(This report is part of our video news bulletin – Episode 5)
By Mahadev Desai
Photos by Suresh Volam & Neelamegam Subramanian
Atlanta, GA, October 11, 2018: The Hindu Temple of Atlanta in Riverdale, Georgia, (HTA) organized its spectacular annual Ganesh Utsav celebration from September 9 to September 15, which attracted over 10,000 of devotees from Atlanta and beyond.
The HTA has been hosting spectacular and well attended Ganesh Utsavs for the past five years. A majestic 10-foot eco-friendly clay idol of Ganapathi was again made in Hyderabad and installed in the specially built canopy in the forecourt between the Balaji and the Shiva temple on Wednesday September 12. A wooden stage backdrop constructed by a team of volunteers, under the canopy was an ideal setting for the dazzling idol of Lord Ganesh, resplendent with rich adornments, artistic décor, and lavish fresh vegetables, flowers, and fruit garlands.
Lord Ganesha is widely worshiped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of a new venture or challenge. Throughout the Utsav, the elaborate rituals, archanas and chanting of shlokas and Ganesha mantras were meticulously done by priests Sri Srinivas Sarma, Sri Pawan Kumar, Sri Siva Naga Kumar, Sri Sunil Kumar, Sri Gopal Bhattar, Sri Ravisankar, Sri Veda Vyasa, and Sri Murali Krishna. Devotees also enthusiastically joined in chanting Ganesha bhajans. All the deities in the Balaji and Siva temples also wore a dazzling look in their ornate fineries and colorful fresh flower and fruit garlands.
The event started with a prayer by Hindu Temple’s priest Sri Pavankumar, who chanted Vedic Ganesha shlokas. The participants sat on the floor and the volunteers Vaisheshi Jalajam, Vikas Anand and others went around guiding the parents and children in making the idols. The reception desk was manned by Hindu Temple’s officers and committee members. As the day progressed, more students from BalVihar classes joined in. Vikas, who emceed the event, engaged the kids by making them recite shlokas, songs and chanting together of Jai Ganesha and Ganapati Bappa Morya’.
Barnali Guha and her colleague of Mystic Fun Art kept busy face-painting a long line of children. The Temple’s President Kusuma Kotte graced the event and expressed her greetings and congratulations. The kitchen manned by Ramakrishna and volunteers was ready as always with mouthwatering South Indian delicacies. HTA provided laddu and vada for naivedyam, and parents brought Ganesha’s favorite food, modakam. The grand pooja concluded with Mangala Aarathi and blessings to the children.
On Wednesday, September 12, the Ganesha idol was ceremoniously installed with a lot of fanfare under the huge canopy. For the first time, 108 kids participated in Ganesha homam. This was a laudable initiative by the HTA as children learn the rituals, spiritual significance of homams, and rich Indian culture. After the exciting Laddu auction with four generous winners, the priests performed the aarthi.
On Saturday, a spectacular mela provided non-stop entertainment from 10.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. The enthralling entertainment included Kuchipudi dances such as Ganesha pancharatnam, Ganesh Kouthvam, Bho Shambho, Dhansri Tillana, Hari Hara Gaja Mukha and Mooshika vahana dances were performed by talented students of Atlanta Dance and Music Academy’s Gurus Jyothi Chintalapudi; Sasikala Penumarthi,Pushyami Lanka Gottipati,Varsha Jinka, Haritha Kulkarni, Shweta Satya, Neelima Gaddamanugu, Sridevi Ranjit and Aparna Turaga,among others. Children performed Bharata Natyam dances like Shanmuga kouthvam, Nrityavandana by students of Gayathri Subramaniam, and Vani Karra. Diya Ghosh who has just moved to Atlanta performed a scintillating Bharatanatyam dance. Carnatic and Hindustani melodious vocals were presented by students of Shweta Ravichandran, Parag Anamika Pal, Viji Murali, Poojitha Nookala, and Swapna Khumtekar.Kids donned colorful costumes and enthusiastically entertained the audience. Maya Dance Academy’s students presented a Ghoomar dance, while Shruti Sreedharan’s students did Krishna Leela. Team Shakti’s trio performed a captivating, fast-paced dance to a devotional prayer.Garima Dance Academy’s Raas-Garba was also much appreciated. Extra flavor was added by high-octane Punjabi Giddha and a rocking Bollywood Ganesha dance by Akhil Turaga team of Sri Dutt Raaga Fine Arts. The audience was treated to a pulsating authentic ancient drum-beat fromTamilnadu by Mazhangu Parai team which had come all the way from Ohio to perform at the Festival. And as in previous year, teenmaar, dand pradarshan and dancing to drums and dhols added vibrancy to the festival. Kids also enjoyed matkabreaking or Handi competition. Sri Pavankumar ji performed many poojas and bhajans. The audience were treated to a Lord Ganesha song composed by him.
About 300 kids participated in the arts competition held in the Shiva Temple. Prizes were awarded to the winners of the competition, which was in three segments: Coloring, drawing and Canvas.
Rangoli competition also created a buzz. The rangolis were attractive to watch. Three winners were awarded prizes.
The Temple chefs Ramakrishna Garu and colleagues had prepared three big laddus for auction. On Saturday, the lively laddu auction’s three top generous bidders were: Subbiah Emani and Raj Sardana (25 Lbs.); Padma Koganti (10 Lbs.) and HTA Vice President Sheela Lingam (5 Lbs.). All the money raised will be used for the temple kitchen renovations.
Daily laddu auction’s generous sponsors on previous days were Bhargava Vallabhaneni and family, Madhavi Kasam family, Phani Tummala, Sandeep and family, Kirty Vaggu and family, Janardhan Pannela and Family.
After watching the exciting shower of flower petals float down gently on Ganeshji from a helicopter the attendees enjoyed watching the sky lit up with magical fireworks!
Finally it was time to bid farewell to much-loved Lord Ganesh. Enthusiastic young devotees in kurtas and saffron headbands, carrying saffron flags came out of the canopy, dancing and shouting “Ganapati Bappa Morya” to the pulsating beat of dhols as Lord Ganeshji’s idol was placed in a truck, and slowly carried in a procession. Two girls performed a befitting scintillating devotional dance amidst applause. Ganesh Visarjan ceremony was performed in Savannah, with joyous shouts and wishes for his return the following year. As they say, “with the immersion ceremony, the Form (physical) returned to the Formless (spiritual).” The Ganapati idol became one with the water.
Ravi Chander ,Volunteer Chair of HTA and organizer of Ganesh Utsav said: “We have been hosting Ganesh Utsav at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta since 2012, with a whole hearted aim of bringing the community together and passing on our universal values of hard work, teamwork, togetherness and kindness to future generations. In a world of uncertainty Lord Ganesh has blessed us each year. It is a matter of joy to see a rise in self-less volunteers and visitors from all cultures. We are truly blessed.”
The HTA President Kusuma Kotte effusively commented, “On behalf of the Executive Committee and the Board of Trustees, I would like to congratulate our Ganesh Program coordinator Ravi Chander and his team for a very successful event. I would also like to thank our temple staff, priests, managers, cooks, security, volunteers and EC members. Without all of their commitment to this event, it would have been impossible to accomplish something of this magnitude. In addition, we would like to recognize all the people who donated generously for this program. As a result of these collective efforts, thousands of devotees were able to attend and enjoy 5 days of Ganesh celebrations.”