Global Dharma




Tamil Trailblazers

JAPANESE SCHOLAR HIROSHI YAMASHITA recently stated in a News East-West interview that his studies have found Tamil Hindus, in particular, to have played a major role in the global spread of Hinduism. It seems that Tamils, finding themselves in a new country, have adapted well to their new home, while still maintaining much of their own culture and religious practices.

One key factor, he points out, is that the Tamils are responsible for the global presence of Hindu priests, having brought them from Sri Lanka and India to serve in Hindu temples around the world.

Professor Yamashita is a leading scholar of Indian civilization and culture and the Hindu religion throughout the world. Fluent in Tamil and Sanskrit, he has an MA in Indian philosophy and a PhD in both Hinduism and Tamil literature.

Asked by Toronto-based News East-West about his interest in the global Hindu diaspora, Yamashita replied, “I am a student of the growth of Indian civilization from ancient times to today. Since Hinduism has grown so much overseas in recent decades, I am fascinated by its story. As I am a scholar of Tamil culture, my thrust is also on the Tamil diaspora, particularly from Sri Lanka. In order to study the Tamils overseas, I have been to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Germany and now Canada. I realized the importance of Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils in globalizing Hinduism. They have spread out into many countries in recent decades, thus taking Hinduism with them in a big way. In fact, they have played a much bigger role than other Hindu groups in globalizing Hinduism.”


Researching the Tamil diaspora: Professor Hiroshi Yamashita and his wife (center) visit Richmond Hill Ganesha Temple in Toronto. Temple priest Sivasri Ketheeswara Kurukkal, at right, is from Sri Lanka, as are most of the temple’s other six priests
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America Opts for Cremation

ACCORDING TO A SURVEY CONDUCTED by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council in 2010, cremation in the United States has increased by over 50 percent in the last 20 years. The choice of cremation over burial rose from just 15% in 1985 to 41% today. This increase is due in part to the significantly lower price of cremation over burial. One family told The New York Times that by opting for cremation, their expenditure dropped from between $10,000 and $16,000 to just $1,600.

One possible factor in this change was explained by Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University and author of Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America. He told the Times, “America is becoming ‘Hinduized’ in this way. We’re increasingly seeing the human as essentially spiritual and gradually giving up on the Judeo-Christian idea of the person in the afterlife [which links the soul with the body].”


On the rise: The Cremation Association predicts that more than 50 percent of deaths will be memorialized with cremations by 2017
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Hindu Weddings in Hawaii?

AN UNUSUAL BUSINESS HAS TAKEN hold right in HINDUISM TODAY’S back yard, Hawaii. So many Hindu weddings are being held in the state that Honolulu’s main newspaper, the Star-Advertiser, printed two feature stories on the phenomenon in February, 2013.

Not that many have taken place yet—just a few a month—but their scale has attracted attention in the hotel industry. Instead of the average of 30 guests costing tens of thousands of dollars for a “destination wedding”—meaning the couple came to Hawaii just to get married and don’t live here—Hindu weddings can have up to 500 guests and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even couples from India are getting married here, despite the absence of rentable elephants to join the procession.


Aloha wedding: Hindu wedding taking place in Hawaii
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Homes, Temples Attacked

O N FEBRUARY 21, 2013, THE BANGLADESH government sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayedee, vice-president of the Islamic Party, to death for war crimes committed in the 1971 independence conflict. Sayedee and other Islamic Party leaders have been charged for the party’s assistance to Pakistani forces during the war, which resulted in the deaths of over three million people. After the ruling, violence erupted against the country’s government and its Hindu minority, and still continues well into April. The Islamic Party considers Hindus direct supporters of the government ruling. This has resulted in the destruction of Hindu temples, shops and homes, as well as the deaths of civilians and police.

The unbridled violence against the nation’s Hindus has drawn international attention. Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher, Abbas Faiz, stated, “The Hindu community in Bangladesh is at extreme risk. At such a tense time in the country, it is shocking that they appear to be targeted simply for their religion. The authorities must ensure that they receive the protection they need.” One anonymous survivor told Amnesty International that his family’s village was set on fire by people taking part in an Islamic Party strike. “They moved into our properties and set fire to 30 of our houses. Seventy-six families were living in these homes. They also set fire to our temples, all of which have now vanished.”

After gaining independence from Pakistan, Bangladesh was founded as a secular republic in 1972, but the country’s founding leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was soon assassinated in a 1975 military coup. The new military rulers began amending the constitution, making Islam the state religion and legalizing religious-based political parties. In 2009 the country’s current secular government came into power, led by Sheikh Mujib’s daughter, the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. Over the last few years the government has worked to break down many of the previous regime’s religiously biased policies, thus fomenting resentment throughout much of the Islamic Party.

Current attempts to make party leaders answer for their past crimes have been supported by many throughout the country. But the Islamic Party claims the government is using the war crimes tribunal to decimate their leadership and cripple their influence. Party leader Rafiqul Haq threatened, “Our backs have been pushed to the wall. If we can’t stop the fascist government from holding the trials, all our main leaders will be hanged. We will die rather than let the government kill our leaders.”


