First DharmaFest Receives Full Community Support
New Zealand’s first ever DharmaFest, with the theme Vibhinnatayam Ekatvam—Unity in Diversity—was launched at the Mahatma Gandhi Centre in Auckland by Hindu Youth New Zealand (HYNZ) in August, 2022. According to the HYNZ media release, the event began with the traditional welcoming of spiritual representatives from various Dharma groups followed by the lighting of the diya (lamp).
Each community recited prayers to bless the day—Swami Tadananda on behalf of Hindus, Shri Rrahul Dosshi for Jains, Venerable Rewatha Thero for Buddhists and Shri Manjit Singh for Sikhs. The day featured cultural performances, stalls offering food, clothes, art and crafts, as well as yoga, meditation and ayurveda teachings. The event attracted about 1,000 participants.
Dharmic communities, be they spiritual, cultural or service oriented, have done tremendous work, benefiting the wider New Zealand society as well as their own members. They play a key role in promoting pluralism and the respect for harmonious coexistence. DharmaFest provided an opportunity for these communities to come together and showcase their unique contributions to Aotearoa (Maori name for New Zealand).
Reflecting on the attendance of several Dharma-based temples and groups, the youth team leading this event were grateful and humbled by the support. “DharmaFest is a turning point for the future of many of our Dharmic communities,” said Murali Magesan, HYNZ president. “It paves a road for real positive engagement and opportunity to improve social cohesion within Aotearoa.”
Capital Gets its First Temple
A grand Hindu temple was inaugurated in July, 2022, in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar. This very large island off Africa’s southeast coast has a population of over 26 million including over 20,000 of Indian origin, mostly from Gujarat. Each of the other major cities, Mahajunga and Antsiranana, already has a small temple.
ANI News reported that Abhay Kumar, Indian Ambassador to Madagascar and Comoros, graced the occasion. Sanjeev Hematlal, president of the Hindu Samaj (which built the temple) said the opening is a matter of great pride for the Hindu community, which is spread all over the country. The new temple will help them get together more often and strengthen community bonds.
Indian traders arrived on this island in small boats in the late 18th century, and Indians have greatly contributed to the development of trade and commerce within Madagascar itself and also with India. India is now a key partner, with about US$400 million in bilateral trade in 2020-21
Hindu Counselors Graduate
In August 2022, the Hindu Council of Australia welcomed their first graduates of the nine-month “Counselor of Hindu Traditions” online course. Designed for the global Hindu diaspora by the Hindu Community Institute in California (hinduci.org/learn.html), the course trains one for community service and the pursuit of Hindu chaplaincy credentials.
Australia’s growing Hindu population increasingly needs Hindu-based chaplaincy services such as marriage counseling for young couples, spiritual care for those in prisons and hospitals, mental and spiritual support for young carers of elderly parents, and advice on last rites. Presently, such needs are addressed by Christian chaplains, who are not trained to counsel Hindus properly. In fact, some Hindus are getting converted by them to Christianity.
The Hindu Council generously provided scholarships to cover most of the US$1,925 course fee.
Can You Crack this Classic Optical Illusion?
Optical illusions have been around for over a thousand years. For centuries, people have struggled to conquer these classic puzzles, says an article at komando.com. You can find challenging optical illusions all over the internet, from TikTok to Instagram. But if you’re looking for the oldest one known to mankind, head to one of the oldest civilizations, India.
Zero in on the Airavatesvara Temple in Tamil Nadu. This holy Hindu temple is full of elaborate animal carvings. One of its 900-year-old ornaments depicts two conjoined animals with what looks to be a single head. In reality, there are two heads—but most people only see one at first. Which animal do you see first? The elephant which represents Airavat, a holy elephant connected to King Indra? Or Nandi the bull, representing a devotee humbling their ego in the worship of Lord Siva? If you’re having trouble seeing the separate animals, Twitter has you covered with this animation: bit.ly/india-illusion
Is Ghee the Purest Oil of All?
For millennia, ghee has been a venerated staple of India’s diet, but it fell out of favor a few decades ago when saturated fats were largely considered to be unhealthy. An article at bbc.com says that with a recent global shift back to positivity around saturated fats, Indians are returning to this ingredient that’s so integral to their cuisine.
For food author Kalyan Karmakar, a renewed interest in ghee is emblematic of a return-to-basics movement in India, which was fast-tracked during the last couple years, when “people started being more mindful about their food,” he explained. This movement is also part of an overall trend towards slow food. In keeping with the movement’s philosophy, ghee can be produced locally (even at home) and has inextricable cultural ties.
“Ghee is the final and purest form of milk—the last extract,” said food historian Pritha Sen. “It was considered the purest offering to the Gods and the medium by which prayers were carried to the heavens.” Hindus pour ghee into fire at marriages, funerals and other ceremonies. Much more at: bbc.in/3yb37fA
Go Green in Temples & Ashrams with this Helpful Guide
The Bhumi project and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation launched the Green Temple Project in 2014 to develop a network of environmentally conscious temples across India. Subsequently they created the Green Temples Guide: a beautifully-designed resource, first published in December 2015, on how to make your temple or ashram greener and more Hindu in its relationship with the world around it. Thirty temples were consulted in creating the guide. The first page quotes the Atharva Veda, “The Earth is my mother, I am the Earth’s son.”
