My Closing Statements

     Our past, the unaccompanied baggage appended to our conscience, often comes prowling on us uninvited and unanticipated. It stays obscure as if seen through a hazy rearview mirror; distant, indistinct, doubtful, and almost impersonal. Many years of life along with all its trimmings, meshed like a canopy of fluffy clouds, embrace us and engulf our minds with vague judgments and no clear beginning or end. The sensation is often pleasing, at times poignant but mostly ambiguous and even daunting to an extent. If we attempt to gather them, sort them, and pack them to be bequeathed and passed on to posterity is akin to getting our dreams recorded onto a reproducible device; impractical, impossible. But the urge to assemble and bestow them on to the descendants who inherit the process could be an impending sword suspended over our scruples. And often, there is no holding back; it demands to be dropped.
     The need seeps in as an imminent thirst that needs to be quenched. Often it feels like a certain commitment that beckons our conscience to oblige. It is arduous and grueling to condense the experiences of a long lifetime, rusted and knotted 298 from aimless storage. Yet there is an element of joy along with relief waiting to be earned if we can have it dispersed and released. And irrespective of the results, it insists to be expressed before embarking on our next step, if there is any such a step.
     I am not sure; but was there a beginning to this journey or was it just a continuation, perhaps with a change of role and a different setting? Happenings in life seem to be imposed on us like an allotment from the available options. Do we have any say at all in the choices or it appears to be that way, just to entice and distract us, and finally trap us in the process? Even if one is not quite comfortable with the chore, it may eventually end up as a consolation, if we make an honest attempt to do it without resistance, conscionably and honestly. In making such a statement, rather a ‘closing statement’, shall we follow certain traditional guidelines, if there are any such customary measures? Whatever options we choose, the intent shall be to remain truthful, as dictated and guided by one’s own integrity and a cultivated sense of morality.
     An appropriate gesture would be to take an account of what we had and what we did; what we hoped and what we gained; what we aimed and what we earned; how we gave and were given. Declare with honesty and available accuracy our passage through the different stages of life; from childhood to sunset, education through professional times, and about our performance in relationships and dealing with obligations. Make an earnest attempt to tabulate our efforts and tally them with our expectations against end results. Indulge and scan our own prospectus of life with a purpose, to reach back and pull out from the remnants that our failing memory has stacked on its shelves.
     The measure is all subjective as it applies just to our conscience and to let us move on with the least burden as we can. The purpose, the intent in attempting to venture into such an effort is to let the future benefit in ways which it can from the performance of the predecessors. In doing so would be to guide them to improve upon our acts and thus let them avoid repetition of mistakes that we made in our lives. Such a feat must only be presented with the ultimate benefit of the followers gaining from it, in ways similar to improving the quality of a product or the performance in a multitude of arenas. As we do it, we should not lose focus on the reality that life from one generation to the next and the circumstances to deal with shall be entirely different, yet the basic precepts remaining similar.
     It takes a certain attitude, a certain humility, a stance attained through living, of being comfortable with and complacent about divulging our past; a sincere and honest declaration about our nature, our ability, and especially about our limitations and blunders. Through that submission comes a revelation that establishes and reiterates the modesty that we have earned through all the years of living. That ability may be the greatest asset that we have created as we lived. It certainly 299 would be greater than all the wealth we may have amassed, than all the pleasures we may have enjoyed. The exercise may take us farther into fulfillment and may endow us with revelations that we never considered possible. It must be a process to surrender our self-esteem and exchange it for an immense realization, to free ourselves of all the inhibitions and boundaries that held us captive all along. It is the permit that may release us to soar to altitudes we are capable of ascending and enjoy the freedom that our persona could carry us. For now, we have legitimately earned that status and thus a chance to grab rapture without the fear of being judged; that judgment is for ourselves to execute, and thus the judgment being irrelevant. One might wonder and hesitate, to what benefit such an exploit should be undertaken, risking a certain image, perhaps a façade we have tried to build around all our life. It should precisely be our purpose to honorably dismantle such a robe and shed the entire load if we have been dragging that burden all along so that we earn the privilege of respite.
