Tag Archives: Hinduism

Hindu temple in Livermore, California.

Eliminating Caste Discrimination is What Hindus Should Do

bell hooks once wrote that “homeplace” was a place constructed “where Black people could affirm one another and by so doing heal many of the wounds inflicted by racist domination.” I like to think that the Indian American, specifically the Hindu American community that raised me is a homeplace of sorts for brown folks in the racial superstructure of the U.S. It is the place where I made sense of my diasporic, non-white, Brahmin Hindu social position.

My earliest memory of my childhood religious upbringing was my father and I laying at the foot of my bed, reading mythological epics from Amar Chitra Katha. My favorite was the story of Shakuntala, the mother of Bharat. In her story, due to a vicious curse from a Rishi known as Durvasa, Shakuntala’s husband King Dushyanta forgot that she existed until years later when he saw the ring he gave her; all his memories of his love for her came rushing back. As a child, I considered Durvasa’s curse to be the most evil, most vile thing to bestow upon another being. What would my life be like should my loved ones forget about me? 

My father, an amateur theologian himself, smiled sadly at me. But don’t you see? This is the curse of humanity: we have all forgotten that atman, the soul, mirrors brahman, our cosmic reality. According to the teachings of the Upanishads, a forgotten truth of humanity is that every soul that exists is a perfect reflection of the universe. Of course, in my childhood, I could not grasp the radical inclusiveness of this concept. For, if atman is brahman, and brahman is atman, thus every soul is identical and equal in value and dignity. 

As I continued my studies and pursued a Ph.D. studying South Asian America and caste, I found myself fixating on this concept that encapsulated the foundation of my belief system. I learned that in the Advaita Vedanta philosophy of my youth, every soul could achieve liberation from the earthly cycles of violence and indignity, should only they remember the fundamental equality of all people. 

In my study of Hinduism, of the history and legacy of caste, and of South Asians in the diaspora, I came to recognize the disproportionate influence of caste on one’s livelihood. What was the difference between my soul born Brahmin and the soul of someone born Dalit, other than the random positions of our births? Yet, material outcomes told a different story. I grew up privileged, comfortably upper-middle-class, and with access to resources and education. As Ajantha Subramanian argues in her book The Caste of Merit: Engineering Education in India, while caste has increasingly become less visible in India, it still overwhelmingly benefits the caste privileged in terms of one’s educational and socioeconomic outcomes, including one’s ease of mobility to move to the United States. A 2003 study by the University of Pennsylvania found that only 1.5 percent of Indian immigrants in the United States were Dalit or of another oppressed caste. Equality Labs’ recent report on Caste in the U.S. found that 1 in 3 US-based Dalits experienced caste discrimination as students and 2 in 3 US-based Dalits experienced caste discrimination in their workplace. 

The complex and fate-determining caste system itself largely stems from the Manusmriti (Laws of Manu), a text that legal scholar Charles J. Naegele has positioned as similar in influence to the Code of Hammurabi. Unlike texts like the Vedas and the Upanishads that establish core Hindu teachings, the Laws of Manu put forward a code of conduct and manners for Hindu citizens during the 2nd century BCE. Along with a rigid caste system, the Laws of Manu put forward strict notions of gendered social roles, ideas about taxation, and clear guidelines on hygiene habits, much of which have been disregarded throughout history. 

While the Laws of Manu can be understood in its historical context, it is inconceivable to me that such an antiquated text should inform people’s futures — particularly when doing so moves us to forget the resounding truth that atman is brahman is atman. Moreover, Quare studies theorist E. Patrick Johnson emphasizes homeplace is also a site that we must critique in order to make it better. To envision a Hindu American homeplace where all souls are alike in dignity and equal in treatment requires liberation from the indignity of caste. Just as King Dushyanta remembered Shakuntala upon seeing his ring, we must remember the radical sense of justice enshrined in the Hindu faith. 

The Santa Clara Human Rights Commission heard public testimonies on April 29th to determine whether citizens should be protected against caste discrimination. As Hindu Americans, we must acknowledge that caste discrimination exists, that the caste oppressed must be protected, and that ensuring equality for all souls is what Hindu Americans should do.


Pavithra Suresh is a first-generation Indian Tamil American. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Studies at George Mason University where she teaches Global Affairs 101. Her dissertation will investigate the legacy of caste in the South Asian American community.


 

Cisco Headquarters in San Jose (Image by Coolcaesar Wikipedia Under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Why California’s Lawsuit Against Cisco Uniquely Endangers Hindus & Indians

The State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the Silicon Valley tech giant Cisco Systems in June 2020, accusing the company of engaging in unlawful employment practices over a claim by an Indian-origin employee that two managers, also of Indian origin, allegedly discriminated against him based on his assumed caste. The case was initially filed in federal court but has since been re-filed in state court. Cisco Systems is promising a vigorous defense, rejecting the claim of discrimination.

The State’s claim goes well beyond the specific allegations of caste discrimination, however. Despite not knowing what caste is, it attempts to define it in a way that maligns an entire community and religion. In so much that caste discrimination is a kind of malice against someone based not on their inherent worth, but something else, HAF wholeheartedly agrees that it is wrong and condemnable.

But the State of California has defined Hinduism in contradiction to the precepts of the religion and the beliefs of an overwhelming number of its own adherents. This violates the religious freedom rights of Hindu Americans.

The State of California has also failed to provide any definition or workable method to determine anyone’s caste other than an assumption that Hindus of Indian descent must identify as part of a specific caste, ascribe to a “strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy,” and engage in caste discrimination. The State’s inaccurate and unconstitutional definition will perversely lead to increased targeting of and discrimination against Indian-origin, and particularly Hindu workers by marking them as a suspicious class. This violates the due process rights of Hindu Americans.

We vehemently oppose all types of caste-based discrimination. We also reject any claim that prejudice and discrimination based on caste are inherent to Hinduism and take great exception to the State of California’s defaming and demeaning of all Hindus by attempting to connect a caste system to the Hindu religion.

Here’s why.

California has unconstitutionally defined Hindu religious doctrine, and  perpetuated false and dangerous stereotypes equating caste-based discrimination with Hinduism and Hindus

California’s complaint states:

“As a strict Hindu social and religious hierarchy, India’s caste system defines a person’s status based on their religion, ancestry, national origin/ethnicity, and race/color—or the caste into which they are born—and will remain until death.”  (emphasis added)

In connecting caste and caste-based discrimination to Hindu teachings and practice, the state’s suit explicitly defines and ties Hinduism to inequality.

