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INDIA

Nataraja’s Priests Persevere

ON THE MORNING OF JANUARY 6, 2014, India’s Supreme Court handed down its ruling for the management of the ancient Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. A 2009 Madras High Court decision had put the management in State hands. On appeal, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Podu Dikshitars, the hereditary priesthood who have managed the temple for over 2,000 years. The verdict was widely celebrated, as state control of temples—particularly one so revered—is a disputed issue.

Back in 1951, India passed a revised Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act (HR&CE) which permits state governments to assume control over any Hindu temple deemed by them to be in need of such oversight. It allows management of just about everything, from finances and priests to properties and pujas. Tamil Nadu’s HR&CE department currently manages more than 36,000 temples throughout the state.

In the 2009 court case, which had removed the Podu Dikshitars from their long-standing position, the HR&CE department contended that the temple was being mismanaged—an unproven charge. The State also claimed that the Dikshitars were not a legitimate religious organization, an official classification that had protected their authority under India’s constitution ever since a 1952 Supreme Court ruling. The 2009 decision, by the lower court, favored the State, which then took management of the temple, installed donation boxes and attempted to regulate the temple finances. An appeal of the 2009 decision would reach India’s Supreme Court just a few years later.

Late last year, that court’s justices accepted the appeal filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy on behalf of the Podu Dikshitars against the 2009 Madras High Court verdict. Dr. Subramanian Swamy argued that the right of the Dikshitars to manage the temple could not be taken away by the government. He said any claims of financial impropriety could be dealt with under existing law without taking over the temple’s management.

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A holy sight: Chidambaram Nataraja temple west tower at sunrise
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The justices agreed, and ruled that the case, regarding the Dikshitars’ right to manage the temple affairs, recognized by the Supreme Court in 1952, should not have been reopened—let alone repealed—by the lower Madras Court.

Unlike the US, India’s constitution does not rigidly separate church and state. In theory, the idea is equal state treatment of all religions; but in practice, only Hindu institutions are subject to government control. In some cases, wealthy state-run temples receive only a part of their donations, with the rest going to secular government coffers. Such a situation might put some devotees on edge, not knowing if their donations to the temple will go to the Deity or to the state.

This landmark case could pave the way for reversing HR&CE-enacted control over other temples.

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USA

Ticket, Bags, Security... Yoga?

ANEW AMENITY IS EMERGING at airports across the US—the yoga and meditation room. It started in Terminal 2 at San Francisco International, an apt point of origin, given yoga’s popularity in the Bay Area. The idea is to give stressed travellers an oasis in which to relax and find their inner quiet.

Passengers can now take a break from the rush of travel at similar rooms across the country. They’ve opened already in the international airports at Burlington, Dallas-Fort Worth, Albuquerque, Raleigh-Durham and Chicago O’Hare, with others in the planning stages.

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Sign me up: San Francisco International Airport officials had the fun of designing the new yoga icon, unable to find any existing logo in the international guide of airport pictograms
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According to an article in today.com, O’Hare’s Terminal 3 yoga room is relatively small and features a bamboo wood floor, tall mirrors on one wall and exercise mats.

Debby McElroy of Airports Council International-North America told the New York Daily News in 2012, “I expect other airports will be looking at whether a yoga room at their airport makes sense.” So next time you fly, keep a lookout for a chance to look in.

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NORWAY

Meatless Mondays

ACCORDING TO A NOVEMBER article by Agence France Presse, the Norwegian military has announced “Meatless Mondays” in an attempt to lessen the environmental impact of meat consumption. As the name suggests, the military will observe a completely vegetarian menu one day a week, though not necessarily on Mondays.

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Good for you: Soldiers Toblas Kvammen and Kenneth Marken join fellow soldiers for the weekly vegetarian meal
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The program has already been introduced to one of Norway’s main bases and is to be implemented throughout the Norwegian army over the next year. Estimates are that the program will cut some 330,000 pounds of meat from the army’s annual diet. The plan is being praised by a local environmental organization which hopes once-a-week veggies will spread nationwide. Local army spokesman Eystein Kvarving told AFP, “It’s not about saving money, it’s about being more concerned for our climate, more ecologically friendly and also healthier.”

Pal Stenberg, a nutritionist and navy commander who heads up the army’s catering division—in charge of feeding 10,000 Norwegian troops 35,000 meals per day—said the soldiers have generally responded well.

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BALI

Technology Helping Tradition

D ECEMBER 12 THROUGH 15, 2013, saw the first observance of a new IT festival in Bali. According to The Jakarta Post, the Denpasar Technology, Information and Communication Festival included seminars, workshops, entertainment and competitions for blogging and animation.

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Teaching culture: One of the creative Balinese games teaches how to make the traditional religious offering called canang
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Among the many innovators were more than a few university students who had created culturally-based video games and applications. Many of their ideas were aimed at preserving Balinese culture through an evolving technological age. Their creations include games about Balinese classic masks, folklore and the making of temple offerings.

For one free, Android-based game, visit: bit.ly/dkala. You can also check out another student’s tutorial to learn Balinese at BasaBali.org. What a fun way to keep culture alive!

