ATLAS OBSCURA

An Elephant in NYC: The Ganesha Temple in Queens

Erin Chapman is the co-editor of The American Guide, where a version of this article originally appeared. 

Amidst the detached houses and backyard kiddie pools of Flushing, Queens, the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha receives visitors and devotees to the Hindu Temple Society of North America’s Šri Mahã Vallabha Ganapati Devasthãnam. As the presiding deity and a prominent god in the Hindu pantheon, Lord Ganesha’s shrine sits at the focal point of the sunlit temple space.  

Ganesha, the son of Shiva, is the remover of obstacles and inspires intense devotion in the worshippers who come to ask his blessings. Temple-goers bring offerings on a daily basis, but for special occasions — such as Ganesha’s birthday, Ganesh Chaturthi — elaborate gifts of food are presented. In 1995, the “milk miracle” was witnessed at the Queens temple when brass statues of Ganesha reportedly drank milk offerings held under their trunks.

For particularly auspicious ceremonies like the consecration of altars or the infusion of divine energy into temple statues, a live elephant attends the festivities. Upon the Temple’s re-consecration in 2009, Minnie the elephant graciously accepted the respectful touches and offerings of an admiring crowd. (Minnie’s trainer mentioned that she also does weddings.)

For more of author Erin Chapman’s stunning photos, and details on how to visit in person, keep reading An Elephant in NYC: The Ganesha Temple in Queens on Atlas Obscura!