     Most of us should have a conviction, rather a confirmed assumption that to be born as a human is the most profound gift which a soul can be wrapped up with; and the most appropriate way, the most honorable way to repay that gesture is to make the best out of that donation. To live a life worthy of that magnificent bequest, to utilize the attributes of human life to its fullest, does not dawn on many of us until it is too late; or circumstances mercilessly create a mutiny to deny us of that opportunity. But to most, such a possibility is available and is absolutely possible, if we are guided correctly and are persuaded with good examples by others ahead of us.
     Scholars have classified the nature of human behavior as a spread of three types, each of us exhibiting a varied blend of any and all three. These are ones with goodness, balance, and harmony; another with passion, restlessness, and activity; and a third with dullness, inertia, and laziness. It is our upbringing that can significantly make an impact on instilling such traits in our behavior and it is for us to make a conscious effort to cultivate the best of these traits as we proceed in life. An ideal blueprint of the philosophy that we should aspire shall be to impart our full potential in any endeavor that we are involved in, to explicitly avoid being critical of others, and be patient and content with whoever we are and whatever we have. Our happiness and contentment are totally based on how we train our attitude towards and acceptance of others since the performance of others will be entirely beyond our control. If we have not been able to develop such a philosophy in life, it is never too late to make an attempt and cultivate the discipline to steer ourselves in that direction. It will also be a noble endeavor to positively try and impart such qualities to those who we are obliged to or are responsible for.
     Evaluation of how much we succeeded is simple. If we can do some introspection of our performance and do it truthfully, we can come up with some conclusive answers. Have we utilized the basic tenets of human potential to enrich our lives? Have we attempted to impart the best in us and applied it to what is expected of us and to those who counted on us? Can we justify our efforts that we have invested in our involvements to be the best that we were capable of? Are we convinced that we have paid the most we could to the ones who gave their best to us? Were we able to do justice to the gift of life endowed on us in carrying out what it was potentially capable of? If our conscience can live with the answers, then we may have done what we could as human beings.
     Perhaps the most legitimate yardstick to appraise the performance of life may be to reflect on the products we have created and nurtured; our children. As much as it is unfair to judge someone on something almost beyond their ability to control, as many subjective measures influence the final outcome of those creations, in reality, these are the most relevant indicators which can be applied as practical parameters. As much as one may justifiably be blamed for the blemishes in their progeny, it is appropriate to confer the compliments to the parents whose children exhibit values of merit and dignity. If I were asked to comment on the influence of my parents on my value system, I would give all the credit to them for anything and everything that are venerable in me, while I would blame a host of other factors responsible for all the negatives in my personal.
     It should be comforting to view the brightness as we glance back over our shoulders from the shadows that have consumed us; a distant past almost setting beyond our reaches, yet soothing and consoling to our senses. The times that linger in our memory when the abundance of love showered upon us and prompted us to be special! The sense of being singular inspired us with the motivation to excel, to exceed the expectations of the loved ones, that certain commitment propelling us to reach beyond the abilities we had. Looking back, we feel convinced that how one is brought up, how much confidence and love they were fortunate to have, the expectation they felt growing up, and the inspiration that was imparted in them are what decide how that someone is eventually going to grow up. The pride, the value system, the commitment, and the compassion as they grow up are planted as little seeds into their tiny psyche at a very early age. That element may be the essential impetus that protects them, the drive that propels them to stay focused all their life. On the contrary, the struggles of childhood, the strained relationships with parents and others, lacking friendship, murky environment, and all the negatives that imposed on us can suffocate and strangle our incentives. This may be the time to unravel our past and make an assessment as to how such influence played in our lives; and consequently and distinctly more importantly, how we could help our followers benefit from our input.
     If we are able to phase out and vanish into our next with just one deed of goodness, just one act of righteousness, it would be to contribute the experiences of our life to the advantage of the future. If the lessons that we learned can benefit the ones who follow, it will be meaningful, momentous, and worthy of all our efforts, submissions, and sacrifice.
(December 2008)

