Among the sounds of ringing bells, Saoroj Sharma leads the chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa service at The Hindu Society in the town of Morrisville.
Sharma, the priest of The Hindu Society temple, explained that when he first moved to Morrisville in 1972 there were only about 30 Indian families in town.
As of 2010, there were 5,058 Asians in Morrisville out of the population of about 19,000. Of the 5,058 Asians, 73 percent are Asian Indian.
Sharma founded The Hindu Society in 1976 after working for the United Nations, the Department of Agriculture and the Government of North Carolina.
“I was working with them, but at the same time my hobby was religion,” Sharma said. “I wanted to work with the people and talk about the religion.”
He began holding prayers and ceremonies in his home until 1979, when they had enough people to buy a Jehovah’s Witness Church. They worshiped in the church for only a year until they started to look for a bigger place. In 1984, they moved to their current location in Morrisville on Airport Parkway to house the 300 families that now attend services.
Mark Stohlman, a Morrisville Town Council member, credits Sharma’s starting of the temple as a main reason for the large Indian population in Morrisville.
“It was really a pretty big deal for him and his family to do that,” Stohlman said. “I think it showed that there was a home for the Indian Asian population of Morrisville.”
For Indian entertainment, residents can go to the nearby Galaxy Cinema in Cary to watch Bollywood movies. They also have the option of watching Indian singing and dance shows, such as those sponsored by the Apna Bazar.
The Indian population has become involved in all areas of the city, even Morrisville politics.
Vinnie Goel, a local Indian businessman who owns two major companies, A1 consulting and Goel Plaza, was appointed chairman of the Morrisville Planning and Zoning Board in 2010.
An even bigger influence on the Morrisville town government is Councilman Steve Rao.
After his 2011 victory with 65 percent of the vote, Rao became the first Indian American ever elected to public office in Wake County and possibly the state.
“I have been searching the records for someone else who might have won a seat, but I can’t find anyone,” Rao said.
Even though Rao is from West Virgina, he has a rich Indian heritage since his parents moved to the United States from India in 1970.
“Forty-two years ago my parents came here, so now I feel like I have a unique view on how I can create policies for the town,” Rao said.
EB 5 is one policy that Rao is working on to make Morrisville even more attractive for immigrants.
The program would encourage immigrants to invest in public and private projects by providing green cards to those who invest $1 million dollars and create 10 new jobs. According to a presentation Rao made to the town council on June 7, this type of program has already been implemented in the Washington D.C. area to fund real estate projects of about $50 million dollars.
Rao also proposes a Sister City program with international cities and a global recruitment program to encourage international business.
But these programs aren’t the only way that Rao has affected the community through his public office.
“I’ve had young kids call me after I won the election and tell me that they want to go into politics now,” Rao said. “ That makes me feel good.”