The Curator's Eye

Shelter for the Forms

Photography courtesy of Vedic Cultural Center.

It is one of the greatest pilgrimages on the planet. Every four years Hindus from around the world converge on India’s Ganges River to celebrate Kumbh Mela in recognition of one of the creation myths, which involves a battle for the pitcher (kumbha) that holds the nectar of immortality.

This month’s Kumbha Mela celebration at Sammamish’s Vedic Cultural Center is modest in comparison with the major celebrations. Still, for the fifteen thousand people who show up for the annual iteration put on by the local Hare Krishna temple, it will serve as a reminder of the rich history that has grown out of the ancient Veda scriptures that gave rise to Hinduism. It will also be an opportunity for the center to show off – with great modesty, of course – a new altar that was just installed in May. 

“It was very hard to get,” says center director Harry Tehranian, noting that the altar arrived, in pieces, from India. “It is made completely out of ancient wood, so it is necessary to wait for old buildings to be torn down so the wood can be salvaged.”

Beneath its canopy of hand-carved decorative motifs featuring elephants and peacocks, the altar gives shelter to colorful statues representing the many manifestations of Krishna, whom the center’s devotees consider the supreme being. Sitting at one end of the mostly bare temple space on the second floor, the altar is an oddly lively work in what is otherwise a sterile environment. This spareness is temporary, however. The building, a large, pink, two-story affair atop the Issaquah Plateau, is still in its infancy, built only two years ago, though the center itself has existed in some form for almost twenty years.

“It is just one of the first pieces,” Tehranian says of the altar. “As time passes this room will be filled with more and more decoration, all emanating from the altar.”

While the center is a sacred space, Tehranian says it is open to everyone, including those searching for spiritual enlightenment, a cultural adventure or just a look at a unique work of art. Just remember to take off your shoes. •


Years between Maha (great) Kumbh Mela celebrations: 144

Number of attendees last time, in 2001: 60 million

Number of times, according to legend, that the nectar of immortality spilled from the Kumbha: 4

Number of bedrooms in the house that held the Vedic Cultural Center until 2008: 3

Square footage of the new center: 12,200

Price of the new center building: $4.5 million

See more in the August 2010 issue   →