When the Columbus Ganesh Festival began in 2005, a handful of organizers put together its spiritual and cultural activities in only two weeks — and attracted about 80 people to Parkview Apartments in Columbus.
Columbus resident Mandar Deo, the event’s founder, never expected the celebration to grow quite so quickly. But Omkar 2015, beginning Sunday, is expected to attract as many as 900 people to The Commons, 300 Washington St.
“The Columbus community has come to know more about the quality of the programs,” said Deo, a native of Pune, India, and a manager at Cummins Inc.
A record 850 people attended several of the days last year, Deo said. The Commons second-floor capacity is slightly less than 1,000 people, according to the building’s staff.
The gathering, organized by the Columbus Ganesh Utsav Mandal, includes some members of the Hindu Society of Southern Indiana and the Indian Association of Columbus. Organizers say there are about 1,500 people from India now living in Columbus.
“We have such a diverse group here (from India),” said Sakshi Jain, coordinating publicity for the festival.
She first attended Omkar last year. She pointed out that she is among a number of people who are not Hindu but who still enjoy the gathering.
“It has so much beyond religion,” Jain said.
The event will include cooking competitions, art contests and other activities. It will conclude Sept. 20 with a procession from The Commons downtown to nearby Mill Race Park.
Deo has said more than once that local residents’ increased awareness of Hindu traditions and Indian culture translates to understanding and a more welcoming community. Companies such as Cummins and influential local agencies such as the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County have worked to make the area more welcoming to all groups.
Ganesh festivals began in the 1890s, when India was a British colony. While England squelched political expression, it allowed Hindus to celebrate their religious beliefs openly, and they used those gatherings to unite people from various backgrounds and beliefs.
As Hindus migrated, they brought their celebration with them.
Local festival organizers have stretched elements of their culture beyond the September celebration in recent years. For example, they have presented cultural programs at area churches and elsewhere to educate others.
What: Omkar 2015, the 11th annual Columbus Utsav Mandal or festival. It celebrates the presence of Hindu’s Lord Ganesh, the god of wisdom and prudence, during the event, which includes traditional Indian cultural activities such as singing and dancing. Omkar is another name for Ganesh.
When: 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday. It then continues at 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18, 10 a.m. Sept. 19 and 9:30 a.m,. Sept. 20.
Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.
Admission: Free. There is a charge for food at the gathering.
Highlights: Cooking competition beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday; musical program from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 18; a variety of cultural programs 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 19, and a colorful procession with a Ganesh figure from the Commons to Mill Race Park from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 20.