Tag Archives: Religion

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. 

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: From Trinidad to America

Being newly retired, memories of my childhood bubbled up, as I finally had time to daydream. My father’s grandmother, Gangee Maharaj, arrived in Trinidad from Raipur, India in 1900. Many Indians came to Trinidad as indentured laborers eventually earning plots of land from the British. Thus, my great-grandparents received their own land, passing it on to my grandparents, on whose farm I grew up. I remember vividly our two beloved cows, Rani and Raja. We were often blessed with fresh and nutritious milk.

To become an eligible bride, one requirement was to be able to skillfully puff a paratha! Achieving the perfect architecture and weight of the delicious and well-known flatbread takes practice. Only then could you have your handprint painted on Grandma’s kitchen wall. This meant that you were allowed to enter her kitchen and prepare a meal under her supervision. My first painting had to be of this kitchen!

I also remembered the wonderful folklore of Trinidad infused by the many African immigrants. We heard many stories of mythical creatures. Moko Jumbie was invoked to protect the people during the long and arduous slave boat journeys from Africa. The Soucouyant is a vampire, popular in many Caribbean countries. I remember being very scared hearing some of these stories as a young girl!

My paintings are of memories from my childhood, which was steeped with traditional Hindu ceremonies, African folklore, the natural beauty of the islands, and the array of cultures of the diverse population.

The world is a family 

One is a relative, the other stranger, 

say the small minded. 

The entire world is a family, 

live the magnanimous. 

Be detached, 

be magnanimous, 

lift up your mind, enjoy 

the fruit of Brahmanic freedom. 

—Maha Upanishad 6.71–75 

The Yamas and Niyamas of Healing Patterns and Colors is the title of my newest painting collection.

Imagine that these ethical principles, the yamas and niyamas of the ancient Upanishads are embedded in all my paintings. The sage, Patanjali expounds on them in his Yoga Sutras. Sutra means “thread” in Sanskrit, which you can see represented by the many-colored line segments in this painting collection. 

Indra Persad-Milowe’s Art Piece, The Yamas and Niyamas of Healing Patterns and Colors.

YAMAS: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lists five yamas, or moral restraints, which apply specifically to how you behave outwardly toward other beings.

1) Ahimsa – Non-violence in thought, word and deed 

2) Satya – Truthfulness 

3) Asteya – Non-Stealing

4) Brahmacharya – putting the “path to the Divine” first and foremost in life 

5) Aparigraha – Non-hoarding, freedom from grasping 

NIYAMAS: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra lists five niyamas, or observances, which apply specifically to how you conduct yourself on a more personal level. 

1) Saucha – Cleanliness 

2) Santosha – Contentment 

3) Tapas – Self Discipline 

4) Svadhyaya – Self Study 

5) Isvara-pranidhana – Surrender: offering yourself completely as a vehicle of the Divine will 

My ten-piece paintings capture religious and cultural life in so many patterns and colors, just like our world is full of varieties of patterns and colors. They reflect many disciplines and ideals of life: faith, fortitude, sacrifice, respect, and love. Love and respect for all patterns (ways of life) and colors (global cultures) are a very important Hindu worldview – “VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM” (The world is a family).


Indra Persad Milowe is a visual artist living and working in Salem, Massachusetts. She is currently working on an extensive series of paintings, drawing upon childhood memories of growing up in Trinidad during the 1950s.

California Nani: A Video a Day Keeps The Doctors Away

In the pandemic of 2020, when the world went into lockdown, one Indian lady who is above 80 years of age, engaged herself in making videos on Indian culture, mythology, and literature from her apartment in San Francisco.

Her name is Mrs. Harsha Watts and she is my mother.

She learned how to record, upload and manage her YouTube channel “California Nani” on her own. Here, she has showcased about 500 videos made by her with more than twenty thousand viewers. My mother’s life holds a message that learning and following one’s passion can occur even after eighty years of age! Here are some excerpts from the life of California Nani, which is an inspiration to many. 

