Chair of Vedic Studies Established at UC Irvine
IN EARLY MAY, 2015, THE Dharma Civilization Foundation celebrated the establishment of a presidential chair in Vedic and Indic Civilizational Studies with a huge gathering of scholars and well-wishers at the University of California, Irvine. The chair is part of UCI’s plan to create a graduate degree program in religious studies.
History in the making: Leaders of the Dharma Civilization Foundation and university officials pose with the Thakkar family
Officially initiated as of January, 2015, the chair was funded by a million-dollar gift from Ushakant and Irma Thakkar and half a million dollars each from the Thakkar extended family and the president of UCI, for a total endowment of $2 million.
Dr. Georges Van Den Abbeele, Dean of Humanities at UCI, hosted the event. In thanking the donors, he explained, “This new endowed chair anchors UCI’s religious studies program by permanently securing faculty-led research and instruction in one of the world’s most influential religions, Hinduism.”
Dr. Thakkar, who is also the current chairman of DCF, expressed his gratitude and dedicated the chair to his parents and elders of his family. He told the gathering, “Together, we want to establish an eminent India center, the best in the United States, at UCI. We Indians have created over 700 temples of worship in America. Now won’t you join us in making temples of education, too?”
Plans are under way to create additional chairs in Hinduism, as well as in Jain, Sikh and Buddhist studies.
Colored Powder Catastrophe
AT THE FORMOSA FUN COAST water park on the outskirts of Taipei, on June 29, 2015, a sudden explosive fire enveloped hundreds and burned for a full minute. Nearly 600 people were injured, many seriously. The horrific accident took place during Color Play Asia, a music event during which clouds of colored cornstarch powders were sprayed on the crowd. The New Taipei Fire Department said the powder was likely ignited by the stage lights.
Cornstarch, normally a harmless, edible substance, is a highly flammable carbohydrate. It can ignite explosively when large quantities of the fine powder are dispersed into the air, as was done in Taiwan.
The use of colored powders in secular concerts and other events has been adapted from the Hindu festival of Holi. During Holi, however, powders are tossed randomly in small amounts, and accidental ignition is unheard of. But this new use is hazardous, as seen at Color Play Asia, and should be stopped.
Water park fire: Hundreds of people, most in their early 20s, were badly burned during the horrific accident in June
Michigan Temple Expands
IN JANUARY A NEW EXPANSION was completed at the Paschima Kasi Sri Viswanatha temple in Flint, Michigan. The construction of the temple section is the culmination of a year-long vision for the property, said Hanuman Marur, president of the temple.
“Temples are sacred and important structures in Hinduism. This new temple is similar to the type found in India,” shared Marur. “When people come here, they should get a feeling of a traditional temple.”
God’s home: The new 65-foot, half-million-dollar structure was funded by contributions from dozens of donors
This expansion will be reserved for special worship occasions and ceremonies, while the main temple will continue to be used for day-to-day worship. The 126 Gods represented on the new structure were sculpted from white concrete by two craftsmen from India who spent more than a year living at the temple.
University Bans Swastika
GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY suspended and barred from campus a Jewish student who had put up a swastika on a school bulletin board on March 18, 2015. They also reported the incident to law enforcement for possible prosecution. The student, inspired by a recent trip to India, had hung the bronze swastika in the GWU’s International House residence hall in an effort to educate fellow students.
Religious tolerance: The swastika is an ancient symbol of auspiciousness in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism
Even though police said there was no grounds for prosecution, the university proceeded with disciplinary actions, which were met with strong protests from Hindu, Jewish, interfaith and student rights groups. GWU rescinded the charges in late May.
Samir Kalra, senior director of Hindu American Foundation, clarified, “The swastika is one of the most sacred symbols of Hinduism, with a 3,000-year history of peace before it was misappropriated by the Nazis. We wanted to ensure that any Hindu, Buddhist or Jain student who sought to display the symbol as a part of their faith would not be punished for doing so.”
Modi Visits His Ailing Guru
IN MAY, 2015, INDIA’S PRIME Minister, Sri Narendra Modi, met with his guru, Swami Atmasthananda Maharaj, in a Kolkata hospital. Swami, 96, is president of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission Order.
“It was an informal meeting, the two met like guru-shishya. It did not seem as if he was the prime minister,” Swami Subhakarananda Maharaj shared. Mr. Modi received blessings from his guru, along with a piece of chocolate.
The two first met in 1966, when Narendra, age 16, was living the wandering life of a sadhu. He asked Swami Atmasthananda for his blessings to renounce the world and take sannyasa. But Swami advised against it, saying renunciation was not for him, because he was meant to be among people and not in seclusion. Swami encouraged the youth to take up a life of public service.