The State of California’s assertion is a clear violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom because rather than allowing Hindus to define their religions for themselves, the state is defining the precepts and practices of Hinduism for Hindus.

Such unconstitutional overreach by the State of California should be concerning for all Americans.

Not only is California’s definition unconstitutional, it’s wrong 

Any assertion that caste discrimination is integral to Hindu teachings and practice is not only wrong, it traffics in anti-Hindu hate.

Hinduism teaches that the Divine is equally present in all. Because all beings are connected through this shared divine presence, prejudice and discrimination against anyone or any group violate this most profound and fundamental teaching and the moral duties of selflessness, non-injury, and truth evoked by it.

Hinduism’s wide array of sacred texts, stories, and poetry, and widely respected spiritual teachers, both past and present, repeatedly emphasize this profound life lesson. Moreover,  every major sampradaya (Hindu religious tradition) and Hindu socio-religious organization rejects caste-based discrimination.

California’s failure to provide any definition or workable method to determine anyone’s caste will lead to more discrimination

The only consistent factor California seeks to identify with caste is that it is an inherent part of Hinduism. That this authorizes or encourages seriously discriminatory enforcement against Hindus and Americans of South Asian descent is self-evident. Without any context outside of its asserted connection to Hinduism, the DFEH has provided no meaning or definition of caste and would set up a legal structure that actually requires the discrimination it seeks to prevent.

California has also blown a dog-whistle for anti-immigrant bigotry

The State of California frames the beginning of its complaint in blatantly racist and anti-immigrant terms. It alleges that Indians are “significantly overrepresented” at Cisco, which could be read to be implying that similarly qualified non-Indian immigrants are being ignored in hiring there and at other tech companies.

Such framing — that hordes of Indians are overrepresented, taking away American jobs —  is common rhetoric amongst anti-immigrant extremists and hate groups.

Predictably, news of the lawsuit is stoking a spate of xenophobic attacks targeting Indian and Hindu Americans. A recent story covering the case in Breitbart evinced comments like these:

“We don’t want too many Indians in the USA. After all, look what those geniuses did to India. Too many geniuses in one place seems to be a bad thing.”

California also perpetuates racist European theories about caste

California’s claims about Hinduism and its conflation of caste with race and color, stem not from Hindu understanding of their own religion and history, but rather from the misinformed and misrepresentative assertions by Western Europeans.

British colonial occupation defined Hinduism not based on Indians’ own understandings of Hinduism’s precepts and practices, but rather on the British’s own 18th and 19th-century belief in their superiority over non-white, non-Christian peoples outside of Europe. British colonial government latched onto existing non-uniform, highly localized social and cultural divisions within India to devise a four-fold pan-Indian caste system to use to control the occupied.

The caste system as defined by the State of California is merely a reflection of this British-created administrative tool and the scientific racism in vogue.

 California is targeting its Californians of Indian descent.

Discrimination based on national origin is already prohibited under US law as is ancestry and ethnicity under many state laws and public and private sector employment policies. National origin, ancestry, and ethnicity have been interpreted as protecting against discrimination based on birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics — all of which are social markers associated with the various theories about caste.

Every protected class under US civil rights law, namely race, national origin (ancestry/ethnicity), gender, religion, disability, age, and now sexual orientation, is broad, facially neutral, and universal. They seek to address well-documented bases of discrimination broadly.

Caste as a specific category is problematic because it singles out and targets people of Indian descent given the singular association of caste and a caste system with India. Caste as a specific class also suggests that there is a prevalent form of prejudice and malice amongst only people of Indian and/or South Asian descent and Hindus that is so entirely different and abhorrent that they should be marked a suspicious class based on their race, national origin, ethnicity, or religion and specifically monitored and policed. This in itself is discriminatory because prejudice and discrimination based on social backgrounds such as clan, class, sect, tribe, or other factors are prevalent within all countries and cultures.

Conclusion

Stopping prejudice and discrimination are worthy goals that directly further Hinduism’s teaching about the equality of the divine essence of all people.

Companies should work on creating a safe environment for all employees to thrive and be mutually respected. Any issues of unfair treatment should be thoroughly addressed and resolved.

But wrongly tying Hinduism and Hindus to the abhorrent act of caste discrimination undermines that goal and violates the First Amendment rights of all Hindu Americans.  It denies them due process based on their religious affiliation by uniquely targeting them in the absence of any universally accepted understanding of what “caste” is or proof of widespread discrimination on its basis.


The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is an educational and advocacy organization established in 2003.

This article was originally published on their website here.


 

Dharmic Environmentalism

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

The environment is a universal concern.

Universal environmentalism, however, is myopic, monopolistic, and hegemonic. It overlooks native and Indigenous solutions and, as such, is a recipe for disaster. 

We all relate to our surroundings differently. Present-day environmentalism, however, is based on the Western anthropocentric approach. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, anthropocentrism as a religious and philosophical doctrine holds that “human life has intrinsic value while other entities (including animals, plants, mineral resources, and so on) are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind.”

The destruction of ancient paganism was a turning point in environmentalism. Before the advent of Christianity, both as a religion and as a political power, there was no distinction between nature and the divine in the widespread pagan societies. Pagans believed in God’s transcendence in the elements of nature. The notion of the ‘sacred grove,’ however, is an alien concept in the West. Moreover, Marxism, Liberalism, neoliberalism, etc., too are an extension of the same anthropocentric ideology. They regard humankind as central and the most important in the world. 

What is considered modern and scientific in our day-to-day lives today, is based primarily on Christian theology. Implicit faith in perpetual progress dominates our lifestyle, our habits of action, and our planning for the future. Man’s destiny, within this paradigm, is to be hopeful of a future affected by science, technology, a promise of more progress, and doomsday prophecies. 

Modern technology too ends up being a means to an end. As the attitude and the will to exert dominion over nature becomes all the more urgent, the more technology threatens to slip from human control. We end up empowering our political class as they promise to make things better with newer progressive technologies as well as with catchy phrases and slogans.

Such thinking was unknown either to the pagan Greco-Roman antiquity or to the indigenous civilizations of what came to be known as the Orient. Indigenous care for nature goes much beyond the shrill of environmentalism. Such care is deeply rooted in culture, “religion,” and spiritualism. Native cultures, such as Hinduism, have a long history of living in harmony with their surroundings. They are mindful of ecological limits, constraints, and boundaries of nature and do not take from nature more than what is needed. There is an element of reverence towards the earth and other elements of nature that guides them. Native cultures have developed a complex system of using and preserving the ecology. Native American communities’ use of low-intensity controlled burns, regenerative harvesting, etc are examples of native environmentalism. 