Mounting tension: Activists run while policemen fire tear gas shells during a protest rally in Dhaka on March 2, 2013
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Odisha’s Festival of Penance

EACH YEAR, BEGINNING IN MID-MARCH and lasting up to 21 days, the Danda Nata (“penance dance”) in worship of Lord Siva is observed by thousands of devotees throughout the Ganjam region of Odisha (formerly called Orissa). The festival includes one of the most ancient folk dances in this state, known for its wealth of unique art, songs and dances. Though some of these cultural forms are losing popularity in modern times, the Danda Nata is still practiced with enthusiasm and vigor as a ceremony welcoming the spring season and commencing the year’s agricultural activities.

The festival itself is an act of penance to Lord Siva. It is a strong statement of self-control and self-denial during which devotees pray for blessings. The participants—all males—are known as Bhoktas. These men fast in preparation and take 13 vows which last for the 21 days, including strict vegetarianism and bramacharya. The lead Bhokta of each group lives on fruit juice, while others eat one simple meal a day, often plain rice cooked by themselves. They are required to eat in natural surroundings, away from human activity. If they hear even a single human voice, they are expected to end their eating for the day. Because of this, many will drown out sounds by beating drums continually through their meal.

The festival’s activities are in three main phases. They include the Dhuli Danda (earth penance), the Pani Danda (water penance) and the Danda Nata itself, comprising theatrical, dance and musical performances.

Throughout the first half of each day, as the hot sun heats the earth, participants perform exhausting dance and aerobic exercises, mostly representing farming activities—ploughing, cultivation and harvesting. The participants travel in a procession, along with musicians, to various villages and stop in front of homes and crowds.

By the afternoon they begin the Pani Danda, trekking to nearby bodies of water to perform aquatic feats, forming human pyramids and swimming to the rhythms of music played from the shore. In the evening the participants begin the traditional, all-night Danda Nata, dancing and singing simultaneously.


Seeking Siva’s grace: In this penance, participants perform aerobic feats on the scorching earth, here they lay on thorns with a heavy board laying across them
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White House Yoga Garden

THIS YEAR, PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA and First Lady Michelle Obama have once again included a Yoga Garden as part of the White House “Easter Egg Roll,” an annual event which hosts 30,000 participants. The Yoga Garden, blooming since 2009, invites professional instructors from around the country to teach yoga to children and adults in attendance. Michelle Obama—a yoga practitioner herself—began the event, stating, “Let’s roll some eggs and do some yoga!”

Yoga instructor leah cullis has been conducting the Yoga Garden each year. She told the Times of India, “The mission of the event is to share ways where families and children can use simple tools for an active lifestyle, tools that require no props and no money, so that they can go home and do it themselves.”

This year’s theme was “Be Healthy, Be Active, Be You!” Activities were aligned with Michelle’s Let’s Move initiative, a national effort to combat childhood obesity. Children also had classes about nutrition and seasonal eating, including choosing fresh produce in a farmer’s market.

The instructors received a special visit from Michelle towards the end of the day. When leaving the Yoga Garden, she put her palms together, bowed her head, and acknowledged everyone with “Namaste.”


Quite a stretch: Led by professional instructors, children and adults spend the day doing yoga on the White House lawn
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India-Australia DNA Link

A RECENT ABORIGINAL GENEALOGY STUDY, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, states that Australia likely experienced a wave of migration from India 4,000 years ago. By tracking genetic markers within DNA, researchers found a substantial amount of genetic associations between Indians and native Australians. In looking at fossils and archaeological discoveries dating to this period, researchers deduced that changes in technology and the introduction of new animals may be attributed to this group of Indians. Professor Stoneking, one of the authors of the study, concluded from their findings, “It is strongly suggestive that microlith tools, dingos and the movement of people were all connected.”


Dingos: Scientists have long speculated that the native Australian dingo was more closely related to domestic dogs than wolves
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Digest gave a troubling report in January, 2013, that more than 350 Hindu temples were destroyed during Sri Lanka’s civil war; most were in areas with a Tamil majority. In some cases, Buddhist shrines have been built on the sites.

by Gallup, the United States is still the most popular global destination for emigrating peoples. In India, over 10 million people would like to acquire permanent residency in the States, placing it 3rd behind China’s 22 million and Nigeria’s 15 million. Gallup stated that the reason so many people are wishing to leave their land of origin for the US is the simple search for opportunity, whether in starting a new business, expressing one’s views without fear or living where they can better provide for their children.

concerned about mislabeled meat products. In one report, a third of Scottish Indian restaurants were found to be serving beef, which is cheaper, instead of lamb in their dishes. This has been an upsetting deception for nonvegetarian Hindus who avoid beef. Anil Bhanot, managing director of Hindu Council UK told India Today, “Our estimates are that two-thirds of Hindus based in the UK are meat eaters, and it is important they know what is being served to them.” Hindu groups have called on the government to enforce stricter source disclosure regulations for meat.

Malaysia are facing priest shortages. The country’s immigration department is only granting visas for one or two priests per temple from India. This has created many cases where 5,000 or 10,000 devotees have only one priest.

Claremont Lincoln University in California has initiated a program which sends fifty K-12 teachers to receive an in-depth summer education in nonviolence through their interaction with people who live nonviolent lives. These include teachers, business people, medical practitioners, community leaders, students and more. As part of their education, the teachers explore meditation and contemplative spiritual practices.

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