For a large part of her life, mom remained a reticent atheist. Yet back in India, she fulfilled her duties in organizing religious festivities for the family. Her greatest talent lay in cooking delicious meals. Without feeling exhausted, she managed all chores herself, after which, she would sit to knit sweaters for her loved ones! 

When I was growing up in India, I recall how mom would help all of us at home with our homework. She would help us understand meaning in literature, explain shlokas in Sanskrit, show us the tricks to memorize science and math. Several evenings, when the light would go off, mom would give a candle to us so that we may continue to finish our homework in a room full of darkness. 

Although mom couldn’t finish her own college, she aspired to see her children excel academically. She was the person who would attend the parent-teacher meetings at school in India. Now that everyone in the family is settled in the US, you might be thinking that my mother must be leading her retired life. 

Well, a few years back, my father had passed away. Mom began visiting temples each day. Soon after, she engaged herself in making jewelry and dresses for the deities. I was surprised to see this transformation in a nonbeliever. 

A few years back, she fell down, twice, when her feet got entangled in her saree causing multiple fractures on her knee and foot, and hands. Wearing a saree or keeping long hair wasn’t feasible anymore. Short hair and western attire brought another transformation in her leading to a miraculous phase. 

When mom turned eighty years of age, her granddaughter asked her, “what was life like in India in 1940, 1950, and 1960?” Mom began remembering her childhood during the partition in India, and beyond. We wanted to preserve the words of wisdom flowing out of her lips. With the help of her granddaughter, mom launched her own channel on youtube – CALIFORNIA NANI, in August 2019. Now she wakes up each morning with the goal of making one video each day. 

The beauty of this endeavor is the preservation of knowledge related to Indian culture and benefit to students of Indology.

More details at YouTube channel – California Nani! 


 Anu Sharma teaches, travels, writes, volunteers and lives in San Francisco, CA.

The Age of Religious Fanaticism: The Tonic

Newly released book The Tonic (Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd, 2020) is an intriguing story set in 1992, against the backdrop of the Babri Masjid demolition and the Bombay riots. Shuttling constantly between the past and the present, the story shares some vivid imagery of the city of Mumbai, complete with its local trains, chawls, high-rise condominiums, and “cutting chai” culture. The novel’s 30-year-old author, Mayur Sarfare, is a Professor of Mass Media at Mumbai’s Usha Pravin Gandhi College of Arts, Science, and Commerce. Passionate about subjects of metaphysics and philosophy, Sarfare regularly hosts events and moderates panel discussions. 

The story runs between a diverse cast of characters. Raem Andrew, who lost his parents in the 1985 bomb blast of a Delhi-bound Air India flight arriving from London, stands out due to his unusually fair complexion and blue eyes. When he moves to a Muslim dominated locality, Raem befriends his neighbor, Masher P Bhasker, a young student with a speech disorder. Masher’s father was burnt by religious fanatics for being a Hindu who was in love with a Muslim woman. Further, due to his stammer, Masher is often bullied and mocked by his classmates. Raem and Masher relate to each other, as they are both outcasts in society, something that becomes a strong basis for their friendship.

Destiny begins to change for them when Raem’s uncle, Sam, gifts him a box of cryptic Bolivian chocolates. The chocolates work like magical pills, giving them extraordinary courage and confidence to do things that they normally could never imagine. Masher manages to correct his speech under their influence, and Raem wins over the girl of his dreams.

However, when Masher’s mother and mute Hindu girlfriend are killed in the 1992 Bombay riots, he is overwhelmed with grief and despair. Decades later, their lives collide with Reymerg D’Souza, a militant atheist cum media tycoon,  who believes that religion is an infection of the worst kind—it has crippled man, robbed him of scientific temperament, and stultified progress. Thus, his mission is to eradicate the malaise of religion altogether. Over the years he has been secretly masterminding the abduction of various celebrated spiritual leaders belonging to different religions in an effort to execute them.

“The foundation of faith is fear. If there is no fear, there is no faith.” The book is filled with several such philosophical outbursts, and could easily work as a racy script for a thriller film or web series. When Reymerg plans a wicked and twisted silver jubilee commemoration of the infamous riots, by scheming something so sinister that could endanger the lives of millions, and it is up to Raem to prevent this colossal damage.

