A part of Bhoo Devi was still a tub of mud last week.

But as two priests crouched on the floor Thursday, scooping out the mud and shaping it - here a hand, there a foot, now a face - it took on the coarse, dark contours of a goddess: the deity revered by Hindus as Bhoo Devi, or "Mother Earth."

"This is soil from the seven holiest rivers in India," explained Kasiram Dikshith, a priest of the new Bharatiya Temple in Chalfont, where Bhoo Devi was taking shape. Around him, a dozen Hindu priests from across India were busily weaving sacred grass and making intricate yantras, or mandalas, out of colored rice.

Later in the day, they would dissolve Bhoo Devi in a bath of water from all seven oceans - the opening ritual in a rare, five-day consecration rite that will, believers say, plant the spirits of Hindu deities into the temple's life-size stone idols.

A Prana Pratishtha Mahotsava ceremony transforming the statues into icons is a "once-in-a-lifetime event," said Akanksha Kalra, a trustee of the temple.

The sacred ceremony, which began that evening under a cavernous white tent in the parking lot, will culminate tomorrow morning inside the temple's new sanctuary.

After slipping off their shoes, the temple's 400 member families and others in the Hindu community will step inside tomorrow to encounter four luminous white shrines, each with ornate silver doors.

There, gazing out from within each shrine or lined along the front of the room, will stand 12 vivid, life-size moortis, or sacred icons.

Most members have not yet seen the images, which include elephant-god Ganesha, Krishna, Shiva, and Lakshmi, all carved and colored in India.

"This will be a very emotional moment," said Kalra, an immigration lawyer in Philadelphia, as she stepped into the sanctuary, where workers were grouting the marble shrine floors, sewing curtains, or hoisting a granite pedestal. "If you are here Monday, you will see a lot of tears."

Together with Mohinder Sardana, the temple's treasurer and a trustee, Kalra lifted the colored-silk cover on a crate to reveal a statue of Vishnu, dressed in red and holding a rose. "It's so beautiful," Kalra exclaimed.

Another crate contained a black granite statue of Sri Venkateshwara, a deity especially esteemed in the south of India.

The statues - by then transformed into moortis - will be put in place today behind closed doors, Sardana said.

To devout Hindus, a moorti is no mere symbol but the manifestation of a divine being worthy of worship. They may be touched only by the temple's three resident priests, who every day will wash, dress, and bring them food such as rice dishes and halvah.

"We didn't really have any kind of temple in the Philadelphia area until 2004," said Kalra, who emigrated here in 1991. "We used to have to go to Pittsburgh, or Bridgewater" in central New Jersey.

The handsome building is still a work in progress. Its rectangular, cinder-block exterior awaits its white, marble-like cladding, and the roof lacks the traditional gilded domes, or shikhars.

But with the installation of the deities this weekend, the building becomes a true Hindu temple: a dwelling place of gods and goddesses, and spiritual home to the region's Hindus.

Said by some devotees, including Kalra, to be a "way of life rather than a religion," Hinduism takes its name from the Indus River, which flows through what is now Pakistan.

It is a complex belief system, with thousands of minor deities, a mix of major gods and goddesses, and much geographical variation. While the supreme deity in northern India is Lord Vishnu, it is Lord Krishna in the south, although many Hindus maintain that these and other deities are manifestations of one another.

For that reason, the temple, whose name is Sanskrit for Indian, is home to a variety of deities from across the subcontinent.

Bharatiya Temple is also home to much of the region's Jain community, which follows an offshoot of Hinduism. The Jains will celebrate their Moorti Pratishtha ceremony, which also transforms statues into icons, June 5-8.

"You will not find this in India," said Nand Todi, president of the Temple. "But we believe in unifying the [Indian] community under one roof. We believe this diversity will be our strength."

"This is the dream of a lifetime," exclaimed Girija Doddapaneni of Horsham, a temple trustee along with her husband, Harnath, and an information technician for PNC Investments.

Dressed in a sari, Doddapaneni used her fingers to brush a vermilion paste onto the eight small fire altars under the giant tent.

The ceremonies that would soon transform the statues into sacred icons, and the building into a true temple for her children and grandchildren, were "the dream of a lifetime," she said. "Now, my life is fulfilled."