Since she was 4 years old, dance has represented far more than entertainment in her world. In the culture of India, classical movement known as kathak flows storytelling into an art form — one that Mousumi Mukhopadhyay of Columbus loves.

“Indian culture is very important to me,” Mukhopadhyay said. “And that culture is all about our roots. There’s the color and the festivities — and the fact that all this brings people a lot of joy and a lot of peace.”

That’s why she is choreographing dances for youngsters and adults alike as part of Omkar 2016: The 12th annual Columbus Ganesh Festival. Prefestival activities begin Aug. 28, with the full celebration Sept. 4 to 11 at The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus. Last year’s free gathering attracted a record — and fire-marshal maximum — 1,000 people on a few of the days at The Commons.

The mix of Indian culture and Hindu faith pays homage to Ganesh, the beloved elephant-headed Hindu god of prosperity and prudence. Omkar is another name for Ganesh. The god also sometimes is spelled as Ganesha.

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“Ganesh also is seen as one who takes away all our troubles,” Mukhopadhyay said.

But organizers emphasize that some who attend are not Hindu, and much of the spiritual element is limited to end-of-the-day prayers in three languages. So they extend a welcome to anyone wanting to share in the cultural presentations.

Sakshi Jain, who handles publicity for the celebration, is not a Hindu but enjoys the pageantry, including a joyous, week-ending musical procession from The Commons to Mill Race Park. Shortly after she moved here, involvement for her became a way to meet people from her native India.

Alok Mehta did the same last year three months after he arrived in town. After friends told him of the festival, he ended up volunteering as a photographer, a flag bearer and a dancer in the procession and a member of the decorations committee, among other roles.

“It’s for Lord Ganesha,” Mehta said. “It’s like a service to God. And that really gave me a feel-good sense.”

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 elsewhere, they took 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, the Commons and elsewhere to educate others. They also have blended Western culture, from ballet to pop music, with those presentations, thanks to the input of Indian young people.

Founders of the festival have mentioned that as the gathering has grown, so has others’ knowledge of his culture and beliefs. They say that translates to understanding and a more welcoming community.

That’s important since 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.

Jain mentioned that last year’s Ganesh Festival got strong, positive feedback on such newly added elements as a cooking competition. So organizers aim to add more such activities.

Also, based on attendees’ feedback, more children’s activities will be added, such as an expanded treasure hunt, and perhaps small, lighthearted events such as a lemon-and-spoon race.

“We’re still thinking of all the things we could do,” Jain said.

Organizers also still are pondering what to do about the growing attendance.

“If we see that that (capacity) keeps happening, we’ll consider looking at other spaces,” Jain said.

However, she added that The Commons is highly visible and close to many attendees’ work. One slight change will include the procession, highlighted by drums and colorful costuming.

“We’ll make it a little grander,” Jain said. “We’ll be adding even more flair.”

A time of celebration

What: Omkar 2016, the 12th 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:

  • Pre-festival celebration Aug. 28 from 1 to 5 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., separate competitions, ranging from drawing to cooking.
  • Full celebration begins Sept. 4: Puja (Hindu prayers, songs and riutals), 10 a.m. to noon to open the festival. Activities run at various times daily through Sept. 11, including a cultural program from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 10 and 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 11. Aarati time of Hindu worship and from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 11. Part of that time also includes a procession from The Commons to Mill Race Park on Fifth Street.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.

Admission: Free, although there is a charge for some food at the event.

Information: columbusganesh.com.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.