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Paris bids Ganesh a warm adieu
Ranvir Nayar in Paris

Thousands of Parisians, among them a Russian Orthodox Church priest, helped pull a chariot of Lord Ganesh through the streets as the festival dedicated to the elephant-headed Hindu god ended in the French capital on Sunday.

People dressed in their best thronged the decorated streets of Paris as loudspeakers blared hymns at the end of Ganesh Chaturthi.

The festival had been going on in the city for the past ten days. Sunday marked the final day, with an idol of Ganesh being taken out in a chariot procession through the main streets.

A priest of the Russian Orthodox Church and several French converts to Hinduism joined the procession. The chariot was preceded by two water trucks, which washed the path before the idol.

Thousands of devotees offered prayers to the god. At the end of the procession, however, the idol was not immersed in a river, as is the custom in India.

The procession began at 11am from Mannika temple. Idols of Ganesh were installed in a five-metre-tall chariot pulled by scores of devotees. Groups of followers danced around it, singing devotional songs.

This year saw a significant increase in the participation of the local population in what is now by far the largest Hindu festival celebrated in France.

Over 10,000 devotees, largely Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils as well as Hindus from other parts of India, Madagascar, Mauritius and some French colonies celebrate the festival.

Organisers attributed the larger French turnout to the wide publicity the festival gets in the local press. This time too the French press was present in significant numbers.

After covering a route of 7km in about four hours, the procession returned with much gaiety to the temple where several thousand coconuts were offered to the god before his idol was returned to the temple.

During the procession, luddoos [an Indian sweet] along with holy offerings and milk were distributed to the devotees, most of whom then turned to neighbouring La Chappelle area that has the largest concentration of Indian and Sri Lankan shops and restaurants.

The procession is a boon for shopkeepers in the area, especially restaurateurs. "We get over a week's business on just one day," said a restaurateur whose 15-table restaurant was packed since morning.




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