Bishnoi Woman (Image from Permaculture News)

As for Hindus, much before any modern-day environmental protocol was ever signed, it is the Bhoomisuktam (hymn of the Mother Earth) of the Atharva Veda that provides a framework for environmentalism. Composed more than 3,000 years ago, Bhoomisuktam is considered the oldest environmental protocol. The Sukta is composed of 63 verses. These verses provide a framework of understanding as well as respecting Mother Earth and her environment. The Sukta recognizes the Earth for all her gifts such as plants and herbs; rivers and cultivable land for food; and animals for milk, honey, etc. But going a step further, the invoker of the verses declares that despite availing all those boons, he does not intend to hurt Mother Earth in any manner whatsoever. The Sukta gives to Mother Earth an assurance of rational utilization of her resources. 

Much of our interaction with the elements of nature, according to Hinduism, is guided by Dharma: the rules of ethical behavior. Such behaviors are guided not by rights, but by obligations. Pankaj Jain in his book Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities describes three communities in India that have actively and consciously worked to preserve and protect the environment as part of their cultural and religious ideology. Those communities include the Swadhyayis, Bishnois, and Bhils.

The Swadhyayis disavow environmentalism. Their mission is “to generate and spread reverence for humans, animals, trees, earth, nature, and the entire universe in general.”

Similarly, the Bishnoi community was founded by a 15th century Guru Jambheshwara who spread the teachings of conservation and living in harmony with nature. Bhils, on the other hand, have protected their sacred groves for generations. 

According to Indic environmentalist and the author of the book Good News India, DV Sridharan, “one doesn’t restore nature, one just keeps a vigil against interruption of Nature’s relentless act of creating the fair and rightful balance.” Hindus believe that when the imbalance reaches a critical point and equilibrium is broken beyond redemption, an avatār ‘unburdens’ the Earth.

Unless the ecological concerns do not empower individuals and communities worldwide to find their indigenous solutions at a more local level, the answer to such concerns will always evade us.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Dwarka: Lord Krishna’s Kingdom

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

(Featured Image: Gomti Ghat by Suman Bajpai)

After a year of a forced break due to pandemic, at last, I have decided to travel and booked an early morning flight ticket (thinking, that at that rush would not be heavy, but I was wrong, the flight was packed) to travel up to Rajkot and then further to Dwarka

The present Dwarka is on the coast of the Arabian sea opposite the Gulf of Kutch. Known as the capital of Lord Krishna’s Kingdom, the Dwarkadhish temple has heritage importance as one of the major sites for Hindu pilgrimage. It is said that when Lord Krishna and Yadavas left Mathura and arrived at the coast of Saurashtra, they decided to build their capital in the coastal region; invoking Vishwakarma, the deity of construction, it is believed that the ‘city of Gold’ was built in one day. 

Sudhama Setu – Witness Sunrise and Sunset

Sudhama Setu from Wikimedia Commons.

After having lunch and some rest, I went to Sudama Setu over river Gomti.

Sudhama, the best friend of Lord Krishna, is said to have his presence in the land of Dwarka. The bridge that connects both sides of the Gomti River is called Sudhama Setu and watching the sunrise and sunset from this place can be truly delightful.

There I saw the sacred five wells built by the Pandavas, including the famous meditation spot of the five rishis. Camels, decorated in vibrant colours can be seen and camel riding on the banks of the Gomti River is one of the best things to do in Dwarka. The sight of the Ghats and boat riding is a great experience.

Dwarkadhish Temple – Stories Tell Its glory

Dwarkadish Templa (Image by Suman Bajpai)

Dwarka, the city, has been claimed by the sea six times. Though a few kilometers away, I could see the temple’s flag – Dhawajaji or the kirti pataka, which is changed five times a day. Soon the temple’s huge dome could also be seen. This is where Shree Dwarkadeesh reigned 5000 years ago and his presence is felt even today.

While moving towards Dwarkadhish temple, on both sides of the road you find a variety of shops that sell bags, juttis, items made by shells, sweets, Puja material, and Prasad. The air smells of salt and incense. Chants of Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevaay, Om Namah Shivaay, and the Hare Krishna Mahamantra emanate through the backdrop of bathers, shoppers and the colourful bazaar. In the evening, different shades of lights enhance the beauty of the temple, which mesmerize you as soon as you enter. 

Sri Dwarkadhish temple is a five-storied structure built on 60 columns, crowned by a soaring elaborately carved spire. There are two gates or dwar to the temple. The North Gate is called Moksha dwar – the way to salvation, from where devotees enter, and the South Gate is called Swarga dwar – the gate to heaven, from where you exit.

Legend has it that the temple was originally built by the grandson of Krishna, Vajranabha, over Lord Krishna’s residential place (hari-griha). Adi Shankaracharya, the venerable Hindu theologian and philosopher from the 8th century who unified the main beliefs of Hinduism, visited the shrine. After his visit, the temple became part of the sacred Char Dham pilgrimage that is essential for the attainment of Moksha for Hindus.

Built in Limestone, the temple complex has several shrines. The main deity is Lord Krishna, also known as Dwarkadhish or Ranchor ji. The basement has an ancient Shivalinga along with Ma Amba, Aniruddha, Pradyumn, Rukmani, Satyabhama, Jamvanti, and Laxmi are also worshipped.

The place below the temple is known as Chakra tirth. Shell-like stones, mostly white in colour, are available only at Dwarka, are sold here. This chakra is a sacred object, bestowing purity and salvation. Gopi Chandan, which is very dear to Lord Krishna, is also sold here.

The temple was packed with devotees, so in queue with my mask, I attended the enchanting aarti of Dwarkadhish.

Nageshwar Shiva Temple – A Tall Idol Attracts   

Nageshwar Temple (Image by Suman Bajpai)

The next morning, I went to Nageshwar Shiva Temple, which is one of the twelve jyotirlingas located at Nageshwar village in Gujarat. As soon as I had entered, a very big size idol of Lord Shiva surprised me, standing tall in the open sky. 

Nageshwar Temple is one of the oldest temples mentioned in the Shiva Purana. The swayambhu lingam enshrined in the underground chamber at Nageshwar Temple is known as Nageshwar Mahadev. It is believed that this Jyotirlinga protects from all poisons and one who prays here obtains freedom from all kinds of poison.