 “The riots didn’t just take a lot of lives; it took with them a lot of hopes, dreams, and ambitions.” The book throws light on possibly hundreds of such untold stories about the notorious riots and the havoc they wreaked in the many lives that they touched. Overall, it is a passionate statement on contemporary religious fervor and the sheer power that it wields upon human minds.  


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’. 

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.

What was 2020 About?

I struggled with 2020. What was it all about? All over the world this year people weren’t just fighting COVID-19 and lack of freedom, but were also standing up against violence and discrimination.

The year 2020 has been the first of many things:

  • The first time we experienced lockdowns and felt an urgency to grab every wet wipe in sight.
  • The first time people spent their holidays without family.
  • The first time people worked and studied from home, where the first twenty minutes of every Zoom interaction were spent discussing poor connections, muted microphones, and turned off cameras.
  • Someone’s first graduation or first year in school.
  • Someone’s first day at work and someone’s last.

All these firsts occurred so naturally that we became increasingly comfortable in them and they became our seconds, thirds, and constants. Most importantly, however, this year has been a space of growth for people, not just individually but as a community – something that perhaps a fast-paced, capitalistic society might’ve prevented in the past.

We experienced large movements all around the world, people came out to fight for each other and stand by each other. Black Lives Matter, Dalit Lives Matter, and Muslim Lives Matter were three such movements that were instigated by atrocities committed against these minorities in America and India. 

These movements highlighted that people are born human. It’s ironic that the biggest divides are made by people. We divide the day with time, divide people with everything we possibly could, and yet, believe that the solution to atrocities that occur from such divide is to further divide a community that is already disintegrating.

For once, in perhaps a long time, Black people were not alone in fighting their own battles against institutionalized oppression and racism. Teenagers and senior citizens walked on the streets to empower and protect a future that should be built on equality, regardless of skin color. But the BLM movement isn’t a trend, it didn’t ask people to post a picture once or twice on Instagram with captions like “Black Out Tuesday” and call it a day.

Instead, it created a space that supported black-owned businesses. It gave a platform for students and employees who were discriminated against in the workplace because of the color of their skin. It united people, as the privileged stood with black people and worked as allies. While all these events are a change in the positive direction, this movement isn’t close to ending. It has just begun. 

India also dealt with violence and inequality against minorities this year. In Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, a 19-year-old woman was raped by four men and her corpse was burned by the police while her mother cried in protest. The woman was of the Dalit caste (which is the “lowest”) while the rapists were from the Thakur caste (the “highest”). 

Image from Wikimedia Commons

To add to this, India’s nationalist government wanted Hindutva to prevail as the dominant (and only) religion. The government was and is vehemently against people who identify as Muslim. From crass WhatsApp jokes that highlight the ingrained discrimination against Muslims in India, to the police and government using violence against Muslim people on the streets, the divide and inequality reached a high this year. 

These violent crimes against Muslim and Dalit people caused rage all over the country (as it should). Caste-ism, sexism, and religious discrimination reared their ugly heads and Indians came out in hoards to globally speak out against it. Calls for equality were heard as thousands of protests were held to fight against the violence these minorities face. 

It irked me to say Muslim People, Hindu People, Dalit people, Black people. It irked me because it has come to a world where people are defined more by a part of their whole identity and less as just people. Rather than giving equal weight to ‘Dalit’ and ‘people’, we have begun to stress on the former and neglect the latter. It irks me because we take humanity away from humans. This year, however, it irked the whole world. These movements, these calls for equality forced people to stand up for each other. There is unrest still, there is discomfort, but what I learned this year is that we are tirelessly hopeful beings, even when we ourselves don’t see it. 

So while 2020 had some of the worst to give, the best part of it has been the people living in it. 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

At 52 Hz, My Throat is Parched

The 2020 US elections were not just about differing political views. People’s lives were impacted on the basis of their skin color, their gender, their sexuality, or their religion.

It bred uncertainty and fear in people who had been targeted for years.

Human beings should be respected for just that, being human. There is no other clause or addition to that. 

Here is a poem dedicated to those that felt weak. Rather than offer a solution of light in the darkness, I offer a hand to hold in it. 

