On a recent chilly Saturday evening a group of men waded waist deep into the waters of Mispec Beach, on the edge of east Saint John on the Bay of Fundy, to submerge an idol of the Hindu god Ganesh — a ceremonial farewell at the end of 10 days of celebration.
One of those men Jeetendra Singh, has been participating in these kinds of Hindu events since his youth in Mumbai.
After arriving in Canada as a student four years ago, he and his friends found there was less opportunity to celebrate the festivals they hold so dear.
"So we thought we should be the ones," he said. "We have got the idea that we can take this step forward and organize this so that we have not only Ganpati, but many [others]."
Jeentendra Singh and his friends started a group to organize important festivals as a way to help Indian newcomers feel at home and build community in Saint John. (Submitted by Jeetendra Singh)
Many people are familiar with Diwali — the Hindu festival of lights. But Diwali is just one of many festivals celebrated by Hindus worldwide.
Ganpati is one of many names which refer to Ganesha, one of the gods representing the Hindu faith. Singh and more than 100 others recently celebrated the god at the Ganesh Mahotsav festival.
It's the first of many Hindu celebrations that Singh and his group, Saint John Yuvak Mitra Mandal — which means an organization of young friends — are bringing to the area's Hindu community.
Held at the New Brunswick Community College campus, people danced and lined up to offer ceremonial prayers to the idol of Ganesha, which was displayed adorned with decorations — symbolizing welcoming the god into one's home. Gatherers then went to Mispec Beach for the submerging ceremony.
The celebration at the NBCC gym also involved music and dancing along with ceremonial worship. (Nipun Tiwari / CBC News)
To Singh, this celebration was more than a way to honour tradition, but also to connect with people who struggle with homesickness because of the drastic shift between living in India and in Canada.
"We wanted them to feel like home," he said.
Festivals have always played a role in Singh's life. He used to volunteer to decorate his building in India for this very festival.
The god is celebrated through ceremonial worship called "puja" — the act of inviting a god into one's home. (Nipun Tiwari/ CBC News)
While the NBCC gym was packed on this day — Singh fondly recalls a significantly different atmosphere in Mumbai, of walking the streets and hearing loud music on every corner and people performing worship rituals out in the open.
"People have so much faith in him that they do it on the street," he said.
It's fitting the Ganesh Mahotsav festival was the first one organized by Singh and his friends, as the celebration is all about new beginnings, said Satyendra Satyanarayana, who attended the event.
"This is a very important festival that's celebrated by Hindus across the world and all parts of India," he said.
"Ganesh is a deity that is felt to be the remover of obstacles and to start auspicious new beginnings."
Satyendra Satyanarayana says the festival symbolizes removal of obstacles and new beginnings. (Submitted by Satyendra Satyanarayana)
The god is celebrated through the act of ceremonial worship called "puja" — the act of inviting a god into one's home. In this case, the "honoured guest is Lord Ganesha," Satyanarayana said.
"So anytime you have a traditional welcome to any person or important guest it would involve first cleaning the area, then providing food," he said.
Satyanarayana says submerging the god in a body of water, known as "visarjan," also carries significance.
"That signifies saying goodbye to Ganesh. You're thanking him for having blessed us and then you're allowing him to bless others," he said.
Akshay Dholariya, came all the way from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to celebrate with his brother who lives in Saint John.
"This is a big event for us," he said.
But he said it's a challenge celebrating here.
Akshay Dholariya, who came from Nova Scotia to celebrate with his brother, says these festivals are important when you're living so far from your homeland. (Nipun Tiwari / CBC News )
"Here there are so many rules and regulations — first we need to take the permission of the government and everything," he said.
"But in India, it is normal, like in every street, in every corner and everywhere they are celebrating this type of festival during this time."
For Dholariya, being far from home makes it even more important to keep the festival alive.
"We are not living in India right now and we are living in the Canada, so we don't need to forget about our festivals and we need to celebrate wherever we are."