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CAMBODIA

Repatriating Stolen Statues

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The Hindu warrior: The most recent of the Koh Ker temple’s sandstone statues to be returned to Cambodia

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IN AN AGREEMENT SIGNED DECEMBER, 2013, an ancient statue of a Hindu warrior looted from a temple in Cambodia will be returned to the country. The 10th-century carving is valued at over $2 million.

According to The New York Times, Sotheby’s auction house had come into possession of the statue, but denied any knowledge of its having been stolen.

During the 1970 civil war, many of Cambodia’s precious artifacts disappeared, particularly those from the Koh Ker Hindu temple complex in the North. Many of these artifacts eventually found their way to American museums. Just last year the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York returned two similar sandstone statues known as the Kneeling Attendants, pieces clearly related to the Hindu warrior in style.

US attorney Preet Bharara has affirmed, “The United States is not a market for antiquities stolen from other nations, and we will continue to track down and return any that are brought here illegally.” US officials are presently assisting Cambodia in the search for its many missing artifacts.

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SCIENCE

Hinduism’s Biological Benefits

SEVERAL RECENT SCIENTIFIC studies have delved into some of the meditative and worshipful practices found in Hinduism. The studies have produced fascinating medical findings about the rewards of these practices when regularly performed, adding to the long list of benefits of living a religious life.

Lord Ganesha is always a good place to start. A recent study conducted by Yale neurobiologist Dr. Eugenius Ang shows that an age-old greeting to Ganesha, thoppukaranam, as it is known in Tamil, has been proven to synchronize the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Ang used EEG readings to measure the brain’s neuron firings, which were found to become fully lateralized after five minutes of the practice.

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Healthy mind, happy life: Touted as “Super Brain Yoga,” Thoppukaranam is now being taught to children in the United States to mitigate mental disorders and behavioral problems.
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This ancient Hindu technique (touted now as “new”) involves squeezing your right earlobe with the thumb and forefinger of your left hand, then crossing your right hand over to grasp the other. You then bob your body up and down before Ganesha, breathing in as you go down and out as you rise. This is commonly prescribed by teachers in India for unruly behavior in classrooms, and scientific studies have now shown it effectively creates mental balance. Children with autism, attention deficit disorder and other behavioral problems have been shown to benefit from the practice.

A recent yalescientific.org article reports another study, led by Dr. Judson Brewer of the Yale School of Medicine, which found undeniable functional changes in the brains of experienced meditators. Brewer used fMRI scanning to measure levels of concentrated oxygen in the brain—correlating to brain activity. The study showed that compared with non-meditators, those who meditated regularly had altered neural connections. The most prominently noted was an unexpected bridging of two different brain regions, both crucial for cognitive control. To Brewer’s surprise, this co-activation persisted during non-meditative periods, showing that with regular practice, the brain reforms itself deeper and deeper into a constant meditative state.

A 2012 study by Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn and other scientists at the University of California found that just twelve minutes of daily meditation over a period of eight weeks increased telomerase activity by 43 percent. Responsible for chromosomal upkeep, the telomerase enzyme is crucial for a cell’s longevity, and therefore that of your body.

These are just a few of the many intriguing studies creating a strong bridge between the scientific community and the wisdom of the ancient past.

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God of memory and reason: Millions worship Lord Ganesha every day, performing Thoppukaranam in adoration—an act which now proves to enhance and balance the mind
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A FIVE-DAY WORKSHOP FOR HINDU
priests was held in Nadi, Fiji, in December, 2013. According to the Fiji Times, the classes, open to Nadi priests and the public, helped to improve and standardize their ritual knowledge. Dr. Meenakshi and Dr. Acharya Sharma, founders of the Sydney Sanskrit School, came to teach the workshop, which was organized by Yaadein Vision Australia.

THE CITY COUNCIL OF ADEJE
on Tenerife in the Canary Islands has recently approved the transfer of several acres of government land to the Hindu Cultural Center, free of charge. The Cultural Center’s plan is to use the land for the building of a temple and, according to one community leader, “to give a place for our children to meet and make sure they don’t lose their culture.”

NEW RULES HAVE BEEN
implemented at Batu Caves, the famous Malaysian pilgrimage site. Kavadi, the penance offered to Lord Murugan, is often accompanied by body piercings with small silver spears or hooks. In recent years many devotees have strayed from traditional standards, some flouting advertizing on their spears or hanging unconventional items from their piercings. Under the new rules, devotees cannot carry fancy kavadis bearing logos of their associations, favorite soccer clubs, movie stars and uncommon fruits and other non-traditional items. Visitors must refrain from wearing short pants or skirts, running at the premises, bringing pets, smoking and spitting. Those who do not follow the standards will not be allowed inside the temple.

ACCORDING NEW ZEALAND’S 2013
census, the Indian population has risen 48 percent since 2006, to 155,000 today, making it the second largest Asian ethnic group in the country. Census General Manager Sarah Minson stated, “It’s interesting to note that there are more ethnicities in New Zealand than there are countries in the world.”

IN THE INDIAN STATE OF JAMMU
and Kashmir, 550,000 trees have been planted at Trikuta Hills. The area houses the cave shrine of Mata Vaishnodevi, a popular pilgrimage site. The planting, which has continued over the last four years, is an effort to preserve the environment and make the area greener, especially along the heavily traveled route to the shrine.

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