The Sun is Almost Setting!

Life is one long lesson, from beginning to the very end


Sunrise from our living room is stunningly serene when the settings are precise, as the golden glow of dawn designs a silhouette behind the temple’s majestic tower, and its landscape is reflected in the still waters of our pastoral pond.  
My prevalent mood often persuades me to ponder over the solar star’s set journey for the day, equating a parallel with my own eight decades of expedition in life.  The early rays of the baby sun offering assurance, changing to an imposing dominance of the scorching noon, as he gets mellowed into a soothing angle in the evening, and finally fading in a faint dissolution, align very much with the style and substance of my mundane modus called living.  As my mind meanders through my life’s passage, from childhood to its present waning strides, a certain consoling calm embraces me offering solace and a sense of pacifying dignity.  Glancing back into the long stretch of life that I have traveled, its terrains and fluctuating climates, its varied rides, and the experience that I have amassed through the sheer process of living linger as vague, vast, and illusory, and yet reassuringly rewarding anecdotes.
Taking periodic stock of life is essential for re-evaluation and revision.  In hindsight, such earlier assessments should have been elemental, at least in my case, that could have adjusted my course, while keeping in mind that after all, life may be ‘pre-destined’.  Identifying the ‘real self, of what we are and who we are, as well as accepting the reality with security and confidence, is fundamental to contentment.  Attempting to create a false façade to project an image that doesn’t belong to us could be a burden to maintain while acting out without restraints is equally insensitive at the opposite extreme.  To accomplish a balance of finding self-assurance and amicable alignment with others, is the essence of establishing a ‘harmonious ideal of living’.  And while it is my understanding of what meditation can offer us, such a state of mind can easily be attainable through periodic contemplation and deliberation, by reaching into and taming our inner self.
I am fortunate to have a loving family, delightful friends and a contented life all along.  Retiring after forty years of comfortable medical practice, I continue to be active in a variety of involvements and maintaining decent physical and cerebral health.  I am eternally grateful to the generosity of that Higher Authority for being merciful, and blessing me with such a life.  Basically, I am an optimist, preferring to dream on happy narratives.  But what lies ahead is reality, obscure yet assured.   If the mind is tempted to drag us in the direction of premonition, it would be harmful and futile.  It is best not to take the ride of ‘how long is the stay, how hard is the journey, and what mode would be the exit’!  But most concerningly, how much would I entangle others in the process? 
I try to be rationally disciplined with food, exercise, avoiding excesses, and adhering to my physicians’ advices, staying engaged within my convenient reach.  But our information has limitations, our control has constraints, and the future is an instinctively unfamiliar conjecture.  Beyond all our observation and adherence to known disciplines, there are missing links, several of which remain outside our comprehension, even imagination.  As science is constantly expanding with new evidence, correcting the old ones, we need to remain humble ‘to know’, that ‘we don’t know it all’.  As we lose our dear ones, acquaintances and contemporaries who enjoyed ‘perfect health’ due to reasons beyond reasoning, the hypothesis of the ‘missing link element’ gets more convincing and credible as we age.
It is hard to be prepared for how others accept us or approach our old age; how seniors are acknowledged is up to the attitude of those they deal with.  Our image may stretch from a ‘decent and respectable elder’ to that ‘grouchy, grubby goat’.  It all depends up to an extent on how we behave with others.  Practicing patience, acceptance, adjustment, accommodation and appreciation could go a long way as against expectation, assertion, compulsion, objection, or aggression.  But once senility sets in, brain cells have plans of their own, and to many, that may be an opportunity to be who they really are.
Memories of childhood have remained the best treasures in my vault of perceptual possessions.  Those savings shine brighter when the rest of me is declining and come to my salvage, as and when I get distraught or disillusioned.  There are also sporadic guilt-trips that interrupt my strands of peace, scraping my conscience with bouts of ‘I shouldn’t haves’, ‘I could haves’ and ‘why did I’s’, creating hiccups in an otherwise tranquil setting.  But with concerted effort and introspection, one could and must settle such conflicts applying our set codes of morality, resolving issues paying a penance, engaging with those we may have harmed or finding ways of clemency exercising our own conscience as mediators.
Old age depletes us of our authority, almost at every level, in every sphere which matters.  To minimize the trauma that is bound to follow, adapt to acquire traits that may help – such as being docile, humble, grateful, contented, and calm.  Attempt practicing ‘like and love’ without conditions.
Humility is not a weakness of submission, but an undeniable strength of assurance.  And in old age, humility shall shelter us from humiliation.
I am not sure if anyone benefits from listening to another’s life.  But if I were to leave just one advice as an old man who has lived a long life, it is – “Refresh your mind from all undesirable attentions, about people, past or the uncertain future; keep a smile deep in your heart of all the good things that came your way”.                                               

Venugopal K. Menon, M.D.

