Shiv Shakti Mandir Bids Farewell to Houston Ka Raaja, Ganpati Bapa Morya


By Malay Vyas

HOUSTON: This past Sunday, September 15,around 4PM, somewhere in the Gandhi District, a unique street scene was getting enacted. A nine foot statue of epic proportions was being loaded on to the back of a truck to embark on a four-hour journey through streets, parking lots, freeways and ultimately to a suburban subdivision lake. Throughout this trip, there were passionate passengers joining the rally dancing, praying, throwing colors in the air and having fun. Welcome to Ganpati Visarjan, a day of goodbyes which was being celebrated for the third year in running in Houston.

Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of Lord Ganesh, the elephant headed son of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated on fourth day of the Bhadrapada month of the Hindu calendar. The festival typically lasts for ten days and ends on “ananth chaturthi” or the fourteenth day of the same month. Early history suggests that Ganesh Chaturthi was celebrated as a public event in the 1600’s under Shivaji’s reign in the Maratha Empire.


The festival took a socio-political turn in 1893 when Lokmanya Tilak transformed Ganesh Chaturthi into its current form as a public event. The festival brought together Hindus of different caste levels uniting them against the British rulers. It was during this time that Ganesh Chaturthi became a true community festival adorning the streets of western and southern India. The philosophy behind the festival is unique as well. As a devotee, you welcome Lord Ganesh into your home and he stays as a part of your family till the “visarjan” or the departure. Both his arrival and departure is celebrated with equal gusto and pomp. The “visarjan” however brings the festival to a crescendo.


Celebrating a separation is very unique to this festival and no where else is this more visible than the bylanes of Mumbai. “I was a shy thirteen year old when I took part in my first Visarjan”, says Sunil Thakkar of Masala Radio. “I am still reliving those days by celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi with the Indian community in Houston”. Thakkar along with the Shiv Shakti Temple’s members like Ashok Bhambani and Dhirubhai Kotak have been instrumental in putting Ganesh Chaturthi on the calendar for the last three years.

Named after the Ganpati at Mumbai’s “Laalbaugh Cha Raja”, the Ganesh statue in Houston “Houston Ka Raja” or the King of Houston stands a majestic 9 feet tall. “The Raja” arrived at his special “pandaal” within the serene Shiva Shakti temple on September 8 this year. Under the watchful eyes of respected priest Viratji Mehta, the “staphna” took place exactly per the “mahurat” . Devotees lined up the temple aisle day after day for “darshan” and “Prasad”.  After the daily puja at 5 PM, the temple hosted cultural programs every day. Daily “arti” was at 7 PM followed by prasad at 7:30 PM. The temple and its volunteers worked the daily schedule like a clock work.


Masala Radio and the Shiva Shakti Temple coordinated the “visarjan” to the same precision. On Sunday, the devotees started coming in at about 2 PM for the puja followed by an impromptu round of garba around the departing Lord Ganesh. At exactly 4 PM, the “mahurat” decided by Shri Viratji Mehta, “Houston Ka Raja” left his “pandaal” on to a pick up truck. Accompanied by temple volunteers the procession began with the Masala Hummer and DJ Zee on top of it playing songs of Lord Ganesh following the truck. Scores of devotees in their cars followed through the back streets of Gandhi districts on towards the Olympic Center at Hillcroft and 59 where the “King of Houston” rested for about two hours as his devotees celebrated his “visarjan”.

In a true community spirit that Ganesh Chaturthi evokes, restaurants in the area donated food, juices and water for devotees. Shiv Sagar donated dabelis, Neeta’s donated vada pao, the  vegetarian biryani came from Himalaya, Chandrika Masala served Jal Jeera, Deep Food provide juice and Subh Laxmi gave away bottled water and masala tea to everyone who attended. “To ensure that we pass on our culture and festivals to the younger generation we encouraged kids to participate and India Jewellers donated silver coins for all children who danced at the Visarjan”, said Thakkar. Sunil, in his own inimitable style danced on top of the truck’s cab.

The Ganesh Visarjan is one such festival that actually goes places. From the temple to the Olympic Center where about two thousand devotees and onlookers got to gather to dance amidst flying “gulaal” truly making it a colorful event. “Houston Ka Raja” then travelled to Sugar Land for the actual departure. Immersion of clay Ganesh idol symbolizes the final goodbye till He returns next year or “Purcha Varshi, LuvKar Ya”.

Amongst the chants of “Ganpati Bapa Morya”, there were families with young children waiting patiently for the celebration.  Shipra and Kirti Sharma travelled all the way from League City with their children Shivansh and Vivan. Shivansh, a fourth grader proudly recited the mythological story of how Ganesh got the elephant head while occasionally glancing at his father cellphone to check NFL scores. Vivaan, his younger brother, was quick to come up with the arti “Jai Ganesh Deva” as the proud parents looked on. The Sharmas moved to Houston from Minnesota and were impressed with the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. “This brings a lot of awareness of our cultural celebrations to the community and specially our children”, said Shipra. The Sharmas encourage their children to read Amar Chitra Katha and watch Ganesha, the TV series on DVD.

At the Olympic Center, Bijal and Bankim Shukla enjoyed the prasad with their three daughters. They drove in from Baytown to participate in their first Ganesh Visarjan and were very happy being in the festive atmosphere. Bijal said “the 100 degree heat is nothing compared to the enthusiasm I see around me, this is what makes me proud of being an Indian living in Houston”.

The large scale participation is noticeable in a public event like the Ganesh Visarjan.  “We’ve planned for this event for more than eight weeks, with weather being the main challenge”, says Sandhya Thakkar of Masala Radio and adds “We feel blessed because the rain ended at 2 PM just before “Houston Ka Raaja” took his farewell trip.