Meghana Muralidharan’s Bharatanatyam Arangetram performed on August 17 at the Bayou Theater, U of H, Clear Lake, was, on all accounts, a consummate treat. As the Guru Sunanda Nair appropriately summarized at the conclusion of the event, it was way more than an Arangetram, even by the standards of many professional events that we have seen. And I have seen plenty of such. I could add several superlative adjectives, but without hinting any flattery or excess, it was exceptional, outstanding, one of a kind. Every piece of the program fitted precisely like in a jigsaw. The auditorium seating, sound, light, the elegant yet simple ’21 light salute’ hanging from the ceiling on the spacious stage with the blue backdrop, the overall ambiance, and the divine assembly of Nataraja and Saraswathi’…all merged in well. The Vocalist, Murali Parthasarathy gave the essential substance to the show along with the excellent supportive ensembles on mridangam by Venkatesan Vedakrishnan, violin by Sunil Bhaskar and of course the nattuvangam by the Guru Sunanda. No dance performance can go well without all of the accompaniments blending well in unison. And the chief guest, the legendary Soorya Krishnamoorthy was quite a unique surprise adding on to the excellence of the evening. His quoted words of wisdom were a breath of fresh air to the present-day decaying morals and ideals, “Culture is the concern for others; you protect your valuables, we protect our values; tailors make you dignified, our culture makes us dignified”. And the star of the show, Meghana performed beyond perfection. Every piece, as different they were, excelled the other. In one of the best Varnams by Papanasam Sivan, that I have seen in any Arangetram, Meghana proved her mettle in her prowess and mastery of Nritta, Nritya, and Natya. I wish P. Bhaskaran was in the audience to watch his Keshadi Paadam, as Murali Parthasarathy rendered it with emotional perfection as Meghana added another dimension to bhakti with her exquisite Abhinaya. Bhaja Manasa was quite an impressive beginning while Kavadi Chintu was a surprising crowd-pleaser, and every other bit kept up the crescendo through the evening. Unique credit goes to Meghana, that unlike many Arangetrams where invitees attend such debuts to bless and encourage the budding artists, this was an exceptionally entertaining evening as many in the audience felt a let-down that it was about to end when she started the Mangalam. Some of the pieces almost brought tears of happiness in me, as I felt that old age, after all, is worth living, having a chance to attend such pleasing events. I sincerely hope that Meghana cherishes and nurtures this divine gift through her life, that only a few are blessed and endowed with such inborn talent. I am sure that her illustrious Guru would continue to mold her as a worthy prodigy and that her parents would offer her all the needed inspiration and encouragement. My prayers, blessings, and best wishes to Meghana in whatever endeavor she pursues as her vocation.
Thanks to Sri Meenakshi Temple and the visionary organizers for the last several years, each of us has been eagerly looking forward to Sunday mornings, meeting, talking, listening, and deliberating on a variety of topics related to Hindu faith, its scriptures, practices and philosophy. The presenters painstakingly prepare the subjects, and the participants enthusiastically join the discussions. We have heard a lot, understood much, applied some of it into our lives, and overall these meetings have enriched us in ways beyond we can explain. I have taken the liberty of devoting this session assigned to me, to have an open dialog, to analyze, introspect and share our individual experience as participants of years of our Satsangs. With your permission, please allow me to open this up, ask some questions and listen to each other, with an expectation to further our utilization of these meetings Let us evaluate ourselves; let us share our assessments As we go through each of the following areas of focus, let us have a dialog and perhaps, an appraisal. What have we benefited from our Satsangs? Did these sessions meet our expectations? Personally, do we have any suggestions for ‘improvements’? How have we ‘evolved’ from these, as individuals? Have we??? Let us check it out. Purpose of Satsangs: Satsang is a Sanskrit word that means “gathering together for the truth” or, just “being with the truth.” Truth is what is real, what exists. So, all there is, is the Truth. Whenever something increases your experience of the Truth, it opens your heart and quiets your mind. Similarly, the spiritual teachings being shared in satsang are great gifts. But the words being spoken, and the wisdom being shared are not the most important things. While the word satsang implies a gathering or community of like-minded souls, and this community or sangha may be a tremendous support in someone’s spiritual journey, it is still not the most important thing. The most important thing in satsang is you, the ‘Satsangee’. Not the usual egoic sense of yourself, but the mysterious awakeness that is the essence of satsangs. The purpose of gathering is not to provide devotion to the spiritual teacher or to acquire spiritual knowledge or to enjoy the company of others. The purpose of gathering in satsang is to bring us home to ourselves. There is a cumulative aggregation of the mysterious awareness whenever two or more are gathered, that can make the ‘presence and awakeness of consciousness’ into a palpable thing. The truest gift of this enhancement of awareness is when it shows you who you really are. It is not just an experience that comes and goes or that depends on a great spiritual teacher or special group of people. It is the essence or the absolute core of you. Spirituality and Religiosity as it applies to you: Spirituality is when you have elevated yourself from that of a slaved mind to an empowered mind. When you are transformed from one who begs through life to one who is self-reliant. Spiritual people have discovered there is only one true power and that resides within themselves. Spirituality relates to the soul, the little ‘self’ that is an extension of the big ‘Self’. Religiosity by definition and by practice is to belong to a group, organized by humans and following certain guidelines as instructed by the particular religion. Sanatana Dharma, or Hinduism is not strictly a religion, but a faith based on scriptural teachings and philosophical wisdom that cannot be traced to any origin or founder, while the Abrahamic religions do have such regimentations and books that need to be followed. Religiosity is to follow observances, adhering to the instructions of each faith and BELIEVING that it would take us to the Truth, while spirituality is EXPERIENCING the Truth by reaching out within oneself. Our concept about God: An unfathomable, incomprehensible, indescribable entity, that each of the followers arrive at their own conclusions, as comfortable and as confident, as they feel, dictated by the evolution of their minds and convictions through the levels of surrender or submission that they are capable of. Satsang, gets us closer to our goal? Relevance of scriptures, epics and Puranas: We have been covering a diverse collection of the sacred Hindu writings. Hindu sacred texts are classified as either Shruti (“heard,” meaning revelation) or Smriti (“remembered,” meaning tradition). The former is comprised of the Vedas, the oldest and most authoritative of Hindu scriptures, which deal largely with rituals; the Brahmanas, commentaries on the Vedas; and the Upanishads, philosophical and metaphysical texts that have been central to the spiritual development of the tradition. Together, the Shrutis form the corpus of Vedic thought and literature, while the Smritis are the epics, like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; mythological texts known as Puranas; theological treatises called Agamas; and philosophical texts called Darshanas. Despite being a part of the larger Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita is widely considered Smriti, as it is believed to be the tradition’s most powerful condensation of the broad spectrum of Vedic thoughts. Application into life: One of the most distinguishing features of Hinduism, which is as ancient as the Vedas, is its emphasis upon the quest for self-knowledge as the means to mental and spiritual liberation from its duality, habitual behavior and mental chains by which one can gain true knowledge, mental clarity, peace, stability, and clear perception. Modern psychology also prescribes a similar approach to free our minds from cognitive distortions and perceptual errors. Each time we look at ourselves or at the diversity of life, we must bring freshness into our perception and emptiness into our minds. Only then, our self-knowledge will 282 be illuminated by its own truth rather than the truth that our mind and the perceptual world build for us. Hope our sessions of Satsang has helped each of us in that direction. Our Path: Follow any of the four paths, alone or in combination, of our choice to attain the objective of Self-realization, the four paths to God. Hinduism recognizes four fundamental human temperaments. • Bhakthi Yoga, the Path of Devotion. Merging back into God is the simplest and sweetest path. • Karma Yoga, the Path of Action. The motivation without selfish interest, to be active, to submit totally without expectations, should be the drive-in our nature. • . . Jnana Yoga, the Path of Knowledge, finding God through wisdom. • Raja Yoga, the Royal Path of Psychological Experimentation, blending all the other three paths and guiding to the ultimate through meditation. What is your preference, what is your practice? And finally! Are we better human beings? Are we better than what we used to be: Kinder? Caring? Grateful? Accepting? Respectful? Forgiving? Loving? Helpful? Polite? (July 28, 2019)
This is a cordial invitation to all those who share a common bond of Kerala Hindu Heritage, who have made their home across the globe, far away from the land of Mahabali. Even though the design of Destiny has pulled us away from our land of traditions, deep within most of us, in our elements of life, in our innate emotional habitudes, there lurks an intense desire, love, and affinity of the unique, fundamental attribute of a Kerala Hindu. That certain virtue, as subtle as it may be, is distinctly felt and often vehemently perceived by many a Kerala Hindu at heart. As we have struggled, adapted and finally acclimatized to our adopted land, where we work for a living, raise our families and eventually may spend our final days, we continue to yearn for certain desires which were instilled in us from the time we were born. Our parents, our grandparents, our rich traditions and our priceless cultural environment formatted our formative years. These traits remain with us as the fragrance of flowers or sweetness of honey as long as we breathe our last. Continuing to nurture these precious sentiments and observing some traditional occasions within the limitations of our altered lifestyles, we become acutely aware of our absolute responsibility of instilling some of those rich traditions into our younger generations. As we strive to congregate to express our sentimental camaraderie, our loftiest goal should be to pass on the fundamental values of our heritage to our children and grandchildren. This convention of Kerala Hindus of North America is the second celebration, being hosted this time in Houston. We, the organizers are proud and privileged to open our homes to welcome you all as our guests to come and participate in this momentous celebration. This is an appeal to all those who shelter that explicit Kerala charisma, deep within them, to come and enrich the convention designed to foster our distinct needs. Please make it convenient to arrange your schedule to visit Houston during Thanksgiving weekend this year. Let us join and celebrate our Thanksgiving this year with Pookkalam and Panchavaadyam, and Palpaayasam. We need your sincere, enthusiastic presence, we need your participation, and we need all the help and guidance you can be generous with, to make this convention a grand success.
