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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Austin Statesman: Indian fair draws crowds to Barsana Dham

Austin Statesman: Indian fair draws crowds to Barsana Dham

barsana dham swamiji

Sue Thurston and her friend Tracy Thomason weren't like thousands of Austinites who took in Art City Austin and its 190 artists on East Cesar Chavez Street on Saturday. They didn't go wish Eeyore happy birthday at Pease Park. And they didn't see one swing of the bat in the game between the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma State University. All that activity was in or around crowded downtown. Instead, they were in the peaceful prayer hall of Barsana Dham learning about Hinduism.

They attended Mela (Indian fair) at the temple on RM 1826, not far from Driftwood.

"It's just fascinating," said Thurston, after attending a lecture inside the temple, "that every basic religion has its center. The nut is the same. There is always a loving, eternal God."

Thomason was taken by the openness of Barsana Dham and its members. "So many religions are closed to other faiths. Not this one. It's good to know that I can come here to use the quiet area for meditation," she said.

Thurston said, "This place is an island of serenity out in the country."

While the two women found the Hindu faith intriguing, thousands of others came for the fun, food and activities. There was something for everyone. Children performed a dance on an outdoor stage. Walking tours provided insight on the 200-acre property covered with wildflowers. A shopping bazaar was packed with Indian items: jewelry, knickknacks, clothing and music. And there was quite a large selection of framed photos and paintings of Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj, the spiritual leader of the Hindu world.

The carnival atmosphere delighted children. Pony rides. A petting zoo. Games and an inflatable castle. And yes, snow cones and cotton candy.

Admittance was free, though visitors paid $5 for parking.

"I've never seen anything like it. It's beautiful out here. Look at the pool in front of the temple. The water is said to be holy. It's just extraordinary that these folks open up their temple and share their customs with the community," said Adam Benavidez, who brought his children to enjoy a new culture.

While the exposure to Indian culture was fun and carefree, there was one steadfast rule before entering a building. "You have to take your shoes off," said Benavidez. "Next year, I won't bring tennis shoes where you have to fuss with laces every time."

rgandara@statesman.com; 445-3632

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