GANESHA TEMPLE, QUEENS
Intricately carved rooftop gopurams (towers) rise above the Ganesha Temple, soaring over the neighborhood’s detached houses, backyard kiddie pools, and Q27 bus stops.
The Hindu Temple Society of North America’s Šri Mahã Vallabha Ganapati Devasthãnam, or Ganesha Temple in Flushing, Queens (45-57 Bowne St) is one of the nation’s oldest and largest Hindu temples, claiming more than 20,000 devotees on its rolls. It conducts daily services, holds classes and events in its community center, and hosts festival celebrations throughout the year.
The Temple Society was formed in 1970, and early services were conducted in a small frame house on the site of today’s temple. A larger structure was completed in 1977 and multi-million dollar renovations in the 2000s included the installation of thousands of tons of granite carved in India by hundreds of artisans and reconstructed at the Flushing complex.
Lord Ganeša, Hinduism’s elephant-headed god, is the presiding deity of the Queens temple, but more than 40 others are worshipped there, as well. “Interior spaces of American Hindu temples are designed to be more communal as compared with the intimate spaces within traditional Hindu temples,” says Mary McGee, Associate Professor of Classical Hinduism at Columbia University.
On sunny mornings in the Ganesha Temple, adherents make their way to the shrines through the brilliant spears of light admitted by numerous skylights, but the sense of community in the main temple area penetrates even to the fluorescent-lit basement vegetarian canteen. There, kitchen staff serve up both food offerings for temple deities and delicious South Indian vegetarian dishes for cafeteria-goers. (Generally open 8:30am-9:00pm)
Visitors are welcome to the Ganesha Temple, but are expected to respectfully follow temple rules (e.g. shoes are not allowed inside).
The above photos were taken during ceremonies to infuse divine energy into temple statues after renovation. Before an admiring crowd, Minnie the elephant paraded to the temple as a manifestation of Lord Ganeša. On the building’s roof, priests poured holy baths of water, milk, and honey onto temple deities.
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Erin Chapman is co-editor of the American Guide.