Śri Mahā-Vallabha Ganapati Devasthānam

Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

Hindu Temple Society of North America, representing Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam at 45-57 Bowne Street Flushing , Queens New York 11355  Phone 718-460-8484 was the very first of the traditional Hindu Temples in the USA. -Wikipedia.
The New York Ganesh Temple has many other names: Queens Temple, Ganesh Temple... The official name is Hindu Temple Society of North America, representing Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam.

It was a run-down church to begin with. Yes, I was one among the first devotees to worship Ganesa in a church building on the Bowne Street. Yes, I am that old, 80 on February 27, 2017.

The Temple gives spiritual solace to the yearning soul and the adjoining Canteen gives physical and life sustenance.
 

The origin of the Word "Gaṇesa"  

Gaṇesa = Gaṇa + Īsa = Troops + leader, superintendent, chief, master....
Gaṇa is commonly translated as attendant. It also stands for class of animate and inanimate entities, flock, multitude, number, series, tribe, troop.... Ganesa is the superintendent of Siva's troops. He is the leader of Gaṇas (Ganapati = Gaṇa +Pati).
Ganesa is the first son of Siva and Parvati. Since Ganesa is the remover of obstacles, he is worshipped at the beginning of any undertaking or any composition. His invocatory Mantra is OM Sri Gaṇeśāya Namaḥ among others.
Vighneswara is the Lord of obstacles. (Vighna + Īswara = obstacles + Lord) and so obstructs our chosen path if our timing is wrong. In his capacity as Vinayaka (
the remover of obstacles), He removes the obstacles and impediments, when He feels success is a certainty. As Siddhidhata, He is Bestower of Success.
Ekadanta = the one-tusked; Danta is tooth or tusk. Danta is cognate with dental. Gajamukha/Gajanana = the elephant face; Pilliayar = (honorific) son, Ganesa. Lambodara = the pot-bellied.
Ganesa and the West
Ganesa intrigues the West.. They don't know what to make of the Hindu God. Ganesa, according to the students from West, was not present in the Hindu scene prior to the fifth century. He did not figure in Mahabharata, though Hindus are of the belief that Ganesa was the scribe of Mahabharata when Vyasa narrated and dictated the Great Story. Because of his theri-anthropomorphic appearance, the western students are of the opinion that Ganesa was the god of elephant cult. Ganesa might have been the successor to the evil spirits, Vinayakas. One thinks that Ganesa is the Sun-God of the Dravidians and his Vahana (vehicle) the rat stands for darkness, which the sun dissipates. They quote Koomaraswamy saying that Ganesa is the godling related to Yaksas and Nagas. Monier williams says Ganesa and his brother Skanda are the head of tutelary village divinities, offering protection against evil. They attribute the rise of Ganesa to the aggressive promotion by his followers and worshippers. Others point to the mention of Ganesa in Vedas, as the one with elephant face and one tusk. Speculations abound as follows. Siva defeated Ganesa the non-Brahmanical, Non-Vedic godling and later conferred Ganesa the honor of the leader of Siva's attendants. Parallels are drawn to show the simultaneous acceptance of Ganesa in the Brahmanical fold and the assimilation of the tribals in South India into the Varnasrama dharma of Brahmanical Vedic practitioners after the Buddhist and Jain decline.
Ganesa made of scruff
Ganesa, a case of Xenograft Transpantation  
One legend says that scruff (dross) from the nape of Parvati's neck was the origin of Ganesa. Parvati was alone in her abode, when Siva went to Kailās (abode of snow--Himalayas) which is a mountain in the Himalayan range; Kubera and Siva live in the loftiest peaks north of Manasa Lake. When Siva came back, he tried to force his way past anthropomorphic Ganesa, who would not allow that because his mother was in the bath and he did not know who Siva was. Siva ordered one of his Ganas to cut his head off. Parvati was angry and grief-stricken. Vishnu went searching for a replacement head and found a young elephant, whose head was transplanted on Ganesa's body. Another legend says that Sani looked at Ganesa and his evil eyes beheaded his head and Vishnu replaced it with the elephant's head.
A question may be raised: If xenograft was possible then, why did Vishnu not put Ganesa's own severed head back in its place? It is possible that the injured and decapitated head was too damaged for repair. I guarantee that my statement constitutes no disrespect; Hindu gods invite queries like this from devotees. But that Ganesa having an elephant head needs an explanation more so than why his own severed head was not put back in its place. We do not know the motive behind the xenograft, while Vishnu had the technical ability to transplant and we must find an explanation on why he has the elephant head. One time Parvati took a bath and the bath water was thrown into Ganges River. Elephant-headed goddess Malini drank that water and bore a five-elephant-headed boy with four arms. Parvati claimed him as her own. Siva reduced the five heads to one and blessed him as Vighnesvara- 'the Remover of Obstacles.' Why broken tusk?