Oil painting by Swati Ramaswamy (crashed waves/clouds dissolving) 
Oil painting by Author, Swati Ramaswamy (crashed waves/clouds dissolving)

6th November 10:11 pm

I felt it in waves, that dissolve in the sand

Blue and red neon signs holding each hand

“Am I human enough?” 

My skin dipped chocolate and my heart of rainbows

I can’t seem to hide, in the hours that count down— 

I can’t seem to stop.

Maybe if my eyes could close, maybe if my mind switched off—

Maybe if red and blue-dyed into a plethora of purple, 

losing in color and gaining the “other”.

 

“In a world with its eyes closed, a person with their’s open

Isn’t it strange how now they are made blind?” 

Is that victory? 

Effortless rounds that never escape a cycle,

Drugged on more and living less.

If it never starts, it never ends.

People become collateral, waves become loose sand.

A gripping fist, shows an empty hand. 

My throat is parched, lungs need a break—

But I haven’t slept yet:

 

Waking up in this state. 

7th November 5:50 am


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Insider to Outsider: Reversing the Trend in Hindu Discourse

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

Late last month, days before the US presidential elections, a prominent media outlet published an article on Indian and Hindu-American politics. The piece, full of polemics, was an apparent attempt to promote the stocks of the Silicon Valley, CA, Democrat Ro Khanna. Besides singing paeans to Khanna, the article’s theme revolved around the terms Hindutva and Hindu Nationalism without much context and any nuanced exposition of those terms. The piece also attacked several Hindu groups and individuals alike for their advocacy.

The piece, written by an India-American journalist, drew strong reactions from the diaspora groups, including this tweet response from Saagar Enjeti, a fellow at Steamboat and Hudson Institute.

The piece in question, and the response to it, indicates a phenomenon, a turmoil of sorts, facing the Hindu community around the world. The dissonance stems from discord and disconnect between how the Hindu faith practitioners see themselves and how the media and academia dominated by Western scholarship present them. 

Hindu-Americans have also been fighting an on-going battle against the misrepresentation of Hinduism in American textbooks. Arvind Sharma, the Berks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University, in his paper “Dharma and the Academy: A Hindu Academic’s View” has taken up the issue of this turmoil that, according to him, “has come to be characterized by a sharp debate, which has also spilled over into journalism and the Internet.”

The turmoil Sharma talks about has been brewing for over a decade. It is part of the Hindu community’s ongoing awakening in post-colonial India that has gained considerable momentum since the election (and re-election) of Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister. As the turmoil continues, Hindus have not only started resenting the misrepresentation of their culture, faith, texts, and traditions in media and academia, they have also begun to present vigorous disputations against those misrepresentations.  

To get to the root cause of misrepresentations, it is crucial to understand the modalities of exchanging information in the study of religions. Sharma presents a fourfold typology for such an exchange: insider to insider, outsider to outsider, outsider to insider, and insider to outsider. 

In pre-modern times, Sharma argues, most interactions in the realm of religious studies were from insider to insider. In the context of India, particularly during the colonial time, outsider to outsider became the primary mode of transmission for Hinduism. 

During colonial times, non-native Western scholars started sharing information about Hinduism with other non-native scholars (outsider to outsider). “The West, however, began to control the intellectual discourse in its colonies…and the insiders to these traditions began to be profoundly affected, even in their self-understanding of their own religious traditions, by Western accounts,” writes Sharma. This altering of the self-understanding was due to outsider to insider channel. The current tumult, however, is a byproduct of a vociferous attempt by the native Hindus to change the flow of information from inside to outside.

Sharma claims that with the Hindu-American community reaching a critical demographic mass in North America and India, its ‘response threshold’ has been breached. When a faith community crosses its response threshold, it becomes hard for outsiders to ignore the community’s response to misrepresentations. A response threshold is crossed, according to Erick Sharp (The Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987), “when it becomes possible for the believer to advance his or her own interpretation against that of the scholar.” 