‘From the Land of Spice to the Land of Oil- my review of Dr. Jay Raman’s book

            Dr. Jay K. Raman’s autobiography, ‘From the Land of Spice to the Land of Oil’ is an outstanding creation that merits accolades in several genres.  Personal narratives are seldom received well by the mainstream unless they are from established names or the coverage justifies engaging themes and unique rendering.  ‘Spice and Oil’, fulfills the role beyond those objectives and offers the patrons a sumptuous treat, lavishly presenting them with descriptions that are inspiring and educational.  It is seldom that we come across a biographical treatise that has kaleidoscopically recounted an array of topics of such empirical relevance that the consumers can intimately align with. 
            The author has cleverly inserted his life stories within the framework of their geographic and historic placements, weaving them through their regional, socio-cultural, political, and religious perspectives, and extensively quoting from appropriate references.  The narrative is offered with measures of his philosophy and subtle sense of humor added as its intrinsic icing.
            His coverage of Kerala, from its evolution from Parasurama to Pinarayi, its transitions through the kingdoms of Chera, Chola, and Pandya, the various skirmishes between its people, its political reorientations and social adaptations, are bound to capture the interest of the readers for the pure academic information loaded through its pages.  His chronicling of the state from the times of Chinese commerce, the effect of Buddhism on its culture, as in ‘Saranam Ayyappa’, Adi Sankara’s unification of Hindus through Advaidic Vedanta philosophy, the communal adaptations from Namboodiris to the untouchables, the uniqueness of Nair community and its Matrilineal customs, and several such are preciously endearing accounts that are phenomenally scholastic and animating.  Kerala’s celebrated martial arts, ‘Kalari Payattu’ from its origin to the present exhibition status, is presented with all its splendor that I have never found anywhere else.
            The book enumerates historical accounts around the globe from the colonial domination of the British dynasty, decimating India’s millennia-old ethnic heritage and plundering its treasures, the tragic details of our partition with Pakistan, to an eye-witness narrative about the Arabs and particulars of the region, to Chinese revolutions, the battles of Alamo in Texas to the present-day politics and several such titbits with authority and deference that they deserve.  
            ‘From The Land of Spice to The Land of Oil’, is an illuminative chronicle of an Indian physician’s life, narrated in an inimitably honest style, and presented with the historic, cultural, and social settings as relevant to his work.  It is an engrossing story stretching from his upbringing in Kerala, India, his parents struggling to raise virtuous children through the economic lean times of the era, his time as a medical student and a devoted doctor, serving the army, his interesting transit through the Middle East, and eventually arriving in the USA where he settles down as a successful surgeon.  The last few sections have been deftly devoted to his parents, children, professional life, healthcare, his extensive travelogues, charitable ventures, and concluding with his commanding and provoking opinions on a variety of universal issues. 
            The author’s language is simple, expressions lucid, style easy-flowing, details appealing, and the contents delivered with alacrity, humility, and humor.  He doesn’t mince words or shies away from saying what he believes in, yet he presents them with honesty and no trace of vanity that the readers would enjoy the book for its integrity and convictions.  One could draw a parallel of the writer’s mettle as an adept story-teller, like the proverbial Sanjaya of Mahabharata delineating the incidents of Kurukshetra war to the blind king Dhritharashtra.
            As he repeatedly admits his success as the blessings of God, his story is an obvious example of hard work, ambition, dedication, commitment, diligence, sincerity, and in his case an exceptionally brilliant ‘breed’.  Dr. Raman’s life has been a dutiful model in every role; as a son, student, husband, father, surgeon, friend, and community leader, serving as an ideal for others to emulate.
            The book emphatically declares a reality, pertinent for the present times and place we live in.  America may be a land of opportunity, but it is the kind of intelligent and diligent immigrants like Jay Raman who substantially and continually contribute to enriching this country with the knowledge they bring in, and the commitment they devote to their adopted land.  Irrespective of where they come from or the color of their skin or the accent they speak, their contribution must be acknowledged, appreciated, and encouraged.
            Having written my own memoirs, reading many others, and critiquing a few, I am delighted to endorse this book for the abundance of its contents and eloquence of its conveyance.  The publication merits being on the best-seller list.