Ganesa likes eating a ton of Laddus (sweets) and riding on his vahana the mouse.  Kubera invited Ganesa to a feast at which Ganesa ate a ton of sweets. The full moon was hanging in the sky. Fully satiated, he mounted on the mouse to go back home. On the way, the mouse rattled by the appearance of a snake ran to hide under the bush. In the hullabaloo, Ganesa fell off the mouse, bursted open his stomach, spilled the sweets and stuffed them back into his stomach.  Seeing all this in the broad moonlight, the full Moon and his 27 asterisms (Naksatras) laughed. Ganesa was seething with anger, laid a curse on the Moon, broke one of his tusks and threw it at the Moon. The Moon  gradually waned and disappeared. The Moon god appealed to Siva, who brokered a compromise. For his transgression, the Moon was to wane (Krishna Paksa or dark side) for 15 days, one digit (Tithi) at a time and wax (Sukla Paksa or bright side) for 15 days, one digit at a time.  Here is a depiction of invisible central permanent resident digit of the moon (Maha Tripura Sundari) and the other 15 digits.

 

 

 

Life and story of Ganesa according to Hindus have metaphorical significance. Indian Gurus concentrate on the symbolism of the anatomical peculiarities.
Liñga Purana and Vinayaka's birth, Chapter105
The origin of Vighnesvara and Vinayaka (the dispenser and remover of obstacles)
The Devas came to Siva who greeted them with his blessings. The Lord of word and speech addressed Siva saying that the Asuras were causing harm to the Suras (gods) and begged that Siva should throw impediments on the evil ways of Asuras (demons). The trident-bearing Lord of Devas, Siva entered the womb of Uma, the Universal Mother, and emerged as Ganesvara. (The concept of God entering the womb of his spouse without insemination, emerging as a divine being and making his wife his own mother is special in Hindu religion.) Ganesvara is the Master of Gaṇas. All Devas and Gaṇas eulogized Siva-Maheśvara, the source of the universe and the glorious remover of miseries of human and worldly existence. Ambika-Uma received with gladness her elephant-faced Lord Gajānana (Gajanana), the creator of the world and the wielder of the trident and noose. Devas and others eulogized and bowed to Mahesa and Ganesa.
Ganesa the elephant-faced God dances and offers homage to his father and mother. Mahadeva-Siva picks up his son, kisses him on his forehead and says that he took his birth to destroy the Daityas (demons, the sons of Diti) and bring joy to Adityas (gods, sons of Aditi) and Brahmins, the Vedic scholars. Ganesa is endowed with special powers: throwing obstacles to sacrifice by the Daityas; removal of vital breaths from those who are negligent in performing rites, and teaching and study of Vedas; removal of vital breaths from those who do not perform the duties of their castes; treating the worshippers as equal to him; protecting the old, the infirm, the young, and the devotees. Siva says that worship of Siva, Vishnu, or Brahma would commence with the worship of Ganesa. All auspicious rites and rituals would be ineffective unless Ganesa is worshipped first. Siva continues to eulogize Ganesa. "Ganesa is worthy of worship by Brahmins, Kṣatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras with the offering of victuals for realizing their siddhis. Devas (Suras, Adityas, gods) and others would accomplish nothing if they do not offer flowers, fragrance and incense to Ganesa. Brahma, Vishnu, Siva (includes himself) are no exception and if they do not worship you first, you will throw impediments in their path. Ganesa creates impediments in the rites and rituals of Daityas (Demons, Asuras)."

