for SammamishReview.com on Aug. 30, 2008
Festival goers peruse the various tents and religious displays Saturday at the Vedic Cultural Center grand opening festival in Sammamish. Nearly 8,000 people attended the event Saturday, with another 1,000-2,000 on Sunday, according to Cultural Center executive director Naresh Bhatt.
They began to arrive at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. At first it was a slow trickle through the main entrance, as people took off their shoes and greeted each other with, “Hare Krishna.”
Eventually, the parking lot was buzzing with thousands of area Hare Krishna followers who poured into the brand-new Vedic Cultural Center in Sammamish.
The distinct aroma of vegetarian Indian cuisine wafted through the entire first floor and out onto the patio as families, most sitting cross-legged on the floor, mingled while enjoying their free meal.
The event drew well-known Bollywood musician, Chandana Dixit, as well as spiritual leader His Holiness Radhanath Swami, who traveled here from Bombay, India.
The religious and cultural center opened July 6, but directors decided to hold the grand opening festival to coincide with the celebration of the birthday of Krishna, who, followers believe, was born approximately 5,000 years ago.
“Yesterday was one of the biggest days of the year,” said Naresh Bhatt, the center’s executive director. “It’s a very vibrant festival for us.”
The festival continued Sunday with more music, free food and worship, including a performance by professional sitar and tabla players.
The building itself is hard to miss as you drive along 228th Ave. through Sammamish. The two-tone pink and white facility is a grand contrast to the typical paint jobs of houses in the surrounding neighborhoods.
At a cost of $4.5 million, the 12,200 square-foot center is the culmination of years of planning and increasing community support for the organization, which is part of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, with approximately 1 million members worldwide.
Most of the support came from local donations, Bhatt said. Many went door-to-door to raise money.
“It was funded by at least a couple of thousand of people who donated money,” he said.
The center opened in 1989 in a three-bedroom house at the same location.
Over the years, the center struggled to accommodate the ever-increasing amount of members who flooded to the annual celebration, which followers describe as the Christmas of the Hare Krishna religion.
Many attended for the worship and blessing ceremonies upstairs, but others, like Nikesh Parekh, of Bellevue, brought their families for the rich cultural experience, as well.
He said he was impressed with the new building and the celebration as a whole.
As he perused the booths of clothes and religious displays with his wife and two daughters, Parekh said the center is particularly important for the second-generation Indian and Hare Krishna population. It now is a sufficient resource for the younger generation to receive cultural education.
“This is probably a good starting place for the Seattle community,” he said. “It’s a thousand times better.”
The Parekh family comes once a week for worship, but plans to use it more as their girls grow up, he said.
Overall, 8,000-10,000 people showed up for the weekend celebration, Bhatt said.
“It went well,” Bhatt said. “(It rained a lot Sunday) but still the rain did not dampen our spirit.”