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Revelers pack Main St. for Hindu god

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The streets of Flushing were inundated with joyous revelers Sunday afternoon in the annual procession marking the end of the nine-day Sri Ganesha Chaturthi festival.

Thousands of Hindu worshipers flocked to the Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam Temple, at 45-57 Bowne St., to bless the 15-foot silver chariot known as the Ratha Yatra and festoon it with flower garlands and other decorations before sending it off on its annual journey along Main Street.

The day’s festivities kicked off with hours of prayers devoted to Ganesh — the elephant-headed god of removing obstacles, represented as a statue inside the chariot — followed by the smashing of coconuts and melons as an initial ?offering to him.

Then the worshipers streamed out onto the street, bedecked in their finest dhotis and colorful saris, where they formed a massive wave of devotion, slowly making its way to Main Street, which is shut down every September for the parade.

Anu Jara, a regular temple attendee from Queens Village, said she looks forward to the event each year.

“This is one of the culminations of the Hindu religion,” she said as she walked with her fellow devotees, who flocked from across the region for the fete. “In India, it would be a one- to two-day festival, but we’ve extended it here in America to capture the spirit of Ganesh and to engage the youth and get them to become more involved in the festivities and the religion. It’s kind of hot and sticky and miserable, but it’s great. We’ve been coming to this temple close to 20 years. We don’t know anything else besides this.”

The event is something of a social occasion in addition to being a holy day for the religion, and live music, dancing and food are major parts of the celebration.

Many people make traditional Indian foods to offer to Ganesh in exchange for good tidings in the coming year. Devout Hindus pray to Ganesh at the beginning of each day as his power to bring good luck and fortune is considered to be vast.

Sharmila Sivashanker brought her 22-month-old son Keithav and a plate of laddu confections made from chickpeas, sugar and various seasonings cooked in ghee from Long Island to offer to Ganesh in his chariot.

“He gave me my baby after 10 years, so I brought him sweet laddu. We offer these foods to Ganesh so he will fulfill the things we ask him to make happen. He loves food and he does good things for us so we offer food,” she said. “It’s a big occasion for everybody because it’s the only South Indian temple in New York.”

At the end of the festival, the Ganesh statue is dipped in water in a ceremony that is meant to symbolically dissolve away the sins and problems of those who show their devotion and thanks to the god.

Despite the religious aspect of the festival, a spattering of its attendees were not Hindu and instead came to experience the religion. Others still, like Ria Bhowmick of East Elmhurst, are less-devout Hindus who appreciate the religious aspects of the event but come mainly for the revelry and camaraderie.

“Hinduism is also about culture, and it’s a norm for everybody to come out every year,” Bhowmick said. “It’s a huge celebration, but it’s also really just chilling with God. And dancing. It’s euphoric.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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