Guru-shishya: Surrounded by his brother monks, the aged Swami Atmasthananda Maharaj blesses the Prime Minister, his shishya
MOTHER’S DAY, MAY 10, 2015, WAS CELEBRATED around the US and in dozens of other countries. Each year the Chinmaya Mission observes this day in a wonderful and uniquely Hindu fashion. Hinduism Today was present for this year’s celebration at the Chinmaya Mission’s San Gabriel Bala Vihar center.
The day coincided with the observance of the birthday celebration of Sri Chinmayananda, founder of the mission. A padapuja was performed by Swami Ishwarananda and local priest Janakiram Kuppa before each of the two Mother’s Day sessions.
Showing appreciation: Mothers are worshiped as the embodiment of the Goddess on this special day
Some 300 mothers and their children—from youngsters to teens—convened in the main hall for each session. The fathers headed to the kitchen to prepare lunch, as is their tradition on this day.
After the worship of Goddess Sri Lalita Tripurasundari, sons and daughters were guided through the performance of an abhishekam, bathing their mother’s feet as a demonstration of respect and love. Leading the worship, priest Janakiram Kuppa explained to the children that they were worshiping the Goddess within their mother as they applied chandanam, kumkum and flowers to her feet. A room full of smiling faces and motherly love was testament to the day’s success.
Mother’s Day is observed in March or May in every continent in over 60 countries, including UK, Germany, Turkey, Vietnam, South Africa, Ecuador, Japan, Fiji, Myanmar and India.
India’s Wisdom Needed Today
HUFFPOST FOUNDER AND editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington spoke with journalist Shekhar Gupta on NDTV’s “Walk the Talk” show. Describing herself as an idealist, the Greece-born Arianna says being an outsider gives her a different perspective about conventions and a deep respect for ancient wisdom—one of the reasons why she’s drawn to India and its spirituality.
During the interview, she praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “I love the fact that he wants to bring back a lot of the ancient teaching.” When asked to define Indian spirituality, Arianna replied: “It’s the recognition that we are not just material beings, not just a physical body. So much of Western thought and Western medicine treats human beings as just physical bodies, and it’s not like that. We know it’s not but we treat each other like that, and it’s a shrinking of the human experience.”
At age 17, Arianna stayed in India for three months studying comparative religion at Shantiniketan in West Bengal.
“I have always been drawn to the spiritual aspect of India. Right now the world is going through so many stresses of modern life, including here in India, with modernization. It’s an incredible moment to reach back to the ancient wisdom around meditation and yoga and rediscover it in ways that can deepen our experience.”
An editor with insight: Arianna Huffington is considered one of media’s most influential women
Explore the Ancient Sciences
THE SANDHI SERIES IS A TEN-part collection of articles (bit.ly/sandHI) that explore India’s traditional knowledge systems. Selected academic experts present their exhaustive research on such topics as cosmology, metallurgy, mathematics, architecture, ayurveda, ecology and agriculture. The articles, inspired by the Science and Heritage Initiative (SandHI), are curated by Amita Sharma, former additional secretary in the Ministry of Human Resources Development.
The series’ particular focus is India’s material and intellectual historical discoveries that are foundational to our modern fields of science, mathematics, technology and medicine. The articles are often rather complex and academic, but well worth exploring.
Early beginnings: Hindu sage Acharya Kanada was instrumental in laying the foundation of atomic theory during the 2nd century bce
THE 4TH ANNUAL HINDU MANDIR
Priests’ Conference was hosted by the Hindu Temple of Minnesota in May, 2015. HMPC is an initiative to provide leadership to the Hindu-American community by encouraging Hindu temples across North America to nourish, protect and sustain Hindu Dharma.
PRIESTS AND TEMPLE STAFF IN
Telangana, India, called off a three-day income strike in June, 2015. The government agreed to raise the grant to each temple from us$39.27 per month to $94.25, of which $70.69 would be paid to priests and $23.56 to conduct basic rituals.
THE DEATH OF SASHIMANI DEVI,
the last in a long line of devadasis at the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri, marks the end of the 800-year-old tradition of temple dancers who performed for the Deity. Sashimani chose not to groom anyone as a future devadasi in her lifetime. The profession fell out of favor under British influence during colonial times, even though a dance performance is one of the 16 parts of traditional puja worship in the temple, according to the Agama scriptures.
A 2014 STUDY FROM THE PEW
Research Center, polling numerous faiths in the US, showed that Hindus retain the largest numbers of adherents raised within their religion. Among adults raised as Hindus, 80 percent said they continue to identify with the faith.
ON JANUARY 26, 2015, THE
president of the Portuguese Yoga Confederation, Jorge Veiga e Castro (Jagat Guru Amrta Suryananda), was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri prize by the Government of India for his “exceptional contribution” to the promotion of peace and yoga in the world. He was influential in the founding of International Yoga Day. Only a handful of non-Indians have received this honor.
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