I am neither a scholar nor a speaker but am very honored to be chosen to talk about one of the greatest yogis of recent times. Not feeling quite competent, I would do my best to have a sensible, mutually beneficial dialog with you. The purpose of a public speech is for the speaker to know about the topic and to make the listeners understand it. Living in the 21st century USA, we are talking about the Guruji almost a century later. What is the relevance? What do we learn from his life, his teachings? Do we read it as part of history, or can we apply that understanding to elevate our life in any way relevant and practically applicable to the present day? It would be very anachronic now since we live in a totally different world and diverse society – a world that has changed beyond the imagination of a saintly scholar, who may not have even conceptualized how life and attitude of the people would change in a hundred years. But then we certainly can try using and applying his teachings to the present and observe the relevance. We participate in many Gita discourses, Bhagavatha puranam, Ramayana maasam, and Naraayaneeyam saptaham. We listen to Udit Chaitanya, Sandeep Chaitanya, Vidyadhishanda, Chinmaya disciples, Dr. Gopalakrishna, Nochur Venkataraman and such scholars and swamis. Enlightening talks, spiritually uplifting, but we seldom hear much to enhance our social conscience, applicable to our day-to-day life. Their purpose is mostly of spiritual elevation. Guruji distinctly covered a much vaster sphere. From what I studied or looked up, the difference of Guruji from the rest is that he was perhaps the only one who touched upon the several aspects of human behavior, habits, dealings with life. He covered education, culture, spiritual awareness and social responsibilities. He was a teacher, a Vedantin, social worker, reformer, community leader, a psychologist, and a Poet; and perhaps many others. Jnana of action – an intellectual understanding – was his purpose as he had a lively sense of people and their social needs. Uplifting oppressed classes, a measure similar to those of Gandhiji, who accepted him as his own guru, was his mission. He instilled understanding about how to attain economic prosperity in the labor classes because they were kept depressed even in modern times. From around the turn of the 19th century, through his efforts and teachings, the idealism of a few leaders like Ram Mohan, Dayananda Saraswati, Vivekananda, and Gandhiji, led to a religious awakening and social transformation. Elevation of the masses without injuring their religion, uniting people beyond class and caste differences was accomplished through the efforts of scholars like Vivekananda and Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj. Guruji’s lessons were similar to that of Guru Nanak of Sikh fraternity. Untouchability was a curse of our state. Vivekananda called our place ‘a lunatic asylum’. Guruji’s contribution has been of immense measure to salvage the plight of a depressed group. Guruji prescribed Education as a remedy. Modern education. Once you are aware of the world and all the related facts, it would pave the way for economic and social advancement. Then, culture, through learning Sanskrit. Third is, of course, Spiritual sustenance. He consecrated temples. He inspired people with self-respect and self-help, to draw out their latent talents, and channel them into constructive venues, through the many institutions like temples and ashrams that he created in Kerala. He was a ‘Spiritual Revolutionary with a Social influence’. For many of us, it is not easy to see God as a formless absolute, a Brahman with no attributes. That is why we have created the personal gods to pray, request and demand. So we practice religiosity and are instructed to practice humanity and compassion among our fellow human beings. We may call our connection to God as through a vertical path and exercise our compassion to fellow humans through a Horizontal path. Sort of a dichotomy, duality. What our Guruji preached and tried to instill in us was that there is no such dichotomy. Both the paths merge, essentially inculcating the concept of Advaita. ‘Tat Tvam Asi’, you are That, the Absolute Reality. As we try to identify and understand the Almighty, in reality, we are trying to get over our own self, our ego, and our ignorance, the Maya. Similarly, as we try to reach out and become compassionate with the fellow creatures, we are accomplishing a similar status, getting beyond and finding the Supreme in others. That was Guruji’s message. Kerala is recognized as the topmost state in social and human development. How did it happen? What was the main reason for the uplifting and the progress? Guruji’s teachings played a significant role, though it may not have been quite enough. People have to understand and respond. Not out of anger and passion, even though it may not hurt if sparingly used; but ideally you have to feel the confidence that I am as good as anyone else. Not a false pretense, but a genuine understanding about ourselves, we need to convince ourselves that we are as good or better than someone else. My personal observation is that such an ‘awakening’ led to the fundamental installation of the communistic ideology in the mindset of a certain class, who felt the oppression and were aroused to claim their equality as instilled through Guruji’s teachings. But they fell way short of his expectations since they remained angry and rebellious, focused more on a revengeful agenda against the ‘abusers’, more intense on their rights than responsibilities, that they more than succeeded in bringing their opponents down, but without achieving the laurels they could have through knowledge, hard work and compassionate dealings with others. They won turning the tables, but sadly they got trapped under the same tables they passionately managed to turn. The present-day chaos in the state, the laziness, the unrest, the strikes, bandhs, unwillingness to work, and a lack of incentives to progress are all sequels of the above, distorted assimilation of Guruji’s profound ideologies. God’s own country, that is blessed with perfect geographic and climatic conditions, along with a bright and intelligent populace who excel everywhere else in the world except in their own backyard, is dwelling in mediocrity, surviving on financial flow from their people toiling in the deserts slaving the Arabs while depending on the workforce from Bihar, Orissa, Bangladesh, and the Northeast for the basic domestic needs. It is sad. What is the relevance of Guruji, here and now? For that, I must be specific. The oppressed communities in Kerala received the most attention from Sri Narayana Guru Swami in Kerala. When we look at our present situation with an introspective perception, we, as immigrants to N. America are precisely placed in a very similar situation to that group in Kerala, who at their time, benefited from his teachings. We, the Indian immigrants are educated, economically affluent and with strong moral and spiritual values. But are we socially aware of our status here? Are we as comfortable about our position in this society as we should be with all our accomplishments? If we are unsure, less than comfortable, shy, timid, or scared, then, all we have to do is to think of Guruji’s teachings. Nothing can make us more comfortable or confident. Nothing can be more instrumental to our progress and prosperity in this country, even our sustenance. His message to us as a group, here and now, has a strong significance, prudent relevance. Now, as ever before; now, more than ever before. Guruji has touched upon a vast array of practical points in life. He took the best out of every religion, that Hindu religion contains the principles of all religions, that as a Buddhist he was a non-dualist, followed the advice of Mohammed Nabi in the brotherhood of humans, that rituals are important to appreciate the divinity in everything surrounding us, that all human beings belong to one class and that we are extension of the Absolute Truth. He stressed that we should have control of our minds, directing it and blending it to the universal presence through Yoga and meditation. Socially, he was a reformer in correcting many of the ills that we practiced from slavery to animal sacrifice to the dowry system to alcoholism to eating flesh and adultery. He advocated agriculture and cultivation, education, and service mentality, forgiving the ignorance of opponents and compassion to fellow human beings as the only way to approaching God. Sri Narayana Guru was a gift to humanity and should belong to the entire humanity. His teachings transcend borders of a multitude of branded assumptions. He is beyond a teacher, a vedanthin, a reformer, a philosopher, a poet or even a saint. It will be a loss if we contain him within the shackles of any group or society. A balloon can soar higher if the string is longer and a cow can grace farther if the rope is longer.
