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Dr Uma Mysorekar: Taking Ganesh Mandir to new heights

The famous temple in Flushing, NY, celebrated Maha Kumbhabhishekam in early June, marking completion of years of renovation and expansion of the temple, undertaken with the tireless and visionary Dr Mysorekar at the helm.

Lord Ganapati is the presiding deity at the temple.

She may be a doctor by profession, but her deep religious beliefs and bent for community service has meant that under Uma Mysorekar's watch since 1994, the Ganesh Temple in Flushing, NY, has undergone tremendous growth. Her immense dedication and tireless work as President of the Hindu Temple Society (HTS) of North America, NY, that manages the temple, has paved the way for the completion of the renovation and expansion projects of the temple culminating in a Maha Kumbhabhishekam from June 1-5. Availing the once-inlifetime opportunity to earn great punya by witnessing the sacred ceremonies were thousands of devotees.

Kumbhabishekam entails showering the idols of the deities with milk and other offerings amidst the chanting of holy hymns by the priests. The kumbhabhishekam at Ganesh temple was performed for Lord Ganesha, of course, followed by other deities for whom the new granite sannidhis (sanctum) were dedicated. Most importantly, the idols of Lord Balaji, Goddess Mahalakshmi, Lord Hanuman and Sri Nagendra Swamy were re-consecrated on June 5.

Kumbhabishekam entails showering the idols of the deities with milk and other offerings amid chanting of holy mantras by the priests.

The crowning glory of the temple, the Rajagopuram (King of Towers), under construction for the last two years, was also inaugurated as part of the Maha Kumbhabhishekam. Dr. Mysorekar along with priests, climbed to the top of the tower and the priests performed a small ritual and sprinkled some milk on the kalasas (bulb shaped metal ornaments on top) of the tower. Dr Mysorekar herself, however, will not like to admit that the temple is now complete "because it has to continue to grow and grow".

Crowning Dr Mysorekar's own glory is not just making the Ganesh temple the foremost Hindu temple in this part of the continent if not the entire continent, but also the fact she has emerged as a strong but non-strident voice of the Hindu community, representing the faith at key forums. She has initiated interfaith meetings and spoken at numerous events and functions to increase public understanding of Hinduism. She is also on the board of the Interfaith Center of New York, which gives out the James Morton Parker Awards for interfaith harmony. As president of HTS, Dr. Mysorekar has initiated programs to bring the community together, including through spiritual, educational, and cultural activities.

Born and brought up in Bangalore, India, she studied medicine at the University of Bombay, before immigrating to the US in 1970. A reputed gynecologist and obstetrician with independent practice in Elmhurst, Queens, she has helped deliver thousands of babies over the last 40 years.

She took to voluntary work for the community way back in the mid-1970s, getting involved in helping the handicapped through Heart and Hand for the Handicapped and served as its president in 1978-79. She pioneered fundraising for Aid to the Disabled, Orphaned and Poor (ADOP) after her association with the HTS.

But it is her dedicated work with the Ganesh temple as President since 1994 that will remain as the high point of her life. She is the voluntary equivalent of a CEO for an organization that she runs like a corporation. The temple has annual revenue of $3 million and 30 full-time staff members, serving over 20,000 devotees. Dr. Mysorekar contributes 40 plus hours of service per week as President of the Temple, which she has been able to do after gradually giving up her medical practice.

One major initiative of hers at the temple has been conceiving a community center, innovatively raising money for it and seeing the project through--a spectacular 16,000 square foot community center, a landmark in New York. She personally contributed more than $1 million and raised over $4.5 million for the community center. Construction was financed by floating Revenue Bonds totaling $4.1 million to overcome banks' refusal to loan money to a non-profit religious institution. She followed it up with successfully obtained long-term financing in 2000 to pay back all investors with interest, long before the Bonds' maturity dates. The community center, finished in 1998, provides enormous benefit to the community through amenities such as wedding halls for traditional Hindu weddings, a beautiful auditorium for cultural activities and an excellent canteen serving food to thousands of temple visitors. Under her guidance, one of the temple's properties was converted into a Patsala (school) where children learn languages such as Hindi, Tamil, English and Sanskrit as well as Math, Science and Religion, with Yoga and Meditation classes also offered. She also promoted and preserved the vision of the temple's continued growth by initiating and managing other projects including the construction of the Vedanta Library, Senior Citizen Center, and Staff Quarters.

