Hindu Calgarians appeal to city over religious use of community ponds, lakes

Hindus in northeast Calgary want to join other cities in Canada and other countries in other parts of the world when it comes to how they are able to celebrate a key religious festival.

Hindus all over the world just celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi, a 10-day festival to celebrate the birthday of one of their most popular deities: Lord Ganesh.

The end of the festival is traditionally marked by a colourfully decorated clay recreation of the elephant-headed god being immersed in a body of water, but not in Calgary.

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"It's an eco-friendly idol made with clay and mud and natural colours, which has no harm to the environment," said Rekha Patel, talking about her bright red Ganesh, which stands around 45 centimetres high, decorated with bright yellow flowers.

Around 120 Hindu devotees joined a community celebration in Saddle Ridge on Thursday night but had to settle for submerging their Ganesh idol in a barrel of water on a front lawn after an evening of music, singing and prayers with followers covered in colourful powders during a street party and neighbourhood parade.

"All over the world, in America and Europe they do it, so why not Calgary?" said Patel. "In Toronto, Vancouver we have this permission, so I'd really request the City of Calgary to allow us to have Lord Ganesha immersed in a lake."

Others gathered at the celebration echoed Patel's call for the city to relax its stance on granting special permits related to bodies of water.

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"It's kind of disappointing. It's nothing harming to the environment," said Bharat Patel.

"There are many, many houses here doing this celebration. If the city allowed it then people, the whole community, will be happy."

But the city says it's a lot more complicated and there are many reasons why it routinely denies permits for groups looking to hold Ganesh Chaturthi events.

"The reality is these storm ponds are working ponds; they're not there for recreational purposes," said Corey Colbran, manager of wastewater and stormwater collection with the City of Calgary.

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"We're more than willing to collaborate with community groups on open space use but when it comes to water bodies the answer would be no," said Colbran. "Certainly for health and safety reasons it's critical people avoid entering or being near the edge of these ponds."

The city's festival and events team has received applications in the past for Ganesh Chaturthi events on the Bow River, Glenmore Reservoir and community lakes and storm ponds but permits have always been declined at all locations in Calgary.

Hindus in northeast Calgary say a local restoration pond in Saddle Ridge could be one possible venue if the city changes its mind. 

"We are hoping for next year," Bharat Patel said.