If you want to visit India without leaving Sydney then Sri Venkateswara Temple, or simply SVT, is the place to be. And you can immerse yourself completely in the Hindu tradition if the Ganesh Chaturthi festival is happening.
For an outsider of Hindu culture like me, it’s like I went through a portal and got materialized in India. The smell of incense and flowers coupled with the music, the chanting and the amount of people make me believe not otherwise. “It is the grandest and most elaborate Hindu festival and lasts for 10 or 12 days” says Seetha Raman, executive member of the temple and my guide during the event.
“The festival is celebrated on the birthday of the god Ganesha,” he explains, “widely worshiped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. He is the one who removes obstacles.”
Hindus celebrate it around the world during the month of Bhadra, date usually falling between 19th August and 20th September. This year’s happened last 15th September.
The preparations for the festival start two to three weeks before, where skilled artisans produce clay models of Lord Ganesha especially for the celebration. On that day, priests invoke the presence of Ganesha chanting mantras in a ritual called Pranapratishhtha. The idols are then taken on a palanquin for a walk around the temple accompanied by drums, dancing and singing. During the procession, everyone got plastered in a reddish sandal powder including my camera and me. The atmosphere is contagious. I know that I’m going to have a hell of work to clean the camera but I can only think: Please Lord Ganesha brings me some good fortune.
Later we took a bus to the beach where they immersed the Ganesha statue into the sea. The ritual symbolises the god seeing-off of his journey towards his abode, taking away with him the misfortunes of all mankind. So be it.
The festival is a cultural blast celebrated by the migrant Hindu population and counted with the presence of Wollongong’s Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery. The SVT temple is located in Helensburgh, 40 km south of Sydney Central (CBD).