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Indian Culture and Community in Ashland

Seven or eight years ago, one would have no trouble finding parking at the Sri Lakshmi Temple at 117 Waverly St. (Rt. 135). The situation is different today. Ashland resident Ujwala Pawnarkar explained, “Now, you have to get there at a certain time to be sure to get parking.” This situation is one indicator of the growth in the number of Indian families in Ashland and throughout New England.

Pawnarkar has been in this country for 10 years, and moved to Ashland in 2005. She moved to the U.S. from the city of Mumbai, India, where she was an architect, to marry and start a family. Ashland provides her with community, both Indian and non-Indian.

“Ashland has a suburban feel, with almost everything I need,” she said. She is glad to be near the temple so that her children can keep in touch with their Indian culture.

This year Pawnarkar served as the events coordinator for Ashland Community Gardens. She planned and coordinated several potluck meals and garden talks.

“My kids enjoy the garden, and I like gardening with other people. You learn from each other,” Pawnarkar said. At the potluck meals, Pawnarkar treated her fellow gardeners to traditional Indian dishes, such as pohe, sheera, idli sambar, usaal and pav bhaji.

KG Narayana moved to Boston from India in 1975 to study at Boston College. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from Boston College, and has been teaching at Suffolk University since 1987.

“I love Indian music and dance,” he said. “My love of music and dance makes me support arts and culture in whatever way I can. I was chosen to work with the youth culture and educational program at the temple as its first chairman. I enjoyed this work as a volunteer in promoting and organizing programs through the temple. This motivated me to volunteer with the Ashland Cultural Council and not just limit myself to Indian arts. My goal is to help promote the arts and bring awareness of value in other cultures across the globe.”

KG’s daughter, Shoba, 30, a nursing student at Simmons College, celebrates holidays with her family in Ashland.

For the Navaratri (nine nights) celebration, which started on Oct. 5, the family had a Golu, or display of dolls, like the one in the temple and typical of the ones that are found in a Hindu house in southern India.

Navaratri is the celebration of three goddesses, Saraswati, Parvati and Lakshmi, who according to Shoba, respectively embody war (protection of people), knowledge and arts, and good fortune and prosperity.

“For me, this is a celebration of women, who have all these aspects, which are depicted in these goddess stories, within them,” Shoba said. “Everyone comes together for this holiday–families and friends visit each other. It’s an opportunity to dress in traditional clothes and be with one another.”

Another festival this time of year is Deepavali, or Diwali, the festival of lights, a five-day Hindu festival that starts on Nov. 4. “It celebrates the triumph of good over evil,” Shoba’s mother, Radha, explained. Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps filled with oil. It is one of the most important festivals of the year for Hindus.

Dr. Rohit Jangi has been practicing medicine in Ashland for over 30 years. He also came from Mumbai. Attracted by the world-known Framingham Heart Study, he came to study medicine in Framingham and settled in Ashland, where he raised his two children. He recalled that when he first started his practice, he had an office on Rt. 126. Between seeing patients, he would tend his garden bed at the community garden back when it was smaller and on privately owned land.

In his spare time, Dr. Jangi has helped at Ashland Day, served as a trustee and the chair of the Hindu temple, and now builds sets for the new classical Indian theater group, Kalashri.

“When I came here, there were only three families in Ashland, now there are more than 750,” Jangi said. “A lot of Indians come because of the temple and then they stay in Ashland, first buying a condo and then a house. The condos at Boulevard of the Americas are mostly Indian. Ashland’s easy commute to area high tech companies, like EMC, Boston Scientific and MathWorks, help to attract young Indians. The town has been friendly to us.”

by By Cynthia Whitty