There is a legend behind this temple told to me by its priest there. There once lived a demon called Daruka, who was extremely cruel and tortured the people. One day he captured a Shiva devotee called Supriya along with many others. The prisoners were held in the underwater city that swarmed with sea-snakes. Supriya recited the Shiva mantra ‘Aum Namaha Shivayay’ to protect them. Daruka tried to kill Supriya, but Lord Shiva appeared in his full glory and killed the demon and went on to reside in the powerful Jyotirlinga.

The temple is a simple structure with typical Hindu architecture. Here the Shiva Lingam faces to the south and the Gomugam faces towards the east. The Shivalinga at Nageshwar is a Tri-Mukhi Rudraksha which is around 40 cm high and 30 cm in diameter. Goddess Parvati as Nageshwari along with the Shivalinga also can be seen. 

Rukmini Temple – Stands On Dry Land

Rukmani Temple (Image by Suman Bajpai)

Almost 2000 years old, Rukmini Temple is located in a deserted area. Its intricate carvings have made it a nationally protected monument. The temple of Rukmini Devi, the chief queen of Lord Krishna, is on the outskirts of Dwarka City. Interestingly, drinking water is offered as a donation to the temple. By donating money one can contribute to bringing drinking water to this area.

Why this temple is far away from the temple of Lord Krishna is associated with a legend.

Saga Durvasa was once invited by Krishna and his wife Rukmini for dinner. Krishna and Rukmini were pulling his chariot. On the way, Devi Rukmini felt thirsty, asked for water, and Lord Krishna provided it by hitting the ground with his toe. Without offering to Durvasa, Devi Rukmini drank the water. The sage felt insulted and he cursed her – she would live separately from her husband. That is the reason that in this temple Rukmini is being worshiped alone without lord Krishna. As a result of this, it is believed that that is the reason for the shortage of drinking water.

Rukmini’s temple stands on very dry land, completely isolated with not a single building or house beside it. The temple’s spellbinding architecture with minute carvings and paintings depicts various stories. Within the complex, there are other temples also dedicated to Amba Devi, the Kul Devi of Krishna.

As soon you get a chance to travel, this should be on your list as one of the first places to visit in India!


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi. 

The Historical Old Temple of Vedanta Society In San Francisco

The Old Temple of the Vedanta Society in San Francisco somehow made me think about the little poem below by Rabindranath Tagore. I have appended my (admittedly poor) translation below the poem.

বহু দিন ধরেবহু ক্রোশ দূরে

বহু ব্যয় করিবহু দেশ ঘুরে

দেখিতে গিয়েছি পর্বতমালা

দেখিতে গিয়েছি সিন্ধু।

দেখা হয় নাই চক্ষু মেলিয়া

ঘর হতে শুধু দুই পা ফেলিয়া

একটি ধানের শিষের উপরে

একটি শিশির বিন্দু।।

“Over many many years, I traveled many many miles, spent a fortune, and visited many distant lands to enjoy the majestic beauty of great mountain ranges and seashores. But I just did not spare the time to merely step outside my front door and open my eyes to the simple beauty of a drop of dew glistening on a blade of grass in a paddy field.”

We travel to London, Paris, Rome, Greece, Egypt to see the Buckingham Palace, Notre Dame, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Acropolis, and the pyramids. We travel east to visit the famous Borobodur and Angkor Wat in Indonesia and Cambodia, Beijing’s Summer Palace, and the Great Wall of China. We take time to visit the famous temples of Kedar/Badri, Varanasi, and Tirupati.  

But how many among us have noticed the Old Temple of the Vedanta Society of Northern California – a rather unusual structure – at the southwest corner of Webster and Filbert Street in San Francisco?  How many of us even knew about it?

Replica of Benares Temple and Swami Vedananda (Image by Partha Sircar)

The Old Temple has its own unique history.  It is the oldest universal Hindu temple in the western world.  It was completed in 1906, just before the great San Francisco earthquake. It somehow survived the earthquake and the fire that followed – some may think it was divine intervention. The temple was built under the leadership of Swami Trigunatitananda, who at the time was in charge of the Vedanta Society of San Francisco (founded by Swami Vivekananda himself in 1900). Swami Trigunatitananda was a brother disciple of Swami Vivekananda, one of Sri Ramakrishna’s sixteen monastic disciples.  Incidentally, he died in 1915 resulting from the injuries from a bomb thrown at him by a deranged disciple, while he was speaking from the pulpit of his beloved temple – the first martyr of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Movement.

Swami Trigunatiatnanda had grandiose visions of the temple. He wanted it to reflect an architectural representation of the message of religious harmony, the central theme of his Guru Sri Ramakrishna’s message to the modern world, as so ably expounded by Swami Vivekananda. Therefore it is not built like an Indian temple. Each of its four towers on the roof and the small tower at the entrance to the auditorium is architecturally unique. They have echoes of the Shiva temples of Bengal, the Varanasi temple, a medieval Christian church, the Taj Mahal, and a Muslim mosque. The veranda running along the north and east sides of the building on the third floor is lined with sculpted arches in Moorish style.  In addition to the auditorium, the temple housed monk’s quarters and administrative offices. With time came requirements for additional space.

Old Temple Auditorium in the Old Vedanta Temple (Image by Partha Sircar)

Major activity was shifted to the New Temple which was built in 1959 at the northwest corner of Vallejo and Fillmore Streets, a few blocks from the Old Temple. 

The Old Temple was recently subjected to a major renovation, including seismic retrofit, to bring it up to the current Building Code requirements. A  Re-Dedication Ceremony for the Old Temple took place on October 29 (Kali Puja Day) and October 30, 2016, graced by a senior monk from Belur Math and about a dozen monks from all over North America.  

Perhaps now some of us will take a closer look at the Old Temple and try to find out more about it. And that also includes me.

Epilogue

The article above was written about four years ago. Since then, the renovations, including seismic retrofit of the structure, for which the temple was closed for a while, have been completed. A guided tour of the temple was arranged by the Vedanta Society on October 13 and 14, 2018 to mark the reopening after the renovation and seismic retrofit.  As usual, it was conducted by Swami Vedananda, the elderly, very learned American monk, of the Society. I took advantage of the tour on its very first day. 


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He has worked in several engineering organizations over the years and is now retired for over eight years. He loves to write.

Featured image from Wikimedia commons.

Bay Area Poet Relives Oral Traditions

Divine Blossoms is the kind of book I might have never discovered if I was not the founder and host of a poetry group called the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley. I am so glad that I agreed to review it and have had it on my bedside table for easy access for the past several weeks.

