On Broome Street, in the heart of Manhattan's fashionable Soho neighbourhood, a Hindu temple dedicated to the elephant-headed deity Ganesha is striving to develop its own "sense of cool". Its location allows it to draw guest teachers, such as spiritual author Deepak Chopra, and famous devotees – or at least influential fans – such as actor Willem Dafoe, who was recently spotted wearing a Broome Street Ganesha T-shirt.
“Here, it’s cool to come to the temple,” says Shruti Bramadesam, the temple’s assistant director. “It’s cool to be spiritual. It’s cool to meditate.”
This week, the 20-year-old temple is celebrating Lord Ganesha in a distinctly New York way, ending the 10-day festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, with a visarjan – a ritual that sends Ganesha home by immersing the clay idol into a body of water – in the Hudson River.
Half yoga studio, half mandir
Founded by yoga teacher Eddie Stern in 2001, the Broome Street Ganesha Temple pitches itself not strictly as a Hindu house of worship, but as a sanctuary where passers-by can find a few minutes of peace amid the chaos of New York.
It’s a role churches and synagogues have long filled in the city’s bustle, but where many of Manhattan’s sacred spaces are ornate monuments to their wealthy patrons of years past, the temple’s natural light and minimalist space – half yoga studio and half mandir – imbibe the Soho vibe.
“The temple is rooted in tradition and history, but also caters to the needs of modern Hindus or people who are spiritual,” Bramadesam says, pointing to deities of Ganesha, as well as Sai Baba, Shiva, Krishna and Radha for busy New Yorkers wanting to drop in to worship.
“It pays homage to the traditional temples of India, but in a cool, modern, New York way,” she adds.
It’s also convenient for urbanites who otherwise would have to trek to Queens, where the largest and oldest Hindu temple in New York City is located.
Temple on TikTok
Bramadesam, who works in marketing as well as consulting at the temple, joined the house of worship in December 2021, bringing with her ideas for a full rebrand. She’s also intent on attracting more Gen Z members.
Thanks to her, this is the only temple with an active following on TikTok, while the temple’s Instagram account hosts puja livestreams.
Hinduism is facing a decline among young people who grew up adhering to their family's religious traditions, as are most institutional faiths operating in the US.
But while young people are not attending services as regularly as their parents, they have not given up on religion entirely. In a recent report on Gen Z Americans, the Springtide Research Institute calls this phenomenon “faith unbundled", suggesting that young people construct their faith “by combining elements such as beliefs, identity, practices and community from a variety of religious and non-religious sources, rather than receiving all these things from a single system”.
For many young Hindus, Broome Street is a welcome reminder of the home they left behind.
“This would be a really nice place to come after the work week to decompress and have a moment of meditation,” says researcher and Toronto resident Diya Srinivasan. “It’s ultimately a space where there’s a piece of calm.”
Broome Street isn’t only for the young. Gautam Gupta had not found a temple community in his 23 years in Manhattan, and he found it difficult to get his teenage children interested in attending religious services with him. But when he brought his younger daughter to Broome Street this year, the two stayed for almost two hours.
“It was very peaceful,” Gupta says. “No devices!”
To Gupta, and other members of the Broome Street family, the ultimate goal is to build a community in Manhattan for all, no matter where they are in their spiritual journey. “The bigger the community, the more you feel like you belong to it,” he adds.