HMEC2010 on Indo American News
HMEC Emboldened by Fresh Perspectives, Camaraderie, and Resolutions to Form a Stronger Hindu Community
Author: Kalyani Giri
Publication: Indo-American News
Date: October 31, 2010
Ochre-draped sadhus, festive diyas, young girls in sequined bindis, portly Ganeshas swathed in colorful flower garlands, books on Hindu scriptures and philosophy, smoldering fragrant incense, and the ubiquitous idli. From October 22 – 24, 2010, the foyer and ballroom of the Sheraton North Houston Hotel on JFK Boulevard were bounteously transformed into a veritable Little India when the Dharma-oriented Hindu organization, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A), facilitated the 5th Annual Hindu Mandir Executives Council (HMEC). Acting in conjunction with VHP-A, major participating temples in this city, the Sri Meenakshi Temple Society (MTS) of Pearland, Barsana Dham of Austin,Hindu Temple of The Woodlands, Shirdi Sai Jalaram Mandir, and the Vallabh Priti Seva Samaj, served as hosts for the conference.
This year’s event, primarily geared at exploring avenues to enhance and strengthen the Hindu community through temples, drew community leaders and mandir representatives from over ninety temples nationwide and from Canada who met, mingled, shared ideas through brainstorming sessions, and amicably found resolution to several compelling issues. Serving as convener and co-convener for the conference were Dr. Umesh Shukla and Yogesh Naik respectively. Dr. Sharma Tadepalli, Secretary of the Board of Directors at MTS and a HMEC Executive Committee Member headed the local logistical committee at the behest of the mandirs. The general consensus among delegates was that the conference was very successful and nurturing.
“I think of HMEC as an organism that is constantly evolving and in a few short years it has come to a new maturity, a unified voice much more than it was in the early years,” said Paramacharya Palaniswami, publisher of the world-renowned Hinduism Today Magazine. “The cooperation, spirit of unity and intellectual integrity is very important for the future of the HMEC. I was very impressed by the camaraderie here. It was magical and wholesome,” added the swami.
Joint General Secretary of VHP-A Sanjay Mehta told gatherees that VHP embraces the concept that all are one and that the entire cosmos is interconnected and interdependent. He outlined crucial and relevant issues that were addressed at the event. “Hinduism has faced many challenges. We have to recognize the need for temple executives to support each,” said Mehta.
He added that Swami Dayananda Saraswati, distinguished Vedanta teacher and spiritual head of Arsha Vidya Ashrams worldwide, prompted the formation of a core group of seven temple executives to articulate as a single entity on behalf of Hindu mandirs.
In a videotaped message Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who was in India at the time of the conference, exhorted viewers to be a part of the ongoing Hindu renaissance. “From inception of this endeavor, I’ve been attending these meetings. This conference will help you identify what is needed and what you can do. There is a need for doing sewa and it can be in any form,” said the swami.
Swami Tattvavidananda Saraswati, a disciple of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, elaborated on his guru’s message.Refreshing and heartening was it to see an inordinate number of youth in attendance at the conference.
A resident of Long Island, New York, and President of the Hindu Students Council (HSC) nationwide, Priya Radhakrishnan mentioned that HSC is becoming an influential movement in its own right with chapters on campuses all over the US and abroad. “We see lots of activity at Bal Vihar and at campus levels, in between, not so much. Many students as they grow up do not come back to teach or be active. And there are many reasons for that. Meetings like these are so critical for bringing up these issues in front of temple boards,” said Radhakrishnan.
In his comprehensive presentation Bringing the Missing Generations Back to the Mandir, Vishal Agarwal representing the Hindu Society of Minnesota, told gatherees that his organization, the Hindu American Temple School (HATS) began with three young children and has since grown exponentially and is in great demand. They employ a curriculum that works; they do not mix different age groups, and they provide ample forums for youth by involving them in event planning, editing newsletters, and for logistical and artistic support.
“We find that temples focus excessively on religious ceremonies and the liturgy is in Sanskrit. Also teenagers see no connection between the mandir and mainstream culture they encounter everyday. American Hinduism must express itself differently from Indian Hinduism,” said Agarwal. “The India we left behind is different from the India of today. It is not about us first-generation immigrants; it’s about our children.”
At the Gala Banquet coordinated by Hindus of Greater Houston held on Saturday night, a first in the history of the HMEC, Krishna Maheswari held a capacity audience riveted with his speech about the structural issues affecting the development of Hindu youth and youth leaders and described how temples can play a central role in correcting these issues. Maheswari, engaging and committed to propagating Hinduism among the youth, asked temple leaders to identify youth leaders early on and focus on their development. He also emphasized the need for senior leaders to act as mentors to youth leaders to ensure that they can reach their full potential.