Dr. Venugopal Menon



How sadly has my hometown changed!

Whenever I am in India, almost on a daily basis, I make it a point to visit my sister Ammini who lives about a mile away from my home. And often I choose to walk the distance. Not only that it gives me an opportunity to feel one with the surroundings, the effort offers me a perspective analysis of the enormous transformation that my hometown has gone through. The walk often carries me through seven decades in time, from the placid and rustic memories of the past to the raucous and boisterous cacophony of modernity. The idyllic village atmosphere that has been preciously protected in the crevices of my mind often gets disturbed competing with the present, harsh reality of clusters of concrete monuments, blaring noise, and choking smoke. As the speeding buses and honking autos race by me with utter abandon, I virtually succeed in escaping into my own imaginary settings of the green expanse of luscious paddy fields and clayish walking bunds that divided them. The acres of coconut palms, bushy trees, and vegetable gardens have been replaced by stacks of ugly cement tenements and shacks selling commodities. The scattered homes and occasional huts vanished to accommodate the skyscrapers and massive industrial complexes. Only the sky has remained the same. I search in vain for my familiar puddles, mounds of pebbles, and routine ditches that used to be signposts along my path from my father’s home to that of my mother.
      The single rail line that used to drag an occasional train has been multiplied several times hauling a variety of electric coaches to numerous destinations. A 291 double lane concrete bridge built overhead the railroad tracks has made it convenient for vehicles and pedestrians to cross without waiting for the trains. The handful of pedestrians who frequented the narrow sandy walkways have politely disappeared that many thousands of impatient humans can find their hungry goals in a hurry. The sprawling metropolis has mercilessly bulldozed the once upon a polite and placid land of mine to accommodate the growing needs of the faceless, soulless crowd and mutilated the sanctity of the place.
     Though I find it hard to precisely identify the many familiar locations of my several childhood connections, the events and the individuals remain transfixed as inseparable images in my mind. And as I walk through those spaces, the experiences glide in and weave back imposing themselves into the presence, crafting an illusional uncertainty. The best I can explain it would be a fusion of the dimensions of time and space, perhaps a scientific impossibility, but certainly within the realms of the faculties of the mind. The landscapes have no semblance of the past, but I still sense the ever bachelor shopkeeper Raman standing at his front door and watching the street, the barber Kuttan agreeing to report soon for my father’s haircut, or the graceful Velama greeting me with her charming smile. I still shudder as I walk through the old vicinity of the house of Ramakrishna Pillai, a gregarious old man with his long white beard and big belly that many years later, Sant Claus reminded me of. One of his sons along with his friends was arrested and put in jail for seven years for raping two nuns, the story making a huge scandal and totally shaming the respectable family. Ramakrishna Pillai never came out of the house. As I walk over the tall bridge, I think of the tall Tresa teacher and all her lanky family members who lived in a house on the side of the perpetual puddle (we called it valiya vellam – big water). When it rained, the puddle swelled deep and we could not walk through without wetting our clothes.
     As is said, change is the only dependable constant. Yet thoughts can sieve through transcending time and the accompanying changes and grab on to the saved old splendors. As we attempt to balance between our inner thoughts and their external expression, our conscience is often caught in a quandary of doing total justice to both. The closer the two can be and the lesser the modification is forced upon, life can be peaceful and serene.

Inviting you to the Kerala Hindu Convention

     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.

Sree Narayana Guru Samadhi Day, 2002 (1855-1928)

     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.

Be Blessed by Sri Guruvayurappan.

