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Ganesh Temple NY - first temple of America

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Genesh Temple New YorkThe first temple in America started off as a small house where daily worship and pujas were conducted by volunteer priests. This house in Queens, New York was part of the property acquired by the Hindu Temple Society of North America, a non-profit organization founded on 26th January 1970. Why New York? Mainly because of the large population of Indians in New York and the adjoining states. Also New York is a major entry point to the U.S.

In 1977 the Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam was built by craftsmen from India using imported materials. It is built in accordance with the agama shastras and 26 yantras were installed by Sri La Sri Padrimalai Swamigal.  The temple celebrated its 30th anniversary in July 2007. The Sudarshana Maha Yagnam was conducted to mark this milestone.

The look and feel of the temple is very similar to a South Indian temple with gopurams and stone sculptures of the gods and goddesses. Almost all the major deities are represented in the temple. Ganesha, the presiding deity, Shiva linga and Parvati to his left, Subramaniam with his consorts on the right. Lakshmi and Vishnu in his reclining pose, Ram, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman, Saraswati, Navagrahas, Sage Agastya and Lopamudra, Natarajar, Sivagamasundari and Manikavachagar and Ayyapan. The walls of the temple have beautiful gray reliefs of the Gita Upadesam, Skanda and other puranic events.

Adjoining the temple is a kalayana mandapam, auditorium, gift shop and canteen. The canteen serves authentic South Indian delights like idli, vada, variations of the dosa like pody dosa and savoury rice items. Their mouth-watering ladoos are a must buy. A small gift shop near the canteen sells everything from devotional CDs to sloka books, mantra beads and miniature idols. On weekends the crowds throng the temple and it might be difficult to find a parking spot. The wait at the canteen can also be long. 

Like all temples outside India, Ganesh temple is not just a place of worship. It is a place where Indians gather to satisfy their thirst for cultural, social and spiritual activities. On weekends, the temple conducts bhajans as well as sloka, meditation and yoga classes. One can also take lessons in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. The youth centre plans picnics and outings and conducts competitions for its members. The senior centre caters to the spiritual needs of the elderly with yoga, Vedic chanting, pranayama, meditation and other activities.

The temple authorities propose to add a Rajagopuram and Vedanta library to the existing structure. The large volume of devotees has urged the management to undertake the mahamantapam expansion project. Additional parking facilities are also in the offing for the same reason.

It is said that temples that came up later drew inspiration from this Ganesh Temple. So it is only fitting that the first temple to be built in America is dedicated to the elephant-headed God, Ganesh, the remover of all obstacles.

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