On the corner of Bowne Street in Flushing, Queens stands one of the first Hindu temples in the United States. The Hindu Temple Society of North America, representing Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam, stands out in a quiet residential area. The temple takes up the entire block with its traditional South India structures. In 1970, the non-profit religious institution was established, under the laws of New York State. Soon after, the organization sought to acquire a physical space, which came in the form of a former Russian Orthodox Church. On July 4th 1977, the temple was declared consecrated.
Since then, visitors, religious and non-religious alike, have all been welcomed inside this vast temple. Recently, the temple celebrated Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights that celebrates the spiritual triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance. As with most devotional celebrations, the temple was packed with peaceful celebrants buzzing with excitement. This year, the celebration coincides with Governor Hochul’s recently signed legislation, making Diwali an official New York public school holiday.
The building itself is constructed in a South Indian style. Skilled craftsmen and temple builders were brought in directly from India to replicate it. On the corner of Holly and Bowne street, you can see a walkway lined up with carved granite idols, leading up to the colossal front doors. On most days, visitors can access the temple by the side entrance on Bowne street.
One does not have to be a Hindu devotee to visit the temple. Regardless of background, everyone is welcome. However, there are some ground rules to follow. Shoes are not allowed inside the building. Instead, there is space to set aside your footwear prior to entering. Ripped clothing isn’t permitted and you may want to think twice before wearing mini skirts or high cut shorts as well. No leather or fur either, as its not in accordance with Ahimsa. Like many other establishments, cell phone usage is also not allowed, so you can forget about taking a selfie with Hanuman in the background. But, you are welcome to bring flowers and positive vibes.
Once inside, the first sight is Ganesha himself, right in the middle of the temple. All the other gods and goddesses surround Ganesha in the spacious temple. The temple priests maintain the peaceful space, making sure Shiva, Durga and other deities receive their offerings. Occasionally garlands are draped on the necks of these idols. As you slowly walk around, you hear a soft, pre-recorded Om chanted in the background, the most sacred syllable of all mantras.
If you’re hungry, you can go downstairs to the canteen, located in the basement of the temple. It is a small vegetarian cafeteria, where you can see another statue of Ganesha, overseeing visitors having a meal. The canteen also has a small gift shop, if you’d like to bring a piece of the temple back home with you. If you don’t want to climb up and down the stairs, there’s a separate dosa eatery on the side of the building, also on Bowne street.
The temple also runs a community center, open to all. There, you can learn Sanskrit, yoga, meditation, etc. As of now, online classes for both Veda and Divya Prabhanda are offered through Zoom.
From the devoted to the curious, this temple has become part of the unique Flushing landscape. You can check the temple’s website for further information regarding hours, events and more.
The Ganesha Temple is located at 45-57 Bowne Street, Flushing, NY.