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Music fills streets of Flushing for Hindu festival

The streets of Flushing were transformed into a path fit for a god as thousands of Hindu worshipers gathered Sunday to celebrate the end of the Sri Ganesha Chaturthi festival.

Worshipers from around the world and even some non-Hindus watched as Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of knowledge and remover of obstacles, was carried around the Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam Temple at 45-57 Bowne St., in his glorious 15-foot chariot known as the Ratha Yatra.

The parade marked the end of nine days of one of the holiest festivals in the Hindu religion that included prayers, gift-giving and other tributes to the god.

“It happens once a year. It shows our unity as a community,” said Virthura Kunarathnam, 18, a temple worshiper from East Meadow, L.I.

Nearly 3,000 people, most dressed in traditional Hindu garb, danced, prayed and gave gifts of food and trinkets to the god as it was moved around the block of the temple. The chariot was led by a group of musicians who entertained the crowd with upbeat drums and soothing Indian flutes.

The music was so fun for the crowd that even elected officials, such as City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and her political rivals John Messer and Isaac Sasson danced along as well.

For the last 15 years, the parade has been a welcome occasion at the temple among neighborhood residents and leaders.

“It really hasn’t changed that much,” said temple volunteer Neil Trivedi, 16, of Flushing. “There may be different decorations, but we’ve always got a lot of people.”

The celebration focuses on Ganesha’s birthday and is widely popular in South Asian countries such as India. Shiva Prasud, 37, a Flushing Indian immigrant who came to the parade with his wife and two sons, said that Sri Ganesha Chaturthi is quite different in his homeland, but the temple did a good job recreating the spirit of the event.

“In India, you have the ceremony happen several times in many places. Here it is limited to one or two places once a year,” he said.

The scope and fun of the celebration attracted some non-Hindu worshipers as well. Fabian Meier, 30, a Swiss law student at New York University, said he came to see what the festival was all about after hearing so much about it from his Hindu friends from school.

While looking at the Ratha Yatra moments before it began its trek around the block, the European said he was amazed at how much work went into the parade.

“This is so great. It’s so fun looking at it,” he said of the chariot.

Dr. Umi Myresor, the president of the temple, said she was glad the celebration has received so much positive attention from outside the temple and said its message of unity spreads to everyone who visited.

“It really is not a religious event — it’s a community event,” she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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