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Livermore, CA – Over 250 volunteers, 32 priests, three shilpis, two musicians and one sthapathi came together to celebrate the third Maha Kumbhabhishekam at the Shiva-Vishnu temple here.

The festivities began July 6 and concluded July 10. It took two years of planning to pull this event together. But, as most of 2020 was wiped out with Covid, the real planning started from Jan 2021, said Sreeni Malireddy, Chairman of the Maha Kumbhabhishekam 2022 Apex Committee.

Chief priest Pandit Sampath Sridharan throws sanctified water in the air on the final day of the Maha Kumbabhishekam at the Shiva-Vishnu Temple in Livermore, CA. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Five Day Ceremony

The Maha Kumbhabhishekam, which happens once every twelve years, is a set of rituals performed over a five day period to restore and reset the energy of the temple. It can also be a chance to bring in new idols, and engage in restoration efforts.

An estimated 12,000-15,000 devotees visited over the five-day ceremony. Gunasekhar, who came with his wife Jamuna and daughter Anupama, said it was “exhilarating to see so many devotees here and praying in unison.” The family has been coming to the temple for 24 years, said Anupama. She enjoys the communal aspect of visiting the temple and the people coming together.

Plus “the food is always good,” Anupama said with a laugh. Jamuna’s favorite moment was the actual kumbhabhishekam itself, where sanctified water was poured on top of the temple’s kumbams, restoring energy to the temple and its deities.

Building The Yagashala

Manikantanagasai Illuri, 19, calls the temple his second home. Illuri was one of the hundreds of volunteers. He wore a cream colored veshti tied around his waist  and bright orange-yellow cloth worn around his shoulder with the year and date of the event. A lot of effort went on behind the scenes to create this function said Illuri, including two of his favorite activities: building the yagashala, the structure for all the pujas, and going on top of the dhwaja stambhams to help seal off the gold plating.

A dwaja sthambam glows in the morning light in front of shrine, providing protection and indicating that the temple is the home of a deity on the fourth day of the Shiva-Vishnu Temple’s Maha Kumbabhishekam in Livermore, CA. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

“It feels like a family event to be here,” said Illuri.

S. Srikantan was hoping to get darshan, or blessings, from all the deities. “I couldn’t see Shiva but I saw Vishnu,” she said.

Growing Up At The Temple

Harichandana Deevi, age 23, who volunteered all five days, has a unique relationship to the temple. Her grandfather, Pandit Srinivasa Charyulu Garu was the former head priest for many years. Harichandana grew up at the temple. In addition to working in hospitality, she was part of the dignitaries committee.  

“We’ve been greeting all the dignitaries that came: the fire chief, the mayors from Pleasanton and Livermore. I got to greet them, show them around the temple. It was a really great experience.” 

Kaushik Punyamurthula, on the Board of Directors, and also a volunteer, said this was his first Maha Kumbhabhishekam. “It is a privilege and an honor to be part of this,” he said.

Shilpis

Sthapati Selvanathan, who belongs to the 38th generation of temple architects in his family lineage, was essential in terms of directing how the new idols and various elements of the temple should be installed according to the scriptures.

Shilpis Bala Subramani, Suresh Rajagopal, and Saravanan Veerapaneni completed in three months work that would normally take a year. Sreeni Malireddy called the three shilpis his best friends as he honored them on the second to last day of the function, praising the work they performed.

Musicians

Musicians Suriyakumar Jeyaraman and Niruban Nakeenthiran who play the thavil and nadaswaram, respectively, flew in from Toronto to provide auspicious music for all five days of the consecration and celebration.

The temple first opened its doors in 1986. In the decades since, much of the brick structure in the temple has molded and needed to be restored. 

The vimanas, at the top of each shrine outside, and rajagopuras, on top of the main temple entrance used to be only brass. They are now brass with gold plating. The two dhwaja stambhams, or flagpoles, that stood outside each main shrine of Shiva and Vishnu were also previously brass, and  received gold plating. The bases for each were replaced with new glossy black granite from India in just a week due to delays.

New Deities Installed

Tiling and flooring inside the shrines was updated, in addition to relighting them and installing track lighting to brighten them up. 

Eleven new deities were also installed, including those for Rama and Chandikeswara. Kohsta vigrahas for Vishnu, including Varaha Swamy and  Narasimha Swamy were installed. The Shiva shrine received a new yoni, on which the lingam sits upon, requiring a forklift inside the temple so the yoni could be moved inside the shrine. 

A silver nadai, or thread, is tied to the yagashala to pass a portion of the energy held in the kalasams, or vessels, inside back to the dwaja sthambam and then onto the deities inside the temple on the fourth day of the Shiva-Vishnu Temple’s Maha Kumbabhishekam in Livermore, CA. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Several hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised to enable these efforts over a period of two years.

Auspicious Sighting

With all the renovations, the Shiva-Vishnu temple gleamed in the sunlight. The flag poles added a sparkled depth to the newly energized temple.

On the final day when chief priest Pandit Sampath Sridharan poured the sanctified water over the golden khumbams atop the temple, the energy in the crowd was electric. Not only was the temple re-energized but so were the devotees.

As Pandit Sridharan moved towards the dhwaja stambham in front of the Vishnu shrine with a small Garuda statue right at the top, a bird flew above. Gasps and murmurs were heard from the crowd. People said that Garuda had arrived, an auspicious closing to the five day ceremony.

Sree Sripathy

Sree Sripathy is a writer, photographer and disability advocate based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a 2022 CatchLight Local Fellow and part of the California Local Visual Desk program. Sree also...