CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, June 17, 2013 (Chicago Tribune): Not long ago, Sauruv Garg "didn't know anything" about the man credited with helping introduce the Hindu faith to the West. But after poring over books, meeting with a monk and learning about the history of Hinduism in the U.S., 10-year-old Sauruv became something of an expert on Swami Vivekananda and his landmark speech nearly 120 years ago in Chicago.
Sauruv, a soon-to-be fifth-grader from west suburban Itasca, used that knowledge to compete against more than 130 other elementary and middle school students from across the country this weekend in the national Dharma Bee -- a kids' competition in Hillside named for the guiding ethical principles of the Hindu tradition.
Organizers said the Dharma Bee, which tested students' knowledge about Vivekananda and other Hindu leaders in a written test, oral presentation and team project, helped connect young American Hindus to their religious roots. Anuj Kothari, a student from California, won the fourth- and fifth-grade competition.
Parents and organizers said studying Vivekananda, whose work addressed Hinduism with in a Western context, served as a bonding exercise and a historical primer. The impact, they said, wasn't limited to the students in Chicago. More than 3,000 Americans entered the Dharma Bee, and those who advanced to this weekend's finals had to first navigate local and regional competitions.
Ved Nanda is president of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA, the organization that put on the event. The bee, the first on a national scale, marks the 120th anniversary of Vivekananda's speech and the 150th year since the monk's birth. But beyond those milestones, Nanda said the competition came at an important time for his community. Many Indian families are working to keep their heritage alive in the first or second generation of children born in America. Like Sauruv, lots of those children didn't know much about Vivekananda before the bee.
"The most important thing was that these little kids could talk about Swami Vivekananda's teachings," Nanda said. "Culture and identity in a new country