Sharma observes that protests aren’t necessarily about the facts but the interpretation of the Hindu tradition by academia and media. Indian Intellectual Tradition has a long history of disputation among native scholars. For example, Nyaya realism has a tradition of argumentation with Buddhist phenomenalism at both epistemological and ontological levels. In the present context, however, it is crucial to make a distinction between academic/intellectual work and polemics. Upon examination, many Western presentations of the Hindu tradition may fall into one of the various kinds of Hinduphobic discourses

One of the fascinating concepts in quantum theory is the observer effect, which states that by the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality. One can apply this notion of observer bias to the study of Hinduism by Western scholars. According to Sharma, this principle “provides a basis for examining the fear of the Hindus that Western scholars may be altering Hinduism in the very process of studying it, and the change thus brought about is not for the better.” 

The current effort by the Hindu faith community must be seen as an attempt to reclaim the agency in representing and defining Hinduism. At the very least, non-native agents cannot be the sole arbitrators of the native traditions.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, 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.

The Fearless New Normal

This pandemic is the most collective experience we have been through as a generation. And yet, it is also one of the most uniquely individual experiences. Its effect on certain people, families, or businesses, and even countries is so particular to their circumstances, responsibilities, responses, and coping mechanisms. In spite of the stimulation of endless input from technology, this time has caused people to look within, into deeper places where they have not been before. A feat that was unthinkable in the old normal where we had no time to breathe, let alone reflect.

And if we have listened, within these deeper places we humans have found a playground of emotions and revelations. For me, the biggest observation has been of my own fears.

Fear is one of the most private emotions. Unlike sadness, anger, and grief it is not a very visible one. We rarely see a physical display of this deep-rooted emotion. But during this time, we have seen fear on a large and collective scale. With its seed in the fear of the virus, this mass unfolding of fear became a mirror for my own garnered fears that were unrelated to the pandemic. Shocked at this discovery and its parallels with the current world situation, I realized that if I did not address them in a healthy way, I would be paralyzed from moving forward just as the world currently is. And worse than outer lockdown is inner lockdown! In the case of my own latent fears, there is no medical research or promised cures, I had to find my own solution. Propelling me to realize that solutions even if supported by external forces, must come from within.

I have always looked at the wisdom of Indian philosophy to provide answers. As a Vedanta student of many years, when in doubt one turns to the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita or the Divine Song is known to be a text that can answer any questions. The Gita is a sermon of courage to the despondent, a manual of duty and dharma through which one can get to the goal without incurring any bondage. The Gita takes place on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra where the cousin armies of the Pandavas and Kauravas face each other in the battle to claim the throne of Hastinapur. The Pandavas have Krishna, while the Kauravas have the royal armies and all the skilled and respectable teachers. On seeing his kith and kin: uncles, brothers, and teachers, the illustrious warrior Arjuna sees the battle as pointless, he starts to think in the moment that it would be better to live on alms than to murder those that are his own. He drops his weapons and says that he will not fight. To his utter surprise, his Lord and friend Krishna says, “Yield not to this unmanliness, O Partha, it does not befit you. Casting off this mean weakness of heart, arise O Parantapa.” (Chapter 2, Verse 3, Bhagavad Gita, translated by A. Parthasarthy)

The profound message of the Gita is not to freeze, not to be paralyzed by the circumstances but to stride through them with courage, fortitude, and a sense of duty. Duty is higher than the envisioned concepts of right and wrong, likes, and dislikes. This would of course mean different things to different people according to their dharma in life. This time as I read the Gita, once again it did not fail to pick me up from the shambles and inspire me to arise against my inner obstacles.

In the same thread, I was reminded of Swami Vivekananda’s messages on courage and fearlessness. Swami Vivekananda was the first ambassador of Vedanta in the West and he became known for the bold messages that evoked a sense that we are full and complete because we are part of Atman, therefore all is well and we have nothing to fear. He said, “Freedom can never be reached by the weak. Throw away all weakness. Tell your body that it is strong, tell your mind that it is strong, and have unbounded faith and hope in yourself.”