Human Life, conceivably, is the loftiest of endowments, barring perhaps our Hindu belief that the ‘ultimate salvation’ is freedom from the cycle of life and death. The dignity of human life rests on the assumption that unlike other living organisms driven by the impulses of nature, humans have the discretionary ability to differentiate right from wrong and that we are empowered with a soul, which enables us to choose a path for spiritual progress. The divine gift of life nevertheless comes with variable choices of responsibilities and accountability. We are routinely challenged with options and are often compelled to choose a path that may have an enormous impact on our future. Religion provides us the confidence to follow the right path, courage to uphold the proper values and wisdom to differentiate between good and evil. It guides us to lead a life of honesty, generosity, compassion, and respect and serves to inculcate in us a sense of righteousness, dutifulness and our obligations as a human being. Unique attributes of Hinduism include freedom to question, analyze or discuss a certain message before one can attempt to rationalize, consume and accept it. The student of the religion has the liberty to reject a certain philosophical dogma if one is not able to come to terms with it. Hinduism allows one to choose the means and direction to attain self-realization, without imposing any stringent restrictions on the individual. Thus, the tolerance of other religious beliefs is a rare, distinctive characteristic of Hinduism. Hindu temples have been the havens for all our religious needs. Primarily being the abode of gods, we congregate in temples for pujas, prayers, and different religious celebrations. They provide the stage for religious education through discourses, explanation of scriptures, mythological storytelling, and other religious classes. Our epics contain narratives that elaborate and convey moral lessons to instill values in the listeners and enlighten their outlook about life. Our Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas provide profound, rational, logical explanations that can be pragmatically applied to everyday life. The symbolic explanations imbued in 202 many of our simple tales impart practical, useful guidance for daily life situations. Sri Meenakshi Temple, having qualified as a primary sanctuary for religious rituals, is now entering into an even greater arena of responsibility, to nourish our young souls with the elementary needs of understanding Hindu Dharma. As we, the first-generation Hindus have chosen to move out and settle in an alien society, the onus of passing on the mantle to our posterity rests entirely on our shoulders. We should establish measures that our younger generation takes over the guardianship of our heritage and uphold our rich traditions. They will also require that understanding to feel proud of their distinct identity. No one escapes the tenure of being a youth, along with the agony and ecstasy that are inherent to that tenure; yet no one remains to be a youth forever. As the youth mature into adults, they should become ambassadors of our traditions, proudly absorbing our exalted, cultural principles and disseminating them to interested listeners. It may be prudent to hope that during these troubled times, the legendary wisdom of our time-honored scriptures may come in as the panacea for all the ills of the world. Let our enlightened youth succeed in making an impact with a renewed awareness. Our newly completed Youth Center is an establishment shouldering an enormous task. Under its roof and within its four walls, beyond its classrooms and surrounding its numerous paraphernalia, immersed within the very essence of its purpose, lies the paragon of teaching and learning, to support, sustain and spread the sagacious wisdom of our forefathers, passed on to us through millennia of monumental traditions. Each and every one of us, even remotely involved with its creation and its operation should feel immensely content to be part of the historic responsibility that we have been fortunate to be associated with. We are blessed with just one life. Let us make an earnest attempt to make the noblest use of it. (September 10, 2003)
A Temple to a Hindu, is the abode of God, a symbolic assembly where the secular can congregate with the sacred, a spiritual destination for the mortal to experience the Divine. Temples are constructed as per the guidelines laid out in our sacred texts, incorporating the perception of the cosmic elements and their extension into human existence. The sacredness of the Almighty is invoked and consecrated into the installed deities, who are objects to allow the devotee to concentrate on the enormous concept through our mundane comprehension. The construction of the edifice, the installation of the deities, the maintenance of the premises, the observation of the rituals, the periodic conservation and every elaborate detail about the temples are meticulously and austerely guided by tenets laid out in our scriptural manuscripts. If to be offered a human life was the ultimate endowment by the Creator, to be involved in creating a temple would be the eventual blessing for a human soul. This is the exhilarating chronicle of a group of Houstonian Indian Hindus 187 who had a dream of creating a humble place of worship that has blossomed into a magnificent monument of enviable accomplishment, a marvelous, elaborate, beautiful complex of reverence, love, and pride. This is our Sri Meenakshi Temple in Pearland, Texas. And this is the story of a few of us who were ultimately privileged to be part of that inspiring initiative. Our temple is the first such Shakti temple outside of India and the third Hindu temple created in the United States. And we were permitted and privileged to borrow the prestige of the name by the legendary Sri Madurai Meenakshi Temple, who generously offered all the required assistance and guidance in building our facility in a chosen location in Pearland a suburb of Houston metropolis, Texas. When one is writing history, it would be customary to visit and elucidate some of the circumstances that lead to conceive a concept and arrive at a resolution before proceeding with its implementation. And it would be our desire to create a synopsis that would be interesting, informative and enjoyable reading as the life story of an Indian, Hindu religious institution gets established in the heart of a cowboy country. That story would not only convey the achievements of our visionary, early settlers, but it should also bestow our compliments and gratitude to the magnanimity of our gracious hosts, who whole-heartedly welcomed us and our faith into their passionate bible belt. As we embark on telling the story of our temple, the narration should elicit curiosity in the readers as they are guided through the premises leading to its birth, the shaky steps and the falls endured through its growth before it matured into a splendid institution, and ultimately creating s sense of sublime satisfaction with gratitude and humility in the accomplishment. We may begin the fairy-tale from 1969 when Sri Diwan, a contractor at NASA initiated The India Family Circle, and a few like-minded Hindus gathered in various homes and did poojas and bhajans, the process continuing into 1973. The set up evolved into the formation of the Hindu Worship Society that was inaugurated at the University of Houston auditorium on April 14, 1973. Devotees used to meet at the Rothko Chapel on Sundays for prayers and potluck lunch in the adjacent building. A small fraction broke away under the name of Hindu Temple Society ‘Jyothi’, a newsletter was started to reach out and attract community members, the editorial committee comprising of Sri G. Subramaniam, Aravind Ghosh, Sam Kannappan and Pramila Vyas. A piece of land was purchased in 1975 at Hwy 59 N and Little York, with plans to build a temple, where the Bhoomi Pooja, the ground-breaking ceremony was performed by Sri Panrimalai Swamigal, who came with Dr. Alagappan from New York. The land had to be sold at a loss due to a faulty title. Another acre was purchased by the HWS in 1976 on Wilcrest road, where the present Hindu Worship Society continues. Even though Hindu Worship Society functioned with members from all over India, at some point it was obvious that the prayer habits and the practice of worship were distinctly different between the devotees of Northern and Southern India. If in the North, the custom was for individual devotees themselves to do the poojas for the deities made of marble with aarthis and havans and bhajans, South Indian system was accustomed to follow Agama Sastra where the granite Murthis were offered Abhishekam, Alankaram, Naivedyam and Archanas by the priests adhering to strictly enforced elaborate steps dictated by the Sastras. When Sri S.M. Ganapathi Stapathy and Sri Purushotham Naidu from Andhra Pradesh visited Houston, they advised us that the land purchased was not suitable to build South Indian style temples and since our needs were different, the two factions decided to split our ways. But as much as we had interest, we were concerned about the ability and affordability of a small group of us to undertake an enormous project of creating an elaborate south Indian style temple. There were genuine concerns about our ability in raising funds and possible opposition from the Texan neighbors, as we encountered practical, physical, financial and emotional struggles every step of the way. But our youthful determination and sincere conviction along with the Divine sanction made it an inspiring challenge that transformed into a reality. On a clear, pleasant, sunny, Sunday morning of October 1977, about thirty of us met at the Fondren Southwest clubhouse of Venugopal and Sreedevi Menon and decided to proceed and explore our dream, a humble ambition of creating a temple to meet the needs of the Hindus in the area. The decision was to create a Shakthi Temple, a first of its kind outside India and the third Hindu temple in the USA after New York and Pittsburgh. Thanks to the encouragement from New York, to Sri Venkateswara Temple and Sree Madurai Meenakshi Temple, we ventured into the