NEW YORK, NEW YORK, March 26, 2013 (New York Times, by Shivani Vora): How do you teach your children about religion, particularly your own? Are the parents responsible for this vital task, or should they call in some outside help? It's a question I faced when I became a parent almost five years ago. I am a Hindu who was born in New Delhi and lived in India until I was 8, before immigrating to the United States with my parents and younger sister. Throughout my childhood, Hinduism wasn't something I formally learned; it was a natural part of my everyday life.
My parents did pujas (prayers) with my sister, Aditi, and me every evening in front of the makeshift mandir (temple) on top of their bureau in their bedroom. We celebrated all the major holidays, including Diwali and Holi, with parties and more elaborate pujas. Aditi and I spent Saturday mornings in India watching episodes of the Mahabharata and Ramayana on TV and listened intently to bedtime stories from our mother based on Indian mythology.
Following this tradition became more challenging as I grew into adulthood and got married. My husband, Mahir, who is from Mumbai, and I live in New York City, where we have never been starved for an Indian community. But, perhaps like many Indians who came to the United States as children, our careers and mainstream life took precedence over our religion as we grew up.
This slipping away of an integral part of my roots didn't bother me at all until I gave birth to my daughter, Meenakshi. Sometime in her first year of life, I started feeling urgently that she should learn all about her religion. Mahir and I started doing a short puja with her before she went to bed, but we felt inadequately equipped to be her sole source of learning and wanted something more.
When it comes to kids' classes in New York City, there are almost too many options, whether it's gym, music or art. That's not the case with those on the Hindu religion - I could only find three for kids. We picked Bal Vihar, one of the most popular offerings in the area. Part of the Chinmaya Mission, a religious group founded in 1953 in Mumbai by Swami Chinmayananda, the school is focused on teaching the age-old philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. The school came to the United States in the early 1970s, according to Runjhun Saklani, the secretary of the New York mission, when a handful of parents said they wanted an organized way to teach their children Hinduism.
Bal Vihar started in 2002 in the New York City area in a small way: four or five children met in apartments, where volunteer teachers taught them devotional songs and prayers and the names and meanings of the gods and goddesses. By the time we enrolled Meenakshi in Bal Vihar classes in 2011, there were classes around the country, and Ms. Saklani estimates that more than 5,000 children attend Bal Vihar in the United States today.
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