When he was 10 years old, living in a small town in India called Devgadh Baria, Sujit Baxi remembers helping his father build a hindola, a decorative swing that contained a statue or portrait of Lord Krishna on the seat.
Baxi, who now lives in Barrington Ridge in Manatee County, off Lockwood Ridge Road, recalls the touch of his father’s hand as he tied a tiny thread around a cashew that young Baxi was holding steady as possible.
Baxi told his wife, Shilpa, that he wanted to build his own hindola this year and invite about 70 of the couple’s cherished family members and friends to a Hindola Festival, one of the most anticipated events on the Hindu calendar.
Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion after Christianity and Islam, differs from Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system or a central religious organization, according to the Web site, www.religioustolerance.org.
Hinduism includes “thousands of different religious groups that have evolved in India since 1500 BC,” the Web site adds.
During July and August every year, some Hindus make a swing for God, which is called a hindola.
In India, where there are many temples, thousands upon thousands of people in small towns across the country work together preparing the special swings.
But in America, where Hindu temples aren’t as plentiful — in fact there are just two in Tampa and none in Bradenton and Sarasota to serve roughly 2,500 Tampa Bay Hindu families — individuals often turn their homes into hindola shrines during the summer for their friends.
“I’m not a carpenter and a great artist like my father so I wondered how would I build our swing,” said Baxi, who owns the Petrol Mart at 6513 14th St. w., in SaraBay Plaza next to Gettel Toyota. “But I prayed about it and my prayers were answered.”
Baxi, who has delegated a small room upstairs in his home for a year-round Hindu temple where he goes to pray, said he had a vision that his hindola should be in silver.
While Shilpa sent out the invitations, Sujit purchased silver bows and, working three hours a day for three weeks, turned a collection of wood, ribbon, holiday ornaments and metal into a workable swing.
On a recent Sunday, roughly 70 devotees of Lord Krishna came to the Baxis’ home and marveled at his work.
“It is a most beautiful Hindola,” said Manisha Patel.
To hear the joy and pleasure in the voices of his guests left Sujit Baxi in a state of euphoria.
“I could have rented out someplace for this festival but we believe that Lord Krishna knows and blesses the house,” Baxi said. “I wanted my home blessed.
“All I can say is that I feel all the peace in the world,” added Baxi, a businessman known for his gregarious personality and loyal customers. “This is such an honor for us. It is the happiest time of the year, the time we all look forward to.”
The Hindola Festival goes back 5,000 years in India.
Lord Krishna, his devotees say, was first rocked in a swing from a tree on the streets of Vrundavan by the Gopi people 5,000 years ago.
To rock Lord Krishna became a tradition.
“To experience rocking our Lord on a small swing is to experience divine joy,” said Baxi, who was garbed in a bright orange kurta for the festival.
Hindus prepare their Hindolas in many different ways.
Some people decorate with vegetables, leaves, flowers, earthen pots, fresh fruits, dry friends, beans, chocolates, ribbons, cloth or gold and silver leaves, Baxi said.
On the day of the big event, devotees left their shoes outside.
Friends and family were dressed in traditional Indian garments.
“Only the newest and freshest garments are worn for Hindola Festival,” said Shilpa Baxi.
As the guests arrived, each was carrying a food dish. Then, the guests sat side by side on the soft floor and sang devotional songs together.
After hours of singing, the guests rose and shared at a long table a sumptuous and spicy dinner of vegetable soup made of peas and eggplant, doughy triangles containing vegetables, lima bean soup, rice, dried fruit, fried bread called puri and sweet coconut squares.
“This is exactly like it was when I was a little boy,” Sujit Baxi said. “I’m feeling total happiness.”