Krishna Festival in Sammamish about more than religion

By STACI BARSNESS 
Sammamish Reporter Reporter 
Sep 01 2010, 4:15 PM
Driving along 228th Avenue SE in Sammamish on any given day, it’s hard to miss the Vedic Cultural Center. The salmon-pink structure wrapped in a blanket of evergreen trees stands out amongst the tan, beige and ecru homes of the Plateau.

Krishna devoteesDriving along 228th Avenue SE in Sammamish on any given day, it’s hard to miss the Vedic Cultural Center. The salmon-pink structure wrapped in a blanket of evergreen trees stands out amongst the tan, beige and ecru homes of the Plateau.

On the first day of the Kumbha Mela Festival, however, the parking lot becomes an even larger beacon of color. Flanked by a giant inflatable elephant on the left and a cow on the right, it shouldn’t be compared to an entertainment park, but the people putting the finishing touches on the displays look like they’re having fun.

In front of the building’s entrance sits Ramesh Yerramsetti, a volunteer public relations representative for the center. A young girl in a vibrant sari comes running up to him and says, “Daddy. Daddy. I just made lemonade. Want some?”

He smiles and accepts the sweetly tart beverage.

Ramesh and his family have lived in Sammamish for the last seven years. He grew up in Southern India, but completed two master’s degrees at the University of Alabama before moving to the area to work for Microsoft.

The lemonade maker is his 10-year-old daughter Sri, who is followed by her 6-year-old brother Hari and mother Padmavathi. The whole family is involved with the center, and they are obviously at home with members and visitors alike.

The Vedic Cultural Center (VCC) is both a spiritual center and a community gathering place. According to Ramesh, 80 to 90 percent of what the VCC does is community oriented. They hold yoga and meditation classes, teach Indian arts and music, and promote vegetarianism as a way to live in harmony with nature. They also promote the ideals of Hare Krishna.

Many people raised in Western culture have heard of the Hare Krishna movement, but they may not have heard of Vedic philosophy. Hare Krishna followers have been stereotyped by the groups that publicly chant and dance in saffron-colored robes. But according to Ramesh that is only one way to express devotion.

Vedic philosophy and the associated religious traditions are based on ancient Indian texts that are thought to be the oldest sacred scriptures in the world. One of those texts, Bhagavad Gita, is the central book studied at the VCC.

As an all volunteer organization, VCC relies on its members to lead the many programs it offers. Ramesh teaches an 8-week course called “Discover Yourself.”

“It’s all about leading a good life,” he said. His classes discuss individuals, nature, how to live in harmony and vedic values. “People come to the center with bad habits and become better people.”
This week the VCC celebrated Kumbha Mela, their festival celebrating Indian Culture through legends, music, food, spirituality, dance, song, art and poetry.

“We try to present a sampling of the spiritual and cultural aspects of Kumbha Mela,” said VCC President Harry Terhanian. “Every day of the festival there are different cultural performances, along with many colorful displays of Vedic history and philosophy.”

The five-day gala culminated on Wednesday evening with Janmastami, the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna, which was expected to attract around 3,000 visitors.

Spiritual principles and beliefs may be at the heart of Vedic culture, but so is working to build a better community. According to the VCC website, “The Vedas teach that we are all part of one great family with a common origin. A premium is put on educational and cultural activities that are beneficial for the individual and society.”

As a part of this tenet, the VCC has sponsored interfaith conferences that bring together Christians, Hindus and Jews, and help establish common goals among the major religions. On Sept. 11, they invite all Eastsiders to their conference on terrorism. Three expert guest speakers will explain their views on terrorism, including “the problem of radicalization of youth by trainers who distort religious teaching to promote racial, religious or nationalistic agendas.” The conference starts at 1 p.m. and will include a question and answer session. The VCC website has more information.

As Ramesh tours the festival’s exhibits, each focusing on a different aspect of the life of Krishna, his knowledge is evident. Circling him in obvious respect and love are his children Sri and Hari. They dart in and out of the displays, interacting with the detailed artwork as though they are playing in their own backyard.

Posted in In the News.