The poet, Anuradha Gajaraj-Lopez brings wholesomeness to the ordinary life as a householder. As a former journalist, she has a facility with words, using them to reach everyone, regardless of where they might come from. The 134-page book is more than a poetry book. It offers poems that are also prayer, a wide range of ways of worship, and several ancient stories from epics of Hindu mythology, as spiritual fables with lessons for young and old. These are all wrapped and delivered as short poems, with the cadence and essence of a bhajan, a devotional song, in simple English, that makes it accessible to everyone.

The book has two parts: the first called Murmurs from Beyond and the second called Whispers from India. The poems in the first part deal with faith in God and the metaphor of divine love. The latter part has poems in six sessions, on topics of devotees, folklore, epics of Ramayan and Mahabharta, gods Shiva and Krishna, Christ and Yogananda, women in India, and on death. The poems are rich in detail with the pathos of lived life in human form combined with a yearning for the inspiration from the deep faith in the divine, through the references that evoke not just the main characters that are highlighted in the index, but also the poetic traditions, with Kabir, Ramakrishna, Chaitnya Prabhu and others who were seekers in the same vein.  

Anuradha invites the reader into her world with an authentic and heartfelt outpouring of the essence of all that she cherishes. The Indian mythological stories have a living oral tradition such that retelling these timeless stories allows for making them relevant in contemporary times. Anuradha’s rendering does that. If you are not familiar with Hindu mythology, she helpfully provides a short introduction before the poem, to make the story be set in the context, and for them to be rendered in a poetic form. The poems are crystalized into the essence of the story, almost like a bhajan, an Indian devotional poetic form.

I will not be surprised if someone reading them decided to set them to music and create a musical or chant form for these in the future. As many of the stories were familiar to me, parts of the book took me on a journey to my childhood when I had first heard these. The poems leave a fragrance, and it makes sense that she called the book Divine Blossoms. While the poems are light reading, they offer comfort, surprise, hope, and the adventure of a story. The moral lessons are conveyed gently like what the poet believes, and not a lecture on morality. Her voice brings the easy access of an Amar Chitra Katha comic book version along with the message with the clarity of her spiritual guru, Yogananda. The deep convictions of the poet are what make this poetry transparent and luminescent. These are conveyed in an easy manner that makes it clear that the poet practices these effortlessly and speaks her mind genuinely, wearing her faith as easily as a well-loved garment, and releasing the poems with trust that they will find their own readers. 

The book is self-published and shows care in how symbols and images have been added to enhance the presentation. It will feel different from a professionally edited book since it has its own unique layout. This makes me wish that it will inspire others who are carrying their poems and stories within them to also be willing to create their own books. The creativity and fire of the work are best experienced, rather than described by me, so I have selected one of my favorite poems, reproduced with her permission.    

The Stone on the Temple Floor

It is so unfair

I am trodden on by hundreds

Who rush by without a thoughtless care

To seek a glimpse of your form

And yet,

I was hewn on the same old rock as thee

 

Here I lie on the temple floor

While you are daily worship

With honey, milk, curd and

Precious gems galore!

 

“Ha” laughed the divine statue

Standing erect and tall

And gently said,

“Brother, don’t you remember at all?”

 

The days when we lay on

The stone mason’s yard

With hardly a few blows you were

All set, and proudly carted afar

While, I cried each time,

The choice and hammer

Moved relentlessly on

On every inch of this form

You now see and envy from afar

 

And so, the Divine sculptor

Deals the hardest blows on those

He holds very close

Not to be discarded on an old temple floor

But to merge with Him and

Reach the coveted destiny that is His alone!


Dr. Jyoti Bachani is on a mission to humanize management using the arts, specifically poetry and improv, as a founding member of the Poetry of Diaspora of Silicon Valley, a co-founder of the US chapter of the International Humanistic Management Association, and an associate professor of business at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Love, Let Us Look At It Again

Love is supposed to be a generic term but we usually associate it with romantic love. Romantic love is distinguished from the rest of its cohorts because of the specificity of the age and stage of life when it arrives, its overwhelming tidal force when it takes over, the creative outflow it unleashes, and the subjective blindness it induces by a combination of myopia and presuppositions. There is no sense in fighting it since it holds our genetic reins.

Is it bad and harmful? The answer will depend on whether you are holding a knife by its handle or its cutting edge. Holding by handle implies your ability to master the hormonal storm by which the romantic love has besieged you, and tame it until your navigation comes under control. It is more difficult than what it appears to be because the tempest is blown by Mother Nature herself who wants you to multiply without any further procrastination. Delay for her is dangerous!

We still have a choice…

Our reproductive instinct has to be tempered by our long-term thinking. That perhaps is how we have learned to curtail unwanted pregnancies all across the planet. On the flip side, however, our divorce rate continues to mount even in our tradition-bound orthodox world. That conflict between the joy of procreation and the responsibility of reproduction continues unabated. The topic of LOVE, therefore, demands continued attention. Smart children, meanwhile, will not be trapped in this parental conflict but seek a profitable exit.

Can love turn into a redeeming experience?

The answer is a qualified yes.

“Love is whole, we are pieces,” said Rumi.

If the right, matching pieces come together, they will help towards building a possibility of wholeness. Love requires every person to strive towards being better than he/she is. Thus, the missing pieces are not pre-calibrated but indeed honed and shaped by deliberation.

The two most widely used expressions – “then they fell in love” and “then they lived happily ever after” – need to have a cautious halt. One has to be watchful not to “fall in love” simply by the force of gravity. Happiness is a learned behavior so the end of the fairy tales need to be modified as: “then they learned to live happily ever after.”

Love, at first sight, is not a falsehood if it does not supplement foresight and hindsight to ensure that love does not proceed blindly. 

Where is the help when you need it the most?

Parents are subjective.

Teachers could be harsh and instructive.

Friends, though supportive, are inexperienced.

Clergy, often, carry a religious bias.

Basically, you are on your own when you take the plunge, unsure whether you will swim or sink.

As a member of the faculty in a school with young and vulnerable people, I decided to take the plunge and cheer up those who will swim and help those who may sink. I was qualified to be a Priest so I started officiating weddings, same faith or interfaith. My mission was to create faith in love and marriage at a time when young people march away from it. They need to know that even a powerful love can perish and mighty marriages can melt when a tough time tests it. 

Premarital Counseling

I know about the premarital meetings required by certain religions and that it remains constrained to religious discourse. Among young people of today, identification by religion is somewhat thinning out. I, therefore, explore with couples, through spiritual and practical exercise, how to unfold their insights. I am told repeatedly how helpful they find this experience to be. 

