HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — One of the most popular and joyous religious holidays of the Hindu year, Ganesh Chaturthi, will be celebrated at the Hindu Cultural Center of North Alabama this weekend and next. The celebration will bring Hindus and visitors to the temple from around the region.
Hinduism is the most-practiced non-Christian faith in Limestone County, Ala. During the services, the temple will be crowded with worshippers wearing gorgeous new clothes and bearing flowers and fruit as gifts to Lord Ganesh, the beloved elephant-headed deity with the power to remove obstacles.
Services at the temple, which is just off of Old Railroad Bed Road and Capshaw Roads in Capshaw, Ala., will be held tonight, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, beginning with Ganesh Abhishekam, the ritual bathing of the image of Ganesh, at 6:30 p.m. Bhajan, hymns, begin at 7 p.m., with Vishesh Pooja, the closing ritual offering to fire, at 7:30 p.m. followed by prasad, a sharing of food offered to the god.
Religious services Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, begin at 9 a.m. with Ganesh Homam. Ganpati Abhishekam, the ritual bath, will be at 10 a.m., with the Ganesh Alankar — which involves carrying the deity in procession around the outside of the temple, will be at 10:30 a.m. An aarti, prayer, to Lord Jagannath, the central deity of the temple, will be held at 12:30 p.m., more or less.
‘Know Hinduism’ lectures
Visitors are always welcome, and are especially invited to hear lectures on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. The lecturer is president of the Vivakananda (Rama Krishna) Vedanta Society of Chicago, an institute of Hindu philosophy. Swami Ishatmananda will offer free lectures on “Know Hinduism.”
Swami Ishatmananda will lecture Saturday at 9:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m. — a lecture that will include a half-hour meditation session, and 1:30 p.m. Topics will include how Hinduism was created, why there are so many gods and how Hinduism can bring unity in humanity.
As a favor to AL.com, Dr. Monita Soni of Madison, Ala., a devout Hindu who is also a pathologist, has written this personal essay, below, about the meaning of Ganesh Chaturthi for her, and how the holiday has taken on a special significance this year. Her father, who lives in India, is ill, and she is devoting most of her prayers this Ganesh Chaturthi to asking for obstacles to his healing to be removed.
By Monita Soni
MUMBAI, Maharashtra, India – Yesterday, as I walked under the towering canopy of rain trees, my sister handed me a red hibiscus flower to offer to Lord Shiva, the father of Ganesha. Ganesha is our elephant-headed deity whose rebirth is celebrated this time of year with great pomp and splendor in Mumbai and all around the world as Ganesh Chaturthi. Ganesh Chaturthi is a 10-day festival in the Hindu month of Bhadra, which falls from mid-August to mid-September.
Images of Ganesha are made from clay, in sizes spanning the thickness of your little finger to 25 feet tall. These idols are fired, painted in vivid colors and mounted on high platforms in the homes or big tents. Most homes have a shrine to Ganesha
The priests offer abhishekham, a ritual bath usually of milk, and consecrate the image. Pujas, prayers, are offered throughout the day. The temples also set up free medical clinics, blood drives, charitable fund raisers, dances, dramas and bhajans, devotional singing. The universe is immersed in the memory if this generous God of spiritual wisdom and remover of all obstacles. This is the deity whose power we invoke at the beginning of any new venture – including at the beginning of our prayers.
On the 11th day of Ganesh Chaturthi, the idols are immersed in clay buckets, ponds, rivers or in Mumbai at the sea shore. This ritual immersion symbolizes the return of Ganesha to his family abode on Mount Kailash. As he goes, he takes away all the miseries of the mortal world!
As the devotees bid him adieu they request him to come back again next year with the prayer-mantra in the ancient language of Marathi: “Ganapati bappa moriya purchya varshi laukerya.”
As the priests clad in saffron robes perform homam, they offer the prayers to the deity through Agni, the God of Fire. These ancient prayers remind us that we humans are impure, and it is difficult for us to attain pure devotion. But Agni’s fire destroys all impurities and takes our prayers easily to the spiritual Godhead. Hence the lighting of a lamp, an incense stick or feeding the Agni in a hungry stomach are all homams.
The final aarti, prayer, with the same burning lamps of the kind that will be used at Diwali is also very important. As the priest circles the image in a clockwise manner, the devotees are encouraged to visualize the eyes of the idol. The eyes are the windows of our soul, and through them we can be immersed in the holy deity’s presence. The circular motion symbolizes our daily activities and reminds us that they should be God-centered.
As the priest waves the final aarti towards the devotees, he acknowledges the presence of divine in us.
The services are followed by sharing prasad, a meal of food that has first been offered to the god in a ritual sense so that the food is cooled with prayer and cleanliness before the Lord.
This prasad may be a sweet pudding or special sweets — ladoos or modaks — for Ganesha. As we pray and offer prasad to God, he in his generosity tastes our humble offering. Then the prasad is distributed to the devotees. Every time someone accepts this Prasad, the original prayer of the devotee is reiterated by universal positive thought!
On this Ganesha Chaturthi I have a personal prayer that Lord Ganesha will remove obstacles from my father’s breath and restore his heart to a regular rhythm. And may peace and prosperity be with all of you my friends and family in North Alabama.
“Om Gana Ganapataye Namah”