By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer
UNION TWP - The Mela (Indian festival) is one place where diversity is valued as strongly as unity.
All facets of the Hindu religion were represented at Saturday's Taste of India, held at the Hindu Temple of Greater Cincinnati.
More than 1,600 local Hindus attend worship services at the Clermont County temple. Though Hindus believe in one God, people from different parts of India worship different deities. At the local temple, the many deities are represented on the same platform, giving equality to all.
"This is everyone's temple," said Jitendra Patel, 53, of Lebanon, who organized efforts to build the temple on Klatte Road in Union Township six years ago. "If we stay united, we can maintain our values."
Those values include patriotism. During Mela's opening ceremony, the Hindu priests led a moment of silence in honor the troops in Iraq and the soldiers killed in the war. Last year, a moment of silence was held for the victims of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"We want safety for all," said temple president Vijay Sharmavof Anderson Township.
More than 6,000 people were expected to attend the free celebration. Children clamored for the rides and games. Priests from the temple led hourly tours. And a dance exhibition was held in the afternoon, with a dizzying display of choreography and costuming.
Kathleen Winter, 21, of Union Township and Angela Crist, 22, of Columbus attended Mela to educate themselves about Indian traditions.
"The temple has been a part of my neighborhood for a long time now, but I haven't had a chance to learn about it before," Winter said.
"What amazes me is that there are so many types of people here," Crist said. "And still, I've just felt really welcome, even though I'm not a part of the culture."
Food from different regions further united people attending the festival. The food turned the festival area, which was a parking lot, into an exotic locale with the thick scent of curry and the aroma of saffron.
"We are closely-knit people, but we try to promote all the religions of India at the same time," said Krish Parikh, 60, of Villa Hills. Parikh was helping at the booth sponsored by his religious and cultural organization, Ankur Gujarati Samaj of Blue Ash. They served up platters of pau bhaji (bread with spicy mixed vegetables).
Pravina Bhakta, 46, of West Chester, looks forward to Mela as a union of young and old, as well as the blending of different Indian communities.
"We join together so more people will come to the temple more often and pray together," she said. Bhakta volunteered at a booth that doled out faluda (fruit shake), samosa (pastry with vegetable filling) and idli sambar (soup with steamed rice dumplings). "We're all here to help each other."
Money raised at the festival will go toward the expansion of the temple, which will include living quarters for their four priests, a library and storage areas. Future plans include a convention center and a retirement home for the local Indian community.
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