Young people from a similar age group talking about their own experiences can furnish some acceptably useful hints. In all professional schools, seniors help the juniors. It is amazing how little help we solicit in this way. I have seen several examples of young people in college who have uprooted their social and educational careers when they reach the critical phase of Love. Shakespeare created Romeo and Juliet to highlight a tragedy of volatile love eclipsing young people. Parenthetically, I should add that Saint Valentine was beheaded for his uniting couples in marriage!

Nevertheless, I continue to support and guide young couples determined to tie their sacred knots.

Christian and Hindu Concepts of Love

C.S. Lewis wrote a classical book on The Four Loves to reflect a Christian and a philosophical perspective of this subject. He identified four loves: Empathy Bond, Philia or Friend Bond, Eros or Romantic Love, and Agape or Godward Love. 

It comes close to our Indian concept of love in some areas. Our concept of Romantic Love leading to Agape is best illustrated in Bilvamangal, the story of the famous poet Tulsidas whose Romantic love got converted into Agape. There are numerous stories in India illustrating the metamorphosis of Romantic Love into Godward Love or Agape. That is the very direction to which marrying couples are guided in a classic Indian wedding ceremony.

It is impossible to finish writing all about LOVE. I would sum up by saying that True Love does not divide, but unites and builds bridges rather than walls. I will therefore end by quoting Mother Teressa: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come without being happier.”


Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a priest, poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada, and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at bmajmud1962@gmail.com. 

Hinduphobia in the Academy

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

A Harvard Kennedy School academic had recently tweeted saying, “Hindus are sick people of India, it is their religious books who (sic) train the mind.” 

A couple of years ago, another faculty at Rutgers University’s history department had tweeted that Mata Sita, in Valmiki’s Ramayana, basically tells Bhagwan Rama that he is a “misogynist pig and uncouth.” 

Yet another faculty at the Uppsala University’s  Department of Peace and Conflict Research had made a “Gau Mutra” (cow urine, a common taunt against the Hindus by the jihadists) comment in his tweet.

  

These Hinduphobic comments are not an anomaly. We are used to hateful comments on social media from a part of the academy. Even within the elite academic peer-reviewed journals, Hinduphobic commentaries are often presented against Hindus, and disinformation is spread under the garb of the academic enterprise and free-speech. 

Western academia also produces a large amount of what Rajeev Malhotra calls atrocity literature. It is a body of literature “with the explicit goal to show the target non-Western culture is committing atrocities on its own people, and hence in need of Western intervention.” 

A Hinduphobic discourse, according to Jeffrey Long, “is a narrative which typically portrays Hinduism exclusively as an oppressive and regressive tradition inextricably bound up with social institutions like caste and patriarchy.” According to Long, a sniff-test for Hinduphobia in a critique of Hindus or Hinduism, academic or otherwise, is to ask the following question: “Is there a scenario, short of their complete renunciation of Hinduism, in which Hindus might address this critique in a way the critic would find acceptable?” If the answer is “no,” we are dealing with Hinduphobia. 

Why so much hate and disinformation against Hindus, one might ask? One of the reasons for disinformation is that Indians in general, and Hindus in particular, have lost agency in the exchange of information about their own culture, traditions, and texts. During the colonial time, the Western scholars started sharing information about Hinduism with other non-native scholars, and the modalities of exchanging information in the study of India became predominantly outsider to outsider. One of the schools that emerged from this outsider to outsider exchange was Indology, with roots in racism.

Indology is the academic study of India, its texts, religions, and culture. It holds a preeminent position in the western scholarly interpretation of Indian texts and traditions. The entire gamut of Indology study isn’t only premised upon Protestant theologizing, but it is also a product of racial prejudice. Indologists dismiss any native perspective as they believe that Indians lacked access to the “true” meaning of their texts. They also believe that Indians never developed “critical” and “scientific” thinking; hence Indian texts should not be read as Indians do. However, what evolved as “critical” and “scientific” in Indology, Vishwa Adluri points out, had emerged from “Protestant debates over scriptures.”

When Adluri sent in his academic work on the Hindu epic The Mahābhārata to Indology professors in Germany, he expected constructive criticism. What he received shocked him. Reviewing his doctoral research, one of the professors wrote: “What I was arguing against in my assessment of your work was your peculiar method to use ‘theology,’ that is, in this case, an Indian religious view of the text, not as the object of research.” 

Adluri, who holds doctoral degrees in Philosophy and Indology, was “traumatized” by the treatment. “The racism I encountered… was more insidious. It was scientific or scientized racism… Indologists enact this discrimination not because they are vulgar racists – obviously, they think they are cultured, enlightened, and cosmopolitan – but because their authority depends on it.” Adluri recounted in an interview.  According to Adluri, “The Indologists really believe it is their mission – as Europeans – to teach Indians to receive their own texts correctly and “critically”… Europeans are mündig (mature), whereas non-Europeans are unmündig and hence candidates for… (re)education.”

The centers of South Asian Studies, across the globe and certainly in the US, have kept the spirit of Indology alive, with Leftists and Marxists joining the bandwagon. These centers have their history in war and evangelism, and several prominent South Asia scholars were the US spies working in the region. Kushagra Aniket, a recent Cornell University graduate, recounted his story where a Cornell professor claimed that The Bhagwad Gitā was a manual of casteist morality that advocated the annihilation of one’s clan if required by one’s caste-based duties. 

When Aniket found out that Cornell offered a course in Philosophy of War that explored the “Just War Theory” in Western theologies, he decided to take it. When he submitted his research paper on “The Concept of Just War in the Gita,” he was challenged for not including any “academic” citations. In his defense, Aniket claimed that he knew Sanskrit and relied on “his translation of the original” for which he should get extra-credit.

The parallels between Adluri and Aniket’s experiences with their professors are indistinguishable.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Padmavyuha: A Film Questioning Blind Faith

(Featured Image: Director, Raj Krishna, and crew on the set of Padmavyuha) 

The dedicated and outspoken religious studies Professor Shaki Ramdas is sitting in his university office one evening when he receives a mysterious phone call –  an unidentified voice tells him that a prominent journalist has gone missing, an obscure religious symbol left at the scene of disappearance. His interest piqued, Professor Ramdas follows up with the Detective on the case, Mark King, who at first is skeptical of Professor Ramdas but grows to trust him and value his inputs.

A still from the film, Padmavyuha.