The Hindu Outreach Center started by the temple is also her idea. Says she: "We cannot just be doing pooja and rituals only, this is well emphasized here and that is why we established the Hindu Outreach Center, which is not just for the Hindus or Indians, but the entire community here in America. Besides whenever there is a certain disaster or a need, we do take tremendous initiatives. For example when there was an earthquake in Haiti and tsunami in Japan, we provided what help we could."

She believes that the Ganesh temple has been in the forefront of reviving Hinduism in America, which had got lost for decades after it was introduced here by Swami Vivekananda in 1893.

Dr Uma Mysorekar at the Maha Kumbhbhishekam celebrations in the temple.

Her vision of promoting Hinduism is very noble and broad. "I personally believe that we in the temple can do anything and everything possible with all different ideas which can unify Hindus, solidify this great dharma and then impart this message to the globe, give this tremendous offering to bring up world peace." But she will not tolerate anything o belittle or degrade any other faith. "Mutual respect of each other's faith, acceptance of other faiths which our dharma really tells us, and then to bring Hindus together is primarily what our objectives are," she underlines.

The crowning glory of the temple, the Rajagopuram, under construction for two years, was also inaugurated as part of the Maha Kumbhabhishekam.

Dr Mysorekar welcoming NYC Comptroller John Liu to the temple: she has become a prominent representative of Hinduism in America.

Mysorekar is also keen on removing the misconception that Hindus worship so many million different gods. Says he, "That notion should be erased because we know as Hindus that we only worship one Supreme Brahman and these are all different aspects or attributes of the Lord. Just like I develop a rapport with you when I sit across a table, I also develop a rapport with a form of a deity. This concept that is narrated in the Vedas and the scriptures is what needs to be explained to the non-Hindus and for that matter to Hindus also."

For her considerable contributions to society and community service, Dr Mysroekar has been bestowed several awards. Her state of origin, Karnataka honored her with the Kannada Rajyotsava Award. Here in America, she received the highest award for immigrants, Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2009. The Governor's Award of Excellence was given to her in May 2001 for "outstanding achievement and community service to the Empire State".Then, as a representative of Hindus, she had the privilege of getting invited by three Presidents of the United States of America—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She also had the opportunity to interact with Pope Benedict in 2008 in Washington DC.

Dr Mysorekar is not the one to rest on her laurels. "In a temple, or any institution, it is very important to realize that we must continue to serve the community. Now what all can we do additionally, keep on doing, to serve the community? For example, we need to build an outreach center, a free place where our youth can come to play, have discussions. We need a good pathsala, good classrooms where our children can be educated (we have one rather a small one.) Third, a place where visitors from India can stay for a couple of days, maybe half a dozen room hostel."

She is building on the fact that Ganesh temple is almost the oldest temple in North America. It was the initiative of The Hindu Temple Society of North America, NY formed in 1970 by a group of people like CV Narasimhan, the then UN Under Secretary General, Dr Alagappan, and Mr Vaidyanathan. The society managed to purchase for $50,000 a Russian church building which was not being used. Support to build the temple came from Tirupati Balaji temple— considered the richest temple in the world-- in Andhra Pradesh, India. Officially named Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam, it was ready by 1975 and consecrated in 1977. It is built in the south India temple architecture style, and Sthapathi Muthiah has been associated with the temple building project, who was here for the Maha Kumbhabhishekam.

Dr Uma Mysorekar at the Maha Kumbhbhishekam celebrations in the temple. Dr Mysorekar welcoming NYC Comptroller John Liu to the temple: she has become a prominent representative of Hinduism in America.

The crowning glory of the temple, the Rajagopuram, under construction for two years, was also inaugurated as part of the Maha Kumbhabhishekam.