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The Boston Globe: “A Hindu temple finds a truly Friendly’s home”

Where there used to be burgers and frappes, peace will soon reign.

The brick building on South Franklin Street in Holbrook that housed a Friendly’s restaurant until 2005 is undergoing renovations and expected to reopen in the spring as the Braj Center, a Hindu temple dedicated to a goddess.

There will be a large hall with sinks for washing hands and feet at the entrance, and an altar with gold and bronze statues of Lord Krishna and his wife, Radha, in colorful robes.

The couple, whose union symbolizes absolute love, will stand in a gazebo. Around them will be vines and plants imitating an outdoor garden – and the ceiling may be painted a shade of blue to look like the sky. Songs will echo between the walls, and devotees in the kitchen will prepare vegetarian meals, with spices from the temple’s garden.

Lynn Bolton, a spokeswoman for Friendly’s, said she’s never heard of any of the company’s former restaurants being turned into temples. Usually, the buildings are transformed into other restaurants or banks, she said.

Rita Shah, president of the India Association of Greater Boston, said she also never heard of a temple in a building that had been a restaurant – but, she said, good thoughts can make any place spiritual.

“If you really believe, you can really turn any space into a temple,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of place it was before.”

She added that the temple is much needed by Hindus on the South Shore, particularly Quincy, where the Indian immigrant population increased significantly in the past 20 years. According to the 2000 census, there are 1,127 Asian Indian people residing in the city, and the nearest Hindu temple currently is the Vedanta Center in Cohasset.

“I’m really glad that there’ll be a place on the South Shore where people will be able to get together,” Shah said. “The North Shore has a whole bunch of temples, but the South Shore only has one temple. It’d be great to have more temples where South Asian culture will be shared with young people.”

The Vrindavana Preservation Society, a Quincy-based Indian cultural organization that celebrated its 10th year anniversary last fall, purchased the building for $290,000 in September.

The society’s president, Keshav Sharan, said the organization had rented space from the City of Quincy for cultural events because it did not have the money to buy a place of its own. Its rental agreement with the city restricted the Preservation Society to cultural activities like dance and music shows, but religious ceremonies could not be held in city buildings, said society member and former vice president Nicholas Cavallo.

This year, when the organization’s membership reached 1,800 people, the society was able to buy a building, with a down payment of 50 percent, Sharan said. The down payment was large because the organization didn’t have any collateral, he said.

Approximately $70,000 is still needed for painting, insulation, and plumbing, and the society is also looking for trained volunteers who can help. Last month, the society held a “walk-through” of the future Braj Center to raise needed funds.

Laura McFarland, a convert to Hinduism who is the activities coordinator at the Preservation Society, has been painting the faces of the metal statues of the deities and putting henna on their hands. She is also hand-sewing their clothes. She said it’s more difficult to make clothes for the statues than for humans or dolls because often the statues are single pieces, with arms and legs inseparable from the body.

“A doll has arms and legs, so you can put arms in the sleeves,” she explained.

Hanover yoga instructor Robin Killeen is preparing to offer a free class at the temple twice a week. Killeen said she’s taught asanas (yoga poses) and sun salutations on the uncarpeted floor of a high school cafeteria, in a library, and even in a parking lot after the fire alarm chased her class out of the yoga studio – but never before in a Hindu temple.

“This will be a really peaceful setting, just filled with love,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to that.”

Meanwhile, Sharan is looking forward to celebrating Holi, the Indian spring festival with its tradition of throwing colored powders. This year, the Preservation Society will finally enjoy the festival without worrying about staining the carpet of a rented facility.

“It’s our place,” Sharan said. “Even if we get it all over the building, we can repaint.”

To learn more about the temple, go to http://www.brajcenter.org.

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