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Ganesha Temples in USA

Ganesha- The Global God

As a culture Hinduism is perhaps the most widely accepted religions. Lord Ganesha is an extremely important God in Hinduism. Lord Ganesha has 108 names, each holding a specific meaning. He is also the most worshiped Hindu deities and is particularly popular in India and Nepal. The devotion to Lord Ganesha is widely diffused across other cultures also. Historically Ganesha emerged as an important deity in the 4th and 5th century, during the reign of the Guptas. The earliest known idol of Lord Ganesha is located in the Shiva temple at Bhumra. His following strengthened around the 10th century in India. The name Vinayaka for Lord Ganesha is not just mentioned in the Puranas but also the Buddhist mantras. Lord Ganesha is also known as the Lord of the Ganas in Sri Lanka.

Ancient temples and excavations show that the worship of the God of wisdom is spread across the globe. The physical attributes of Lord Ganesha vary in Java, Bali, Borneo, Vietnam, Bangkok and Burma. Here Lord Ganesha is mainly thought of as a remover of obstacles and also as the God of success. Worship of Ganesha was in vogue before Islam arrived in Afghanistan but no conclusive evidence exists to prove the statement. A few sculptures discovered between 5th and 7th century is proof of the same. In northern China statues with inscription dated to 531 exist in many parts. Presence of Lord Ganesha is also there in Tibet. The beliefs are ambivalent in nature, which is depicted by various idols across Tibet. Sri Lanka which is dominantly a Buddhist country has about 14 ancient temples of Lord Ganesha.

There is a strong influence of Lord Ganesha in the Malay Peninsula also. Temples were built around the 6th century in various locations including Petaling Java, Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Pudu and Melaka. A dancing Ganesha is evident in the Malay Archipelago in the temple of Candi Sukuh. Other countries, that have Ganesha temples, are Mauritius (in Riviere du Rempart) and Singapore.

The popularity of Lord Ganesha not just spreads across Asia but also South and Central America and Mexico. In the modern times a significant following of Lord Ganesha exists in Britain, Australia Germany, France and Canada. Some of the popular temples of Ganesha stand tall in London, New York, Paris, Durban, Hamburg, Melbourne and Edmonton. Comparisons of Lord Ganesha to Janus, the two headed Roman God, also exist. No conclusive evidence of Lord Ganesha’s worship in Roman culture has been found despite the similarity.

It is not just globally that Ganesha is worshiped but also in various other cultures. Where Ganesha appears as an avatar of Budhdha in Ganesha Purana, he is also shown as a different idol in Tibet. Ganesha is even represented as an idol with one to five heads. Ganesh Chaturthi in India is more of a universal festival then a festival celebrated by Hindus. The popularity of this deity not just spreads across borders but also spreads across hearts.

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Ganesha- The journey across borders

Discovery of trade routes and the quest for land has contributed to inter mingling of cultures in the world. It is because of commercial and cultural contacts that Hinduism has had a huge effect particularly on East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Ganesha is one of the Hindu deities who landed in foreign land and became a popular figure. His teachings have now become universal because of globalization.

Trade not just helped build economies but also evolved cultures. The popularity of Lord Ganesha also spread across different parts of the world because of the traders and the merchants. It is known that any auspicious work marked by Lord Ganesha in the beginning turns out to be fruitful. Hence the significance of Lord Ganesha holds importance in the matters of trade. Migration of Hindus in search of promised lands also contributed to the spread of Lord Ganesha’s popularity. The period from 10th century was marked by the development of new networks of trade and exchange. Evidence of the deity in the 5th and 6th century (the Gupta period) has been found but it is through merchants that the popularity of Lord Ganesha spread across borders. The merchant community’s earliest inscription is that of Lord Ganesha, before any other deity.

The globalization of Lord Ganesha is further substantiated by the close association of some religious sects with trade. It is through this connection of commerce that the ideas of worship of this deity were exchanged. For instance, Ganesha is worshiped by Jainas because the connection of Jainas to the trading community is strong. In Buddhism the popularity of this deity was mainly because of the Guptas. The Guptas built sculptures that depict confluence of Buddhism and Hinduism through Ganesha. In some sects and countries such as Japan, Ganesha is believed to be an avatar of Buddha.

In the modern era it is the exchange of ideas through migration that has resulted in spread of Lord Ganesha’s affluence in places other then the Indian subcontinent and East Asia. Southern and Central America, Mexico, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany and even parts of the Malay peninsula have seen a rise in Hindu population. Hence one can see many temples in these countries which are extremely popular. The region of Angkor Vat for instance thrives on Hindu temples and has elaborate temples and caves depicting Hinduism. We can also find idols and carvings of Lord Ganesha in this region.

It is not just the spread of Hindus in the modern era that has contributed to the popularity of Lord Ganesha. Lord Ganesha’s teachings are more universal than any other deity in Hinduism. Although various religions may not practice the act of worship of this deity but they still hold his spiritual significance in high regard. It is the acceptance of this deity’s values that has led to the global status of Lord Ganesha.

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Is Ganesha only worshipped by the Hindus?

Lord Ganesha is one of the Hindu deities who have a global appeal. This happened because of trade and commercial aspects that involved exchange of ideas and materials.