It contains inspiring sections on teaching, recycling, energy, food and protecting wild animals. For each section it includes both environmental and Hindu reasons for making changes, as well as helpful lists and action points. Generally, there is a very low level of awareness among visitors to temples and holy sites about keeping sacred sites and the broader environment clean. The vision is that all Hindu temples and ashrams act responsibly towards the natural environment, in line with their tradition and beliefs, and that they inspire pilgrims, visitors and the public to do the same.
From the guide, here is a list of ten things your temple can do to make worship, pujas and celebrations greener:
1. Create eco-themed sermons and celebrations: add statements, prayers, meditations, songs about caring for nature.
2. Center celebrations around environmental themes and on special days such as Earth Day and around the annual Hindu Environment Week in February.
3. Make sure waste is disposed of properly at all your festivals. Make this part of the early planning rather than something thought of at the end.
4. Get young people involved in the cleanup; give them eco-banners and sashes or branded T-shirts, and get them to contact local stall holders during procession to explain why they need to be eco and make sure they have rubbish bins outside their stall.
5. Make the cleaning up a celebratory and holy activity in itself. Get important people to clean up after celebrations to show that this is not something for street sweepers.
6. Be mindful of ways that noise, lights and traffic can be limited during your celebrations around environmentally sensitive areas.
7. Use environmentally friendly paints (and not lead paints) when painting statues of Deities.
8. Perform blessings over cows and threatened wildlife and wild places.
9. Source the majority of food locally to minimize fuel used for transport.
10. Plan outdoor services and spiritual outings in nature.
Download the guide here: bit.ly/green-temple-guide
75 Youth Honored in Houston
On September 10, 2022, seventy-five Hindu youth living in the Houston, Texas, region were recognized and honored for their strong sense of community, fostering conversations about Indian culture, and inspiring the next generation of leaders with their contributions. This was the brainchild of Hindus of Greater Houston (HGH) past president Partha Krishnaswamy to commemorate India’s “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav”—75 years of India’s Independence. After weeks of intense planning, the event came together at the newly renovated auditorium of Sri Meenakshi Temple in Pearland. The evening, hosted by the temple, drew over 500 people and was packed to capacity.
Over 44 organizations participated, 75 awardees were selected and included those of African American, Caribbean, Nepali, Caucasian, and Indo-American origin. The event was attended by representatives from participating organizations, donors, community leaders and distinguished guests.
The evening was replete with insights, inspiration and practical takeaways. Young speakers Somansh Agarwal and Naisargi Jaiswal of the Hindu Students Association shared pointers on ways to engage with others in promoting Indian culture and traditions, and how the youth could take these practices forward in their colleges. Deputy Consulate General of India Sandeep Choudhary encouraged the awardees to liaise with similar youth in India. A scintillating Kathak performance from the Shivangini Academy of Performing Arts and brisk Bharatanatyam Thillana by the Abhinaya School of Performing Arts rounded out the evening.
Attendee Tanveer Kazi reflected that the evening allowed them to “witness the celebration of the youth, diversity, art and the cuisine of India’s rich culture.” He also appreciated the keynote speaker’s message about the application of rationale and objectivity in today’s era of misinformation.
Anjali Agarwal said, “I am extremely grateful to be honored as a Hindu Youth Awardee in the community. It is a blessing to see all future leaders from all Hindu temples and organizations being recognized as one.”
On August 22, 2022, the Madras High Court upheld the validity of the Government of Tamil Nadu’s all-caste archakas policy: for any Hindu temple not created according to the Agama shastras, the government is allowed to hire people from any caste as priests.
The Shree Salasar Mandir Hindu Temple in Padua, Italy, has been rebuilt after a devastating fire in late 2021. Devotees gathered around a homa fire in June 2022 to celebrate the rebirth. The worshipers settled around here are from many Indian states, plus Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Cambodia’s ambassador to the US said that the August, 2022, transfer of 30 antiquities by law enforcement authorities to his country was a return of the “souls of our culture.” Ambassador Keo Chhea spoke at a ceremony where a 10th century sculpture, Skanda on a Peacock, was among several works of art displayed. Some of the sandstone and bronze sculptures and artifacts were given up by their owners when US authorities told them they were stolen. Others were claimed through court actions.
After being haunted by nightmares, a gang of thieves have returned more than a dozen murtis they stole in May 2022 from a 300-year-old Hindu temple in Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, India. Included with the anonymous return was a Hindi-language confession letter saying: “We have not been able to sleep, eat and live peacefully. We are fed up with the scary dreams and are returning your valuables.”
After a lofty market debut, the Beyond Meat company, which makes plant-based burgers that most closely resemble meat, is losing steam as the meat-like craze withers in the face of several weak product tests at restaurants and mediocre reviews. In August, 2022, McDonald’s became the latest chain to not go through with an immediate broader launch after concluding its US test of the burger.
Heavy rains and floods that ravaged large parts of Pakistan’s Sindh province in August 2022 have also taken a heavy toll on the archaeological site of Mohenjo-daro. Many streets and ancient sewerage drains have been badly damaged. In fact, the calamity has pushed the site—situated on the bank of the Indus River—to the “brink of extinction.” Pakistan’s Department of Archaeology said that Mohenjo-daro might be removed from the UN’s World Heritage list if urgent attention towards its conservation and restoration is not given. Consequently, the administration has banned the entry of tourists to the place