A big party.
India native Shrirang Thakar felt that stirring sense of celebration when he played drums during the closing procession of the Ganesh Festival: Omkar 2016 in September.
The exultant, colorful journey from The Commons in downtown Columbus to Mill Race Park is among the most visible parts of the annual gathering that attracts 800 to 1,000 people to events during the festival’s weekend activities.
“People are dancing,” said Thakar, current festival president. “But there is, of course, a religious sentiment attached to it.”
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They are thanking Lord Ganesh, sometimes spelled as Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed Hindu god of prosperity and prudence, for his blessings. And they entreat him to return again at the next year’s festival.
The upcoming Ganesh Festival: Omkar 2017 begins Aug. 20 at The Commons. The opening day includes everything from a friendly Indian cooking competition and a demonstration of mehendi, the decorative Indian body art, to children’s outdoor games.
Last year marked the first time the outdoor games, ranging from musical chairs to simple marble-in-a-spoon relays, were offered. They attracted about 150 people — and enough feedback that organizers decided to bring them back.
“These are really popular games back home,” said Sakshi Jain, publicity coordinator for the festival. “And it’s also due the visibility of the games and the fact that it involves a different kind of energy. Plus, there’s also the nostalgia.”
Former Columbus residents Mandar Deo and his wife, Rajashree Deo, launched the local festival in 2005. It has grown as the Columbus population from India, estimated to be more than 1,500 people, has grown.
Many of the Columbus residents also are members of the Hindu Society of Southern Indiana or the Indian Association of Columbus.
A number of Ganesh participants have mentioned in the past few years that it makes Columbus feel a lot like home for a few days. And that has become especially important locally in recent years. Surveys from high-profile agencies such as Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County show that foreigners moving to the Columbus area need to feel welcome and comfortable in the city of their new residence.
Ganesh festivals began in the 1890s when India was a British colony. While England squelched political expression, it allowed Hindus to unite and 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. In India, most celebrations have become grand events stretching for 10 days.
Locally, organizers’ creative decor at The Commons always ties in with a festival theme. Last year’s family-oriented theme was “The Jungle Book,” a hugely popular work by Rudyard Kipling, born in India.
Though organizers keep such festival ideas a secret until the opening, they did hint that the current focus connects to the progress India has made in one specific field.
Last year, the opening-week night of the event began with recorded music, heavy with drums, cymbals, flutes, soft strings and flowing vocals, to set the stage. The atmosphere strongly resembled the scene at nearly any area house of worship, with some people closing their eyes, bowing their head slightly and folding their hands formally in graceful piety.
Yet, by the time of the festival’s close and the joyful procession from The Commons, serenity gives way to celebration — and a percussive rhythm that cannot be ignored.
“The pounding of those drums — they really get to your heart,” Jain has said in the past. “You can feel them in your blood.”
What: 13th Annual Ganesh Festival: Omkar 2017, a free gathering mixing culture from India with elements of the Hindu faith via prayer, games, music and other activities.
Ganesh is the beloved elephant-headed Hindu god of prosperity and prudence. Omkar is another name for Ganesh, sometimes spelled as Ganesha.
Audience/attendees: Open to all, regardless of beliefs or background.
When: Begins 12:30 p.m. Aug. 20, and 9:30 a.m. Aug. 25, 10 a.m. Aug. 26 and 9:30 a.m. Aug. 27.
Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.
Information: columbusganesh.com or the Facebook page for Columbus Ganesh Utsav.
12:30 to 2:30 p.m. — Cooking and food creativity.
3:30 to 5 p.m. — Mehendi designing, also alternatively spelled as mehndi.
5 to 7 p.m. — Outdoor games (musical chairs, relay competitions and more).
6 to 7:30 p.m. — Devotional music program.
7:30 to 8 p.m. — Puja or pooja (devotional prayer), usually spoken in Sanskrit.
5 to 7 p.m. — Cultural program, with Indian food available for purchase.
7 to 8:30 p.m. — Aarti (chanting prayer with a lit lamp while circling a statue of Ganesh; all this ultimately links to attaining ultimate salvation for Hindus).
And prasad (offering of food to Ganesh).
1:30 to 3:30 p.m. — Children’s cultural program.
3:30 to 5:30 p.m. — Procession from The Commons to nearby Mill Race Park.