If it were not for the pandemic, I could not have dwelled deep in my fears and allow myself to be inspired by the great leaders of my culture and faith. While we all continue to stride through the storm, may we remember that how we face this in our own lives is a choice. While being informed and precautious, may we approach our unknown New Normal with courage, acceptance of what we cannot change, and most importantly, without fear.


Preeti Hay is a freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in publications including The Times of India, Yoga International, Khabar Magazine, India Currents, and anthologies of poetry and fiction.

Featured Image by Mahavir Prasad Mishra 

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.

One Nation Under God

We’ve been witnessing some amazing resilience in the time of the Corona crisis. The governments around the world, doctors, entrepreneurs, educators, community members stepped up in unprecedented ways to support the system, support one another. It’s fascinating to see the kids transitioning to a brand-new lifestyle with great dexterity. 

But what’s going on within us, if each of us is considered a nation?

The ancient scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma talk about “self-reflection” in all 4 of the Vedas and the corresponding Upanishads. Although we, as humanity, are fascinated by these questions – who we are, where did we come from, where are we heading to – in recent times most of us been busy running around the clock to contemplate on our elemental existential purposes. 

I was a bit scattered at the beginning of the lockdown but I found myself in this ecosystem of learning. Discussions about ancient wisdom, talks about public policies, exchange of lifestyle-related notes among friends .. everything surfaced at my fingertips, in the comfort of my home. 

I chanced upon a physicist turned philosopher, life-coach Dr. Prasad Kaipa, who shared an in-depth analysis of self-reflection in reference to the scriptures. Right from the Rig Veda (the oldest written Veda) to Sama Veda, Yajur & Atharva: our ancestors gave us step-by-step subject matter guidelines.  Relevant to our current situation as the Corona-crisis demanded this contemplation, asking us to look into our very core, our relationship with nature and nurture. 

Photo credit: British Library, photo by Jeffrey Boswall, a natural history broadcaster, film-maker, and producer.

The process starts with the concept of “Prajnanam Brahma” – Introduced in the Rig Veda and concluded in the corresponding Aitareya Upanishad. It talks about the nature of our true perspective. The BIG picture perceived by our unique sense – the consciousness. According to this, by fishing out irrelevance, Neti Neti in Sanskrit (not this, not this), we land on our true nature. 

Next, “Tat Tvam Asi” – Introduced in the Sama Veda and the conclusion drawn in Chandogya Upanishad. What is it that’s not been seen but becomes visible, within us, around us? Never heard, but becomes audible? Unknown becomes known…

By merely asking these questions, we get in touch with our humility. Everything is not known to us, yet. Hence, the scope of pursuit. It gives us eligibility. Takes us to the path of inquiry on how an incredibly small seed can give rise to a tree, how the consciousness of the living beings (Jeeva Atman) is part of universal consciousness (Param Atman). We relate to it by experiences. 

Ahm Brahma Asmi” – In Yajur Veda, concludes in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. After thinking and experiencing, we meditate on the concept. Through astute practice, we feel oneness with the Supreme Divine. It’s possible to attain bliss by connecting our consciousness with divinity. 

I’d like to mention here, after probing this, I couldn’t stop thinking about the enormity of fall-out in “interpretation” at the very conceptual level, as shown in the popular TV series on Netflix: Sacred Games. Amazing depiction – horrors of human ignorance. Through the journey of the protagonist, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, we see the tale of reflection, rejection, retribution, redemption, and finally .. hopefully, renewal. Beautiful! 

And, then? 

The culmination of self-reflection comes with the realization of “Ayam Atman Brahman” – Conceptual introduction in Atharva Veda with conclusive notes in Māṇḍūkya Upanishad. It’s not about humans manifested in social hierarchy. It’s about preservation and sustenance through our thoughts, actions, practice, and pursuit, in perpetuation, day after day, year after year, age after age, with grace and gratitude for all that we have, all that we don’t. And, all that we wonder about, aspire to become. We are in this together. 

Soma Chatterjee is the Diversity Ambassador for India Currents and a Board Member for Silicon Valley Interreligious Council representing Hinduism on behalf of HAF

Inputs from Dr. Prasad Kaipa. Co-author of From Smart to Wise, You Can, and Discontinuous Learning


Featured image and license.