envious task. Instrumental in converting our dream to a feasibility stage were the efforts of Sam Kannappan who approached Sri. C. V. Narasimhan, ICS who was the undersecretary of the UN at the time, and Dr. Alagappa Alagappan of New York, who helped to connect us with the right contacts, using their standing influence in getting us the needed assistance and offering salient advice as needed. Establishing the connection with Sree Madurai Temple and ensuring their support in building our sanctuary, it was natural that our Shakthi Temple would be dedicated to the Goddess, and thus the choice was made and Sri Meenakshi Temple, Houston was born. Kodali Subba Rao and Bhaskar Rao Mutyala were instrumental in bringing in the Andhra community and considering the addition of Sri Venkateswara and Padmavathi as other main deities. There was also offer to help from Kanchi Sankara Matt, as the devotee base began to expand. During a meeting at TSU, as arranged by Prof. K. V. Ramaswamy, the committee initiated the creation of a constitution. As we were assembling our thoughts and expanding our support base, another group in Florida was attempting to build a Shakthi temple. C. V. Narasimhan informed us that their assistance could be offered only one of us, to the group purchasing the land first and is ready to build and obviously the other one would lose it. In a hurry, we identified five pieces, in Brookshire, Friendswood, on Synott Road, Murphy Road and on McLean road in Pearland. Our group decided on the five acres of Pearland for its affordability, openness and being situated away from the crowds of the city in a less established community. And the spacious acreage was facing east, the ideal choice for the temple. Kannappan with his family located the property and found it suitable, contacted a few others in the committee who concurred with the choice and proceeded to meet with the owner and settled the deal with a down payment check of $1000. There was an interesting anecdote that would be worth mentioning here. The identified piece of property was with overgrown grass and was unkempt, but when the owner assured that it had been mowed and cleaned, Kannappan realized what he had mistaken the adjacent property to be the one we bought. And it happened to be the six acres of land across McLean Road that the temple eventually purchased in the next few years. Concurrently, a Board was formed with nine members of Trustees. A loan of $29,000 was taken from Almeda Genoa Bank, sixteen of the steering committee members signing the contract and Dr. Rama Chavali setting up the automatic payment of $20 a month. The temple was registered as a Non-profit Association, Sri Meenakshi Temple, but was soon converted into a corporation that would remove the individual liability, but at the same time making the loaners less interested in offering a mortgage. MTS remained as an association from 1977 till 1993. It was registered as a 501C3entity in December 1978 with US Treasury Department Sale tax exemption from the State of Texas and creating a constitution. During the second chairmanship of Mr. Thiagarajan in 1994, it was converted as a Corporation with new By-laws and chartered with Texas Secretary of State. Sri Meenakshi Temple initially owned an elongated, rectangle of five acres, a corn-cultivated barren land with perhaps a solitary tree standing lonely waiting for some activity. There were snakes on the ground and wasps flying around. All the members lived remote from the temple land and we could not afford outside help to develop the property. Nat Bhaskaran, Kris Raghavan, Raj Syal, S. Radhakrishnan, K. Balachandran, and many others undertook the responsibility and volunteered the physical labor to convert the piece to a usable area. Every 190 weekend the volunteers would mix concrete and pour on a stretch of twenty feet that would serve as the driveway to approach and reach the spot where the Ganesh Temple would be erected. As it is our custom, every Hindu initiative begins with the prayer to Ganesha, the God who would watch over us, keep the going smooth and protect our noble endeavor without blemishes forever. Looking back, for fortyone years He has stood by us and enabled the temple to blossom beyond our wildest dreams. Architect Ranjit Banerjee, professor at the University of Houston helped us with the sketching and planning of the facility. Even though it was desired to have the building set back farthest from the street, since it would then place the parking in the front and create an inappropriate office ambiance, it was decided that the temple would be built closer to the street. Dr. Rajagopal of Dallas and Mr. Palaniappan from San Antonio helped with the structural designs. With the assistance of the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh (later the Governor of Tamil Nadu), the idol of Sri Ganesha arrived, the Ganesh temple was completed and inaugurated on Ganesh Chaturthi day in 1979 by the priest who came from New York. But since there was no priest appointed or was available in the community on a daily basis, one family volunteered to do a simple Archana for the Murthi on the weekdays and Dr. Ramaswamy came on the weekends to perform the more elaborate pooja. Initially, there was nothing except that cubical structure. Mr. G. Subramaniam and Mr. Krishnamurthy were our senior mentors whose inspiration and motivation imparted the needed guidance for many of us to get involved in such endeavors. Uncle Subramaniam along with his family members arranged volunteers and guided them to do the daily poojas at Ganesh temple, as well as organizing the various requirements like bringing water and homemade prasadam. There were no roads, no running water, no restrooms, nor any shelter over our heads, but we persevered; and it was a sheer blessing for the families who had the precious opportunity to be involved. A host family program was started, each family sponsoring a pooja bringing their circle of friends, and potluck lunch with the hope of increasing the devotee base. Sri Manickam Parthasarathy was appointed as the priest for Ganesh Temple who was housed in the trailer home that the temple received as a courtesy of Joy Manufacturing company for $1, due to the efforts from Anantha Aiyer who along with his wife Padma, also acquired pledges for $34,000. Fundraising events by local talents as well as visiting professionals like Parveen Sultana, Balamurali Krishna, Seerkazhi Govindarajan, M. S. Subbulakshmi, and Pandit Ravi Shankar, most of them offering their talents free, are noteworthy to be remembered. As the available steering committee members gathered and tried to recapitulate interesting anecdotes from their rusted memories, several of the 191 encounters came back as nostalgic reminders; volunteers with no skill or training having to do the poojas, Ganesha idol getting His arm ‘fractured’ during transportation, standing in inclement weather to find delight in the prayers, driving and getting stuck on the muddy roads, backing off in the dark and slipping into the ditches, hosing and splashing water on the hot roof to keep it cool, feeling disturbed with minor instances of vandalism, getting free help from Mr. Patel to control the extensive pests, and most of all earning enjoyable camaraderie between the many like-minded volunteers passionately rooting for the same cause. From mowing and clearing the grounds, pouring concrete, laying the cables, putting up road signs, bringing food, applying for the several permits, establishing accountable financial transactions, communicating with India and handling the related dealings, the list goes on; the challenges were numerous, but the resolve remained resolute. Looking back, there is immense pride, pleasure, and privilege to have been involved in a marvelous accomplishment, to watch our humble dream evolve into a grand reality, and a sublime realization of the Divine allowance to have such a blessing bestowed on us. (Steering Committee members of MTS, compiled by Venugopal Menon)
Is it a boon or a bane; a blessing or a burden; is it a challenge, a liability, or an obligation; or is it really an opportunity and a responsibility? It could be any of it or all of it if you have a conscience about your religion or none at all if you do not care. Divine destiny has designated the West as our land of domicile. As we often boast the decision to be purely our intelligent choice, we are consciously cognizant of the many factors beyond our control that contributed to the reality. Having come to this ‘promised land’ with a dream and a desire to enhance our interests, we have struggled in getting educated, succeeding in careers, raising families and choosing to establish permanence here. Having accepted that reality, it is important for each of us to subject our minds to some degree of introspection, regarding our duty in our new homeland, towards Hindu Dharma, the religious faith that we have been born into and been raised. Even though it is imperative for every human to periodically brood over such a responsibility, it becomes all the more urgent and critical for those of us who chose to navigate our lives away from the natural habitat of our religious traditions. In spite of destiny that pulled us away from our base, deep within most of us, in our fundamental elements, in our innate emotional habitudes, there lurks an intense desire, an affinity, and love of the unique, fundamental traits of being a Hindu. That certain virtue, as subtle as it may be, is distinctly felt by most of us, brought up in our traditions. The attribute should lead us to cultivate a deep sense of moral conscience to uphold our faith with reverence, as much as we care about our profession, our family and the society we live in. It should not be just an option; it should be embraced as an opportunity. It is our privilege, our blessed entitlement to recognize and do our little part. Each of us should do some soul searching as to how we can be effective in our adopted land to perpetuate our traditional practices and prevent them from perishing. It is crucial that we sincerely establish our lifestyle, perhaps within 181 reasonable limitations, yet always adhering to the fundamental teachings of our