Aditi = A + Diti = Not + Bound = Unbound. Yes, Aditi is unbound and gives birth to unbound Adityas or gods. As you may notice, the gods go by their metronymic moniker.  Kasyapa the father obviously accedes to the metronymic name of the gods.

Aditi (Sanskrit) Aditi [from a not + diti bound from the verbal root da to bind] Unbounded, free; as a noun, infinite and shoreless expanse. In the Vedas, Aditi is devamatri (mother of the gods) as from and in her cosmic matrix all the heavenly bodies were born. As the celestial virgin and mother of every existing form and being, the synthesis of all things, she is highest akasa. Aditi is identified in the Rig-Veda with Vach (mystic speech) and also with the mulaprakriti of the Vedanta. As the womb of space, she is a feminized form of Brahma. The line in the Rig-Veda: “Daksha sprang from Aditi and Aditi from Daksha” has reference to “the eternal cyclic re-birth of the same divine Essence”. In one of its most mystic aspects Aditi is divine wisdom. 

mūla-prakti = the "root of nature" or "root of Prakriti"; meaning "fundamental matter" “pradhāna”

Aditi has correspondences in many ancient religions: the highest Sephirah in the Zohar; the Gnostic Sophia-Achamoth; Rhea, mother of the Greek Olympians; Bythos or the great Deep; Amba; Surarani; Chaos; Waters of Space; Primordial Light; and the source of the Egyptian seven heavens. Sometimes she is linked with the Greek Gaia, goddess of earth, to denote dual nature or the mother of both the spiritual and physical: Aditi, cosmic expanse or space being the mother of all things; and Gaia, mother of earth and, on the larger scale, of all objective nature (cf SD 2:65, 269).

ww.theosociety.org/
Ganesa dispenses and removes obstacles, all for good reasons with your welfare in His mind. Man is essentially a polar animal, two poles being virtue and evil, and in-betweens. He is man and angel on the virtuous side, animal on the other end, and many times somewhere in-between. Virtue and vice are Adityas (gods) and Daityas (demons). Man is a hybrid, part god and part demon and combinations and permutations thereof. Asuric (demonic) nature and pursuit someday will face obstacles while the reverse is true for the Suric.
The large elephantine head of Ganesa is symbolic of immense intellect to understand Vedanta. Large ears represent constant listening and hearing of Vedanta from the teachers. The trunk represents versatility; it can lift heavy objects, pluck one blade of grass or pick a penny. The tusks stand for the discriminative power of Ganesa, while choosing from the dualities of opposites, right and wrong, love and hate.... Parasurama's axe thrown in anger was adroitly stopped by one of the tusks; the broken tusk is symbolic of transcending dualities. Another source tells that the intact tusk represents the maleness of Siva and the broken tusk the femaleness of Sakti. His humongous mouth, stomach and appetite stand for whopping love of life. A humorous story goes with his large appetite, by which Ganesa humiliated Kubera's vanity.
Exoticindia.com

There are more stories on the broken tusk.
Sage Vyasa the composer of Mahabharata asked Ganesa to transcribe Mahābhārata as he narrated the verses. Ganesa took the challenge on the condition that Vyasa must recite his passages without interruption. Vyasa posed his own conditions to Ganesa: He should put down the text on palm leaves after full understanding of the meaning of each word. By dictating difficult passages, Vyasa surmised he could take a breath and a short break when Ganesa struggled with the understanding of the verses. The stylus broke while he was writing. Immediately, he broke one tusk and continued writing without interruption.
Parasurama visited Siva. Ganesa stopped him from going further. Parasurama launched his battle axe at Ganesa for alleged impudence. Ganesa knowing that the axe was gifted to him by his father Siva, allowed the axe to break his one tusk. T^hat is the story of the broken tusk.

