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Jain followers celebrate new boro temple

Organizers of the celebrations for the four-story Jain Center, at 43-11 Ithaca St., said the religious high point will be Saturday, when idols of 24 revered spiritual leaders, or tirthankaras, are set in place. So that worldwide adherents can follow the placement, the event will be webcast live on the Jain Center Web site.The event is made auspicious by a particular alignment of planets, according to center spokesman Hemant Shah. The ceremonies officially close on Sunday.One feature of the newly dedicated temple is that it is the only Jain temple in the world, according to Shah, which accommodates all five Jain traditions in one building."That is unique. With five we could be serving as an example of unity in the world," he said.The dedication of the temple illustrates the continued growth in Queens of immigrants from Southeast Asia and the balance they seek between assimilating into their new country and maintaining contacts with their place of birth.The center, the first in the country, was originally founded on the same site in a converted house in 1981. Currently about 1,400 families belong to the temple.The Jain religion, similar to Buddhism, has about five million adherents worldwide, about 80,000 of who live in the United States. The religion, according to Shah, is centered on an adherence to absolute non-violence. This principle leads many to be vegetarian on the belief that they should not kill animals. More rigorous devotees of the religion will not eat potatoes or onions for fear that the act of taking the plant from the earth could kill some living thing.Shah estimated about a third of Jains who immigrate to the United States are professionals."People do feel comfortable immigrating to this country... They are still able to maintain their identity, and so enjoy the benefit of two countries," he said.The 10 days of celebrations include traditional ballet-style dance, lectures and religious ceremonies spread over three venues. Besides the temple itself, activities will be held at the Hindu Temple on Bowne Street in Flushing and St. John's University in Jamaica.There will also be a morning procession touring the neighborhood near the temple at 9:30 a.m. Thursday which will include a horse-drawn carriage and women in saris dancing with finger cymbals through the streets of Elmhurst.The new temple was made possible by an anonymous businessman who coordinated the raising of more than $3 million toward the new temple, with most of it coming from other Jain businessmen involved in the diamond and colored stone industry, according to Shah.Reach reporter Adam Pincus by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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