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Festival wraps up its 'Nine Nights'

By Ed Brock

Stepping lightly to the throbbing rhythm of Indian classical music, some 100 dancers circled the ”mandap“ on one of the last nights of ”Navratri,“ the ”Festival of Nine Nights.“

”This is the slowest night of the festival,“ said M.A. Patel, president of the Shakti Mandhir Hindu Temple at 1450 Huie Road in Lake City. ”Saturday it was 4,000 people.“

The festival will actually last longer than nine nights. In fact, this coming Saturday is the last night of the festival. The festival is dedicated to the three main goddesses of Hinduism, Parvati, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. Each night of the festival is dedicated to a different god.

Singers are brought in from India to perform and the participants wear special costumes.

The mandap is a kind of shrine in the center of the dance.

Inside the Sumant Center at the temple, a structure built three years ago to house such massive celebrations, the women dance in flowing, colorful dresses, each different from the other. Children dash in and out of the line happily.

Large squares of colored cloth hang from the ceiling above them. It took about 30 temple members five weeks to decorate the temple for the festival, M.A. Patel said.

”They do the same thing every year but they come up with a different theme,“ M.A. Patel said.

Temple trustees Govind Patel and Ambalal Patel are two of 10 trustees who handle most of the organization of the festivals.

”During a festival like this everyone has separate duties,“ said Ambalal Patel.

But even with their duties, both men find time to join the dance.

The celebrants come from all over the country. Yogesh Patel comes to Shakti Mandhir every year from Anniston, Al., because there is no temple there.

”This temple, the service is excellent and everyone cooperates,“ Yogesh Patel said.

Outside in the park a vendor sells snack foods while some celebrants cool off. The entrance to the temple and the path leading to the dance are decorated with lighted, fan-like wooden structures.

Navratri ends this Saturday, and all members of the community are welcome. Like every night, the dancing starts around 9 p.m.

Those who miss this festival may want to come on Nov. 2 when the Diwali, or New Year's, festival begins.