20-foot Ganesha idol, 1,000-pound Laddoo, fireworks among highlights of festival
By Geeta Goindi
Lorton, Virginia, August 25, 2017 – In one of the largest festivals of its kind in the national capital region, the Hindu god of beginnings, Ganesha, is at the heart and center of celebrations at the Workhouse Arts Center in the Washington area.
The event coincides with Ganesh Chaturthi, a ten-day Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Ganesha, the younger son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. He is revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, the divine being of intellect and wisdom, and is honored at the start of rites and ceremonies.
The Sri Ganesha Festival 2017 opened Friday morning with the ‘Sthapana’ (installation) of an awe-inspiring 20-foot idol of the elephant-headed god. It runs until Sunday, September 3, and is being organized by the Kids2Kids Network.
“We want to spread Indian culture through the kids”, festival organizer Srinivas Vuyyuru told us. Children these days are under stress and cultural events are therapeutic, he reasoned.
Why did you choose to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in such a big way, we asked. “It is a unique festival celebrated throughout India and around the globe”, Vuyyuru replied, adding “it draws everyone together”.
“We are expecting more than 80,000 people will attend the festival over ten days”, he said. An impressive estimate given that this is the first edition of the event.
A huge attraction is the Ganesha idol from Kolkata, India. Some 27 artisans worked for 45 days to sculpt the eco-friendly idol made of fiberglass. Interestingly, a four-foot clay idol of Lord Ganesha will be used for the Visarjan (immersion in water).
Vuyyuru hopes to donate the larger idol to an organization interested in hosting a similar festival in the US. The organizers have already chalked up plans for next year’s event in the Washington area which include importing a 21-foot Ganesh idol from India.
Another attraction at the Workhouse Arts Center is a 1,000-pound laddoo (sweet), believed to be the favorite food of Lord Ganesha, made on site by about 12 volunteers. It took two days to prepare the Mahaprasadam. “We obtained the technical expertise from India”, Vuyyuru disclosed. At the end of the festival, it will be distributed to devotees.
The event is drawing people from all walks of life to a sprawling venue which has so much to offer both indoors and outside: informative and educational workshops for kids; Archana and Aarti, with Maha Aarti at 8:00 pm daily in eight languages; cultural performances coordinated by Sudha Kondapu; drone racing; virtual reality; 3D selfie printing; clothing and jewelry stalls; vegetarian cuisine by Sitara restaurant based in Ashburn, Virginia; fireworks, and more!
The cultural performances are riveting. On day three of the festival, adorable children of the Capital Area Telugu Society (CATS) summer camp enchanted the audience with song and dance sequences. Kondapu is the director of the popular camp and pride and joy were writ large on her face.
Students of Kalakshetra displayed incredible stamina with several bharatanatyam dances in praise of Lord Ganesha. Young performers of SRC Dance Studio based in Herndon, Virginia, were a sight to behold as they swayed to melodious music clutching ‘thalis’ (platters) laden with flower petals.
Artistes of Natyanjali performed a mesmerizing semi-classical dance in the bharatanatyam style, choreographed by Anitha Deivasigamani. It was a beautiful tribute to Lord Ganesha, a heartfelt depiction of the essence of music, the essence of dance.
The evening ended with a musical performance by Herndon-based singer Romesh Upadhyay. Upcoming cultural attractions include: Kannada Night featuring over 50 artistes, on September 1; a musical evening with Indian Idol finalist PVNS Rohit, accompanied by gifted local area singers, on September 2; and a musical program by Surabhi Dhomne, on the last day of the festival.
The event provides a great learning experience for children with workshops aplenty at which they can make: Ganesha idols; Ganesha paper mache and mandalas with instructor Lauren Muscarella, among other artistic endeavors.
We caught up with Sonika Vuyyuru of the Kids2Kids Network, a non-profit organization established three years ago in Ashburn to encourage and aid students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education.
Sonika is a high school student and mentors kids younger than herself.
What does Ganesha Chaturthi mean to you, we asked. Sonika replied, “My parents have always told me how it is celebrated in India, but I never got to experience it. So, this is great”, she said about the festival. “I get to see how it is celebrated on such a large scale in India”.