glorious traditions. It is important that our children see us walking the talk, that it will instill in them a sense of belonging, security and even pride. Unlike in India, where no one questions about the rationale of the rituals and everyone is immersed in the same lifestyle, here we need to have a fundamental understanding of the basic principles of our Dharma and the symbolic meaning of certain practices. It takes an earnest effort, but it will be amply rewarded in our old age, as we watch the younger generation carry over the customs. I would like to add, regretfully, that many of the Hindus do not have a clue about the basics of our faith, often passionately speaking of our weaknesses and even boasting of their ignorance. These groups are the nemesis to our religion and are often beyond any scope of correction. Hindu Dharma is a discipline of life-based on observation, inference, and evolution of understanding it. Its tenets are principles imbibed from Nature, studied and recorded by sages and philosophers for many millennia. Its basic principles rest on simple, yet the Ultimate Truth; its complex philosophy may often exceed limitations of our comprehension. It is a ‘way of life’ advocated on principles of Eternal Righteousness, “Sanatana Dharma’. To envisage the meaning of Sanatana Dharma is an accomplishment in elucidating the true meaning of existence. The axiom of Hindu belief is the universal presence of Divinity in everything that exists. The ultimate goal of life to a Hindu is realizing that fact and merging with the Original Presence, escaping from the cycles of life and death. We believe in ‘Karma’, the inevitable yardstick evaluating our performance and tabulating scores required to earn such salvation. Living here, we have to be our own ambassadors to help promote and preserve our faith for the next generations, in a land alien to our traditions. It is essential that we make an effort to explain to non-Hindus, the principles of our Dharma, the meaning of our many rituals; invite them to attend our festivals and share with them the joy of our festivities. Extend our role beyond the rituals, crossing over our celebrations but projecting the principles of Hindu teachings in helping the ones in need, in getting involved in worthy causes of the community we live in Hinduism gets often accused of multiple gods, idol worship and caste differentiation, mostly out of ignorance or from purposeful distortions. We believe in one God, who can be worshipped in Its numerous manifestations, just as water is seen as ice, steam or flowing river. Idols are objects to allow one to visually concentrate on an identifiable focus for practical comprehension of an enormous, nebulous concept. Castes and class differentiations were originally instituted as a means of division of labor but got abused by vested interests. Hinduism does not have any traceable origin (anadhi) unlike most of the prominent, popular religions in the world, most of which originated about two to 182 three millenniums ago. Hindu Dharma neither does have a founder (apourusheya), unlike the other religions, which emerged from some very divine souls who started spreading the praise of the Creator to educate, to enlighten and to guide the masses through the path of righteousness. They gathered followers who spread their message across, preaching the philosophy and campaigning for inclusions and conversions. It is important for every Hindu to consciously and deliberately attempt to make our principles understood, that our Dharma upholds lofty ideals, that it is based on basic doctrines of good living, that it is open to all, whether a Hindu or not, that it extols well being of entire humanity, that it is a religion of allencompassing love, not of hate or fear. Each Hindu should be involved in the local temples if they are fortunate to have one nearby. Sri Meenakshi Temple has set an exemplary example; our humble dream has blossomed into an enormous reality. To have been committed from its inception, to watch it grow and to have its services available for our various needs, has been a blessing beyond emotional expression. Throughout the United States, many temples have been created, catering to the needs of Hindus in the area. It is heartening to note that most of us have a temple within a reasonable driving distance. As a group with enormous patronage of the temple as our base, it is time that we take initiative to formulate guidelines and spearhead a divine obligation, that of disseminating the fundamental philosophy of Sanatana Dharma. Such an effort is essential in the present climate and in the foreseeable future, to expel misconceptions about the integrity and magnanimity of our faith. It will be our generous gesture to make such a treasure available to the entire humanity, as we concomitantly establish an effort to conserve our heritage and preserve our posterity. (July 26, 2006)
Preface: A Certain situation in Kerala as grave as the title clarifies compels me to write about it and which should arouse concern in every Hindu who harbors sentiments about our ancestry and our traditions. I am somewhat relieved that similar concern is being shared by many of our leaders and intellectuals who are making passionate efforts to reverse the trend and re-establish fairness of equality in our state. I fervently hope and pray that their efforts succeed. The topic is an issue obvious to anyone who cares to observe. That observation has prompted me to analyze its reasons and possible measures of correction as it is deemed warranted. Even though I have been involved with Sri Meenakshi Temple in Houston since its inception, I may still not qualify myself as a devout Hindu, since I am not ritualistic, nor I practice what is traditionally expected of a Hindu if we have a strict code of ethics. Yet, I passionately claim myself to be a Hindu, which I am by birth, by philosophy, by conviction and essentially by my inner filaments of being. And being a Hindu, I respect other faiths and their adherents’ option to approach Divinity in the ways they choose. I am an ardent believer in the spark of divinity in every creation; my concept is of equality of all human beings. I respect the right for each to choose their approach to the ultimate reality or their freedom not to have any such belief at all. Many of my best friends and some of the most decent human beings follow a variety of faiths and I do not measure a person based on their religious preference. The notion of anyone claiming a monopoly of divinity or preaching superiority is absurd. Almost always we are destined to follow the faith we are born into, but an intelligent being should have the option to choose a faith that appeals to them through educated understanding. I believe that it is a primitive and despicable ploy to lure someone into conversion through bribery, baiting them with offers and donations. Promoting such methods and practicing propaganda against other faiths should be considered a disgrace to organizations that do it in the name of God. Every crime committed in the name of religion and every atrocity leading from terrorist activities could be avoided if the leaders of faiths make an earnest attempt to influence their followers to practice what is preached by the noble souls who created such religions.
I am from a Nair family in Ernakulam, and I have pleasant nostalgic memories of my childhood, of feeling privileged in a certain way of belonging. My childhood was enriched with festivals and festivities of our customs, based on religious observations and cultural celebrations. The events were related to auspicious Hindu occasions as my Christian and Muslim friends were celebrating their similar religious festivals. We enjoyed the collective amity as we cultivated friendship, mutually accepting and appreciating the differences. Today, that image of my Kerala has vanished. From the perspective of a Hindu, proud and passionate about the bygone days, I sense an alarm in our declining number of the census and of our proportionate representation in other spheres of society. My apprehension arises from concern of fairness and my objective is to focus on needed corrections. My observation is that there is a discernible shift of religious representation in Kerala, the percentage of Hindus receding, gradually and palpably, compared to other religious factions. The reasons for such a shift are obvious. Vigorous family planning propaganda promoted by government is readily accepted and practiced by Hindus, which limit their progeny and consequently the growth of their population. The other factions, by contrast, feel privileged to propagate as dictated by their religious directives and dogmas, which promote a disproportionate increase in their census. Another disturbingly damaging practice is of conversions of Hindus by other faiths through a variety of means and motives, while such practices are alien to Hindu philosophy. Alongside, there is a similar, parallel shift in the educational, political, economic and other leading indices, where Hindus of Kerala are losing their fair share of distribution. The trend can be traced to a variety of reasons.
As India gained independence from colonial British in 1947, democratization and establishment of republic rule in the country necessitated the reorganization and the end of Hindu kingdoms in many states. When Pakistan felt proud of being established as a Muslim country, India showed generosity of spirit and nobility in choosing the path of Secularism. In the name of fairness, we carelessly created double standards offering enormous privileges to the ‘minorities’ which have been haunting and discriminating Hindus ever since. In the Hindu majority state of Kerala, we have been at the mercy of governmental regulations, indiscriminately choking our basic privileges and presence.
In Kerala, the popularity and influence of communism attracting mostly Hindus, spelled the demise of our traditional values and age-old customs. When the political leaders sold the concept of atheism as a means of liberating the poor, generations of Hindu masses were being deceived into discarding their rich and magnificent heritage for hollow promises and baseless assumptions.
