Two men with upper bodies bare, except for bright fabrics tossed over their shoulders, sat cross-legged in front of a statue. A skylight bathed the men and the statue in sun. Between them lay a ceremonial dish of food, and in front of them and the statue fruits—bananas, pineapples, apples, and more—were spread on a blue tarp. On one side of the tarp, two musicians sat, one with a wind instrument and the other with drums.*
Starting Thursday, many Hindus in Queens began observances of Ganesha Chaturthi, a ten-day festival dedicated to Ganesha—remover of obstacles and overseer of beginnings. Perhaps this explains why the Hindu bartender who gives me tips on Nepali language and culture most Thursday nights was absent this week. In any case, Ganesh Chaturthi is a popular holiday, as Ganesha is important to Hindus of all castes, from Nepal to Southern India. The holiday took me to Ganesh Temple of Flushing, for pujas and also, of course, for food.
This procession happened sometime after the Sri Siddhi Buddhi Vinayaka puja
I arrived just as the Sri Siddhi Buddhi Vinayaka puja was beginning. According to the Temple’s literature, this puja worships Ganesha’s consorts—Siddhi and Buddhi—along with him. Siddhi “is success, fulfillment, accomplishment, and attainment” and Buddhi “is wisdom, intelligence, and the ability to exercise proper judgment.”
The puja took place in a long hall with thick columnar enclosures housing important deities (including the temple’s main deity, Ganesha). Along the sides of the room, statues made of stone, gold, and fabrics stood on pedestals behind signs saying, “Please do not touch the deity.”
I sat at the back of a crowd gathered around the tarp covered in fruits.
The two men in front of the statue performed the most important functions of the puja. They rapidly recited Sanskrit scriptures while making symbolic gestures with their hands, and tossed foodstuffs on a tray of offerings. Eventually, they began piling garlands of flowers and fabrics on the statue. Each time, they would hold the item up before the crowd, and everyone in the crowd would lift their hands in front of their faces in response. The musicians frequently contributed—the drummer giving the ceremony compelling urgency and the man with the woodwind giving it an otherworldly feeling. In moments when their playing dominated the room, I began to feel as though I must have entered a nonmaterial world.
At the end of the puja, a collections plate was passed around, and I followed a group of people past a rather intimidating statue of Sri Shiva, housed in a large columnar case with an open door at the front, and out into a courtyard, where preparations were under way for another puja.
I went to the shoe-check with my ticket to retrieve my shoes. Several people sat in folding chairs in the hallway leading here eating boxed lunches that were apparently being given away for free. But I wanted to try the Temple Canteen.
The Temple Canteen
The Temple Canteen lies in the basement of the Temple on the other side of the block. It is a cheerless space: the ceiling has cheap foam paneling with fluorescent lights and the floors are covered in linoleum. But a large, colorful Ganesha brightens the room from the back, and when I visited, the women taking orders at the counter were cheerful and warm.
A “Ganesh Chaturthi Menu” was taped over the regular menu. I think it was just shorter—they must have been running on a skeleton crew. I ordered masala dosa, yogurt rice, and masala tea and took my number. In spite of the fact that the party ahead of me had ordered enough food to feed a small army, my order was ready in moments.
The dosa was freshly made—soft, with the slightly pungent flavor of gram. Turmeric and other seasonings gave the potato filling a nice aroma and taste. The bowl of sambar was excellent: rich, savory dal with onions, curry, and blackened mustard seeds. The bowl of chutney on the side was what captivated me though. Combining cucumbers and chilies, along with creamy elements—including, perhaps, coconut milk—the chutney was hot and cold at the same time, a delightful clash. The masala tea was also wonderful: unsweetened, it combined the flavor of black tea with savory spices like cloves.
*Photography is strictly forbidden inside the temple, so you will have to rely on my description for this.
Sunday: Grand Ratha Yatra
The Temple Canteen
143-09 Holly Avenue,
Flushing, NY 11355
8:30am – 9:30 pm every day