MARENA JANSE VAN RENSBURG
The local Hindu community came together at the Broadwater Parklands on the Gold Coast yesterday for the coast’s first Ganesh Chaturthi celebration.
The Gold Coast Hindu Cultural Association (GCHCA) hosted the event, which celebrated Vinayaka Chaturthi and Ganesh Visarjan, giving locals the opportunity to come together to celebrate the birthday of the Hindu god of wisdom, Ganesha.
The association was founded in 2012 and this is the first time it has held an event within the community to celebrate Ganesha’s birthday .
More than 200 people who were originally from countries including Sri Lanka, India, Singapore and South Africa came together at the parklands to sing, chant, dance, pray and eat at this colourful and lively event on the waterfront.
Gold Coast Hindu Cultural Association president Dr Kartik Menon was born in Singapore and has lived in Australia for 16 years, working as the deputy principle for a local high school.
Dr Menon said the Hindu community on the Gold Coast had grown significantly since the association was founded and said yesterday’s event provided an opportunity for different facets of the culture to come together.
“We are such a diverse community [and] the celebration of Ganesha’s birthday lets people come together to feel included, it makes them feel like there is something here [in Australia] for them,” he said.
Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most important festivals for Hindus, and is celebrated throughout India as the birthday of Lord Ganesh, the beloved elephant headed son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.
The festival is also known by the name Vinayaka Chaturthi and generally takes place between August and September.
In traditional Hindu celebrations of Ganesha’s birthday, clay idols of Ganesha live with families who hold morning and evening services for 10 days, before immersing the idol in a body of water on the 11th day.
Those who celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi believe the deity blesses the people after his manifestation, then, on the 11th day, idols are submerged in a body of water (traditionally in the Ganges) to return home to the heavenly abode of Ganesha’s parents.
However, Gold Coast locals took a less drawn out approach to the event, celebrating over just a few hours on Sunday afternoon.
Dr Sangita De, who is a lecturer at Griffith Business School, led GCHCA members and other devotees from the Gold Coast in prayer, chant and song.
Dr De said during the 11-day celebrations in India, more than 150,000 idols would be immersed in Mumbai waters alone, but said the Gold Coast Hindu Association wanted to take an environmentally friendly approach to their celebration.
“We brought over a biodegradable Ganesha sourced from Pune, India, because we are conscious of the environment and have not forgotten that aspect of the celebrations,” she said.
“In Mumbai, there are so many huge Ganeshas, which are immersed in the water, so here we like to keep it small.”
The crowd grew steadily throughout the event, with more locals joining in the celebrations.
Among them was Southern Cross University student Mukulraj Raghorty.
Mr Raghorty is a lawyer in India, but moved to Australia two months ago for a bridging course in law.
He said he believed this first-time celebration was vital to help international students to stay connected to their culture.
“We start to feel very lonely after being here a while, so a community event like this gives you a sense of connection and home,” he said.
Griffith University Associate Professor Vallipuram Muthukkumarasamy moved to Australia from Sri Lanka 20 years ago and said he believed Hinduism was not a religion, but a way of life.
He said the celebration gave Gold Coast Hindus a chance to connect with their culture and gave non-Hindus the opportunity to enjoy the culture.
The crowd gathered in a procession after the initial ceremonies and moved along the Broadwater Parklands footpaths, leading the Ganesha idol on a decorated cart toward the water.
Gold Coast Hindu Cultural Association committee member Dr Nadarajah Mugunthan, said Griffith University often had students enrolling from South-East Asian countries, many of whom came from a Hindu background.
Dr Mugunthan said by promoting the culture in these events, the association helped universities recruit more students from places like India, and created a better opportunity for those students to settle and thrive in Australian communities.
The crowd gathered on the shores of the parklands as the sun set, parting as a group of men in ceremonial dress carried the Ganesha idol into the water, leaving a trail of flower petals behind them.
Onlookers watched as the last man walked into the water with the idol above his head, immersing Lord Ganesha into Gold Coast waters for the first time.
For more information on upcoming festivals or how to get involved, visit the Gold Coast Hindu Cultural Association website here.