Prakritim purusham caivakshetram kshetra-jnam eva ca
Etad veditum icchamijnanam jneyam ca keshava(13.1)
Eti kshetram tatha jnanamjneyam coktam samasatah
Mad-bhakta etad vijnayamad-bhavayopapadyate (13.19)

The sublime spiritual ambition of a Hindu soul is the ultimate blending with the Divine Consciousness and escaping from the mortal, mundane cycles of worldly existence. Our sacred traditions bequeathed to us through millennia of celestial scriptures enunciate in us the elements of moral and virtuous living, inculcated through pious practices. We are instructed and trained to believe in the transient existence of our physical bodies as ephemeral extensions of the elements of nature, the Parabrahma and that our single, supreme motivation should be that our souls 204 qualify to merge with the Paramatma through righteous deeds as we live. Our erudite ancestors, spiritual leaders, and scholarly saints have abundantly provided us with measures and means built into our religious culture, that we can attain the exalted status by obediently following their teachings.
     From the dawn of civilization, The Indian subcontinent has been a spiritually enlightened country and Hindu temples have perpetually provided the perfect settings to aspire and accomplish the most cherished objectives of human life. More than any other institutions in recorded history, Hindu temples have fostered and nurtured the exalted abilities of our existence, with the voluminous and meaningful wealth of our Dharmic wisdom and the enormous knowledge that it had donated to humanity.
   The Sri Krishna Temple of Guruvayur, popularly known as Sri Guruvayurappan temple is perhaps the perfect example of such an edifice, the abode of Lord Krishna, where the idol worshipped, according to the legends, is five thousand years old. Located in Guruvayur, a town in the middle of Kerala, the land of Adi Sankara and numerous, illustrious Vedic scholars, the temple is one of the most visited by millions of devotees from throughout India. Sri Guruvayurappan temple has become a prominent place of pilgrimage because of the uniqueness of the idol installed and the divinity that it imparts. The presiding deity is Mahavishnu, appealing to the devotees in the form of Unnikrishna, or baby Krishna; and the sacred traditions are stringently adhered here as per ancient instructions.
     For many devotees, Sri Guruvayurappan is the ultimate embodiment of divinity as they establish an intimate, affectionate, expressive and emotional affiliation, unlike observed in most other temples. To the devotees, He becomes a personal companion, an amenable and approachable spiritual confidant. Irrespective of the geographic location anywhere in the world, Guruvayurappan brings in the devout ambiance of Guruvayur into and around the existence of His bhakta. Whether they visit a shrine in any temple, pray in the solitude of their pooja rooms or meditate upon the glory of the Lord as they are engaged in their worldly chores, the true devotee transcends all the barriers and limitations, easily and effortlessly bestowing their submission at the sacred feet of Sri Guruvayurappan.
     Such intense devotion, passionate desire and enthusiastic commitment of a group of sincere devotees of Kerala Hindu Society, tempted the mercy of Guruvayurappan who with a glint in His eyes and a smile on His lips is showering His blessings and allowing them to build a replica of his favorite abode around the globe, here in Houston. It is conceivable that being a cowboy Himself, He might have felt comfortable to have a residence built in Texas, the land of the cowboys. And to us ‘Indians’, this may be an added piece of comfort to have reclaimed and established an authentic and intimate unit of our esteemed mores, in the very land seized by the Cowboys a while ago.
     Most of us wandered into this alien land, three to four decades ago, with a small change of dollars in our pockets, with even smaller confidence and almost no clue as to what to do. We all came with hopes of a better future and heaps of vague ambitions. We came in with strange names, clothes out of fashion and accents unknown to locals. We were looked down upon, ignored and often insulted. The food was unfamiliar, climate unbearable and the nature and style of working quite unknown to us. All we had was our intense faith and a determination to excel. We were willing to work hard and prepared to persevere. We had a resolve to make our parents proud and to protect our children. We persisted; we endured and eventually, we thrived. And through the years of our turmoil and the agonies that we surpassed we held on to our convictions, our reflective prayers and the wisdom of our profound traditions providing us strength and tenacity to succeed.
     As we learned about our surroundings, studied our trades and got established in our professions, we excelled; we were accepted and we regained our confidence and conscience. In the beginning, we prayed in our homes, before we found others similar to us, discreetly and desirably. Slowly we gathered in groups and prayed fervently. And we were eager and prepared to reintroduce the fundamental necessities of our time-honored faith. Temples emerged slowly but decidedly in different regions of the country.
     Kerala Hindu Society started from humble beginnings, members assembling regularly for prayers and bhajans, giving importance to inculcating the fundamental values and lofty ideals into our children. The dedication and sincerity that were invested in the next generation paid off handsomely that we can glance back and be reassured that the future is vested on solid grounds, that the mantle of our traditions will be carried with competence, that our progeny will proudly protect our envious heritage.
     Based on the above philosophical thoughts we are venturing into the next step in creating an authentic temple, the abode of Sri Guruvayurappan. We remain humble but excited, concerned yet confident that our attempt though modest will be embraced and nurtured by all the members of our community, by Hindus from far and near, irrespective of their regions of origin or languages of upbringing. This new dwelling of Lord Vishnu is meant to be catering to the spiritual desires of our entire community, to bless us and protect our needs; a place where anyone can approach, submit their sorrows and request penance and be rewarded with solace and salvation.
     With pride and humility, we invite you to the Balalaya Prathishta at the Sri Guruvayurappan Temple, Houston. We humbly request you to be a regular visitor to the temple and be part of this magnificent reality, to feel proud and blessed of 206 the enormous opportunity to have Sri Guruvayurappan on our premises. May Guruvayurappan bless us all. (March 22, 2010)

