TAMPA — They removed their shoes and climbed to the top of the Hindu Temple of Florida, with offerings of bananas, apples, coconuts and flowers.
Some were Indians who grew up in Mumbai. Others heard about the attack that killed at least 174 people on the news and came to show solidarity.
Fifty people stood under the sky on Sunday morning, when the bell rang at the altar. The Shanti Homa ritual had begun.
The chief priest chanted in Sanskrit, but the message was universal — a prayer for the victims of last week's 60-hour terrorist siege in India's financial capital.
A prayer for peace.
• • •
Yashwant Belsare, 52, prayed for his hometown, where his mother, sisters and cousins still live. And he prayed for the world.
"The need of the hour," he said, "is to keep our selfish motives aside and unite."
Today will be the first time since the attacks that he sees the eighth-graders he teaches at Greco Middle School. He expects they will have a conversation like the one they had Sept. 11, 2001.
Belsare anticipates that they'll ask if his family is okay. He'll tell them they are. Then, they'll ask what they can do to help.
Kids who have grown up watching terror on television understand the depth of the problem, he said.
His daughter feels it from both sides of the world.
Bombs have been hitting India for years, she said, and its people have been asking for help.
Shraddha Belsare, 23, says she felt a sting when American networks focused mostly on the victims from America, Britain and Australia. Many more Indians have died.
But now she hopes Americans will understand what India has been going through.
• • •
Toward the end of the half-hour ritual, the chief priest ignited the consecrated fire, which represents a form of Brahman, the absolute supreme being in Hinduism.
Hindus have communicated their prayers to God through this sacred fire for thousands of years.
Gusts of wind swept the smoke through the crowd, as the faithful bowed their heads.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.