Professor Ramdas works with Detective King and the unidentified voice on the telephone to decipher a series of religious puzzles, slowly uncovering a growing conspiracy designed to silence non-believers. But as the Professor digs in deeper, he finds himself descending the dark staircase of his own fractured psyche, beginning to question his own views on religion. As he deciphers the final puzzle and discovers the true villain, he will find his religious worldviews transformed – discovering a shocking, newfound purpose. 

After watching Padmavyuha and exchanging correspondence with the Director, Raj Krishna, I began to understand the importance of this film and am glad that it premiered at the International Indian Film Festival in Toronto on August 9, 2020 to a wide audience.

The purpose of this film is threefold:

  1. To introduce the central tenet of Hinduism: The dual concept of Jivatman which goes through several cycles of birth and rebirth to ultimately merge into Parmatman or the Divine source. This can be accomplished through careful observation of actions that are subject to the law of Karma.
  2. To unravel several myths about the origin, history, and core issues of Hinduism.
  3. To question the caste system. When was the “caste system”, which is linked to violent oppression by Hindus, created?

I was born a Hindu and raised in a household where my father, a highly compassionate soul was agnostic for a long time, and my mother was a staunch devotee of Lord Hanuman.  I grew up with a rich tapestry of Hindu culture, mythology, prayers, hymns, and am deeply rooted in my faith. We were taught to notice the atman in every living being and practice ahimsa or nonviolence.

India is a secular state and it was prevalent in my formative years and I think to some extent it is still a common practice for Indians of all faiths to visit temples and other places of worship including churches, mosques, and gurudwaras without restrictions. But recently there had been a rise in right-wing nationalistic sentiment in the West and it has percolated also to our motherland.

Raj Krishna implores the audience to examine the core values of their own faith and try to understand that “ negative” sentiments about faiths are intentionally tagged to many religions just to incite fear among the general population and to prevent them from living in harmony. 

The Director addresses the confusion created all over the world about the “civilizations from the East or the Orient.”  Who were the original Indians?

In fact recently, when Senator Harris accepted the Vice Presidential nomination for the United States of America, I received phone calls from educated Americans friends debating about the origin of the Indian race! Who are the original Indians? Did they come from the Middle East? Who were the Aryans and why did they create an intentional hierarchy amongst their citizens: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, and other miscellaneous outcastes?

But it is important to recognize whose prerogative is being used to theorize about other races.

I was lost in the shades of grey existing between the two versions of the truth, finding it more and more difficult to classify the current events as good or bad. The more I studied, the more shocked and confused I found myself on the core issues; is religion good? What is its true history? Who is right – the political activists protesting against the religious right, or the religious right themselves, who claim to have done far more in the name of equality than anyone else?,” interrogates Raj Krishna.

The film, Padmavyuha implores the audience to pay attention to the projected ambiguity about the Hindu faith and not fall in the trap created by right-wing nationalists. It behooves every practitioner to carefully examine the good and bad of their own religion before following anything blindly.

To learn more about what Padmavyuha means and to gain a glimpse into the history and mysterious annotations of ancient Indian civilization, watch the movie for yourself. I recommend it! 

Catch a viewing at these following local film festivals:

Silicon Valley Asian Pacific FilmFesthttps://svapfilmfest.eventive.org/films – October 2-10, 2020

Orlando Film Festivalhttps://orlandofilmfest.com/ – October 15-22, 2020

Indian Film Festival of Cincinnatihttps://iffcincy.eventive.org/films – Oct 15-Nov 1, 2020

Show Low – White Mountains Arizona Film Festivalhttps://filmfreeway.com/ShowLowFilmFestival – Oct 16-18, 2020

Oregon State International Film Festivalhttps://dasfilmfest.vhx.tv/products – October 19-25, 2020

Louisville’s International Festival of Filmhttps://louisvillefilmfestival.org/ – Nov 5-7, 2020


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

Namaste America: Forget the Handshake

Do you remember where we were before the pandemic hit?

Inequality had reached historical records worldwide, Australia had burned for months on end, autocrats were suffocating democracy in Hungary and Venezuela, and a wave of protests had swept across six continents– from Beirut to Paris, from Hong Kong to Moscow. 

COVID-19 is spreading worldwide, confusion prevails, and some of the leaders of the advanced world seem to embrace a casual approach. We offer a simple pathway to guide that will reduce the virus spread. Coronavirus within the last seven months has brought the whole world to its knees. 

Examine the situation in India: Migrant laborers/working populations are stranded with no job prospects. No way to get back to their home villages, many hundreds of miles away. And no access to medical care. This pandemic, affecting the developed and developing nations, has had the same level of impact. 

Preventive steps are now universally encouraged for COVID19, namely “stay at home” and a virtual lockdown of economies, thus separating the infected from the non-infected. Its compliance had been erratic in the US.

It is time to reframe our approaches to daily living activities, more specifically, how we greet each other. A universal, symbolic one is the handshake. We need to reduce the communicability of infections. 

How can we reduce the spread of infection from one human to another? 

Begin to use Namaste universally. With the ever-present paranoia of touching strangers, the gesture Namaste (verbal and symbolic) can be more than just a phrase we hear after yoga.

When someone uses the namaste gesture, it reflects the intended expression of mutual respect for another person’s personality. It means that everyone extended the utmost reverence. Namaste implies that “the divinity within me respects and honors the divinity within you.” You can reflect this profound thought with one physical gesture.

However, the Namaste gesture itself unrestricted, beyond the Indian American culture. As an example, many cultures around the globe fold their hands when worshipping. In Japan, it can mean conceptually, “I am sorry,” “thank you,” or “please.” As a greeting, this gesture is familiar throughout most of Southeast Asia. 

Namaste dates back to the origins of the Indus valley civilization itself. The Terracotta figures and sculptures are depicting this gesture are dated back to 3000 years, even before the Christian Era. As civilizations blossomed and cultures intermingled, the namaste pose became even more widespread. 

The handshake, on the other hand, is used as a standard greeting in Western cultures. It is a way of agreeing to specific terms of the trust, a show of mutual trust. To prove neither side was carrying weapons. As significant life-saving steps evolve, fortunately, this handshaking might have seen its last days with the pandemonium of the Covid-19 viral infections. Dare we live without shaking peoples’ hands? 

Yes, as it is a preventative step in the spread of infections. 

Consider how interpreted grips are, when shaking someone’s hand:

Like gripping their hand too much? Bone Crunching? Too floppy? Are palms sweaty and clammy? Or are they too dry? Symbolically, as we say sometimes, the individual has “cold hands,” here reflecting a not helpful individual. One sometimes feels that someone extending the hand used some moisturizer (or a sanitizer) before that handshake! 

