is a community effort to hold the various festivals throughout the year.

After the ceremony, the worshipers gathered in the social hall to have dinner. The meal was set-up buffet-style with traditional Indian dishes — all vegetarian, of course. Women of the congregation were behind the food tables to assist with serving the dishes, if needed. Rice with a spicy sauce, homemade yogurt, flat bread and fried spinach-cilantro fritters, which Patel said were like hushpuppies, were some of the dishes that festival-goers were treated to that evening.

“Many volunteers help put this together,” said Patel.

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