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Contributed photo / Sanatan Mandir of Chattanooga

After years of planning and construction, Chattanooga's Hindu community has a new space to worship and gather.

The congregation of Sanatan Mandir of Chattanooga will formally open its new 25,000-square-foot temple and community center this weekend with a special ribbon cutting ceremony Sunday afternoon with Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly.

The community raised $6.5 million to build the new temple on eight acres off Hickory Valley Road. For three decades, the area's Hindu community worshiped and gathered at their temple on Bonny Oaks Drive, a building that previously served as Baptist church and school.

Nichelle Patel, public relations director for Sanatan Mandir, said the new space will be inclusive to Hindus who practice different forms of the religion, emphasizing different deities, for example.

"All those churches can come together," Patel said. "That's what 'sanatan' means. Sanatan means all-inclusive. Everyone is welcome."

Roughly half of the new building will serve as the temple, with the other half acting as a community center where ceremonies, weddings or baby showers can be held. The space will allow for better youth engagement, Patel said, offering more resources for activities to engage young people in the faith.

The community is hosting a three-day ceremony to open the new space, with the public Sunday ribbon cutting featuring Kelly.

Murtis, or statues that embody a particular deity, were carefully moved from the old space off of Bonny Oaks. Any kind of damage to them can bring bad luck, Patel said, so people in the community constructed special crates and carefully transported them across town.

Before Sunday, the community will hold special ceremonies outside to invite the spirit into the figures, Patel said. Sunday will mark the first time members of the community will see the figures inside the new temple.

Patel said getting the building ready for the weekend has been a huge operation, with around 250 volunteers cleaning and cooking.

"This is huge for our community because we've lived 30 years in that facility out in Bonny Oaks," Patel said.

Planning for the new temple and community center began in February 2017. Next to the temple is the 26-home Sanatan Park senior living neighborhood, providing residents easy access to the temple.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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