Aside from its simplicity, the namaste posture implicates mutual fairness. There is no prominent or submissive interpretation implied. Whereas, with a handshake, a person with a firmer grip seen as more authoritative. In contrast, a person with a less firm grasp seen as submissive. Namaste levels this field of cognitive conflicts. 

The only expected interactive way to reciprocate to a namaste is with a namaste concurrently. It is simple to remember: respect demands respect. Namaste a universal value packed into a single interactive step. 

Even more important is the social distance Namaste provides. One can greet each other across a conference table as an example. Namaste removes the ambiguity, “should I hug them?” “pat them on the shoulder?” “fist bump them?” or “shake their hand?” “peck on the cheek?” and other dilemmas that we encounter, day in and out.

We now realize that the handshakes and hugs need to take a backseat in light of the current coronavirus pandemonium. It is time that the namaste pose might become a universal form of greeting. It has gained significant traction in western civilizations. This step is a viable alternative to the potentially polluting handshakes, hugs, and fist bumps. 

In Western cultures, we only have seen Namaste used by yoga instructors.

Namaste, its meaning, and significance with its health and wellness benefits make it ready to be universally acknowledged. 

So the next time, when having a neighborly chat, start with a Namaste – no language limitations – even from across the yard with a coffee mug in hand.


Reema Kalidindi is a junior at Lower Bucks High School and a lead volunteer at Bharatiya Temple’s school for children. 

Dr. Akkaraju Sarma, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., Ph.D., has academic roots in Anthropology and Internal Medicine. He has practiced medicine in underserved areas in Philadelphia (37+ years). He leads the health & human services programs at Bharatiya Temple for a decade and help. 

Bite-Sized Ramayana On Your Phone!

The re-run of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana, the late 80s hit serial, during the lockdown managed to engross diverse audiences.

However, this popularity is of no surprise since it began running again on the most widely available TV channels while the world was in lockdown, and the production of new shows and episodes came to a halt.

This time around, Ramayana was watched on the individual or even multiple TV sets in each household and some even watched it on their smartphone screens. Adding to this, the digital revolution has allowed for the Ramayana to go online.

TheRamayana™, a Virtual Museum of Indian Epic, Ramayana with 350+ written and audio short stories, perspective polls, and quizzes in Hindi and English.

The app contains a collection of comprehensive and illustrative guides and gives you multiple filters to select stories. Instead of proceeding in the story through a traditional narrative, the app gives the user freedom to explore various stories from unconventional and different narratives which can further be explored with the help of tags and lets the user eventually get engulfed by the universe of Ramayana.

It has 90+ of your favorite characters, 100+ essential landmarks and locations mentioned in multiple versions of Ramayana from Valmiki, Tulsidas, and Kamban which have been accurately connected to the current map of India for ease and to inform you about their historical significance and the 7 Kandas, all of which have a deep-rooted meaning and learning to obtain from.

The Ramayana has been designed in such a way that it is easy to use, it can be explored anywhere and anytime. The portability of this platform gives it an edge over other mediums such as books which allows the user to experience this epic saga while keeping up with technology. 

Pictorial representations have also been used along with the texts to keep diverse audiences engaged. With the expertise of creating informative and fun bite-sized stories has been used in the historical domain this time. The Ramayana transcends the boundaries of religion as the stories and guides in it have been entirely curated with an unbiased viewpoint. The content is backed by authentic sources and has been created after extensive research.

The team has also created and integrated audio versions in English and Hindi for pleasurable use and further plans to launch bite-sized guides for scriptures such as the Mahabharata, the Vedas, the Quran, the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, and more to reach out to a wider set of audience in the future.

The Ramayana is extremely easy to use due to its simple user interface. It will be available in both Hindi and English language. The mobile application is available on both Android and iOS platforms. 

Please visit http://www.theramayana.com for more details!


Bhuwan Arora is the founder of TheRamayana App. 

On Racial Tensions, From an African American Hindu

I grew up in the South during the 1950s and 60s. Those were troublesome times for the African American community. We were identified as Negroes and as an ethnic minority, it was very difficult to understand what our place in the world was. Honestly, there was an element of shame associated with being black.

During the late sixties, I became involved in the “Hippy culture” which exposed me to the concept of “Universal love.” I was not familiar with this Vedic concept of universal love, which is foundational to the true Hindu/Vedic culture. 

My first exposure to this culture was through my association in 1971, with Transcendental Meditation introduced by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I was a performing artist in Atlanta and the surrounding areas and heavily involved with the culture of “Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll.”

Eventually around 1972, I came in contact with disciples of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder Acharya of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. They introduced me to the Bhagavad Gita, which is the most well-known of all Vedic texts. This holy book is very dear and sacred to all Hindus and Westerners who have adopted these teachings and practices.

Central to the Hindu/Vedic philosophy is the concept that we are not these material bodies but that we are eternal spiritual beings, temporarily inhabiting these material bodies. So whether we identify as an African American, Hindu American, Asian American, White American, or an American of color, we are all spiritual beings equal in the eyes of the Supreme Lord. 

During the present time of racial tensions in America, I along with other Hindu/Vedic leaders are considering what we can do to impact and help change this painful and distressful situation.

One thing that I have learned during my several efforts to share Hindu/Vedic principles in the primarily African American community, is that these communities are not looking for a handout. They are desperately in need of help in building up their communities, especially in the areas of affordable housing not just gentrification. Jobs and other meaningful social activities for their youth and young adults are also a major concern along with educational help.

Some years ago, I partnered with a young African American community activist who was working in my hometown of East Point Georgia and during that time some local people who knew about my association with the Hindu community said to me, “Mr. Tillman, could you ask your Hindu friends to teach us how to do business like they are doing.” One reason for this question is that many of the small businesses in their communities are owned by Hindu community members.

I serve as the president of the Vedic Friends Association, an organization focused on preserving and presenting the various aspects of the Hindu/Vedic culture, in a manner suitable for the present environment which is plagued by such issues as racism. This is the first time to my knowledge that they have elected an African American as the president of a major Hindu based organization. I am honored to serve in this capacity and the support and encouragement have been tremendous. 

I am confident that with the vast resources of our Hindu/Vedic community, we can have a positive and powerful impact on developing our communities of color. 

Benny J Tillman (Balabhadra Bhattacarya Dasa) is the President Vedic Friends Association, a Leader in the Hindu Community, and a disciple of Rapanuga Dasa.