Temple Youth Center – Beyond the Building

     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)

Sri Ayyappa Mandala Pooja

     As the very first Shakthi Temple outside India and the earliest one to install an Ayyappa Sannidhi, Sri Meenakshi temple has also gained the privilege of building the Holy Eighteen Steps – the sacred Pathinettampadi – offering its Sri Sastha devotees a hallowed opportunity to observe all the authentic Pooja traditions of Sabarimala, without even leaving the city of Houston. For the last 36 years, we have been conducting the most auspicious Mandala Pooja at our temple Ayyappa Sannidhi, with an everincreasing number of devotees participating in the celebrated annual event. Now they can even undertake the blessed climb on our newly constructed, panchaloha (five metals) made Pathinettampadi.
     Perhaps no other concept of Divinity exemplifies the ‘it is all one’ hypothesis of ‘Advaita’ philosophy, that ‘all’ are just an infinitesimal extension of the Ultimate Consciousness, as extolled by the sublime principle of Dharmasastha, the protector of Righteousness, consecrated at the shrine of Sri Ayyappa atop the sacred hills of Sabarimala, in Kerala. Sri Ayyappa is the personification of unity, blending the differences on many planes, many beliefs, many rationales, and many principles into a gigantic acceptance and accommodation of reverence bringing humans together, bonding their minds and blending their devotion to ultimate submission.
     Ayyappa or Ayyappan is also referred to as Hariharaputra, Sasthavu, Dharma Sasthavu, or Manikantan. He is the son of Shiva and Vishnu, uniting the Shaivite and Vaishnavite traditions, a celibate yogi God, who can be attained only through penance of self-control, the epitome of Dharma extolling the virtues of rectitude, an incarnation of Buddha, reaching beyond the tenets of Hindu faith, and 199 with his friend a Muslim, accomplishing harmony of religions. Even His devotees are elevated to the level of divinity, calling each other ‘Ayyappa’, transcending the notion of ‘Aham Brahmasmi’, ‘I am the Ultimate Reality’.
     Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha temples in the world, situated on a 3000 feet hilltop in the state of Kerala. Millions of devotees undertake their pilgrimage during the Makaravilakku in the month of January, making it one of the most active pilgrimage sites in the world. Sri Ayyappa of Sabarimala is unique and special, installed, consecrated and invoked as a Naishtika Brahmachari, a celibate forever, in total control of his senses and detached from worldly life, utilizing all his power to a higher level. And in that form, a Naishtika Brahmachari has some peculiarities and requirements to be respected and followed by the devotees who are desirous of visiting Him
    The intensely dedicated devotees observe the obligatory penance, ‘Vratham’ for 41 days, the Mandala Pooja time, starting from the first day of Malayalam month Vrischikam, around mid- November, the day on which Sri Ayyappa was born, and lasting till the end of December. The significance of the Vritham is to observe austerity and abstinence in life, seeking a merger with the Ultimate. The devotee embarks on the sacred mission with the blessings of his elders and the Guruswamy who has attained a status through several visits to Sabarimala. They wear a garland, the mala, made of Tulsi or Rudraksham beads guided by the Guru in the environs of a temple. During the Vratham, the devotees surrender to Sri Ayyappa, being an ascetic, in thoughts, words, and deeds, taking bath early in the morning, praying and offering poojas, following strict sattvic vegetarianism, avoiding sensual pleasures and offering themselves to the service of others. At the conclusion of the 41-day Vratham, under the guidance of the Guru, they perform the Kettunira, preparing the sanctified travel kit termed Irumudi Kettu, a twin pack, the front