Particularly worshipped by traders and merchants in approximately the 10th century, this deity was worshipped by this union despite their religion. One of the earliest inscription and statue of Ganesha belongs to this period. The ‘Jainas’ belonged to the trader’s clan and hence Lord Ganesha is worshipped by this religious community as well.   Apart from trading, migration also contributed to the popularity of Lord Ganesha in other cultures. Hindus migrated to the Malay Archipelago and took Lord Ganesha with them.  The Malay Archipelago has many statues of Lord Ganesha along with Lord Shiva. The migration of Hindus created a new culture that has a few aspects of Hinduism but is also unique. The religious texts or the literature does not support the worship of Lord Ganesha. No references of Lord Ganesha in the scriptures of Jainism exist. Lord Ganesha is still worshiped by Jainas and he also has characteristics of Kubera for this particular religious sect. Images of Lord Ganesha also appear in some old temples of the Jainas in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Ganesha appears in Mahayana Buddhism. In the Buddhist religion he is known as Vinayaka. Buddhist sculptures dating back to 5th century (the Gupta period) depict him as one of their Gods. The idol representation of the Buddhist God Vinayaka is often shown dancing. This form is also called ‘Nratta Ganapati’.  Ganesha’s form Nratta Ganapti also became popular in Tibet and Nepal. In Nepal, Lord Ganesha is popularly known as Heramba. The idol of Heramba has five heads and has the lion as his vehicle. ‘Tshogs Bdag’ is the Tibetan representation of Lord Ganesha. The Tibetan religion has ambivalent views on Ganesha. Some depictions of Lord Ganesha in Tibet show him being destroyed by the deity Mahakala (similar to Lord Shiva) while; others show him as a destroyer of obstacles. The idol is shown as dancing. In China and Japan evidence of Lord Ganesha’s idols are seen having regional quality.

Buddhism is also prevalent in Thailand, Burma and Cambodia. Hinduism and Buddhism were practiced simultaneously in these regions resulting in the interspersing of the two cultures. The resultant culture created a modified version of Lord Ganesha in all these countries. This can also be seen in Java, Bali and Borneo. Lord Ganesha (or the modified visual representation of Lord Ganesha) is believed to be the remover of obstacles in these regions as well.
In modern times Lord Ganesha is worshiped by other communities in India as well. Some “Sikhs” worship Lord Ganesha for the virtues he represents. It is the universal appeal and teachings of this deity that attract people from other religions as well. Evidence supports the worship of Lord Ganesha by Jainas and Buddhists across the world but Lord Ganesha is worshiped as per the Hindu definitions of his existence across borders.

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Shree Ganesh Temple in Utah, USA

Lord Ganesha is the deity of wisdom and prosperity. Lord Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. They are considered as the most divine couple of this universe. Ganesha is also known as Ganpathi because he is considered to be the Lord of the ganas of Shiva. Ganapathi is a Sanskrit word :

Ga means wisdom, na means salvation and pathi means God.

Lord Ganesha is a dwarfish deity with a pot belly and smoke-hued body. As he removes all worries, tensions and obstacles from the path of his devotees, he is the most loved and worshipped among all the deities. Lord Ganesha is an extremely prominent deity when it comes to his followers. Lord Ganesha is loved in the western countries too.

The main shrine of the Ganesh Temple is of Lord Ganesha. Like every Hindu temple has many shrines in the premise, so does this temple at Utah. The shrines other than that of Lord Ganesha are of Lord Shiva (father of Lord Ganesha), Goddess Parvati (mother of Lord Ganesha), Lord Balaji Venketeshwara, Navgrahas, Goddess Saraswati, Lord Hanuman, Lord Krishna, Lord Murugan (brother of Lord Ganesha), Lord Dattatreya, Lord Ram’s Darbar (that includes Lord Rama, His wife Sita, His younger brother Laxman and his ardent devotee Lord Hanuman), Goddess Andal Bhudevi, Lord Nataraja, Shiva Lingam (iconographic representation of Lord Shiva), Goddess Sivakami Umadevi and an icon of Naga (Snakes) Devta in the garden.

The temple has its own magazine by the name of Himani Archives. The temple has regular prayer ceremonies on different occasions. The temple runs on the money of offerings only. At present, there are two main priests of the temple. Pandit. A. R. Krishnan and Pandit. N. S. Satish Kumar. These two priests take care of the temple and all matters related to the religious activities in the temple. The priests are both highly knowledgeable and hail from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Below is the excerpt of an article by the temple priests in one of the temple’s magazine’s editions.

‘He is the supreme deity according to the Hindu religion. Hindu religion is a truly vast religion. Hindu religion is not confined to just one book or one scripture. There are more than thousands of scriptures in the Hindu religion. Some are as long as of 18000 sects, and some are just limited to one line mantras. Unity in diversity is the main splendor of Hinduism. All the Hindu families around the world do not pray alike. The majority of the Indian subcontinent’s population  is Hindu, and every part of Indian subcontinent has different beliefs. A north-Indian Hindu and a south- Indian Hindu both pray to the same deity, yet their rituals are entirely different from each other. Hindus believe in an omnipresent God. Hindus worship idols or murthi pujanam (idol worship). There are many seen and unseen forms of devtaas (celestial beings) in the Hindu religion. Hindus still believe in the sanctity of four Vedas, Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Saam Veda and Artharva Veda. Puranas, Upanishads, Chalisas, Stutis, Stotras, Mantras or the Aartis all add their own importance and charisma to the religion. If one wants to understand the core values of Hinduism, then Mahabharat and Ramayan are the best books to gather knowledge about the religion. The famous book ‘Bhagvadgita’ can give all answers from the origin of a human being to its death. The BhagavadGita is still considered as the storehouse of  knowledge as one can find all his answers about the life cycle and death of a human being.

Hindus believe in karma which states that one earns what he has done in his life. The philosophy of karma says that a person’s life comes to a full circle that means he will get what he had already bowed in his life. Hindus believe in the fact that a body has a soul that never dies. They believe that the bodies die, and the soul is transferred from one  body to the other. Hindus believe in the four point mantra of life i.e. Dharm (righteousness), Arth (wealth), Kaam (desire) and Moksha (salvation). According to Hindus, life is sacred and we should live in on these four principles so that we can attain peace in the end.’

Jai Shree Ganesha!

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