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Vedic Spirituality in a Modern, Idyllic Setting to Train the Restless Mind

The Chinmaya Somnath Center is located on a rise off Blue Springs Road in Chantilly, Virginia, about 25 miles from Washington, DC

The Chinmaya Somnath Center is located on a rise off Blue Springs Road in Chantilly, Virginia, about 25 miles from Washington, DC. Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

By Jawahar Malhotra

CHANTILLY, VA: On a rise, just off Pleasant Valley Road, Route 609, a modern, two-story building catches your eye. It could just as well be a corporate building for many of the IT companies which have sprung up all across the Washington DC area, but the swing sets and the fenced in play area in the back give it a kid friendly appeal. And the signs for Chinmaya Blossoms Pre-School give it away, just as you catch the building’s front entrance proclaiming it as Chinmaya Somnath.

The modern design of the 3 year-old building gives it a campus feeling

The modern design of the 3 year-old building gives it a campus feeling

In the midst of several places of worship and within walking distance of the newly inaugurated BAPS Swami Narayan Temple, the Chinmaya Somnath is a structure built to impress, surrounded by 210 parking spaces and plenty of land to grow into. It is a $14 million project that was inaugurated with a murthi stapna (deity installation) on June 15, 2014. It is part of the four chapters of the Chinmaya Mission Washington Regional Center, with the other three in Silver Springs, Maryland, Frederick, Maryland and Richmond, Virginia.

The first floor lobby opens up to a large second floor hall that accesses the auditorium and dining hall

The first floor lobby opens up to a large second floor hall that accesses the auditorium and dining hall

The Somnath center is perhaps the CMWRC’s most ambitious project in the rapidly expanding town of Chantilly, some 25 miles to the west of Washington, DC. It has focused on a growing need for young Indian families where both parents are busy professionals, to find good pre-school day care for their young children and offers a thriving Bala Vihar (Children’s House) weekend school program for pre K to 12th graders.

A large stone image Shiva is located off the far side of the auditorium, behind sliding panels, flanked by large framed pictures of Swami Tapovan Maharaj (left) and Swami Chinmayananda (right).

A large stone image Shiva is located off the far side of the auditorium, behind sliding panels, flanked by large framed pictures of Swami Tapovan Maharaj (left) and Swami Chinmayananda (right).

On this sunny, mild Fall day, the CS Treasurer, Prakash Soman, who just happened to be there, gave a guided tour of the center, which is certainly spacious and impressive with the clean and uncluttered design of its rooms. On the second floor, a large gathering space offers access to the auditorium on one side, with the dining hall and warming kitchen on the other and two large meeting rooms to the far side, on either side of the garlanded portrait of Swami Chinmayananda, the spiritual guide of the Chinmaya Missions founded by his devotees in Indian in 1953. Since then, over 300 missions have opened worldwide.

On one wall of the dining hall is a giant mural painted by Shambhu Chapekar in 1991.

On one wall of the dining hall is a giant mural painted by Shambhu Chapekar in 1991.

The vast auditorium holds a large idol of Shiva behind sliding panels, flanked by large framed and garlanded portraits of Swami Tapovan Maharaj and Swami Chinmayananda. It can accommodate 500-seats and has a wide stage and state-of-the-art sound and audio-visual systems. The dining hall can accommodate 250 people and on one wall, a giant 12 ft high by 24 ft wide mural painted by Shambhu Chapekar in 1991depicts Swami Chinmayananda with palms folded in meditation in front of a large Om amidst a star burst and a mountain top.  

“The painting shows the panatham with the five arches representing the senses opening to the outside to gather information,” explained Soman. “Chapekar was a postmaster in Mumbai who had never before painted, but he said he was inspired, after he retired, to do this mural in his bedroom in Herndon, Virginia, not far from here. It used to hang in the University of Maryland campus in Frostburg and Swamiji sat in front of it to give his discourses during the 4th International Spiritual Camp in 1991.”

And downstairs, is the education wing, with classrooms opening to each corridor for the 600 kids who attended classes each weekend and there are always many more programs being offered and planned. Just over two weeks ago, on November 11, Acharya Gurang Nanavaty of the Chinmaya Mission of Houston visited to give a discourse on “Quiet Alert and Vigilant Self”. With over 400 families supporting the center and many more moving to the area each year, Soman said the center is already seeing the need to grow.

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