The corrupt and self-serving political leadership created and promoted regulations solely to gain votes and stay in power. The inequality of legality and absurdity of its implementation are so discreetly obvious in the laws governing the temples versus churches and mosques. Such discrimination is blatant in the marriage rules of different religions, the quota systems in selection to admissions, posting and promotions and a variety of ruling measures which hurt the Hindus more than any other factions
As much as we credit the church system in establishing many educational institutions, promoting literacy in the state, we need to realize that such education gradually pulled the minds of traditional Hindu generations towards the westernized thinking approach. Such a gradual transformation of their mentality was at the expense of eroding the time-honored, culturally established Hindu value systems. Convent educated teachers innocently inculcated such westernized values and disseminated them into the following generations, thus altering our basic cultural chemistry. Little did we realize that such change at the root of our educational system was undermining our rich philosophy as well as corroding our cultural codes and habits. Disturbance at the level of thought process distorts the basic assumptions and destroys the fundamental respect of traditions. The contrast of styles between the west and the east, the basic personal freedom to choose as you please, the liberated codes of ethics and habits, the promotion of individual rights against traditional guidelines and the convenient life patterns against our established observations, altogether contributed to the steady dilution and the loss of our precious identity. What we proudly proclaimed as the promotion of intellectual freedom to analyze our faith and arrive at personal understanding and interpretation was misconstrued, misunderstood and misused by many Hindus, perhaps without realizing the damage they caused to their own roots. Rampant abuse of power by the upper class, using profoundly set principles to promote personal agendas, brought in disgrace to our traditions. The original well-meant intent of classification to selectively encourage and perfect different trades was abused to meet and enhance personal benefits and interests. The grave consequences resulting from centuries of such practices have done the worst damage to Hinduism, alienating a substantial percentage of our believers. Religious conversions by opportunistic outsiders, capitalizing on this weakness of ours, have been the major basis of our downfall.
Hinduism never actively promoted the wealth of our information that was passed on to us by our sages and saints. We never had regimented processes of disseminating such treasures which could have enlightened human beings and enhanced the level of their existence. On the contrary, many of the purohits who had control of the leadership kept the wealth of information and stopped them being disseminated to classes of people they disliked. All our Vedas and treatises were written for the intellectuals without any sincere attempt to distribute that information in an understandable form down to the level of the commoner. Unlike some of the later religions created by single individuals and expanded by purposeful propagandas and disciplined enforcement, Hinduism took the higher moral ground assuming that the available information may be absorbed and understood by its followers. We also did not subscribe to the tactics of enforcing such beliefs on anyone in exchange for charity. Neither did we attempt to brainwash ‘non-believers’ and coerce them to join our ranks through intimidating measures of fear of sin or burning in the hell. Our faith has always remained one of love and compassion and our basic tenets are to worship for the welfare of the entire humanity. We believe in the existence of divinity in everything that exists, that is around us, within us and beyond us. A faith with such a profound philosophy as Hinduism, which has no barriers or restrictions, should have attracted any and all who accept principles with common sense. But unfortunately religions are nothing about lofty philosophy or broad ideology; they happen to be the politicization of divinity, capitalizing the glory of its creator, packaged and sold with all the zeal of successful business operation. The ulterior motive is to extend and expand the personal interests of individuals in the name of institutions.
The state of Kerala has undergone tremendous changes in the last fifty years, almost every such change hurting the cause of the Hindus. Where nonHindus are industrious and ambitious in expanding their presence and possession, Hindus have generally remained docile, timid and stagnated, resting on their claim of old laurels and false pretenses. Even among Hindus, the different factions have cultivated animosity rather than mutual unity and have never found any common ground based on their profound religion. Such divisions among us have made us weak and fragmented; distracted us from fighting for our common good, consequently being at the receiving end of gross political and social injustice. We have not identified ourselves as a group or the need to address problems in a unified way. The Hindu classes placed as the underprivileged, scheduled or backward have been subjected to gross humiliation and injustice, taken advantage of by the so-called superior Hindus. We are paying a penalty for such reprehensible actions that the disadvantaged classes have countered with anger and animosity, leading them to conversions or communistic affiliation.
The pride of secularism has been our perpetual curse, the minority religions having bestowed with unfair power and penetration. How do we condone the injustice of all the millions donated by the Hindus to the temples being controlled and squandered by the state, while every penny that goes into the coffers of the churches and mosques remain at their discretion?. Why does the government control the Devaswom boards, when they do not dare to exercise the same power over churches and mosques? Why was the precious land masses owned by the Hindus were snatched away in the name of reform, while no such process found access to properties of Christians and Muslims?
Another major, disappointing trend that is gradually but certainly worsening is the economic aspect of the equation. As in anything else monetary power is the ultimate yardstick and Hindus have lost that edge in a dramatic fashion. The disintegration of possessions of Hindus on the real estate, farming and business fronts is very palpable. The docile attitude on the part of established Hindu families along with a lack of frugality, have irreparably destroyed the old ‘tharavadu’ concept, leading to partitions and fragmentation, moving the economic advantage to industrious, businessoriented non-Hindu factions.
Amazing scientific and technological progress leading to enormous mechanization and sweeping alteration of the lifestyle of humanity has been a global phenomenon of the last few decades. Such industrialization has swept human minds away from the old concepts of celestial controls and godly influences pervading everything that happens around us. Such a change has shifted the focus of life in general from religiosity to human authority. Often there is a certain amount of arrogance and audacity expressed by the scientific clout which is easily accepted by the consumers who are immersed by the technical luxury they are surrounded by. The natural extension of that philosophy is evident in the urban lifestyle based on consumerism, a total deviation from the previous practice of discipline revolving around religious dictations. As generations got more acclimatized with the westernized, pleasure-seeking, sensually slanted, self-centered, individually oriented lifestyle, we got farther away from our centuries-old traditions and value system. Interestingly, while such scientific globalization has been challenging the old concept of heavenly superiority, there is a surprisingly parallel proliferation of evangelical zeal to regain the losing influence. Out of sheer fear that they may lose control of religious advantage to science and modernity and consequently their economic and political dominance, many righteous groups are fighting it out with powers bestowed on them by gods to attack science and discredit their advances. Such groups with sinister intentions use every tactic influencing and intimidating the godfearing followers. The sensible notion that science can be part and parcel of an elaborate divine theme and that knowledge can be understood and absorbed in a broader, tolerant sense, is seldom discussed. It also takes certain humility to accept that scientific thoughts can be realistically contained within an involved intellectual extension of ‘divine’ principles. It is thus conveniently overlooked or intentionally avoided for lack of available objectivity and perhaps ulterior financial reasons.
As much Hindus are damaging our own cherished heritage, many opposing groups are making organized efforts to annihilate our venerated glory. As if declaring a silent war, these groups have methodically mounted measures to discredit our values and time-honored belief system. They are successfully proving that with a disciplined marketing and enormous economic clout, anyone can gain superiority and usurp even the most magnificent adversary. As the damage has been slowly but surely threatening the survival of Hinduism in Kerala we remain complacent and even reacting in bizarre ways. “So what! Does it really matter?”. We Hindus are our biggest nemesis. As billions flow into our sacred country and as the cancer is creeping into the very foundation of our ancient treasures, most of us lay 178 oblivious to the damage while some of our leaders even assist the enemy, using the opportunity for personal gains. The sad reality is that as the savage forces encroach and massacre the sanctity of our heritage, we stand silently and shamelessly insensible, watching the demise.
Should we be concerned? Should we care? Should we even attempt to find out? It is all up to our conscience; it is up to the values of our upbringing; it is up to any remnant of pride left in our moral substrate. If we even remotely care about the threat of our integrity, it is imminently important that we wake up and respond about it; against it. We are certainly capable of standing up to it and meeting the challenge, our venerated responsibility.
How do we approach such a formidable adversary? It requires an intelligent, organized, purposeful approach, simultaneously on many fronts.
We need leadership. Assemble and organize brainstorming sessions of concerned, capable intellectuals without personal motives but who are passionately committed to the cause
We need to identify and analyze the underlying ‘pathology of the problem’ with the elaborate, multidirectional approach.
Establish an effective force, motivating and mobilizing enthusiastic individuals who are sincere and dedicated to achieving the goal. Educate, motivate and train the volunteers to systematically implement the needed remedies.
Recognize sources and methods to raise the revenue needed to accomplish the desired measures. Reach out to Indian Hindus within the state, within India and abroad, who will be sympathetic and resourceful to subscribe for the cause.
