Ganesha in Paris
On Sunday 31 August 2014, Paris bore witness to an extraordinary and colourful procession of the one of the most beloved and venerated Hindu deities Ganesha on the occasion of the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. Today, 8th September is the tenth and last day of these celebrations. The golden-bronze idol of Ganesha, which usually abides in the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple located in the 18th arrondissement of the French capital, is taken out in a florally decorated chariot, drawn by his devout devotees.
Each year, for the last twenty-nine years, the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations have been taking place by devout Hindus at Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam, a temple dedicated to the elephant God Ganesha, which was founded and set up by the Tamil community in the heart of Paris in the year 1985. This year is no different as the temple arranged, for the nineteenth time since its inception, a procession on 31st August, 2014 in honour of the elephant God.
A large part of this community, whose demographic population is estimated to have crossed 100,000 in France, were primarily political refugees from Sri Lanka who had sought asylum in France after a civil war broke out in 1983 in the droplet-shaped island nation, located south of India. Other members include Indians, who in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, migrated to countries such as Mauritius, Reunion, South Africa, Fiji, Martinique, Guadeloupe, British Guiana and Trinidad.
For over three millennia, Ganesha who is a four-armed deity with the head of an elephant, the remover of obstacles, emblematic of wisdom, intelligence and education, has been revered and celebrated by great saints and poets in all the languages of the vast Indian subcontinent. This elephant-headed God, son of Hindu Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva, is worshipped and venerated in India as well as a large part of Asia, by hundreds of millions of followers.
The ritual ceremonies begin early in the morning with the bathing of the deity (abhishekham) on this auspicious and eventful day, after which the idols of Ganesha, his brother Kartikeya and Goddess Durga are draped in red and white cloth, florally decorated with garlands, areca palm leaves and are offered bunches of bananas, coconuts, fruits and sweets. After being appropriately mounted in their respective chariots, these idols are paraded from 11 am to 3 pm through the streets of Paris. The chariots are drawn by two ropes, each measuring twenty meters long, made of vegetable fibre. As the religious pageant winds its way through the Parisian streets, avenues and boulevards, dried coconuts are broken one after the other, symbolically signifying the destruction of one’s ego, offering one’s heart and invoking the blessings of the elephant deity. Free vegetarian lunch is served to devotees and the poor, and gifts and sweets are distributed as well.
The parade, which draws crowds of up to 25,000 people, is led by devotees dressed in their traditional attires, singers, musicians and dancers wearing the arch of peacock feathers on their shoulders (kavadi) as well as women carrying on their heads terracotta pots with burning camphor. The air is filled with religious fervour of sonorous drum beats, chanting of prayers and melodious tunes of temple flautists, making this prodigious procession a phenomenal and wondrous spectacle for curious tourists as well as for the faithful devotees. The crowd indeed attracted many onlookers in Paris.
Photos originally posted on the Facebook page Paris.