Best place to get your veda on (2008)

Ganapathi Temple

On the site of a small wood-frame Russian Orthodox church, the Ganapathi Temple in Flushing, Queens, was the first Hindu temple built in North America. It was designed in strict accordance with the Agama Sastras (scriptures relating to temple building) and composed of imported materials created by artisans in India. As such, it looks entirely out of place in this residential neighborhood; nevertheless, every day of the week, the faithful and curious wash their feet in the courtyard and make their way up the steps. The temple boasts five main sanctums—for Shiva, Kartikeya, Vishnu, Lakshmi, and the Navagrahas—and movable shrines for 21 other deities. Unlike most religious institutions, the Hindu temple is not a studied, silent space. It is a hive of activity: Some people sit on the red carpet chatting; others arrange offerings of fruit and olive oil; still others bathe deities in milk and honey. Children prance around like sprites. The priest, typically shirtless and in full command of thousands of texts from the Upanishads, leads prayers and blessings for everyone. Newcomers should feel free to ask questions—however foolish, they will be welcomed with humor and kindness (the only real rule: when sitting, do not point your feet at the shrines). If you get hungry there is a canteen that serves cheap, tasty South Indian food while Vedic movies play on a big-screen TV. There is also a gift shop with beautiful comic books illustrating epics like the Ramayana in English. As the social and spiritual center of a sprawling community—they have 17,000 people on their mailing list—Ganapathi Temple also hosts numerous community meetings, concerts, and classes for everything from traditional temple dancing to meditation and yoga. Check the calendar.


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