On Broome Street, in the heart of Manhattan’s fashionable Soho neighborhood, 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 prominent spiritual author Deepak Chopra, and devotees — or at least influential fans — such as the actor Willem Dafoe, who was recently spotted wearing a Broome Street Ganesha T-shirt.
“Here, it’s cool to come to the temple,” said Shruti Bramadesam, the temple’s assistant director. “It’s cool to be spiritual. It’s cool to meditate. It’s not something we had to have been made fun of for growing up.”
This week, the 20-year-old temple is celebrating Lord Ganesha in a distinctly New York way, ending its celebration of its deity’s birthday, the 10-day holiday Ganesh Chaturthi, with a visarjan — a ritual that sends Ganesha home by immersing his clay idol into a body of water — in the Hudson River.
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Bramadesam wants all New Yorkers to know that the visarjan, and the temple, is for them, no matter their age, race or spiritual background. The Broome Street Ganesha Temple, she said, hopes to meet people where they are — whether they are Hindu or not.
“If you need a spiritual sanctuary, we are here,” said Bramadesam.
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 passersby can find a few minutes of peace amid the chaos of New York. It’s a role churches and synagogues have filled in the city’s bustle since the Dutch, 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 — are made for Soho’s vibe.
“The temple is rooted in tradition and history but also caters to the needs of modern Hindus or people who are spiritual,” said Bramadesam, pointing to deities of Ganesha, as well as Sai Baba, Krishna and Radha and Shiva for busy New Yorkers wanting to drop in to worship. (In India, Hindu temples are usually dedicated to one deity; in the U.S., they are more likely to include murtis, or idols, of many Hindu deities so as to serve all Hindus.)
“It pays homage to the traditional temples of India but in a cool, modern, New York way,” said Bramadesam.
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.
Bramadesam, who works in marketing as well as consulting at the temple, joined the temple in December 2021, bringing with her ideas for a full rebrand of the temple. She’s also intent on attracting more Gen Z members. Thanks to Bramadesam, the temple is the only mandir with an active following on TikTok. The temple’s Instagram account hosts puja livestreams to its more than 10,000 followers.
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 U.S. Recent data from the Springtide Research Institute shows that Americans under the age of 30 are the most likely to identify as spiritual, but not religious.
But while young people are not attending services as regularly as their parents, they have not given up on religion entirely. Springtide 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,” according to a recent Springtide report on Gen Z Americans.
Bramadesam said this trend has led Gen Zers to sample Hinduism, where they find a belief system with no strict dogma, requirements or hierarchical institution. “We accept everyone,” said Bramadesam. “The whole point of Hinduism is that anyone can find it.”
Connor Castellano grew up in Florida in a family that was neither spiritual nor religious. But in her late teens, she found that the teachings of Vedanta Hinduism, largely known for its orders of swamis, or religious teachers, resonated with her. Among these teachings was the idea that the body is a vessel for one’s soul, or atma, which made sense immediately.
“At some point, I felt that my purpose in life is to love and serve God in loving and serving others,” said Castellano. “I am so blessed to be in this human body to love God.”
Castellano joined the temple’s team full time in January. In July, she spent a month learning the ways of the Hindu nuns of the Sarada Convent in Santa Barbara, California.
“It’s a beautiful thing having community,” said Castellano, who greets a combination of regulars and newcomers seven days a week. “When I first came to New York, I almost considered moving out of the city because I couldn’t find that community here — finding that has been a real blessing in my life.”
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 workweek to decompress and have a moment of meditation,” said Diya Srinivasan, a Toronto-based researcher who lived and worked in New York City from 2014-2016. “It’s ultimately a space where there’s a piece of calm.”
Bramadesam herself is an example of a returnee to Hinduism. She was raised as an active Hindu in Michigan, taking Carnatic vocal lessons, dancing the traditional Bharatanatyam and attending weekly services. At college, however, Bramadesam left her religious upbringing behind, but after moving to New York for work, she realized how much she needed spirituality.
Broome Street isn’t only for the young. Gautam Gupta had never 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,” said Gupta. “No devices!”
To Gupta, and other members of the Broome Street family, the ultimate goal is to build a community in Manhattan for all Hindus, no matter where they are in their spiritual journey.
“The bigger the community, the more you feel like you belong to it,” said Gupta.