Provide extensive publicity about the situation, about the need for action, requesting involvement and commitment. Adhere to the sublime tenets of Hinduism in respecting and appreciating all the faiths, but making it very clear that the purpose is to re-establish parity and fairness. Use television, radio, and publications to educate our younger generation and stimulate the older ones to revive the Hindu style of living, its basic principles and its liberal outlook about welfare for the entire humanity. Simple, understandable explanations about time-honored values of Hinduism will stimulate and motivate youngsters to feel proud of their traditions. Do it in a subtle, gentle, positive and interesting fashion that the change happens out of 179 realization and not of compulsion. Definitely avoid imposing extreme ritualistic practices and boastful, fanatic dictations.
Re-establish the old, traditional practices which have gradually and sadly disappeared from Hindu homes, explaining their symbolic significance. Examples are many: Lighting the Nilavilakku at dawn and dusk, ‘naamamchollal’ as a daily tradition, applying bhasmam and sandalwood paste after a bath, celebrating the traditional events like Onam, Vishu, Sivarathri, Ashtami Rohini, Poojavaikkal and others, observing Vaavu, Noyambu, Thiruvathira, etc.
Work towards eliminating the disparity between the ‘classes’, so that Hindus work united and not fight fragmented.
As much as we accuse and detest other faiths of all their ‘wrong-doings’, we have a lot to learn from their charitable, helpful, altruistic attitudes which are commendable and worthy of emulation. As compared to Hindus, many of their groups are available and willing to come to the rescue for the needy, the down-trodden and the fallen, without consideration of their religious affiliation. Even if their motive is to attract them to conversion, they are available and accessible when needed; we can hardly ever give credit to Hindus for that kind of humanitarian efforts.
Establish dialog with understanding, intellectual leaders from other faiths to work towards a symbiotic relationship which can mutually enhance respect and enrich socio-cultural harmony and parity among religions.
Work from the political angle to assert the rights of the majority, to regain equality and eliminate the unfair advantage to any single group or faction.
The overall objective should be an approach with a very broad sense of outlook to reinstate the lost grounds of Hinduism, reversing the damaging efforts perpetrated by a variety of formidable forces and faiths with ominous and menacing intentions. It should be accomplished exercising the integrity, dignity, and nobility of Hinduism, but with the perseverance and resolve that we are capable of. Let us grab the situation as a god given opportunity to fulfil our responsibility. It is our sacred call, our destiny. It is our Dharma.
‘Whatever! Should I care ?’ must not be the instinctive response of many, if they were posed with such a query. The very objective of KHNA is not to hear such a response and ‘create a universal sense of pride and commitment about Malayali Hindu traditions and heritage, of their cultural roots and identity’. Are we accomplishing that objective? Let us analyze. Let us introspect The Universe As proclaimed in Hindu Puranic perceptions, passed on to us through the wisdom of our rishis, the cosmological history of the multiverse is cyclical 166 without a beginning or end, comprising of a repetitive continuum incorporating many universes and many ‘Big-Bang’ explosive episodes. Our ancient hypothesis can intelligently accommodate the many postulates from the Greek stoic Ekpyrotic theory to the Buddhist concept of evolution or the modern scientific and technological understanding of the ‘origin’. A single day of Brahma, the Creator is the equivalent of over four billion years in human time and is divided into four Yugas, at the end of which is the cataclysmic deluge or Pralaya, when Brahma rests for the night, as equally long as his day. Through the ongoing cycles of Srishti (creation), Sthithi(sustenance), and Samhara (creative destruction), life begins and ends as dictated by the cosmic command under the guidance of the Ultimate Reality, the God Principle. Life on Earth If one follows the sensible postulate of evolution, even the rudimentary form of life began after millions of years of preparation as the earth cooled down and gradually became receptive to sustain the living entity. Through a gradual process of adaptation, refinement, and perfection, there was a conceivable, gradual and steady improvement to the life forms that performed with more precision and intelligence. It is amusing to infer that even the Gods, the most knowledgeable authorities took their time and observed the laws of nature in advancing their creations with patience and endurance. And such events happen for a reason, a purpose that is to be contained and comprehended within the confines of a larger principle. The Humans Following the concepts and philosophy of our faith, we owe plenty to the mercy of the Almighty. His biggest endowment to us is to have chosen us to confer the dignity of a human being. Not that any life is more precious than any other, but within our knowledge, the humans occupy the biggest pedestal of His creation. If we do not recognize, realize and be humbled of being the recipient of that ultimate distinction, we have missed out on the fundamental meaning of our existence. And such awareness can distinctly offer the support for our search assuring answers to how and why we should utilize that precious gift and return the favor. To realize that truth is to live life as it was meant to be. India As per our traditional belief, ‘Arsha Bharatham’ is regarded and revered as a virtuous nation, a ‘Punyabhumi’. It is the land that gave birth to all our incarnations, the place that nurtured the many scholarly saints, the ground that has cultivated the attitude of harmony and accommodation, and where the philosophy 167 of Eternal Righteousness prevails supreme. In the recorded history of mankind, there is no place elsewhere which can boast of virtues of morality and rectitude as the fundamental theories of life. To be born into that heritage and be reared along such precious traditional value system is an exceptional privilege for human life. To all of us who are born Indians or have Indian heritage, it is a blessed concession, a sacred and distinguished stroke of destiny. Religions Religions are created by man and are just establishments that promote and politicize divinity as the theme. Exceptionally enlightened souls authored philosophies to preach and to help evolve humans and their behavior. Such embodiments of divinity took life as they were sent to earth as often as required and as decided by the ultimate authority. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Mahavira, Sankaracharya, and others were such enlightened souls who were born with the destined function to help humanity, to guide them towards righteous behavior. Their followers created organizations to promote and propagate their teachings that came to be known as religions. In due course, such entities started claiming divinity as their monopoly and advocating their methods as the only way to attain the eventual salvation. Most of the problems that we witness in today’s world are the results of the enormous dominance and influence exercised by religious interests. Sanatana Dharma Hinduism is perhaps the only exception without a set agenda, claiming superiority or ownership of divinity and attempting proselytization of all else by coercion. Ironically and ignorantly it has been assigned the title as a ‘religion’ but in reality, it is ‘Sanatana Dharma’, a practice of ‘Eternal Righteousness’. It is a principle that provides an authoritative, intellectual, philosophical guidance to virtuous, moral living. And it invites and encourages everyone to understand the concepts using honest curiosity, unbiased analysis, and intelligent assimilation. Its basic principles rest on simple yet the ultimate truth; its complex philosophy may exceed limitations of human comprehension. Its doctrines are based on the fundamental meaning of life. Its tenets transcend promise of pleasures or covenants of punishment. Kerala We, the Hindus of Kerala are a uniquely blessed, distinctly endowed group of human beings. We have been awarded the exclusivity of an enviable blend of superlative, noble distinctions that are beyond even our imaginative conjectures. At every level of option, God has been generous and merciful in bestowing on us the best that can be granted. The ultimate of His creations, the human life; in the land of virtuosity, the Bharat Bhoomi; born as a Hindu, to observe the Eternal Righteous principle; in God’s own country, Kerala, the serenely stunning piece on planet earth. If we are not able to savor that absolute reality and not be exalted about our distinct excellence of birth, it is distressingly sad; it is our misfortune. And if we can appreciate the boon in its totality, we remain blessed. We truly are inimitable. Our Identity Identity is as intimate and crucially imperative as one’s shadow. It gives one the authority, personality and the essentially vital correlation between self and everything else that it relates to. It offers the owner the spatial, social, functional and philosophic perspectives setting them apart from the rest and endorsing the uniqueness that is distinctive of human life. An individual utilizes sets of unique traits that collectively declare his individuality in a certain setting and based on the particular situation. Such traits vary from physical appearance to language to habits to religion to a variety of parameters, but nevertheless, they remain the distinguishing markers of that person. And when many people collectively share certain commonalities, it generates group identity and similarity in belonging. The distinction of identity may focus on a single individual to the family to a township or a community to the state or nationality, language or religious belief system, ultimately extending the concept to the entire humanity and beyond. Our distinction is to be born as a human, in India, being a Hindu from Kerala. That is our proud, precious, unique, identity Recognition Once we acknowledge our ancestry and accept our identity as to who we are, where we are from, and what we are, it is inevitable that we pose the question of what our role in life is, what is our purpose of being here. And that purpose will be at various levels and roles and obligations, from our