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Hindu Goddess Blesses Embassy Row

NPR icon by NPR Staff
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Sarah Ventre

Embassy Row — otherwise known as Massachusetts Avenue — in Washington is decorated with flags of every nation, flying in front of impressive embassy buildings.

And in front of the embassies there are often statues of national heroes. Winston Churchill graces the grounds of the British Embassy. Outside the Indian Embassy, Mahatma Gandhi looks as though he's in full stride, clad in loincloth and sandals.

And now, there's a Hindu goddess. Saraswati just arrived. She stands in a garden in front of Indonesia's embassy, glowing white and gold, with her four arms upraised.

Indonesian Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal says the goal was to stand out from the other embassies.

"I think this is exactly what we wanted to do with Massachusetts Avenue," he says, "add something that would jazz it up."

Saraswati is the goddess of learning and wisdom, Djalal says. At her feet are three children studying. It was crafted by three Balinese sculptors in three weeks.

Her expression is beatific. "This would be the same expression that you would see in Hindu goddesses throughout Bali," Djalal says. "A face of calm ... blessing those who are seeing her."

Although Indonesia is home to the largest population of Muslims in the world, Djalal chose a symbol of the Hindu religion for the embassy in Washington.

"One of the most famous, if not the most famous, islands in Indonesia is Bali," he says. "And Bali is a Hindu enclave in Muslim-majority Indonesia. And I think it says a lot about our respect for religious freedom that the statue in front of the country with the largest Muslim population is a Hindo statue."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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