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.
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 = 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
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
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,
The origin of Vighnesvara and Vinayaka (the dispenser and remover of
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-prakṛti = 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).
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
(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
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
There is only
one Aham (=
= 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."
flagpole: Credit Himalayan Academy
Before you present yourself to the Lord of the Hills, you
leave your ego at the Sacrificial platform (Balipidam) and flagpole (or
Dvaja-stambha = துவசத்தம்பம் = கொடிமரம் = ध्वज स्तम्भ = Flagpole). Flagpole
is erected in the sight of the Lord.
Saivites say the square at the
base is Brahma; above that is the eight-angled platform of Vishnu; the tall
structure above this is the Rudra (Siva) portion of the pole. Others say the
bottom third of the flagpole is Siva, the middle Brahma and the top Vishnu
and other configurations are also mentioned. Since it is made of a metal
shell around a wooden pole and the tallest structure in its vicinity, it is
also a lightning arrester. It is a connector between the earth and the
heavens and between man and God. It also stands for spine and Kundalini
Chakras. The two ropes on the flagpole indicate the Pingala (right; sun) and
Ida (left; moon) Nadis of Kundalini Yoga. As you notice different
sects have different perspectives and interpretations. The last one is also
the configuration of Lingam.
The temple layout exemplifies the human body: The Inner Sanctum Sanctorum is
the head; the great hall is the body; the tower represents the feet; the
flagpole is lingam.
On the Sacrificial Platform, we sacrifice all our animal qualities: Ego,
anger, hatred, jealousy etc. Once this divesture is made and grace descends
on us, we become the Pure soul or Atma. The conquered beings (We the people)
surrender at His feet. In Hindu mythology, the defeated demons become the
vehicle for the conquering deity. Devi (Durga) rides on the lion who was the
defeated demon Mahisasuran.
The soul in its zoomorphic form (Pasu = Spiritually unenlightened
individual; Bovine.) stands, sits, concentrates and meditates on the deity
right before the Shrine of the deity. That is why the priests ask you not to
walk between the zoomorphic soul (example rat, bull, and peacock of Ganesa,
Linga, and Skanda shrines) and the shrines of the respective deities.
Zoomorphic soul is the Vahana (vehicle) and Mulasthanam is the shrine. It is
said that energies emanate from the shrine. The energy on the right is
Pingala and the left Ida. To obtain their benefits, the men stand on the
right side of the shrine and the women on the left side.
Note: Nandi or the Bull is the theriomorphic form of Siva.
Pati-Pasu-Pāsa Triad: Siva-soul-bondage. Saivites say the flagpole
represents Pati (Siva); the flag, Pasu (the impure bound soul, we the
people); and Pāsa, the ropes of bondage. Thirty-three joints in the flagpole
are the connections of 33 spinal vertebrae containing the Susumna or the
spinal cord with Susumna, Pingala and Ida Nadis (Channels). Many temples
have the flagpole and sacrificial platform inside in line with the Inner
Just be aware your ego is thin, wobbly and flimsy, while His EGO is thick,
stable and sturdy. That being the case, it is better that we leave our ego
at the door. Our ego is no match for the Universal EGO of the Lord. As we
are the amsa or fragment of the Lord, our ego is a fragment of HIS EGO. To
drive home this point, the devotees break the coconut of our ego into two
halves and surrender the shattered ego to the Lord.
According to Dr. Sabharathnam, an expert in the Saiva Agamas, “The
etymological meaning of dhvaja (flag) is that which cuts asunder the soul’s
triple bonds (anava, karma and maya), raises the soul to the highest level
of perfection and brings about oneness with Siva.”
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,
The Divine Mandate to build a temple.
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
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
A farmer by name
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.
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.