responsibility as a child, a sibling, a student, an employee, a spouse, a parent, a provider, a social being, a citizen and as a human being. And right in this context, with relevance to this article, let us focus our attention to our role and responsibility as a Hindu from Kerala. Adaptation With that uniqueness, our obligations are two-fold; to live life as per the tenets of our faith and to adhere to the habits as expected of our heritage. Arriving in the new land of domicile, assuming to have undergone alteration, longing to be integrated into the society, some of us have a false notion that we need to act differently to be accepted, to be respected, to be included, and to be assimilated. Our generation of immigrants, the zero group who left the shores of India and opted to live in America, are preparing to exit the scene leaving a legacy that will follow a course, the direction and details of which the only history will decide. In 169 our eagerness to adapt to the myriad of challenges and struggling to succeed in the new environment without guidance from past experience or established routines each of us chose certain paths appealing to us as the appropriate ones. In many cases we did not have many options; in others, such choices came too late. When we observe our progeny who is well settled and raising their own descendants, we should be able to relate their behavior to our style of bringing them up. Since we had to take a path totally deviant from those of our ancestors of many millennia, such a sincere soul searching may leave many of us confused or penitent. In order to gain the accomplishments and materialistic acquirements, that was the price to pay in terms of sacrificing our established, precious and profound heritage. Change in Logistics Within the constraints imposed by the altered environment and demands that enforce a modified lifestyle, we should have strived not to lose perspective of our fundamental value system and our precious traditions. And fortunately for us, the technological advances and consequent shrinking of the universe, along with many of our kind settling down here, it has become easier than a few decades ago, to adhere to most of our ethnic customs and religious observations. India is no more the strange, poor, distant third world continent that it was perceived as just a while ago. As computers and communication bridged the gap between continents, there is a mutual understanding of the cultures and even acceptance of different traditions and customs. Hindu Faith and followers being the third most widely accepted religious system in the world, our mores and practices are gaining tolerance, if not approval. And our time-honored gems of Yoga, meditation and philosophic discourses are gathering admiration by the mainstream. And the intellectuals who are able to grasp the profound fundamental principles of our Sanatana Dharma, there is growing respect and even followership. Our Pride But we ourselves have to feel the same pride in our own profound traditions, realize the richness of our essential basics. Instead of trying to escape from our illustrious identity we should feel exalted to uphold it and exhibit its majesty. If we can successfully utilize the affluence of our heritage we can face the challenges as rewarding opportunities. If we are ashamed of our legacy and attempt to assume, or act a false identity, we will be losing the future generations and ourselves in the process. Our Role, our Duty As transplanted Hindus, our responsibilities, as well as our challenges, are on many folds. It involves the spiritual, religious, social, cultural, linguistic, economic and political aspects of our life as based on our interest and degree of concern and contribution. If we make an earnest attempt to live our life as we have been raised, but adjusting to the limitations that we face in our new homeland, it 170 can easily be accomplished in a comfortable, practical way. Our children will learn from what we show, but not from what we preach. Our basics like having a pooja room in our homes, lighting the lamp, praying as a routine, observing our religious and cultural events and involving children in all the activities, and explaining to them the significance of each of our festivals, will certainly instill in them a proud sense of belonging, as it keeps us connected to our traditional beliefs. Getting involved in school activities, explaining our customs to outsiders and sharing the celebrations will link up the bridges and bring everyone closer. At the community level, we can collectively observe and celebrate events like Onam, Vishu, Vidyarambham, Thiruvathira and the like. Nowadays almost every city and community in the US have such organizations and even a handful of Kerala Hindus can arrange and invite others to celebrate our events Kerala Scenario Unfortunately, the trend that is taking over Kerala has not been very encouraging. Are we losing our standing, our image? It seems that during festivals like Onam, all the felicitations are on the television or arranged events with almost no homes setting up the traditional welcome event for Onathappan, the visit of Mahabali. It is seldom that a housewife is willing to make the traditional sadya or prepare the customary delicacies, as families order the meals from available vendors. The ethos and the passion of our traditions have vanished from our culture. More distressing, many are celebrating the Hindu festivities with alcohol and meat dishes. Hindu functions like weddings and birthdays follow the same way, often serving beef, pork and scotch to ensure that invitees are ‘lured’ to show up. Many homes have abandoned the tradition at dusk of lighting the nilavilakku and placing it on the front porch with children singing bhajans as the grandparents guide them. Instead, the addictive TV serials engage the grown-ups as the youth stay busy texting on phones or partying in the malls. Politically, economically, administratively and in the sheer percentage of the population, Hindus are facing a vanishing presence in Kerala. Even worse, the enthusiasm, pride, and sense of commitment to protecting our precious legacy are abysmally dwindling among Hindus. Instead of finding common grounds to bond together, the Hindu factions in Kerala are getting splintered along lines of caste, creed, social orders, and political affinities. Have we become a disintegrated, feeble, rudderless, pride-less, powerless entity? KHNA We the Hindus of Kerala who have chosen to migrate, accepting this new land as our home are trying to catch up, promote, adapt and recreate the nostalgic splendor that we once owned. Many of us feel the agony of isolation, and a longing for a lost cause as many others laud it as their good fortune in gaining a glorified new identity. We can endorse the changes as predictable ‘progress’ that are part 171 of modernity, or of inevitable destiny and resign to go along with the stride as the tides of time impose them on us. Or in our limited way, holding on to our precious, rich and established traditions, we can make an attempt to recapture our treasures, and prevent their extinction. We can achieve it here, and we can definitely attempt to make an impact at home that we left behind. Collectively, under the banner of our common organization, we can accomplish a lot. How much we succeed and how worth such attempts are, will be decided by our efforts, enthusiasm and of course, time. And so will remain the future and relevance of being a Kerala Hindu in America. ‘The Kerala Hindus of North America’ deserves accolades and alliance for all their attempts to help materialize that noble intent. (March 2013)
If I owned Heaven and Houston, I would rent out Heaven and live in Houston. Having lived in the city for almost fifty years, I can substantiate that claim with my personal, valid reasoning. And with almost two hundred thousand ‘Indians’ making it home, let the ‘cowboys’ take it as a challenge if they so choose. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and native Texan, Lawrence Wright, in his interview with Chandrahas Choudhury, laments about the metamorphosis of his once-upon-a-time, distinctly fabled state of extensive landscapes and charming foibles into a virtuously unpleasant region, from others blaming us for the assassination of Kennedy to the Texan drawl and all in between. Our politics has not elected a Democrat since the seventies, and we are being. threatened by the brutality of several disturbing changes. Being addressed as a Texan used to be synonymous with its automatically assumed charm, be it for the cowboy culture, fast-drawing guns, oil fields, 160 hospitality or sheer vastness and its massive dimensions. In recent years, it has overtaken California in technology, has almost an equally large economy as Australia, its Texas Medical Center being the largest in the world, and owning its distinction as the energy capital of the world. Living up to be a Texan, is a burden for almost anyone to justify, a shadow, too big to fill up. Its economic model of low taxation and minimal regulation has been producing extraordinary growth, attracting steady relocation of people from all over. The place is also one of conflicting statistics; politically the Democrats controlling the cities while the Republicans holding the majority control of the state for decades, where the minorities form a majority, including the largest adherents of Muslims anywhere in the United States. As he narrates the several unsettling attempts from the Trumpian leadership, Mr. Wright remains optimistic of the impending progressive changes, the inclination of the state gradually turning purple, with the working-class voters realizing the doom and reacting with their votes. He envisions such a possibility of the tides turning, if the Democrats were to pick a moderate candidate, a leader who would pay attention to the declining educational standards, improving the dilapidated infrastructure, accepts the scientific advice regarding the ubiquitously disastrous climate changes, bring on reasonable gun laws and engages in the many needed social reforms. To those who have chosen Texas as their home, the discussion turned out to be quite educational of its history, its evolution, its opportunities and its political fluctuations as he concluded it offering hope for a possible change of fortunes, and for a potentially prosperous future. The session turned out to be an interesting, intimate, inside perspective from an erudite Texan, whose political opinions may not be agreed by some, but nevertheless worth everyone’s introspection. ( 18 September, 2019)