one, Munmudi containing offerings to Sri Ayyappa and the Pinmudi with items for the devotee’s personal needs. The offerings include coconuts filled with ghee, betel leaves, and nuts, coins, jaggery, turmeric, camphor, kumkum, vibhoothi and such. At the conclusion of the pooja, each of the Ayyappa pilgrims takes the Irumudi on his head and embarks on the journey to the sacred Sannidhanam, the Sanctum. On their way, the devotees would be paying their visits to several temples, and reaching the base of the holy hills, dipping in the sacred waters of Pampa river and start their climb of about three miles. They are usually in groups, family, and friends led by their Guruswamy and throughout the trip will be devoutly chanting ‘Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa’ and other such praises of
     Every Ayyappa devotee, before he reaches the Sanctum Sanctorum, must lay his footsteps over and climb the sacred 18 steps, the Pathinettampadi. The significance of the ritualistic procedure is a symbolic way of shedding the personal ego, as expressed through the steps. Eighteen is traditionally propitious in Hinduism, as noted from the Vedic age, from the number of chapters in the first Veda, the number of days of the Kurukshetra war, or the chapters in Bhagavad Gita. And the 18 Holy steps in Sabarimala symbolize the five sense organs or Panchenrdriyas, the eight passions, the three natures or Gunas and the last two being Vidya or knowledge and Avidya or ignorance. By climbing the eighteen steps the devotee is getting detached from all the above-mentioned worldly ties and qualifying to attain the divine premise.
     Sri Meenakshi Temple inaugurated this year’s Mandala Pooja with the Sapta Suddhi Pooja on November 16th, the daily pooja starting the following day. The day starts with Abhishekam and Malar Nivedyam at 9 am, then the Usha Pooja at 9.45 am, Uccha Pooja at 11.45 am, Deeparadhana and Bhajans at 6.15 pm, Sahasranama Archana at 7.30 pm, with Seeveli (procession) at 8.15 pm and culminating in reciting Harivarasanam, singing the God to His celestial sleep, before closing the Nada for the day. Every Saturday during November and December, there would be Ashtabhishekam. The first Padi Pooja was observed on November 17th and the next one on December 8th evening along with Akhandanamajapam during the whole day and Annadaanam at noon. A few devotees would be ascending the Pathinettampadi on December 15th and 22nd, along with Ghee Abhishekam Laksharchana and, Deeparadhana followed by the procession on the twenty-second. On December 26th, is Kalabhabhishekam and the following day the Mandala Pooja would culminate in Abharanam (celestial ornaments) procession & Charthu (adorning), Deeparadhana, Pushpabhishekam, and Harivarasanam. On the fourteenth of January, the festival of Makaravilakku Pooja on Makara Sankranthi would be performed, coinciding with the major annual celebration at Sabarimala.
     Every devotee of MTS and Sri Ayyappa is privileged and invited to participate in the Mandala Pooja observed and celebrated adhering to all the authentic traditions of Sabarimala and performed by our priest Sri Parameswaran. Please sponsor and attend the auspicious poojas with your family and allow the blessings of Sri Sabarimala Ayyappa to be showered upon you. Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa.

(It would be pertinent to mention here, of some recent disturbing developments at Sabarimala. Based on appeal from a few apparently non-believers, the Supreme Court of India had released a verdict, against the ongoing traditions revered and stringently followed by millions of Ayyappa devotees. It is sad that politics and legal entities have interfered, offending our sacred traditions. Devotees may follow up and do their part)

Sri Meenakshi Temple, Pearland – The 40-year History.

Sree Meenakshi Temple, Pearland, Texas

     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)