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Dedicated to Lord Ganesha...

Practically every thoroughfare in the city has a temple, be it big or small, dedicated to Lord Ganesha, says SUDHA UMASHANKER, describing the popularity of the devotee-friendly deity... .

`WHAT DID you miss most about living in Dubai?' I ask an acquaintance who had come down for a holiday. "The temples," comes the prompt reply. Being a secular nation we have our churches and mosques as well but major cities like Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi have no dearth of temples. And among all the gods in the Hindu pantheon, Ganesha must surely rank as the most popular and devotee-friendly. Almost every other street in the metropolises has a shrine devoted to Ganesha where one can offer pranams.

New temples, new avatars, new locations, spring up with unfailing regularity and the growth and transformation over a period of time are truly amazing. It usually starts with a few devotees installing a statue of Ganesha under a tree open to the skies. If the temple is closed and does have a roof over the deity it could even be so small as to allow just one person to bend over double and enter.

Given the acute space crunch in the city, some of these temples are usually located on the sidewalks. And man, woman, child and dog cohabit outside the temple precincts in contentment. Within a few months of the temple's appearance the number of devotees swells and multiplies. They pitch in to buy lamps and a bell. Soon a small structure comes up if the temple is not covered and glazed tiles and mini gopurams are added. Adornments in the form of a silver poonal or chain are donated. Then the thefts begin, plundering what belongs to God, and eroding one's faith in mankind.

This necessitates a gate and lock and fixed hours of worship. But for sheer convenience, these temples are a blessing for harried and time-starved devotees, who would like to offer a quick pranam on their way to work.

Come Ganesh Chathurthi, every year, and there is a lot of fanfare. The temples are given a facelift with a gaudy coat of paint. Thorans, buntings and streamers are hung and the loudspeakers start blaring. If there are two Ganesha temples situated near each other then it is the survival of the loudest. Doesn't exactly foster bhakthi but Chennai's inner city slum population seems to like it that way.

Along with Vinayagar Agaval composed by Avvayar, light classical and film tunes with Ganesha as the leitmotif blare forth from the speakers. Even Bal Gangadhar Tilak who coined the slogan "Ganapati bapa morraya" wouldn't have envisaged such a feverish display of devotion. During the Ayyappa season too the temples get busy with a daily visit to the temple being mandatory for pilgrims.

SUDHA UMASHANKER

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