The Gala Banquet eloquently encapsulated all that Hinduism embodies; a diverse, lively, and ancient cultural heritage, brilliant thinkers, hoary traditions, hospitality, and tolerance. The Anjali Center for Performing Arts and the BAPS Kishors presented classical and folk dances. ISKCON youth concluded the evening with kirtan and joyous dance. Young Tejas Dave delivered an articulate welcome address, and speakers included Acharya Gaurang Nanavaty of the Chinmaya Mission, and Swami Tattvavidananda Saraswati of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam.
President of VHP-A, Jyotish Parekh, outlined VHP-A’s vision and on behalf of the organization, presented local humanitarian and businessman Ramesh Bhutada with a VHP-A plaque in recognition of his community service and generosity.
“Ramesh Bhutada has been provided by god with abundant wealth to help the needy. He’s successful, leads a balanced life, and is engaged in the betterment of society, not only in the US but in India too. He’s humble, modest, and a true swayamsevak. His service supports Dharma and we need to recognize this,” said Parekh in a glowing tribute to Bhutada.
In the wake of suggestions proposed by community leaders and youth, the HMEC pledged to invest future leaders and create opportunities for young people through internship programs. The HMEC will also create a network of Bal Vihars and Youth Programs and will initiate annual regional meetings to continue dialogue. The HMEC will publish a book on the profiles of people representing the mandirs; the book will also carry information on the histories of the temples. Through a resource pool, well-established and well-performing mandirs will be able to assist new and struggling mandirs in areas of operation and leadership.
HMEC resolved to implement a supply chain management scheme, an idea outlined jointly by Dr. Sharma Tadepalli of the Meenakshi Temple Society in this city, and Hari Murthy of the Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburgh.
“The supply chain management is a collaborative initiative that is money-saving and beneficial to all, as we use the same ingredients at our poojas such as flowers, fruit, decorations, religious and educational books. Using technology to make our lives easier makes so much sense as we’re all weekend warriors, not fulltime in the temple,” said Dr. Tadepalli.
“If we unite, modernize, we can reduce costs,” said Murthy.
HMEC is also commissioning a book on the Hindu marriage ceremony so young people will better understand the implications of the rituals. Through community participation, there will be a broad distribution of the Bhagavad Gita, a version translated by Mahatma Gandhi. The book, with 700 shlokas, pictures, quotes, and comments by Einstein and Swami Vivekananda, will be printed in Hyderabad. HMEC has already talked with hotel/motel operators to have the sacred book placed in rooms all over North America with over 50,000 already placed. Similarly, hospitals also will receive prayer books for Hindu patients. The school textbook issue was reviewed by Hinduism Today Magazine and supplements with correct information sent out to schools nationwide, a success story, said HMEC delegates.
In a session themed Spirituality that Women Bring to Temple Programs and Management, speakers elaborated on the multifarious nature of women.
“Women have the ability to multi-task. They balance, home, jobs, family, and are replete with innate leadership and communication skills. They play a vital role in the development of their children,” said Dr. Padmini Ranga, on the board of MTS. “She faces challenges everyday. She brings those skills to temple management and with her spouse’s support, enriches the temple with her wisdom,” added Dr. Ranga, whose beautiful kolu (display of dolls) was showcased in the foyer of the Sheraton.
Tackling the subject of media and Hinduism, Acharya Palaniswami of Kauai Adheenam stated that the Hindu renaissance has been going on for decades.
“But it’s really hitting a new stride in America. Newsweek carried an article “we’re all Hindus now”. What a remarkable thing for Newsweek to publish, and it shows that the beautiful tolerance and non-violence and profound yogic mysticism that is being adopted by a large part of America,” continued the swami. The swami’s organization created a beautifully illustrated media kit describing the significance of fifteen Hindu festivals; the package has already been distributed to major mainstream media as an educational tool.
On the Hindu youth of America, the swami was very enthusiastic.
“The youth are so articulate and savvy. They know exactly what they’re doing. We need to continue giving more mature tasks to them,” said Acharya Palaniswami, w has served for 32 years as Editor-in-Chief of Hinduism Today. “We tend to treat them like children when they are actually old souls in young bodies. They’re brilliant and dedicated and when we diminish their responsibilities they go elsewhere for fulfillment. When we give them real work, they will be more invested in it.”
To further the vision of the HMEC, the Hindus of Greater Houston played an important role in getting many temples in Houston and Texas registered. Several local leaders in the local community sponsored Temples and youth requiring financial help to attend the conference.
Echoing the logistical triumph and seamless flow that distinguished the HMEC, the organizers were judicious in electing past president of VHP-A Houston Chapter’s Sushma Pallod to the helm of the catering project. Hardworking and efficient, she and her team oversaw every meal meticulously. Participating in meal preparation were Udipi Restaurant, BAPS, Sri Sai Jalaram Mandir, and MTS.