Coconuts are broken before offerings and at festivals. When a devotee enters the temple, he must leave the ego and all conflicts at the temple flagpole. You cannot take your ego to the sanctum and clash with the EGO of all egos, the deity. He is MAXI and I am mini-me; so are you individually. There is only One "I" in this universe. There is no place in the temple for such things as I-Me-Mine. There is no place for solipsism (egoistic self-absorption). There is only one Aham (= அகம்/அஹம் = Egotism): That is Siva.  He is the First One to say "Aham (I am)." After that He looked out and Idam came into existnce. Aham = This; Idam = That (all objects). Ahaṁkāra is the I-Doing, the haughtiness that “I am the Doer.” When two Egos collide, there is conflict. Don't take on the EGO of the Universal Soul. You can't win. It is better to merge into it. You become a part of the Universal Soul. That is big. Breaking coconut is euphemism to breaking your ego before god.  Once broken, the two halves should not be put back together. That indicates you are trying to patch up the broken ego. Once broken, it stays broken forever.  You tell EGO, "Here Ye Go, Ego."

The Temple canteen feeds 4000 people a week, and more than double during Dīvālī season. It is a cornucopia of guilt-free south Indian lacto-vegetarian fare the South Indians eat regularly. The North Indians go gaga over the fare such as Dosa, Idly... 

The Divine Mandate to build a temple.

Alagappa Alagappan (AA) had a dream, wherein a god told him to see a medium. The medium told him that Lord Ganesa wanted a temple for him in the city starting with the letter N. The medium further advised AA to establish Hindu temples all over North America. Thus began the spiritual journey for AA. The surge in the urge to build Hindu temples all over North America started with Flusing Ganesha Temple.

Related imageIn 1965, US immigration favored admitting immigrants with skills.  The Hindus needed a temple in New York.

In 1970 (January 26, 1970, India's Republic Day), AA founded the Hindu Temple Society of North America (HTSNA).

From Church to Temple: Freedom of religion from the beginning.

In 1657, the signers of Flushing Remonstrance protested against persecution of Quakers by the powerful Dutch Colonial authorities.

A farmer by name John Bowne allowed the Quakers to assemble in his house. That street is Bowne Street in Flushing Queens.  Mr. John Bowne a Quaker was arrested for Remonstrance and deported to Holland.  Freedom of worship by Quakers was allowed later by the Dutch West India Company.

HTSNA bought the Russian Orthodox church building in 1972. I visited the church many times which housed the images of Hindu gods.  Consecration took place on fourth of July 1977.

The original temple, consecrated in 1977, had the central deity Ganesa and four deities in the four corners of a rectangle: Vishnu, Sri, Siva-Liñga and Murugan.

The original temple underwent renovation and reconstruction and reconsecration. Ganesha shrine is in the center of the Great Hall of Shrines and at the four corners are the other major shrines dedicated to Sri Venakatesvara (Vishnu), Sri, Siva Lingam, and Murugan with Valli and Devayanai.  The corner shrines from 1977 were reassembled in optimal locations as at present. The Siva Linga and Murugan shrines were pushed to the far side making room for smaller shrines on either side of the Central Main Shrine of Lord Ganesha. There are about 20 smaller shrines projecting from the sidewalls of the Great Hall of Shrines on either side, as depicted in the diagram.  Ganesha temple is a polytheistic place of worship, with Ganesha being the central deity.

"A large ecumenical icon at the temple's entrance displayed symbols of various worldwide religions."  I was sorry to see the icon as depicted and photgraphed by me was not included in the renovated temple. 

 




 
Dr. Uma Mysorekar is the current president (2017)
This is the new layout of the Great Hall of Shrines.
The old front entrance  as shown below in the middle of the temple (and to our left) was blocked off in the new Great Hall of Shrines.  Credit:DipsDines