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Hindus display new chariot in parade through Flushing

Throngs of Hindu worshipers flooded the streets of Flushing Sunday afternoon to cap off a nine-day religious celebration with an uninhibited burst of music and dance.

The grand procession of Lord Ganesh offered the first public display of the Hindu Temple Society of North America’s new silver chariot, which was purchased to replace a wooden one destroyed Oct. 24, 2001 in a still-unsolved act of arson.

But the crime was far from the minds of the many-hundred faithful who paraded through the neighborhood in a fervent display of joy and abandon during the temple’s 25th annual observance of the holiday.

“We do not know how it happened,” said Malathi Padmanabhan of Merrick, L.I., as she walked alongside the passing chariot. “The old is gone and the new, better one came.”

The nine-day celebration of Sri Ganesha Chaturthi honors Lord Ganesh, the temple’s presiding deity, who is known for removing obstacles and serves as a gateway to the other gods.

The festival concluded Sunday with a boisterous street procession around the chariot bearing Ganesh’s idol, which was slowly pulled by a yellow pick-up truck carrying a band of drummers and musicians. Dozens of worshipers marching ahead grasped long ropes attached to the grill of the truck, symbolically moving Ganesh through the streets.

“For those 2 1/2 hours, their mind is so much immersed in devotion that everybody becomes really very pure at that time,” said Dr. Uma Mysorekar, the temple society’s president. “Their sole concentration is the lord and everybody is together.”

That devotion translates on the street into an ecstatic party-like atmosphere attracting people of all faiths.

“When we have festivals like this, everyone comes together,” said Sheila Gogineni, a 19-year-old college student from Flushing. “There’s no language barriers. We invite anyone — Christian, Judaism, Islam.”

Despite the overflowing energy, the parade advanced slowly as men and women burst into joyous fits of dance, prancing wildly and twisting their arms in the air as music swelled beneath them. Young girls grasped hands and pulled each other around in furious circles as the fabric from their long skirts flew through the air.

“It just makes us really happy,” said Preeti Menon, 21, of Woodside. “You see people shed away their shyness and just dance for the Lord.”

The parade was led by a line of children holding the temple’s banner, who offered their own candid reasons for loving Lord Ganesh and the holiday in his honor.

“When you help god, he’ll help you back,” said Ashini Ganesalingam of Flushing, who offered an unusually comprehensive account of the holiday’s meaning for an 8-year-old.

“He’s one of the best gods,” 12-year-old Sameer Parikh of Flushing put it simply.

The procession wove through the streets of Flushing from the temple at 45-57 Bowne St. over to Main Street alongside the Queens Botanical Gardens, filling two or three blocks at a time with a long trail of music, dancing and worship.

The sometimes heavy fall of rain not only failed to put a dent on the festivities but was actually perceived as a positive omen, as water reflects prosperity and growth.

“It’s like God showering his blessings on us,” said Meghna Rao, 11, of Queens Village.

“Plus if it really rains a lot,” 10-year-old Pooja Mani of Queens Village added, “we get to splash people.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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