Ganesha is known to the world as
a Hindu god, and so is identified with India. Hinduism, however, is today
practiced in other parts of the world. In the past century, Hindus migrated
to Great Britain, Africa, and North America, in sufficient numbers so that
their temples are today found in these places, far from India. But one branch
of this diaspora is somewhat unique, in that Hinduism arrived and took root
decades before the real waves of Hindu population, and that place is California.
California, because of its liberal laws, was recognized from the early twentieth
century as a stronghold of alternative lifestyles within the United States
of America. South California in particular nurtured many spiritual organizations,
which, while not representing orthodox Hinduism, proposed and defended Hindu
precepts and generally taught yoga. Early examples are the Theosophical
Society's colony on Point Loma (San Diego), which has roots in the late
nineteenth century, and the various schools built by the Self-Realization
Fellowship. Interestingly, Ganesha Park, in Pomona, has an unclear origin
in the early twentieth century. In the 1930's, good climate, and the availability
of alternative medicine, made South California a popular destination for
retired Americans seeking to improve their health. Many became vegetarians.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church, long established in California, provided
a Christian spiritual organization for many California vegetarians, while
others founded annexes of existing Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh organizations.
Decades later, beginning ca. 1970, the International Society for Krishna
Consciousness built many proper Hindu temples in California, which are today
used by immigrant Hindus and American 'converts' alike. Ganesha grew in
popularity as the subject of paintings and drawings by artists producing
for the drug subculture in the 1980's. Most likely, this was not so much
because of a growth of interest in Hinduism, but because 'head shops' all
over the world became more interconnected, leading to a larger and more
colorful array of icons.